Final Fantasy Creatures Kai boxed set

   "The following is a guest review.  The review and photos do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Michael Crawford or Michael's Review of the Week, and are the opinion and work of the guest author."

Ridureyu is back tonight with a look at some great Final Fantasy figures - take it away, R!

The Final Fantasy franchise has a long, long history in console gaming, and it's no surprise that it has also gotten tons and tons of merchandising over the years.  One of my personal favorite toy lines from the series has been Final Fantasy Creatures, a mini-figure line launched in 2001 that showcases the various monsters in these games.  Over the years, the F.F. Creatures brand has changed a few times, first to Final Fantasy Master creatures (larger, more details and fragile statues), and then to Final Fantasy Creatures Kai (smaller and closer to the original figures, but still large and detailed).  The original toys came blind-packed in little pieces, which improved toy durability (better for something to come loose than break off), Master Creatures was in window boxes, and Kai is blind-packed like the original.  The new toys generally measure somewhere between 3" and 3 3/4" scale, about a head or two shorter than the average G.I. Joe.

Final Fantasy Creatures Kai Volume 3 (that's a mouthful!) was a six-figure series based on the Eidolons from Final Fantasy XIII - sort of magical transformers that bonded with the playable characters and kind of acted as the "summons" of the game.  The Japanese line was blind-packed with five "regular" figures and one "secret" chase one.  The U.S. release was a single boxed set of five - including the secret figure, but oddly dropping one of the regular ones.  For those who are curious, it's Alexander, a big, bulky, castle-like robot.  You can find a Japanese Alexander on eBay for about $10-$20 at the moment, which is far cheaper than if the secret figure had been left out. 

So, how do these fancy-schmancy tiny statues hold up?  Let's find out!

Packaging - ***1/2
The figures come in a gigantic window box, which shows off your toys on one side and then shows pictures of your toys on the other.  But the big thing is, you need to KEEP this box if you want to store your figures safely, and I'll get to that under "Sculpt" later.  The box is ginormous, but it does a good job showing off all five fantasy robots, and just stands out well.  The interior trays hold the figures in nicely without using rubber bands or twisty-ties, or hugging them so closely as to scuff the paint.  Western manufacturers really need to take notes on this, because I see Japan consistently one-upping them on packaging!

Sculpting - Bahamut: ****  Hecatoncheir: ****  Brynhildr: ***1/2  Shiva Sisters: ****  Odin: ****  US FIGURES: ***
I know what you're thinking.  "Different scores for the US figures? But aren't they the same toys?"  Well, yes, except for one thing:  The US boxed set figures come in one piece, with all their parts glued together.  This may seem convenient, but makes each figure more fragile and harder to storage - you can no longer just disassemble one and put it in a box, now you have to plan how to protect them at all times.  Seriously, gluing them together has roughly doubled how delicate these little things are.  You MUST keep the original packaging, if you want to take my advice, to store and move these figures without risk of breakage.  Period.  Before, if one took a tumble off the shelf, there was a fairly good chance that they would get knocked apart, ready for reassembly.  But now, a fall is pretty much a guaranteed break, so plan accordingly.  I have included a photograph of an assembled Hecatoncheir next to the separate pieces of the Japanese release, so you can see what I'm talking about.

But aside from THAT, these toys are incredible!  Even at their small scale, they are seriously works of art - the first one from this set that I got my hands on was a Hecatoncheir, and I must have taken three hundred photos of it over the next few days.  Final Fantasy has always used highly-stylized art, even from the early days with Yoshitaka Amano's sketches.  Final Fantasy XIII is easily the most sci-fi of the series, and the art designers really outdid themselves crating the mystical Eidolon machines.  I couldn't get over how they looked in the game, and now I really can't get over how the toys look in-hand.

But enough of generalities, let's move on to specifics!

