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Apple Arcade Review – Fantasian

Fantasian - a recent release on the Apple Arcade

As we celebrate reviewing the plethora of games added to the Apple Arcade, we look at Fantasian, a recently released game by Mistwalker Studios. Directed by  Hironobu Sakaguchi, who served as Game Director over the first seven Final Fantasy games, Fantasian plunges us into a world of peril and follows the mysterious exploits of Leo, a fighter whose shattered memory serves as the basis for the plot. The action begins immediately, as we find Leo escaping from a structure he is very unfamiliar with but should remember, accompanied by a yellow-looking Baymax inspired, sentient robot. Fantasian was reviewed on an iPhone 12 Pro Max and an iPad Pro (12.9-inch 3rd generation), and the game was crisp and responsive. We easily paired a PS5 controller with both devices in about 5 seconds at most.

The controller was very responsive, with no noticeable lag. The one issue we did run into was when the scenes on the maps changed perspective, the pressing of the controller made the character run in odd directions.

In the midst of chaos and panic, Leo attempts to find familiarity, or some semblance of structure, as he attempts to escape from a facility while being pursued by a behemoth. The story of Fantasian starts with a very familiar premise; one of the lost memories being sought in the midst of a chase scene. With an opening sequence eerily similar to Final Fantasy 7, Fantasian, an epic RPG released on Apple Arcade, plunges us into the shattered memories of Leo, as we attempt to ascertain details of his past life and search for the truth behind what happened to said memories.

Like a majority of Japanese Role-Playing (JRPG for short) titles, the titular character starts out with no memory; a proverbial blank slate for us to manifest our emotions and reactions to the world upon. But this is quite the leap from a traditional RPG experience and shows the leaps and bounds technology as a whole has made, since Game Director Hironobu Sakaguchi first started making games on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), with the 1987 release of Final Fantasy.

A Return to Roots

The original Final Fantasy was released on the NES, with Sakaguchi serving as Game Director. Since that time, he had been the Game Director for most of the Final Fantasy releases prior to Final Fantasy VII, where he was responsible for the original story following Cloud and his battles with Sephiroth, as we attempted to uncover his mysterious past. Fantasian does deviate from that epic release in a few ways, however. Fantasian is by all accounts, a traditional, turned-based endeavor, where each member of your party takes turns attacking, harkening back to the days of old, where turn-based RPGs, following a linear narrative were at the forefront of RPG design.

A battle from the original Final Fantasy, on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

It’s a returning to the roots for the team, however, and for Sakaguchi, in particular. Mistwalker has utilized the traditional tropes of turn-based combat, searching maps for treasure, and engaging in randomized encounters, but they have thrown a few variances on top of those existing structures. Upon loading the game on your iOS device, the stark contrast in graphics is on full display. Once you enter the first town of En, you are immediately ensconced in the graphical physicality of the levels. They come alive and aren’t merely stagnant spires thrust upon a 3D renderer.

In a recent interview, he discussed what led him to return to those roots. “About three years ago I had the opportunity to play Final Fantasy 6 with my old colleagues, the people I made the game with, and it really reminded me of how much I enjoyed this genre, and how much I would like to make another game like that.”

Handcrafted Maps?

Each battle has a specific order in which each character will attack, displayed in the bottom right-hand corner that appears anytime a random encounter is initiated. These battles can occur on any map. And the maps! Oh the maps! They are so gorgeous. Below is an example of them actually building the town, prior to adding it into the game.

Each area is an actual handmade diorama, built by a company of over 150 employees, with each live model being scanned into a 3D map. The art is beautiful, and it’s hard to fathom that we went from playing games like Snake on our flip phones to fully rendered, 3D JRPG’s on a handheld device that makes phone calls, checks social media, and can text. I did feel that playing Fantasian on the phone loses a little bit of its luster. The portability is amazing, but playing on an iPad or an Apple TV is a much better fidelity to experience Sakaguchi’s game. It took all of 5 seconds to pair my PS5 controller through the Bluetooth settings on the iPad, then I have whisked away into the adventure.

One of the many hand-crafted dioramas, that serves as the towns and settings in Fantasian.

According to Mistwalker Studios, the game is roughly 20-30 hours, and this only encompasses Part One, with Part Two set to release later this year. The amount of content for a game that is roughly one US dollar is amazing. When measuring the sheer value that gamers embark on, it’s unfathomable. The game, while not difficult, does add some unique gameplay elements to the traditional, turn-based RPG game style.

As players traverse the handcrafted diorama maps, they randomly encounter enemies (disparate from the large, chapter bosses). These random encounters spawn every 5 to 15 seconds, and although they do serve as a way to strengthen your character and litter the story with combat, after a while they can be frustratingly tedious.

The Dimengeon System (say what?)

Enter the Dimengeon System, a way to store encounters based on the number of monsters (at the start of the game you can store 30 enemies), to fight later. It is an ingenious solution because it expedites the story and the quest throughout the game. Generally, most battles are with 3-5 enemies on the screen at once, but with the Dimengeon System, you can fight large swaths of enemies in waves.

There are additional power-ups as well, that help stymies the tide of enemies, and allow you to disperse them quickly, such as Attack Boosts, Health buffs, etc. Combat is fluid, and these feel like a much better way to experience the story, especially while enjoying the many vistas and landscapes that the diorama team created. It all flows together in a seamless experience, and with the ability to multitask on Apple devices, it lends itself well to be a game I will complete.

In no way is this a masterpiece behind the creative mind of most of SquareSoft’s epic catalog. The story, while serviceable, is rather bare-bones and has some cringe-worthy dialogue. The overall story concept is entertaining, but so many of the lines of dialogue are blatantly obvious, and I wish more time would have been dedicated to properly flushing out the dialogue, and removing many of the cookie-cutter phrases and reactions. Lines such as “it broke,” “he disappeared,” “ah,” and my favorite, “ngh,” (no idea how to properly pronounce that), are littered throughout. With an interesting story of recovering lost memories, this could have been flushed out much better.

Despite the minor annoyances in the dialogue, I was fully ready to recommend this to everyone who has an iOS device, not just Apple Arcade users. That is until I met the main villain, and I fully understood the myriad of connections between Final Fantasy VII and Fantasian. I was partially intrigued and partially incensed that there were multiple similarities between the two games.

Then, I stopped myself. I realized I am playing an award-winning JRPG on my iPhone, and I dove back into help Leo stop whatever madness and malice awaited us on our search for Lord Vam. Fantasian is available on the Apple Arcade. You should download it as of yesterday, if not for the stunning maps, but for the engaging battles and the fact that we are playing a high definition JRPG on our Phones! One caveat, however, is that this is a rather lengthy download of 4 GB, so ensure that you are on Wi-Fi before downloading.

*For our reviews, rather than giving an arbitrary numbered score, we will keep things simple. Should you play this immediately, wait for a sale, or avoid it entirely? If you have Apple Arcade this is a no-brainer, and I can wholeheartedly endorse this download. There have yet to be any sales with the Apple Arcade store. Based on this one game alone, I would at least delve into the Apple Arcade, and see if other games are enough to warrant the monthly commitment. Keep it locked on Otakukart, for more great gaming content, like our future Apple Arcade reviews.