It’s difficult for modern JRPGs, especially games that are directly riffing on classic genre staples, to evoke the same sense of wonder as earlier entries. Fantasian has managed to nail just that bringing me into a new fantasy world and giving a suitably exciting story. The fact that it comes from Hironobu Sakaguchi (classic Final Fantasy creator) and with music by Nobuo Uematsu (classic Final Fantasy composer) essentially means you’re shooting fish in a barrel. Sakaguchi’s studio Mistwalker has also been creating and refining these throwback RPGs for 15 years and landed cult classics like Lost Odyssey. Fantasian brings their expertise to mobile, a favorite platform of theirs in recent years, and represents a huge step forward with their visual design. The dioramas that serve as the background for every area are absolutely gorgeous, filled with impeccable attention to detail. They’ve been the major selling point but the game is a finely tuned RPG that harkens back to the best in the genre.
I’ve mentioned classic a lot so far and those familiar with SNES JRPGs should be intimately familiar with many of the beats in Fantasian. Story wise it fits firmly into the template. You play as Leo, an amnesiac that wakes up in the middle of a futuristic technology facility. It seems your amnesia set in right as the game starts and that the technology around you might be to blame. Leo battles his way out, hops into a portal, and ends up in the desert town of En. Here is where you learn that the world is being infected with something called “Mechteria” which as you might guess is represented by white mechanical/bacteria looking objects that emit a purple noxious looking gas. The general population believes this comes from a being called Vam the Malevolent God. Since it seems to be a threat, how does dethroning and killing god sound? Cue meeting magical allies, traversing across landscapes, and discovering new wrinkles in the mechteria story as Leo reclaims his lost memories. The story sits firmly within the genre conventions, but there’s enough mystery to keep things interesting. The humor adds a lot of levity and helps keep things from getting too serious.
Even if the story is relatively stock, the team’s experience crafting JRPGs really makes playing the game shine. The pacing is slick, intended to move you along as smoothly as possible. Fantasian doesn’t waste any time making you grind. Battles are tuned to make sure you’re the perfect level to match any boss encounters. Exploration is tight enough to move you across different locations. Across 6 hours, I’ve already crossed two large towns with enough downtime for me to explore every nook and cranny. Fantasian moves fast enough that the tropier aspects of the story don’t bog it down. There’s enough mystery and characters drip fed across the playing time to keep it from ever feeling like a slog. The game calls to mind the pacing of Final Fantasy VI who’s first half kept you moving through set pieces.
The battle system similarly adds a few wrinkles to update the classic turn based combat. Abilities and magic can sometimes hit multiple enemies and even be curved using the touch screen. The character Kina’s holy ability can shoot in an arc meaning you can curve it to hit front line and back line enemies. The multi hit abilities are especially handy in the games “Dimengeon” battles. Early on you get a device that allows you to store enemies that would normally attack you in random battles. This means that while exploring you can collect all the battles that would randomly pop up and save them for later. At any time, you can go in and battle all of the enemies at once. These battles are a lot of fun and it’s great lining up abilities to hit a half dozen enemies. Fantasian also drops random power ups into the field that you can hit with your abilities. The power ups range from increased attack to stealing a turn. Dimengeon makes random battles more interesting and also frees up exploration and backtracking. I felt way less rushed looking for hidden items and chests when all the random encounters are being safely stored away to visit at my convenience.
The icing on top of the cake is just how beautiful Fantasian is. The dioramas are just gorgeous and I love trying to find all of the details layered into the environments. There’s a variety of unique settings too including the aforementioned desert town, Vence (a Venice look alike), and a large airship. Each environment has plenty of areas to explore all with unique and intricate touches. What’s doubly impressive is how smooth Fantasian runs. There’s no slowdown or hitching when the camera transitions around an area. I was expecting some constraints running an iPhone but it runs so smoothly. I’ve heard that certain backgrounds look blurry on iPad, but I haven’t run into that on my iPhone XR. The story is also parsed out via beautifully drawn 2D story book sections (I’ve heard this was similarly employed in Lost Odyssey). The drawings look like something out of a children’s fantasy novel. I’m going to try and keep myself from posting too many screenshots because I just can’t stop taking them.
Ok I lied, there’s an extra layer of icing on this cake. Uematsu’s score is fantastic and full of symphonic arrangements. Their sounds range between gentle tones during the storybook sections and big guitar riffs during battles. There’s a concert that occurs in the background on the airship that I just had to stop and get absorbed in. I wish I could link music but I can’t find any links online. Overall Fantasian is hitting all my RPG buttons. It’s a really special game that I hope more people play. I’m worried about the Apple Arcade exclusivity limiting its player base. For those curious, I was able to get a 30-day free trial so you should definitely seek it out! (my last and only time I will shill for Apple).