Final Fantasy Dimensions — SNES-Era Style JRPG Perfect For Mobile
Final Fantasy Dimensions from Square Enix feels like a game from the height of the 16-bit RPG era. In some ways, this is because the plot is as familiar and formulaic as can be. A small party of suspiciously young heros are brought together by Crystals and granted the power to save the world. But the story is humorously written, with wink-and-a-nod lampshading of old Final Fantasy Tropes, lots of call-backs to the older games, and, wonder of wonders in this age of bloated cut-scenes, short.
Which is not to say there are cut-scenes of a modern sort in this game. Staying firmly within the 16-bit era it is so clearly aping, the plot in Final Fantasy Dimensions is delivered in bite-sized chunks of dialogue. The animation is limited to some small poses and walking back and forth as the characters deliver their lines via the standard Final Fantasy blue text box.
The advantage of this approach quickly becomes apparent when you stumble into a boss-fight with the wrong abilities equipped and find yourself reloading from your last checkpoint. The dialogues that can take you a few minutes to read can be rapidly tapped through and you’re back into the fight with barely any hassle.
FFD’s interface is nearly perfect for mobile. Outside of combat and menus, the game has a virtual joystick that appears anywhere on the screen that you put your finger. While it can very occasionally be annoying to walk a precise path with turns, the game almost never punishes you for wandering a little off path. The few exceptions, such as the volcano dungeon where a wrong step inflicts damage, are not particularly onerous. Interacting with NPCs or objects involves walking next to them and then tapping the screen. While there was a brief period of adjustment when I first picked the game up, I was very comfortable with it by the end of the prologue and never really noticed it for the rest of the game.
The menus and combat are a little less polished, unfortunately. The menus are a typical Final Fantasy display that will feel instantly familiar to anybody who has played a Final Fantasy game between Final Fantasy 1 and Final Fantasy anything else. Navigating through the menus involves tapping once on an option to move the pointer, and tapping again to select it. While a bit clunky, it becomes familiar quickly and is a good balance between quick navigation and preventing you from accidentally selecting an option.
Combat is, again, familiar to anybody who has played an earlier Final Fantasy. Initially, battles were filled with a painful amount of tapping as I selected various options over and over, and I started choosing melee-based jobs for all my characters just to let them hammer away with their swords. However, the design team was a step ahead of me the entire time. By setting the Cursor location on the second screen of the Config option to “Remember” instead of “Return”, you can have the character Auto-battle with a specific ability. By setting mages to using spells and melee-classes to using offensive abilities, the random battles go by quickly and painlessly. Most of the time, you just roll right through fights without having to adjust your strategies. You’ll feel powerful as your party steamrolls through most fights in rapid succession, gaining experience and leveling up frequently.
Boss fights require more attention. While auto-battle actually runs time faster in-battle as well as automatically selecting your abilities, you can further customize battle speeds in the config menu. I found that when I was having trouble with a boss, turning down the battle speed to the minimum gave me enough time to dig through the menus and strategically select options to appropriately respond.
Which brings me to one of the big flaws in the game. There are just SO MANY fights the player is expected to lose, it becomes hard to tell when you’re actually supposed to bother. Every episode of the game has one or more fights where you’re expected to just get beaten down by a boss because plot… which gets really boring and increasingly absurd as you get nuked again and again and again…
About the plot… as I mentioned above, the story is basic Final Fantasy. There are some crystals, and the world is split in two, and there’s an evil empire, and really, you don’t need to know. It hangs together well enough to keep things moving vaguely forward, and that’s about all that can really be said about it. Perhaps I’m just jaded from having played a similar story in Final Fantasy 1. And Final Fantasy 2. And Final Fantasy 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. If anything, returning to the “Crystals” feels delightfully retro after the dream/summoned/whatever world of Final Fantasy 10. The plot even pokes fun at itself at times, with a joke about Aerith dying, and the usual suspects such as Cid, Biggs, and Wedge make their appearances. The characters are thin at best, consisting of little more than a single character trait (Sol and Glaive are headstrong, Diana and Sarah are sensitive, Nacht and Aiden are serious…), perhaps because there are 8 “main” characters and 10 more who join your party for an episode each. Between keeping the dialogues short and the abundance of characters, something had to give. Having said that, the characters have just enough depth, along with some slowly-revealed backstories, to keep things moving forward.
The plot itself is broken up into bite-sized chunks. Initially released as Episodes, the game has reorganized them into four “Chapters” for Android, each made up of several smaller episodes as the party is first introduced, then split into the Warriors of Light and the Warriors of Darkness, and then finally reunited for the final push. For the majority of the game, you’re only dealing with one or two dungeons and one or two towns at any given time. This is ideal for pick up and play gaming. Even when I only had a few minutes to play at a time, I felt like I was making progress and always knew where to go next because it was always obvious exactly where I was supposed to go next. At the same time, hopping back and forth between the light story and the dark story kept things from feeling as entirely linear as they actually were.
If you’re looking for a chance to play a classic Final Fantasy game on a mobile platform, this is going to be your best entry point. With a plot that is designed to be consumed in shorter play sessions, the auto-combat system allows most random encounters to be quickly finished. The game allows you to create a quick-save at any time (except combat), and automatically creates checkpoints every time you change areas (which is frequent). Leveling and Job classes are balanced enough to allow most parties to succeed, and the game provides enough money and experience if you explore each dungeon fairly well (and sell your old gear), so that even with sub-optimal job combinations I never felt the need to grind out levels or money. The plot is paper-thin and typical of a JRPG from the 16-bit era, but it doesn’t get in the way and it holds together well enough for a fun RPG experience. While $20 feels steep for a mobile game, this is just as much Final Fantasy as you’d get on any NES or SNES cart, and delivers a solid 35-40 hours of gameplay.