Before Fantasian, my last foray into Hironobu Sakaguchi’s Mistwalker Studio was in 2008 with Lost Odyssey. Save for Wii’s The Last Story, Mistwalker has not been making games for consoles for nearly ten years and counting.
With a sudden surprise preview the last few months and with the game dropping on Apple Arcade a day shy of April Fool’s, there’s a joke in there somewhere I could not put my finger on. While we’re hoping that the game would launch on the Nintendo Switch, I feel that after trying out this game, don’t count on it coming to any of the consoles any time soon.
Also given that this game is the first half of the full experience, we’re only really diving into a part of the game the same way that Final Fantasy VII Remake teased that the entirety of the remake will be situated at Midgar alone. Good news for the rest of us that the second half of the game will be dropping on Apple Arcade later in the Fall.
Fantasian tells the story of an amnesiac hero Leo, who found himself in a failed raid against the Machine City having lost his memories. Escaping to the Human World beset by Mechteria, a technovirus draining all life set into motion by the evil god Vam. Joined by Kina, a magical girl from the forest, and Princess Cheryl, Leo hopes to retrieve his memories, to dispel the Mechteria threat once and for all.
From the onset of the prologue, the epicness of Final Fantasy has been ported over into a mobile phone experience. While I played the game on a Macbook Pro with a keyboard and mouse, you will immediately notice that the entire game could be played on a touch screen. It is all-in-all a mobile game, you just get a much bigger screen on the Macbook Pro or on the iPad if you have one.
Another thing you will notice is that the game has been brought back to the days of Final Fantasy IX, where there are no voice acting, but the cinematics and gameplay are streamlined into uniform aesthetic. In a way, it feels like a massive step back from Lost Odyssey, which has in leaps and bounds be equal to Final Fantasy XII or even XIII at the time when it was made. When I said returned to their roots, they really went far back into the past.
The mobile Final Fantasy we’ve hoped for
Final Fantasy Ever Crisis and The First Solder will be coming out for mobile soon, and sadly they will come along with the microtransactions we’ve always expected from free-to-play mobile games. While other Final Fantasy IPs have appeared on mobile, it’s because they’re ports of the game and did not need any microtransactions at all.
Fantasian is a breath of fresh air, because while it is behind a subscription service that is Apple Arcade, we need not worry about any microtransactions at all. We could just sit back and enjoy the standalone game that it is. At first I searched for the typical mobile conventions found in typical mobile games– an energy meter, a gacha style loot box, even a way of sharing the game on social media–but you’ll find none of that at all.
You’ll be treated to a familiar story and a free-roam map where random encounters will chip away at you. Nostalgia will follow and soon, you’re transported into a classic Final Fantasy introduction, but it’s not Final Fantasy, it’s Fantasian! With too many JRPGs trying to be gimmicky these days, going back to basics is probably something we could welcome.
It’s a mobile game through and through
The turn-based combat of the JRPG is a familiar face, but the controls are different matter. Just like a typical JRPG, you could fight, cast spells, use items, escape, all that. Though targeting now becomes a completely different experience. You will now learn how to curve your spells, by holding the touch screeen and pulling back or forward to have it target multiple enemies. You could target as a straight line, a curve, or as an area of effect.
Casting spells and using items is a two-pronged process where you select the skill/item you want to use and then use the targeting system to select. To cancel, there’s a trash bin in the bottom left corner of the screen, it took me a while to figure that out as the tutorial didn’t really point it out explicitly. It could take getting used to, but the combat is truly turn based and not active-time like past Final Fantasies.
Moving through the world of Fantasian is also point and click, and will also take time to get used to. Frustratingly enough, you could take some time getting to the spot you want to be by pointing and clicking. Though with enough practice, you could figure it out soon and exploring different cities won’t be too much of an issue. Save points are littered throughout the world while you could also make use of checkpoints to continue where you left off.