Leading the pack is the "Secret" figure, Bahamut.  That's the dragon-ish one with purple wings.  Bahamut has a long Final Fantasy history as the king of all dragons and the strongest summon, and in this game he is an eidolon bonded to Oerba Yun Fang, and transforms into sort of a bird-thing.  The figure's texture is slightly different from the others in a way that a rubber or vinyl coating is different from sheet metal.  He almost looks organic until you look closely and realize that it's just dressing.  His draconian features show through in the design, even though this is the most humanoid Bahamut we have ever seen.  The wings are translucent purple and shaped very well, almost like those of a butterfly.  They are hard plastic rather than soft, though, and likely his most fragile parts.  The pose is a pretty generic "Open" stance, showing off the figure.  It's well-balanced, and not likely to take a tumble, which is extra-good if you shelled out the cash for the Japanese figure.

Next is Hecatoncheir, named for the hundred-armed giants of Greek mythology. I counted, and Hecatoncheir has thirty - one open cluster of ten arms on each side, and two closed on his back, like spires.  Hecatoncheir is the eidolon of Oerba Dia Vanille, and transforms into a two-legged mech with gatling guns (though this toy doesn't. Don't try).  This toy is just incredible.  Mere pictures do not adequately represent it - it's hard to photograph, after all!  The sheer level of complexity and detailing in something smaller than any G.I. Joe is astounding, and this little guy has honestly taken a rightful place as one of the best-made figures I have ever seen!  Aside from the multiple individual arms, Hecatoncheir is standing on a base that resembles something H. R. Giger might have designed for the Alien franchise.  The two arm-spires in its back are probably its most fragile point, and it is slightly weighted in the back, so situate it away from ledges.  But seriously, I can't exaggerate how awesome this figure is. 

The smallest of the group is Brynhildr, Sazh Katzroy's eidolon that turns into a race car (no fooling), and is named for the famous valkyrie.  Of course, this being Final Fantasy, Brynhildr looks nothing like a valkyrie, or even Norse, for that matter.  Instead, Brynhildr resembles a combination of knight, demon, and jester all combined into one fire-aligned automaton.  This is the smallest figure in the set in that she has vaguely human proportions and keeps her limbs close, but Brynhildr's massive weapon also makes her the tallest, the crest of her staff reaching G.I. Joe height.  Despite her size, Brynhildr is just as well-crafted as her allies, and the complex designs on her armor seem to evoke actual clothing patterns, despite the lack of cloth.  Her proportions are amusingly feminine, raising the age-old question first brought up by the female Transformers.  Her base looks like fire, which matches her attacks pretty well, although the figure tilts a little to one side even while on it.  Brynhildr's massive staff is obviously the figure's focal point, and really is quite a work of art.  You will, however, find that the rest of her is painted just as well.  But I would give Brynhildr on minor complaint - she has a few sculpted "flames" on her arms and cape that just do not look as detailed as the rest of the figure, and it's easy to not even notice them in the first place.  That takes some points off the figure, especially as it contrasts with the translucent flames in her base.

Fourth in line is Shiva - or rather, fourth in line are the Shiva sisters.  In a move that threw Final Fantasy fandom for a loop, XIII sees longtime series mainstay Shiva split into two separate creatures, though they mostly act in sync.  The sisters, Stiria (the blue one) and Nix (the white one) are aligned with ice, bonded to Snow Villiers, and transform into a motorcycle.  Hmm, odd.  Female robots that change into a motorbike and share one mind among two bodies, now where have I heard that before?  Yeah, it's pretty obvious that FFXIII took a few cues from the sudden resurgence in Transformers' popularity recently.  But anyway!  The Shiva sisters have the most complex pose of any of these figures, and apparently are the hardest to assemble in their Japanese versions.  The statuette as a whole is so well-made it's incredible - this is the most dynamic of all the poses, with both sisters caught in mid-leap and surrounded by a splash of ice.  They are suitably feminine, certainly more so than the bulky Brynhildr, and you can identify the kibble from their transformation.  Speaking of that, the level of detail even on their motorcycle wheels is nothing short of amazing!  The figure also leans a tiny bit to one side, though it should not have any balance issues, and is pretty sturdy aside from that.

