Fossil Fighters Frontier reminds me of games that came out in the late 90s/early 2000s looking to be the next Pokemon - and while it's certainly not as transparent as Robopon, it still has that feeling. Here's a bunch of characters! They all have elements and elements have advantages over other elements! Don't you want to collect them all? Don't you want to rock, paper, scissor this? Huh, kid? Come on, don't you like dinosaurs?
Or, in this case, Vivosaurs.
And love of dino... er... vivosaurs is universal, as is our love of watching them fight. Giant monsters from before time, battling it out! The earth shakes and the sky is split with their roars as they rear back and let out bone-shaking cries! Plus, digging up their bones is a super cool idea - you find the bones, reanimate the characters, and throw them together into turn-based battles! How could things go wrong?
The thing about Fossil Fighters Frontier (F3) is it comes up with things that are nearly fun, and then finds a way to mess them up.
Example: digging up fossils. We all want to do that, right? If you told me right now where I could go buy one of those little kits that's just a rock that you hit with a hammer until it falls away and there's a plastic dinosaur inside, I'd be right there. And I don't even like dinosaurs that much! So that part of the game revolves around finding fossils in walls and digging them out, that's cool. I even understand why they have a time limit, since if it just gave you forever you'd always have 100% perfectly excavated fossils.
What I don't like about it is that rogue vivosaurs will randomly interrupt your dig if they happen to be around and there's nothing you can do to stop it. I've even had it where I defeat all the ones nearby and then it comes out anyways and ruins the digging and then I don't get to keep the fossil or gem. Even if I'd been working my way to a perfect excavation, nope, sorry, random chance.
Battles also don't give you a chance to swap out for better vivosarus, unlike a Pokemon or something - so when you go in with a type advantage against a fire one and then in comes a strong one of the opposite element and... well, you can't do anything and it just drags out the whole thing. A short battle becomes a long one that's not really fun, just kind of you hitting it until it's dead.
Adding to that, the battles themselves are just sooooo sloooooooow.
Seriously! So it can be 3 on 3, but only one of the vivs is controlled by you, so you have to wait for five AI characters to take their turns (make a comment about the enemy or their status, choose an attack, go through it, make another pithy comment, next turn) before you can do yours. Every time, your robot helper guy will pop up to tell you if you have an advantage. And it winds up making things take a long, long time. RPGs often involve a little waiting, but this was far too much!
Now I don't want to just sit here and be mister "well why didn't the devs do things this way that makes no sense" because what do I know? Maybe they considered it and chose against it, maybe things aren't feasible in their engine, but there are some questionable things, like why there's no way to fend off random vivs attacking you while you dig, or why you have a time limit for switching your vivs out in the beginning of a fight.
The UI leaves a lot to be desired as well - graphical elements explaining you have a type advantage don't really exist, and some of the info regarding accuracy and the like can be a little obtuse. Add to that the sometimes vagueness of the stance system (basically your stance makes you stronger or weaker to certain other attacks), and it can be easy to miss advantages you should have because of it.
And come on dinosaur battles man they should look so cool but they don't and it's not just the 3DS' power it's that they're just not designed well.
This particular Pokemon-alike is published by Nintendo as well, so it's kind of weird that it feels like they're competing with themselves, but I ain't no businessman so I won't pretend to know how the logic behind that decision went. Something about a goose and a golden egg.
While I don't think that there's anything that should drive people to play F3 over something much better in the "portable games in which monsters fight each other" genre, there's still something oddly compelling about it. I don't know why I couldn't stop playing it and digging up fossils even though I knew I'd already dug them up. There was something about knowing a well-dug fossil is improving my stats and making me better in battle that was actually really cool. The battles weren't great but they were for the most part pretty easy.
It actually reminds me a bit of an old favorite of mine, Dragon Warrior Monsters. Something about the 3 on 3 battles and not directly controlling others and and how you explore the maps and stuff. And while DWM is a much better game (according to my boundless nostalgia for it), maybe there's just enough of it here that it tickles me just right. While I probably won't develop strong memories for... Dilopho US the way I did something like Golem or Watabu, it's still got some appeal.
But only some appeal. I can't pretend F3 is a particularly great game, and it's not like the 3DS is so starved for RPGs that I should recommend it to you over some other ones, but digging for fossils is fun, and it can be alright to go out and explore the world and just keep bringing in new bones to revive and fight with. If the combat was more fun and parts of it didn't feel so cheap, this series could have some legs, but for the third entry in the franchise, it still feels like it has a long way to go.