However, as much as I’m talking up the experience, don’t expect anything close to what Square Enix has established with the Final Fantasy brand in the last ten years. Hell, don’t even expect anything close to where Lost Odyssey has established in terms of visual and gameplay elements. It really feels more like a PS One retro game remastered for a PS Vita in 2011.
Quality of Life adjustments
There have been many improvements that make your JRPG questing a lot easier in Fantasian. My most favorite one being the Dimengeon, it’s akin to a “No Encounters” mode in later Final Fantasies, but this one actually defers your battles in one go. Meaning, you could collect up to 30 monsters into your Dimengeon and fight them all at once at a save point or next to an Inn.
The UI for the map, your quests, and even the summary of your storylines are arranged neatly on the status screen. It allows you to organize your items, equipment, and even warp points where after a story quest, allows you to return to previously visited places. It saves a lot of time from previous JRPGs that involve a lot of walking to get from point A to B.
However, unlike many modern JRPGs, you still cannot skip cutscenes. Meaning, once you continue or reload a last save, you will be restarting from where you left off. Hopefully in the next iteration, we’re able to skip this step because it’s quite annoying. For those who got used to fully voiced RPGs, prepare to read a lot. It’s not too bad, because it’s not as dense as recent RPGs that throw backstory and exposition at you.
Back to Basics
For a mobile game, the diorama backgrounds in Fantasian are intricate and beautiful. One could even say that they went out of their way to create such a sight to see for a mobile game. The background music of Nobuo Uematsu also is a welcome return to form.
While there are exciting set pieces that you could get behind in the story, there are moments of misplaced humor and dated references that feel really out of place. While it’s hearkening back to its anime-style aesthetic, it does not match the character quirks that’s been established when they were introduced.
Another thing are the Memories cutscenes that sell you on what was established in Lost Odyssey in the past, where text is intercut with background music. Unlike Lost Odyssey, which matches Kaim’s lonely quest, this feels like it’s just something added to the game. It doesn’t add anything else, and it feels like a forced Codex collectible that we have to watch. It hasn’t really aged well.
Finally, while the story is serviceable, I really would have to wait for how everything pays off in the second half to make a final judgment on how they story plays out. Because it’s not finished yet, and with what I’ve played, the story is definitely lopsided, and could still use some improvement. Stilted dialogue and missing exposition mar the overall presentation.
Nevertheless, with the intricate combat, treasure hunting, and quest completion, there is a lot of fun to be had with Fantasian. There’s a lot of potential here, and with the second half still on the way, let the long wait commence.
What we liked:
- Beautiful diorama backgrounds that pop out.
- Great music from Nobuo Uematsu.
- Dynamic combat system that takes advantage of the mobile point and click controls.
- Dimengeon feature allows you to skip long turn-based battles.
What we didn’t like:
- Many dated aspects of the presentation, from terribly timed humor to story choices.
- Unskippable cutscenes.
- Point and click movement needs better precision.
- Memories cutscenes are codex entries that we’re forced to watch.
Verdict: Wait For it… (until the second half comes out)
All I can wish for Fantasian is that the second half of the game sticks the landing that we know and love with Final Fantasy games. While Lost Odyssey was a fantastic game, Fantasian feels like a step back from what Mistwalker could do. Nevertheless, there’s still a fun experience to be had as a mobile game.
As a mobile game, it delivers an epic JRPG experience to the best of its abilities, although at best it delivers more of a retro game from the Playstation One era. The graphics goes back to its roots and the music delivers. Though from what’s being advertised, it’s not a game that matches the AAA experience of the present. If your expectation is a game from the Playstation One era, then you’ll really be entertained.
Plus with the dated conventions, such as terrible humor and also the Memories cutscenes that don’t match the emotional depth of A Thousand Years of Memories from Lost Odyssey. Hopefully when the second half of the game comes out, it’ll at least match the highs that we’ve experienced from Lost Odyssey.