Welcome back to the In-App Purchase Inspector - our regular look at free-to-play games from the consumer's perspective.
In each instalment, we consider the incentives or pressure applied to make in-app purchases, their perceived value, the expansion offered by IAPs and the overall value of the experience.
The end goal is to see whether the game makes a good enough case for us to part with our cash, or whether players are content - or engaged enough - to 'freeload'.
This time we're taking a look at Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire, a free-to-play mobile take on the long-awaited 2016 console title. The new mobile game comes from Game of War and Mobile Strike developer MZ.
FF by MZ
Any study of the monetisation of an MZ game from a player's perspective is a difficult proposition.
The US firm has made its name by launching free-to-play mobile games that flagrantly disregard many best practices, with aggressive retailing of the kind that most Western gamers simply aren't used to seeing.
And yet, its track record for monetising with incredible efficiency is indisputable.
MZ's games are often too much to handle even for regular mobile gamers.
This column described Mobile Strike as being “overly tight-fisted with its hard currency and reliant on wait timers to grind down players”.
But it's unlikely MZ lost any sleep over that, as it happily bankrolled an Arnold Schwarzenegger-fronted Super Bowl ad and established the game as yet another top grossing stalwart.
The fact remains, however, that MZ's games are often too much to handle even for regular mobile gamers.
Launching a game in one of gaming's longest-running and best-loved franchises has exposed Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire to a different audience entirely, and the response from Final Fantasy fans has been as negative as one would expect.
MZ strikes again
It's easy to see why. From the off, Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire is remarkably similar to Mobile Strike in terms of structure and UX.
In fact, as far as first impressions go, it could hardly be worse, greeting the player opening the app for the first time with a special offer splash screen before they have played a single minute.
MZ must have given this great thought and found that planting the seed with early retailing encourages players to spend cash down the line.
However, there's something deeply unpleasant about the very premise of offering to take a player's money before they have even had a chance to get to grips with the game and its economy.
It's hard to imagine anyone making it their very first interaction in a F2P game to spend.
The early-game offer - apparently an iOS exclusive - is actually pretty good value for money, offering 600 Gold, 100 VIP Points, a ton of various resources and Speed Up tokens, and plenty more for only $4.99.
And while it remains available for a day or so after that, it's hard to imagine anyone making it their very first interaction in a free-to-play game to spend on an in-app purchase.
The actual gameplay of A New Empire - if you can call it that - is very much in the Mobile Strike and Game of War mould.
That means you're constructing and upgrading various buildings and defences, each performing different roles, and managing various resources. And waiting. A lot.
In-game resources are Stone, Energy, Metal, Food and - one of the game's few nods to actual Final Fantasy fans - Gil. All of these are generated passively, but greater quantities can also be bought using hard currency Gold.
Offers aside, standard prices for Gold are $4.99 for 600, $19.99 for 3,000 and $99.99 for 20,000.
Gold is used to skip wait timers and instantly complete quests or buildings.
Gold is used primarily to skip wait timers and instantly complete a quest or a building project, for example.
A token gesture
Wait timers can also be tackled using Speed Up tokens, which subtract a chunk of time - from one minute to three days - from a crawling progress bar.
A handful of one, five and 10-minute Speed Up tokens are given for free, but after that each costs Gold to buy.
One free way of getting Gold, although it requires some to start with and takes some time, is The Treasury.
Here, you can deposit your Gold and collect it back in full, with an added 10% interest, in two hours.
This percentage can be increased by levelling up The Treasury, but a minimum spend of $4.99 is required first.
Few mobile developers offer the economic complexity of MZ's games.
This is a testament to the economic complexity offered by MZ's games, which few other mobile developers can match.
Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire is by no means a dynamic game, then, and is built around multiple short sessions.
With a respectable lump sum of 200 Gold to start out with, it's easy to accelerate through the early stages. But with hard currency quickly drying up, and very rarely gifted, it's easy to hit a brick wall.
These are the moments when you've completed all your quests, lack the resources to make any upgrades and are simply left to either wait indefinitely until that situation changes, or give in and spend.
It's actually quite rare for modern free-to-play games to give players such a blunt ultimatum, and for many - myself included - it's an uncomfortably hard sell that pushes away more than it encourages spending.
But for those who do persevere, as with Game of War and Mobile Strike, there's a compulsive social loop built around Guilds that will keep a certain kind of player happy and spending for years to come.
Contributions to your Guild are generated with a currency called Loyalty, which can be used in a specific store to buy boosts and resources for your entire Guild.
The majority will always bounce off MZ's games, which it appears to be fine with.
Once you're hooked into this, and genuinely care about the advancement of your Guild and its members, it's easy to see how MZ's games have attracted such dedicated and high-spending players.
But the majority will always bounce off MZ's games, which it appears to be fine with.
In some ways, its no-holds-barred approach to first-time user experience may even serve to separate the players it considers worthwhile from those like me who are never going to convert.
What's more puzzling about Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire, however, is the very conception of the partnership.
Final Fantasy and MZ's audiences never struck me as having a great deal of crossover, and this kind of free-to-play aggression might even taint the reputation of Square Enix in the eyes of its traditional fanbase.
And for MZ's side, while Final Fantasy is undoubtedly a massive franchise, it's lacks the mainstream appeal of an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Kate Upton-fronted campaign.
The result is a game that has very little to do with Final Fantasy, a great deal in common with MZ's previous games, and little reason for fans of either to be interested.
It's a game seemingly about nothing but money, that wants you to do nothing but spend money. With so many more generous free-to-play games around, it's impossible to recommend.