And last but not least is Odin, Lightning's eidolon.  Odin is another character who has been in the Final Fantasy series for a very long time, nearly always depicted as a horned knight riding Sleipnir, his six-legged horse.  This time, Odin transforms into the horse!  Some of its kibble can be seen on his shield, with its oddly organic design, although he has folded it to hide the horse head.  And Odin is, without argument, outstanding, his intricate armor showing more detail than even the complex Hecatoncheir.  Odin is surrounded by lightning, which streams off both ends of his double-bladed weapon.  This does give him an extremely fragile stress point right on his wrist, though, which is totally avoided in the Japanese figure, and might inspire me to get one of those as a backup.  Odin looks just as good up close as from a distance, and is one of those toys you can photograph and show to non-collectors - they won't believe how small it is when you tell them!  Just watch out for that wrist.  Of course, I should mention that, unlike the mythical Odin, this one has both eyes, but he has always been that way in Final Fantasy.

As for Alexander (not included in the boxed set), it's a pretty cool castle robot, but I do not have one.  Perhaps when I do acquire an Alexander, I will post an addendum to this review, but it is sort of a figure from a separate series.  Somewhat.

Paint - ****
Zero slop on any of the figures.  Period.  The paint is exquisite for this whole set, resembling a professional custom job, not anything mass-market.  Again, most people, upon seeing photographs of these toys, assume that they are large statues.  I can't compliment the paint enough, or the use of translucent plastic, or really anything about the coloration on these eidolons.  Bahamut even has tiny, tiny pinpoint eyes on his face, barely visible but still there!  I can't really say anything else, except that perhaps I would have taken chrome instead of flat red for Brynhildr, but that isn't much of a complaint, really.

Articulation - Bupkis!
Sometimes, some Final Fantasy creatures would inadvertently have articulation because they used round pegs, but that was a rarity.  This toy line has never been about articulation at all - though the Japanese release can be modified a bit by taking them apart (example: Odin or Brynhildr's weapons).  But again, you really don't have these to be poseable.  Zero articulation is better than minimal McFarlane-style articulation, as at least the toy isn't trying to be something it's not - though it certainly is not as good as having a full range of movement.  Ah, well.

Accessories - Bupkis!
Again, unless you're taking them apart, these really do not come with accessories.

Fun Factor - Variable
These are tiny little statues, so it's not like you're going to stick Odin in your pocket and knock around.  If you know that going in, then they are great fun.  But if you expect a hyper-articulated figure, you might be on the way to disappointment.  Just keep that in mind.

Value - ****
Okay, this one is a little complicated.  The boxed set SHOULD cost you roughly $50, though I've seen it price-gouged up to $60 (and as low as $30).  $50 averages to $10 per figure.  Individual figures from this set will cost you roughly $12-$20, with Bahamut's Japanese release going as high as $40-$50 regularly because of its nature as the chase rare.  So assembling the whole set if you use the box and buy Alexander will cost you roughly $62-$70, but buying the figures piecemeal will likely average out to $100.  And to be honest, even though they are fairly small, $10 is not a bad price to pay for such a complex and attractive little work of art.

Things To Watch Out For - ***1/2
Every single limb, spike, weapon, or protrusion.  Seriously.  If these figures came apart the way they were intended to, then it would be easy to disassemble and store them.  But since they're stuck, everything from Hecatoncheir's back arms to Odin's sword is a potential worry.  You should be fine as long as you don't drop them or anything, though - there do not seem to be any QC issues with these toys, and at the very least they are not as fragile as the Master Creatures were.  But this really is my primary problem with the boxed set, and why I almost considered the extra expense of buying them individually - Bahamut's insane price is what tipped it over for me.

Overall - ***1/2
As little ministatues, these toys are incredible.  The level of detail on each of them far surpasses their price tag, although they aren't really functional as action figures.  No articulation and some fairly fragile parts make them less "toy" and more "statue,' but the artistry is more than enough to make up for it.  If you can snag the Japanese figures for cheap, then go for it, as they at least are not glued together.

Where to Buy - is good, eBay has the Japanese releases, and you can also try places like Big Bad Toy Store.  But to be honest, I'd suggest a Google search just as with any import toys, as prices tend to vary widely.  You can expect about $10 in shipping, but that's not bad, considering the size of that box.

This product was purchased for the review by the reviewer. Photos and text by Ridureyu.

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