Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu together on a new JRPG: these few words would be enough to make it clear how this Fantasian review goes far beyond the narrow space that usually is reserved for mobile titles, but everything becomes even more interesting when you realize that behind the pedigree there is also a lot of substance in this new project exclusively for Apple Arcade.
It is a JRPG which recovers the most classic stylistic features of the genre, which somewhat represents the stylistic code of Mistwalker as we have seen in Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon and The Last Story, but which also manages to be surprisingly fresh and innovative through small but significant changes to the well-established structure: working on the combat system and on the construction of the world, but above all by amalgamating everything under the direction of a Master who returns to handle “his” matter with extreme mastery. The result is truly a pearl in perfect style Sakaguchi: although the hope is to be able to see Fantasian also on other platforms, because it deserves an even wider stage, it should also be noted that this project is a confirmation of how Apple Arcade can give space to the author’s videogame in the mobile field even beyond of public niches and production peculiarities, which in this case involve a real work of craftsmanship.
A classic start
Speaking of the history, which fits perfectly into the classic canon of the genre, we must make a premise: Fantasian will be distributed in two parts, with the second one that is expected in the course of 2021 but does not yet have a release date. This means that the story, for the moment, is truncated and must be concluded, which is why the overall evaluation of the game will also be resumed at a later time, once we can try the complete experience. This first part still lasts about 20 hours, so it is already a very substantial title, which could reach truly remarkable dimensions with the addition of the second part.
The storytelling, as befits a traditional JRPG, is pervasive and guides the experience of the game while also making it quite linear, at least in this first part. Moreover, the most classic elements of the genre can be seen: the protagonist is a hero predestined for great deeds, who suffers from amnesia and must try to recover elements of his own history and identity, embarking on an epic adventure that leads him to face an evil deity with the help of various companions. Clichés and tropes are quite commonplace, but they are used with great skill by Mistwalker, so much so as to glimpse a bit of self-irony in the ability to play with these stereotypes, showing the great mastery of the medium on the part of Sakaguchi and his companions. , which from time to time also grant some clear references to past titles such as Final Fantasy and others.
The story tells of a world that is progressively corrupted and suffocated by a mysterious entity called “mechteria”: while humanity ends up squeezed between the inscrutable machinations of unscrupulous divinities, a small handful of heroes, led by the protagonist Leo, attempt the desperate undertaking to defeat real gods. There storytelling takes place through some interlude scenes but above all dialogues and also the simple use of illustrations with text on the screen: the latter solution, almost in a visual novel style, perhaps betrays the limited dimension of the production, but is still fascinating and in many respects also original compared to the classic cutscenes of the biggest caliber games. Although the subject does not present particularly disruptive elements, the writing it always remains on an excellent level and the narration is pleasant, both in the dialogues (which alternate a rather traditional general trend with ironic and brilliant ideas), and in the completely written parts. We also report that the game is entirely in English.
Traditional gameplay, but not too much
The action takes place between exploration of the environments through third-person shots with “fixed cameras” and turn-based combat, practically recovering the same structure of Final Fantasy VII but adding original touches that can significantly change the gaming experience. Wandering around the environments it is possible to talk to numerous NPCs, collect more or less hidden objects and also take part in some secondary quests, perhaps solving simple environmental puzzles, but Fantasian still appears very linear and set everything on the main story, at least in this first part .
Encounters with standard enemies are random, but one of Fantasian’s innovative ideas soon intervened on this aspect to profoundly modify its management, namely the “Dimengeon”: it is a tool that, if kept on, allows the protagonist to automatically send enemies within an alternate dimension, in case they have already faced them previously. In this way we can freely explore the scenarios at least until the Dimengeon reaches the maximum capacity of 30 enemies, an event that forces us to face them all together in a great pitched battle in progressive waves.
The combat system is turn-based and is based on the management of attacks along trajectories or areas that can be managed directly with finger movements on the touch screen: the clashes are designed in such a way as to emphasize this feature, usually placing a certain amount of different targets on the battlefield, whether it’s different enemies or multiple targets on the same boss’s body. In addition to the classic balance of forces between elemental, magical and physical attacks, the control of trajectories or impact zones introduces an additional strategic level that makes the clashes much more engaging than the normal classic turn-based battles, keeping the interest high even during “group” fights with the Dimengeon, where bonuses are also involved to be recovered to modify the statistics in real time and the timing of the shifts. THE controls they are well designed to take advantage of the touch screen, so much so that it is also preferable to use the controller, however supported.
The system of character management and evolution, with the expansion of attack and defense techniques that can be performed in combat through the typical access to physical attacks, special abilities (spells and various techniques) and objects during the turn. However, there is a particular note to be made: towards the end of the first part, in practice, a new management of the skills and progression of the fighters opens up that is not deepened too much and will probably develop in a more complete way in the second part, revealing a further enrichment of the gameplay.
A wonderful world of craftsmanship
The most striking feature of Fantasian is certainly the construction of the scenarios, carried out through the use of real dioramas, photographed and partially modified, instead of the classic polygonal settings or in pre-rendered 3D. It is a solution of great impact, also because it was planned with care and with considerable study from the stylistic point of view, so as to be homogeneous and in line with a particularly solid artistic direction. All this includes an enormous manual preparation work that is almost touching, considering how the world of the game is the result of a great work of real. craftsmanship, something that hardly happens to associate with the development of a video game. It is also a way to rejuvenate a clearly somewhat outdated approach, as well as a clever solution to the problem of the lack of technical means that a team as small as Mistwalker might encounter while working on an exquisitely 3D plan.
The landscapes are not as immobile as one might think, given the solution adopted: NPCs, animals, streams, atmospheric and particle effects animate each shot, giving back the vision of a particularly vivid world, also thanks to the strange and pleasant effect of the real materials used for construction and dynamic transitions between shots. In all this, it would perhaps have been even more beautiful to be able to divert more from the preset path and explore the world with more freedom, perhaps following side quests more numerous and developed than those currently present, but there is the hope that this aspect can be deepened with the second part, which should open the setting more to a deeper exploration.
Finally, we come to the other pillar on which the whole Fantasian experience is based, namely the splendid music of Nobuo Uematsu, who recalled once again by the great companion of adventures Sakaguchi, responded by putting together a memorable soundtrack. There is no shortage of relaxing piano pieces that are a bit the typical signature of Uematsu, but in this game we note a certain interest of the composer for synthesizers and solutions even less common than the tradition, which here take precedence over the classic orchestral tracks. and they help build a very unique identity for Fantasian.
Fantasian is a splendid homage to the JRPG’s more classic style, as well as one of its best modern interpretations. The reconstruction of the traditional canon is not just an imitation of manner, instead finding new expressive and gameplay solutions that remain well impressed. The great craftsmanship behind the construction of the dioramas leads to scenarios that surpass any pre-rendered construction in wonder, even making a graphic layout that should appear obsolete surprising, while the solutions adopted on the combat system make what is once again engaging. it is usually considered a boring legacy of the past. At this point we wait to see the second part, also to be able to better evaluate the points that are more dubious, such as the progression of the story and the excessive linearity of the game, but what we have seen so far makes Fantasian one of the best recent JRPGs, deserving of a immediate subscription to Apple Arcade, in the hope that it will also find space on other stages.
- A wonder to see and hear
- The combat system is classic but with additions that make it new and engaging
- Dimengeon is a great idea for handling casual encounters
- Play smart with clichés and classic figures
- The story, still incomplete, does not seem particularly original
- A little too linear, with few digressions and alternative quests to the main story