After spending some time on Apple Arcade for the last column, I decided to finally open a game I had downloaded months ago, and boy it was a doozy. I’ve played quite a few mobile games throughout the years, so I was shocked to find a Final Fantasy like RPG exclusive to Apple Arcade. For those who haven’t played the game yet, or struggle with context clues, I won’t hold you in suspense any longer. The title I’ve been obsessed with for over a week now is Fantasian.
Fantasian does so many things right. From the graphics and music to the character design and gameplay, it hits all the right spots. While the story may be a little cliché, Fantasian is well executed and continues to keep me intrigued.
I’m going to start with the graphics because that is what immediately caught my attention. Right away, I thought something seemed strange about the background graphics. The town was beautifully created, but it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a video game. By contrast, the main character and townsfolk had a familiar JRPG look. When I reached the first forest, I knew I recognized the look of the trees from one of my middle school diorama projects. I had also just watched the making of Star Wars documentary on Disney+, so I knew talented people could do amazing things with dioramas.
(Side note, I highly recommend the documentary for any Star Wars/movie buffs. It’s called the Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy, and it’s amazing. It’s honestly a small miracle that Star Wars even exists at all. George Lucas is revolutionary, and the most passionate film maker I’ve ever seen. Anyway, back to Fantasian.)
A quick Google search confirmed by suspicion, the backgrounds to all of the areas of Fantasian are hand-crafted dioramas, and there are almost 160 of them. The details of the areas are exquisite, from the different biomes to the large sprawling cities to intricate bed chambers. The developer studio brought onboard veterans who had worked on miniature set projects such as Godzilla films and Attack on Titan. To see this kind of immersion in a miniature set and pair it with video game exploration, it is truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
Fantasian’s score is catchy and immersive, with different tracks playing in different areas of the map. There are a few areas where the background noises made me especially nostalgic. In the harbor of the city of water Vence (which is clearly such a hard nod to Venice – I always read Vencian as Venician), there is a track of seagulls calling. The track is most definitely a real recording of seagulls on the beach. At one point, I could taste the salt water, it’s that realistic. Another area has a backing track that I swear someone took a recording of the old internet connection noises and added music on top of it. Whenever I’m in this area, I’m brought back to my childhood days of playing old Sonic games and Minesweeper on the computer at my Nana’s house.
Moving to the gameplay, you have two options: play using the touch screen or connect a controller. Much like computer games, I was only able to use the touch controls for a few hours before I started searching how to connect my PS4 controller to my iPad. The touch controls are great, so if that’s what you prefer you shouldn’t have any issues playing Fantasian right on your iPad. I still don’t understand how people play games like this on their phone, but you have that option as well. After about 15 hours of playing on the iPad with the controller, I figured out how to mirror my iPad to the television. This experience makes Fantasian play like a regular console game, aside from the second screen on the table that occasionally draws my eyes when a bright graphic flashes.
My husband, Neal, has been playing a lot of remastered titles that originally came out in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, and Fantasian fits right in this category. Neal’s latest obsession has been The Last Remnant, a Square Enix title that greatly reminds us of Final Fantasy (specifically X for me, but that’s the only Final Fantasy game I’ve played). Fans of Fantasian commonly refer to it as Final Fantasy Fantasian, and the resemblance is uncanny. At one point, I was comparing the characters to Final Fantasy X and assigning them to their FFX counterparts.
The main character, Leo, is definitely Tidus. Leo wields a sword and can use fire and lightning magic to attack, but can also heal characters, apply debuffs to enemies, and utilize taunt/counter attacks. Zinikr reminds me a lot of Auron, as a grizzled older character that still packs a punch (pun intended). Ez is the character that really made me start comparing Fantasian to FFX. Ez is so clearly Rikku, as his main gimmick is crafting bombs and other materials for attacking enemies as well as buffs for party members. I hadn’t thought of a counterpart to Wakka, but now I think it’s the robot pair Prickle & Clicker, mostly based on personality. Kina is definitely Yuna, as she wields healing and holy magic and is the “love interest” of Leo in the story. The game tries to make you think it’s Cheryl, while still indicating it’s really Kina. At first, I thought Cheryl was Lulu, but after getting Valrika I think she fits Lulu better and that moves Cheryl to Kimahri. All four characters use magic, but Valrika is older and wiser, much like Lulu. Cheryl also summons knight spirits, which reminds me more of Kimahri. I’ll be honest, the breakdown isn’t 100% there, but it’s still similar enough to have some fun with the comparisons.
The real reason fans liken Fantasian to Final Fantasy is probably due to the fact that it is produced and written by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of the Final Fantasy franchise. In 2004, Sakaguchi left Square Enix and founded his own independent studio Mistwalker. Mistwalker is the developer and publisher for Fantasian. Sakaguchi also brought Nobuo Uematsu onboard to compose the music for Fantasian. Uematsu is famous for his work with the Final Fantasy series.
The combat is turn-based, similar to FFX with one major exception. Fantasian brings a new twist to traditional JRPG combat systems with its Dimengeon Battle mechanic. Using the Dimengeon Battle system, players can push off encounters and have the enemies collected in an alternate dimension. Starting out, players can collect up to 30 enemies before having to clear them out in a Dimengeon Battle. You can also freely turn on or off the Dimengeon devises as you see fit, and you can enter into the Dimengeon area at any time. This versatility allows players to enjoy the exploration aspect of Fantasian without getting interrupted every 15 seconds with a random encounter. The Dimengeon Battle system also provides different gimmicks, such as turn steal, attack up, and different party heal/revive options. The system allows players to take on more challenging battles with some perks. I personally like getting my experience points in one batch like this instead of slowly accruing it over multiple encounters.
Fantasian is broken up into two parts. Having played it after both parts were released, it wasn’t super obvious when exactly part two started, but I definitely knew I was in part 2 when the gameplay shifted dramatically. The world map really opens up and the story becomes non-linear. Multiple story missions and side-quests unloaded on me. I spent a good couple of hours just trying to figure out exactly what area I should complete first. I would get mostly through an area only to get completely wrecked by the final boss of the area and have to explore somewhere else. Character development also shifts from a straight level-up system to a skill map, which also strengthens the connection to FFX.
Overall, I’m still shocked that Fantasian is a mobile title. I’ve never played a mobile game with such intricate character advancement, multi-quest stories, and immersive maps. I didn’t even talk about the unique equipment options and skill lists each character gets, as well as the option to level up equipment using crafting materials. If I walked into a room and someone was playing Fantasian on the tv, I would immediately think it was a remastered PS2 game or a new Switch title. After playing Fantasian, I’m really looking forward to what Mistwalker develops next and the future of Apple Arcade as a whole.
Fantasian Part 1 was released on Apple Arcade in April of 2021, with Part 2 following in August of that same year. The final form with all NG+ content was released in January of 2022. Let me know in the comments what games you are currently playing on Apple Arcade, and what new releases you are most looking forward to. Until the next time, stay cool, be you. Bye!