Over the previous a number of years, it’s develop into fairly frequent for a prolific Japanese developer to go away a serious firm to create a “spiritual successor” of kinds to the video games that made them well-known.
However, this development has yielded blended outcomes up to now. For each success story like Koji Igarashi’s Castlevania- impressed Bloodstained or Devil May Cry creator Hideki Kamiya’s Bayonetta, you will have such main disappointments as Mega Man designer Keiji Inafune’s Mighty No. 9 or, most not too long ago, Sonic the Hedgehog co-creator Yuji Naka’s Balan Wonderworld.
Thankfully, the newest recreation from legendary RPG designer Hironobu Sakaguchi, Fantasian, falls very a lot within the former camp. By paying loving tribute to the Final Fantasy creator and Chrono Trigger co-creator’s earlier works, whereas on the similar time bringing some sensible improvements to the desk, Sakaguchi’s studio Mistwalker has delivered an amazing JRPG that feels each nostalgically acquainted and excitingly contemporary.
Although a full verdict must wait till the Apple Arcade recreation’s second and closing half releases later this yr, Sakaguchi has already gained over this lifelong fan of the style.
Like a long-lost Final Fantasy
At first look, Fantasian might sound fairly spinoff. The story locations an amnesiac protagonist named Leo on the centre of a multi-dimensional battle between machines and people, the gameplay revolves round turn-based fight and random encounters, and also you’ll even experience on an extravagant airship early on.
Even extra informal gamers of Sakaguchi’s older video games are more likely to catch that characters named ‘Sid’ and ‘Garland’ and a ‘Phoenix’ merchandise getting used to revive downed celebration members are not-so-subtle nods to Final Fantasy. Fantasian could be very conventional on this sense, however therein lies a great deal of its appeal.
But Sakaguchi — who penned the sport’s story and oversaw the remainder of its growth — is cautious to not rely solely on fanservice. Instead, he makes use of these tropes to weave a fascinating story concerning the steadiness of “chaos” and “order” and the unwitting heroes who get caught within the center. While the dialogue itself may not be terribly authentic, the characters show to be fairly likable and grew on me over time.
“Impressively, Mistwalker has gone to the trouble of producing more than 150 physical models filled with incredible amounts of detail and scanned them into the game.”
Learning extra about Leo’s previous by following the interdimensional exploits of his enigmatic father saved me intrigued, whereas the tragic backstories Princess Cheryl and the Queendom of Vibra and the mysterious Kina added a strong emotional hook. All the whereas, Sakaguchi maintains the whimsy of the older FF video games by enjoyable bickering between the characters, just like the Uzra airship captain Zinikr continuously butting heads with the disrespectful-yet-genius orphan Ez.
The world of Fantasian can be fleshed out by stunning hand-drawn vignettes that supply a pleasant change of tempo from conventional cutscenes whereas permitting the music of famed composer Nobuo Uematsu — Sakaguchi’s pal and longtime Final Fantasy collaborator — to essentially shine by. Overall, the legendary musician’s work right here is excellent and, surprisingly, even experimental, mixing the likes of rock, piano and synth with such distinct sounds as an web dial-up connection to convey the temper of an alternate dimension robot-filled manufacturing facility.
Teaching an outdated canine new methods
While Fantasian‘s otherwise solid story and characters don’t essentially tread new floor for RPGs, Mistwalker has executed a commendable job distinguishing the sport in numerous different key methods.
The most obvious of those is Fantasian‘s absolutely gorgeous aesthetic, which blends well-designed HD character models with actual intricate real-world dioramas. Impressively, Mistwalker has gone to the trouble of producing more than 150 physical models filled with incredible amounts of detail and scanned them into the game. It’s a hanging and wholly authentic visible model that jogs my memory of the awe I had as a child whereas working by the towering pre-rendered environments of Sakaguchi’s Final Fantasy VII on the unique PlayStation.
In reality, Fantasian really gave me a singular sense of immersion in contrast to any I’ve felt earlier than in a recreation because of the world being grounded by these tangible, so-real-you-could-almost-feel-them backgrounds. As a pleasant contact, Mistwalker has additionally added a ‘pin’ system that permits you to faucet the place you need your character to go. This without delay makes navigation simpler on cellular units whereas additionally letting you are taking a second to lean again and actually soak within the stunning vistas and engrossing rating.
Beyond that, although, Mistwalker has taken care to shake up style conventions and add some much-needed nuance to tried-and-true gameplay mechanics. As somebody who has performed many JRPGs, I actually have a little bit of a love-hate relationship with random encounters. On the one hand, they will hold issues feeling dynamic and shocking, however additionally they can usually really feel grating and repetitive.
