A JRPG that is handmade (literally) for Final Fantasy fans!
Mobile gaming has quite a stigma surrounding the platform. Most of the games tend to be low quality and often have “gacha” mechanics that monetize every aspect of the game, even the amount of time played in some cases. It is so rare to find a mobile game that is exclusive to the platform and is made with real care and heart. Fantasian was a pleasant surprise to the mobile gaming community. Fantasian broke the mold and stigma of mobile gaming and made me, for the first time, consider phones and tablets as a legitimate platform for high quality, narrative heavy, and beautiful games.
Fantasian is a JRPG released by studio Mistwalker and was released in two parts exclusively on Apple Arcade. Part one was released on April 2, 2021 and part two released the following August on the 13th. Two industry legends are attached to the game; writer and producer Hironobu Sakaguchi and composer Nobuo Uematsu. You may know these names from a little franchise known as Final Fantasy. Fantasian is to Final Fantasy as Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is to Castlevania; a spiritual successor and love letter to the retro history of their respective genres. Fantasian feels like a top-tier, turn-based Final Fantasy while also developing its own identity with its mythos, gameplay, and incredibly unique artistic direction.
Fantasian, before and after the release of part two, could be reviewed in very different ways. Part one spends the majority of its roughly twenty hours of gameplay introducing characters that initially feel like a lot of JRPG tropes. An anime sword boy with amnesia, Leo, serves as the main protagonist and he’s slowly introduced to the timid, white mage-esque Kina, the princess with icy demeanour, Cheryl and the jolly and tough Zinikr. These four characters are most central to the story’s overarching plot. By the end of part one you will have a party consisting of eight characters that each will have meaningful side stories that are well worth exploring.
Leo begins his journey searching for answers regarding the disappearance of his father but he and his eventual company find themselves confronted with a god from another realm known as Vam the Malevolent. Vam’s mission to spread the ambiguously named “Chaos” throughout the multiverse and thus destroying it all, typical villain stuff. By the time part two begins, Leo and his party have many victories and answers that only lead to more questions and challenges. Part two is really where Fantasian’s story and gameplay really begin to shine and that initial threats and mysteries are revealed to only be scratching the surface. Throughout the sixty hours of content, a treasure trove of lore is developed and many of the characters grow and are given meaningful and emotional story arcs in their respective side stories.
The only real blemish to the game’s well written story is the aforementioned pacing and cliches. The story really takes off and begins feeling truly unique at around the fifteen to twenty hour mark, which is the tail end of part one. I didn’t back up my original playthrough of the game to the cloud before deleting the game in between parts one and two which caused me to play part one twice. It was on my second run of part one that the tropes and cliches especially stood. Maybe intentionally humorous, Fantasian even features the meme level trope of a protagonist that starts by saving cats for a kid and then finishing with fighting a god. However, the pacing and cliches should not deter anyone from trying the game out if they have the time investment.
The most interesting addition to traditional turn-based combat that Fantasian provides is the “Dimengeon Battle” mechanic. This mechanic “allows players to send previously encountered enemies into a separate dimensional dungeon to streamline combat and maximize uninterrupted exploration of the beautiful locations.” Initially the player is able to send thirty minor enemies to the Dimengeon but it can be upgraded to fifty. This allows the player to defeat enemies in bulk and helps to streamline exploration and grinding that is typical of the JRPG formula.
A second interesting feature of the combat system is how each character has different abilities and attacks that can hit a single opponent or opponents in a straight line, an arch, or within an area of effect. Each character has different specialities and once the player enters part two, he or she is able to switch between all eight characters while in combat. This turns the game into a puzzle or intensive strategy game that requires switching, buffing, debuffing, healing, and planning several moves ahead. The game has a plethora of bosses that often have to be planned for in advance. Several bosses I had to lose to just so I could learn what equipment or characters would be most effective in taking it down. It’s not unusual for bosses to be able to one shot the entire party so the player will spend equal time trying to survive as he or she would in trying to actually take down the opponent. The intensity was invigorating and challenging in the best way. Grinding would not necessarily be the answer to defeating a boss but having a specific strategy in place could be the only means to victory.
Each character has a growth map that is fun to figure out and upgrade and is similar to the sphere grid of Final Fantasy X. Completing each character’s side stories would unlock more parts of their growth map and reward powerful upgrades. Some of these same story quests can also reward weapons with specific passive abilities that can greatly enhance the viability of a character in the late game. A particularly incredible combination is getting a gem that protects a character from all ailments and then equipping it to Tan, the spirit beast user. In the late game he develops a skill that applies tons of buffs in exchange of taking on status effects but with this gem he can receive all the positives with none of the negatives. This transforms Tan into a character that I barely used into an absolute weapon that I could not have defeated the final boss without.
The uniqueness of Fantasian’s art direction cannot be overstated. A description from Mistwalker website summarizes it well when saying; “Each of the 150+ dioramas has been crafted by the masters of the Japanese “Tokusatsu” or special effects industry. Creating Fantasian’s real-life miniature sets are veterans who have worked on projects like the Godzilla films, Attack on Titan, and Ultraman.” The dioramas are handmade and then digitally scanned into the game’s Unity Engine. The gallery in Mistwalker’s site shows ingame set pieces with Leo on a ship or in a building and next shot will feature a real-life person holding the same ship or building in their hand. It is breathtaking. I have dabbled in model kits, particularly Gundam kits. It is a laborious, tedious, and satisfying hobby. My daughters (ages 5, 3, and 1 at the time of this writing) and I enjoy building simple Pokemon models and beholding our little creations. While nowhere on the scale of detail or artistry, it gives me such a deep appreciation for these artist’s work. It baffles me to see such detail, time, and care given to these immaculate, beautiful, and tiny locales.
The music composition is every bit as grand and moving as you would expect from Mr. Uematsu. Fantasian, and it’s OST, contain over fifty tracks which range widely in tone and experience. “At Wrath’s End” featuring Yasuo Sasai has a very, anime-intro feel to it with heavy metal instrumentation that makes the heart race and adds intensity to the boss battle that it is featured in. The track, “God Realm” is reminiscent of the Sephrioth’s theme song from Final Fantasy VII with its choir and orchestral crescendos that created a kind of grandiose atmosphere in combat. “Kina (Destiny)” featuring Yuria Miyazono reminded me of Tidus and Yuna’s kiss from Final Fantasy X and is both somber and moving. The music and style of the game continues to pay homage to the Final Fantasy games that it draws inspiration from.
A small note in regards to the game’s sound design, the footsteps and interactions in world exploration are really noteworthy. Knowing that the environments are made from physical models and digitally scanned into this game world, the footsteps make the environment feel so much more real and tangible. Unfortunately, like many of the early Final Fantasy games that have inspired Fantasian, there is no voice over work and the dialogue is all text based.
Note to Parents
Fantasian is a complex and difficult JRPG but is wholesome in much of its content. There is noticeable foul language and references to drugs or alcohol. Though there are a myriad of different enemies and battles there is no blood shown and there is no sexual content to speak of. The game’s main story does include a pantheon of gods that all have different motivations ranging in abstract, existential concepts such as “Chaos,” “Order,” and achieving “Zero.” The deities, multiverses, and concepts would certainly be in opposition to a Christ-centered worldview but could potentially be discussed in terms contrast to the physical realm in which we exist and the “god realm” or heaven in which God the Father exists. Fantasian could easily be a conversation point when introducing or discussing eternal realities in light of its content matter.