I spent a lot of time considering how much money is too much money when thinking about buying Final Fantasy Dimensions. This game has a prelude that’s a free demo, and then charges for each Chapter after that until you have the whole game, or you can man up and buy the lot at a reduced sale price. Ultimately I came to the conclusion that if the game were on the Playstation Network I’d happily drop £20 on a new game based on the aesthetic of the classic games in the series (1-5). I wasn’t disappointed.
Let’s get this straight right away, until the release of an optimised Final Fantasy VI this year, Final Fantasy Dimensions was the single best FF game on the iStore. It tells a new tale and is perfectly designed with the limitations of a touch-screen in mind. That a later port built upon this framework to present an even BETTER system only adds to the genius with which this game was handled. I don’t consider the price too much, though I would like to see it go down and attract some new customers, though I do consider asking for additional payment for the games soundtrack on top of the full unlock price to be going a step too far. SquareEnix has a policy based around ‘this is what our game is worth’ when it comes to stand alone titles, with a little placard on the end that reads ‘pay up or leave.’
Graphically the game aims to be akin to Final Fantasy V in style, though it has a slightly more adult tone than that game does. Character designs are by Akira Oguro who channels Amano from the get-go successfully and handling no less than eight different characters plus guests each with a full range of sprites for each job they change to is impressive. Locations are new but divised in such a manner that they would fit in with any SNES title bar-FF6, which began the series’ courtship with heavier science fiction themes. Not that the series was ever afraid to do so (4 has a whole giant mech dungeon) but the tonal shift went from fantasy to more science fiction from 6 through to 8 before returning to the original tone for 9. Overall it’s a solid package designed to promote a retro-feeling of nostalgia for those earlier titles and at this it does a good job. Amano himself did contribute the games logo and some post-concept artwork to the project to give it additional sparkle.
Sound effects are also aimed squarely at the nostalgia button, with many of them being sampled from FF4 and FF5 in order to better project the era. They still work well and the intended focus is achieved, but it would have been nice to see something new in place. I think that the After Years team passed along their samples wholesale, with many of the same people working on both titles. Musically the game fares better with new takes on existing themes by Uematsu and whole new pieces by Naoshi Mizuta. Some of these new tracks are particularly good and rival the classic FF pieces to a lesser extent. I’m still not amused that Square chose to release it as a separate download however and wouldn’t purchase it myself.
The story of the game revolves around two sets of heroes instead of the traditional one usually employed and is a clever play off of the setup for Final Fantasy I. Four friends, Sol, Diana, Glaive and Aigis are sent by the King of Lux to investigate the status of a crystal linked to the balance of the world. Similtaniously Nacht, Alba, Dusk and Sarah are being sent by the Avalon Empire to steal it. The ensuing fight between the two sides in the crystal chamber shatters it and the world is split into Light and Dark versions of itself with the two parties jumbled up and split between them. One group is hailed as the Warriors of Light, a Final Fantasy staple with heavy connotations, while the other is greeted as the Warriors of Darkness. As they travel and seek a way home they each have adventures of their own and gather more crystal shards which allow them to take on different jobs. Guest characters join the party in each chapter to help forward both the over-arching plot, that chapter’s story and teach the player how to best use now job classes. Whilst the setup for the story is nothing overtly dramatic by Final Fantasy standards, the mixing of the two groups leads to some interesting pairings and clashing philosophies. Special mention should go to Alba, a gothed up black mage/bondage chick, who carries most of the games comedy and his hilariously capable of breaking the fourth wall. Nacht also manages to grab some spotlight as a form of reverse-Cecil from FF4, redeeming the Dark Knight class. Still it’s Alba who steals the show, especially when an old man tries to pretend his name is ‘Cloud’ and she calls him out on it with a ‘Yeah right, and I’m Aeri . . .’ Of the two parties the ‘Light’ side suffers a little from being mostly pure-hearted do-gooders with a motivation that’s based around doing the right thing, while the ‘Dark’ group gets stuck into some murkier territory. I liked how Sol and Diana were obviously supposed to get together, and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that splitting her into another group causes her to rethink what she sees in him over the course of the game. The guests are also very colourful characters in their own right and some verge on stealing the lime-light from the player party altogether.
Gameplay is as traditional Final Fantasy as it gets, though the chapter based format does change it up a little. The job system is a revamped version of the one seen in FFV and contains a few extra jobs to take into account roles such as the Dark Knight, where as exploration and combat feel very FF4 otherwise. There’s not a great deal to say on that front as the game is exactly what it sets out to be and doesn’t rock the boat by playing with those expectations. The touch based controls are deftly handled however, with a static transparent d-pad on the left hand side of the screen and a single menu button. Approaching a character and bumping into them or tapping anywhere on the screen will initiate interaction, whilst the menu button pulls up a very functional (but bland) menu through which the game can be tweaked, items used and characters assigned jobs, etc. It would have been nice to see a little of Eternal Legacy’s dynamic menu system styling in here, but it’s strictly no thrills. Characters move nicely under your control however and the game plays perfectly. Combat uses a touch-based function and is an ATB system that again plays up to retro gamer’s nostalgia. It’s still fun and works well, but some elements of it feel more dated on the modern system than they do in ports of the original game. You can have multiple save files and tweak parties to your hearts content, but you won’t have enough shards to master every job, so pick a character path and stick to it from the outset then add extra abilities around them as you go. Post-game content allows additional unlocking of jobs as well as higher ranked items and a gauntlet of harder boss encounters to test your party after the story is complete.
In all Final Fantasy Dimensions is a great package for those who miss the series’ hay-day and enjoy replaying the classic titles. It’s got great characters and a good story, but a lot of padding to fill it all out as well. With the release of FF6 onto the iStore last year it was finally bettered from a gameplay standpoint, but if your looking for a slice of nostalgia with a shiny new story and memorable cast then you could do a lot worse that investing some time here . . . price permitting.