In Fantasian, Mistwalker has made the completely good resolution to offer you management over when random encounters can occur. Enter the ‘Dimengeon’ system (a mixture of “dimension” and “dungeon”), which helps you to banish enemies you’ll have in any other case needed to battle to a different realm to battle unexpectedly afterward.
It’s a remarkably finely-tuned mechanic, as you’ll be able to initially solely ‘Dimengeon’ a pre-set variety of enemies earlier than it’s at full capability and you’re pressured to battle all of them. Further, any new enemies you haven’t encountered nonetheless must be fought as soon as even when Dimengeon is turned on, after which period they’ll be robotically despatched away like every other beforehand met foe.
On the flip facet, with the ability to toggle the Dimengeon system at will provides you the very welcome freedom of exploring the world at your individual tempo. What’s extra, the Dimengeon system provides a rewarding technique factor to fight that isn’t present in customary encounters, which might normally simply be cleared by a couple of primary assaults or spells.
In Dimengeon battles, although, you’ll be dealing with as much as 30 enemies (which are available waves), so you need to be rather more considerate, particularly the place MP is anxious. This is the place Fantasian‘s different signature gameplay mechanic — the power to curve sure strikes — actually is available in. If you play your playing cards proper, you’ll be able to hit a number of enemies without delay relying on the way you arc your assault. It additionally feels extremely intuitive on a touchscreen like an iPhone or when utilizing a mouse/trackpad.
Balancing this out, nevertheless, is the truth that rows of enemies may comprise an assortment of monsters with totally different elemental weaknesses, whereas different creatures may be capable of put up a wall that forestalls you from hitting these immediately behind them. Meanwhile, Dimengeon battles sometimes spawn power-ups that enhance your assault energy and even offer you a second flip.
With all of this in thoughts, you’ll wish to be considerate in launching your assaults. Spatial consciousness is vital to being environment friendly in battle, and it was at all times deeply satisfying to wipe out 4 or 5 enemies in a single fell swoop with a well-placed curved Holy spell from Kina, or utilizing Ez’s throwable double-edged sword to hit one group earlier than transferring onto a second. Play your playing cards proper and also you even hit a number of Lightning-vulnerable enemies with a single bolt, letting you maximize harm whereas minimizing MP consumption.
“While it remains to be seen how well Part Two will stick the landing, the many strengths of the first entry have me eager to see how it all pans out.”
You additionally web much more XP when defeating these teams, which makes development really feel extra significant versus the extra piecemeal good points that you just’d get by extra quite a few smaller-scale fights.
The “Part Two” of all of it
The solely actual main shortcoming to Fantasian lies in its conclusion. While I’m not against splitting up an RPG into two components (particularly once they can run for dozens of hours), Fantasian‘s first half involves a fairly abrupt and awkward ending. Plot developments and a key new gameplay mechanic are launched on the final minute, whereas a marked problem spike kicks in with the ultimate two bosses — all of which makes the finale really feel disappointingly disjointed and irritating. Likewise, Vam, the villain of Fantasian, can be a fairly generic world-conquering risk in Part One, even by the top of the practically 20-hour journey. Hopefully, Part Two does a greater job dealing with all of those threads.
On the opposite hand, Mistwalker has confirmed that the second half will undertake a extra quest-based, free-roam construction. This is actually very tantalizing, as Fantasian is total fairly linear outdoors of some largely trite sidequests right here and there. The recreation already options an extremely helpful quick journey mechanic that permits you to immediately warp to nearly any earlier factors of curiosity, so I’m trying ahead to creating higher use of it as soon as extra quests open up. The promise of doubtless exploring Fantasian‘s world map with an airship is particularly thrilling since current numbered Final Fantasy video games — barring XV, which itself suffered from an uninteresting open-world — have forgone such mechanics.
A unbelievable return residence
Sakaguchi’s return to his roots up to now has been practically the whole lot a JRPG veteran like me might have requested for. With an enthralling forged of characters, intriguing world, elegant visuals and music and a few genuinely intelligent spins on conventional turn-based fight, Fantasian feels proper at residence with the beloved Final Fantasy video games of yesteryear.
While it stays to be seen how properly Part Two will stick the touchdown, the various strengths of the primary entry have me wanting to see the way it all pans out. Whether you’re a JRPG fanatic or a relative newcomer to the style, Fantasian is a superb expertise that’s completely value your time.
Fantasian (Part One) is now out there on Apple Arcade, which prices $5.99 CAD/month and may be accessed on iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV.
For extra on Fantasian, try my current interview with Sakaguchi.