"This is a game that relies on its roots and branding above all else."
"It all began with an iPhone, or so the legend says."
You've heard the story before: the Warriors of Light, infused with power from a sentient crystal, set out on a journey to rid the world of encroaching evil. As they struggle against the overwhelming power of the almighty Empire, they cross paths with a reclusive Dragoon, meet the brilliant Dr. Lugae and his science-born companion, and brave the scorching-hot peaks of volcanic Mount Gulg. Even the Empire's four fearsome elemental generals prove no match for the heroes, who employ the powers of the Paladin and Black Mage with deadly efficiency.
Pop quiz: which Final Fantasy am I describing? If your guess was "all of them," you're close! Such is the nature of Final Fantasy: Dimensions, a deliberate amalgam of old Final Fantasy concepts in a new iOS package. Ideas from every pre-Playstation era Final Fantasy are pieced together to form a game that hits nostalgia buttons in a good way, but occasionally frustrates due to monotonous segments and a lack of polish. It's a little hard to forgive its imperfections, considering that the game was reworked for iOS; the lack of in-game art assets and recycled dungeons in particular feel like missed opportunities for improvement. Still, I'm grateful that the game was released in English, and while it isn't everything I hoped it would be, Final Fantasy: Dimensions does enough right to be worth playing.
The game's opening appears derivative, but belies some interesting depth. It introduces the player to stock JRPG characters with clichéd personalities: spunky hero Sol, his childhood friend Glaive, love interest Diana, and battle-hardened mentor Aigis. They are sent by the king of Lux to investigate a nearby shrine for unusual activity surrounding the nation's protective crystal. At the same time, in the northern kingdom of Harmonia, four other people are captured by the Avalonian Empire and sent to the very same shrine. However, their orders are to steal the crystal and hand it over to the Empire as part of some nefarious plot. Brooding loner Nacht, serenely mysterious Sarah, and polar-opposite twins Dusk and Alba reach the crystal right as Sol's group does. Angry words are exchanged, a blinding light shines, and the groups are forcibly reconfigured as the world is separated into two halves.
It is here that our game begins in earnest, as the job system becomes available and the characters slowly begin to show some semblance of personality. I was initially put off by the game's jarringly fast character/world-building, but as I progressed, I found myself growing a bit more attached to these people and their stories. Alba is clearly the standout character ‐ she's full of genuinely funny one-liners, sassing friend and foe alike at every opportunity. The story as a whole is not especially imaginative, but its vignette-style presentation suits the mobile format well and there are some admittedly interesting plot points that call on the Final Fantasy history in unique ways.
It's a shame, then, that those moments of excitement are scattered amongst incredibly dull dungeons and incessant enemy encounters. The two parties, despite being in different halves of the world, traverse conspicuously similar caves, mountains, and forests. Field graphics are serviceable, but nothing special, so the lack of ingenuity really ups the "boring" factor. Puzzles and gimmicks appear fleetingly, making dungeon-crawling a chore rather than a challenge. The encounter rate is also incredibly high, which strikes me as a ploy to artificially elongate the game since each area has only a few different enemy configurations. The difficulty is well-balanced, at least, and routinely pushes the player to try new strategies and party setups.
When the plot is no longer a driving force for the player, it's up to gameplay to fill the void. The beloved job system allows the player to mix and match seven starting professions between four characters. Two more sets of five jobs, one exclusive to Sol's party and one exclusive to Nacht's, become available at set intervals throughout the game. These include staples such as the Warrior and White Mage in addition to advanced jobs like Dark Knight and Memorist. However, the player's freedom is somewhat limited (at least in the game's early stages), because job levels are capped by the slightly messy JP system. After important story events, a set number of Job Points are awarded, which can be spent to raise maximum job levels. What this means is that once JP are spent, there is no way to get them back, potentially locking the player out of new job abilities until he has progressed in the game. While the system works fine in practice, I think a better solution would have been simply to cap job levels by chapter, removing the feeling of uneasiness that players like myself encounter when making irreversible decisions about character growth. It may seem inconsequential, but I really felt like my freedom in customizing my party was stunted, which negatively impacted my enjoyment of the game. For what it's worth, infinite JP is available after beating a post-game boss, so the truly obsessive-compulsive can rest easy.
Combat is a snappy affair thanks to an extremely convenient auto-battle option. The game utilizes the series-standard ATB system, and when precise strategy isn't needed, selecting "auto" speeds the action up by several degrees. The player can even set the cursor to "remember," making characters repeat the same action every turn. Using a touch screen to navigate the battle menu works as well as one would expect, though I personally found myself longing for buttons. Outside of battle, it's a different story. The virtual D-pad is an annoyance at best and an enemy at worst. I constantly found myself accidentally running into walls and struggling to talk to NPCs. It was so irritating that it made me put the game down more than once in favor of a console with a joystick. If you aren't a fan of touch-based controls, you will likely find your patience wearing thin before long.
The areas Sol and Nacht find themselves in aren't very attractive, but the character sprites are. While not as emotive as those in Final Fantasy VI, each sprite has some distinguishing battle poses, and jobs have appearances unique to each character. As Dragoons, for instance, Sol wears an orange suit of plate mail, while Sarah sports a helmet-free look with small horns. It's a nice touch that gives each character a little more individuality. Enemy designs run the gamut from typical (rats and soldiers) to unusual (the four generals and their even more impressive superiors). There are also quite a few throwbacks to fodder-type enemies from past Final Fantasies, which fans should get a kick out of. The music is largely average, with a few memorable tracks here and there. The sound quality is a bit better than it was in the game's original version, but the actual compositions remain the same. For a more detailed rundown, check out my full soundtrack review
from earlier this year.
Some other miscellaneous missteps detract from the package. First, it's impossible to overlook the game's price: at $28.99 USD for the total package or $32.96 USD if each chapter is bought separately, this is the most expensive game to grace the App Store. Sure, it's a lengthy adventure, clocking in at 40+ hours, but it's hard to justify spending so much on what is essentially a hodgepodge of old Final Fantasy material with a fresh coat of paint. For fans of the franchise like myself, the price is a hurdle rather than a brick wall, but it still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Another strange decision is the complete omission of in-game character art. On the official website
, there are lovely illustrations by Akira Oguro that didn't seem to make it into the game proper, aside from a few quick slideshows on the screen where additional chapters are purchased. Perhaps I'm just being sentimental, but I remember the days when a single character portrait inspired my imagination in ways that fully-rendered 3D models couldn't. Simply including the portraits in the game's menus would have added plenty to the atmosphere, but this is a minor nitpick.
When I decided to purchase Final Fantasy Dimensions, I felt only excitement at the prospect of a new FF game; its pricing structure barely registered in my mind. I think most series fans will have a similar reaction to the game, which I'm sure Square Enix is counting on to drive sales. That may sound negative, but this is a game that relies on its roots and branding above all else. Questionable price tag aside, if you're looking for a lengthy, retro-style RPG on your iOS device, Final Fantasy Dimensions is your best bet. Just be aware that some of yesterday's frustration slipped into the package alongside its felicity.