Fantasian is an Apple Arcade exclusive Final Fantasy style RPG. I liked it.
I first found out about the game a year ago, seeing some screenshots and reading articles about the art style, which relies on real world dioramas. It seemed intriguing, but it was Arcade exclusive, so I swore I’d never get to play it, because why would I ever sign up for that. Fast forward a few months, I’m tired of my crap Roku, I buy an Apple TV, and it includes a few months of free Arcade. Okay, I’ll sign up.
In short, the game plays very much like Final Fantasy X. The plot is the same. Amnesiac hero, search for his dad, magic princess, restoring balance to the universe. The gameplay is the same. Very linear until the end, every character a specialized class, limited weapon selection, turn based combat. But very well done. The story lacks some of the emotional import, but otherwise, if you wanted to play a game just like FFX, this is it.
They have made one large adjustment to the battle system which is worth exploring. I thought it was a good update to the old school random battles, which are increasingly out of favor. Once you progress a bit in the story, you get a magic dungeon which captures all the battles you’d normally have to fight, and then you fight all the enemies at once. This can be three (at a time) player characters vs up to 40 enemies, so you are given a few handicaps. Enemies warp in over time, not all at once, and there’s about a two round delay before they act, so if you plan your attacks well, you can clear the board while taking very little damage. The hazard is the tendency to get careless because it seems easy, leave too many mooks alive, get a few bad rolls, and then suddenly everything spirals out of control. It’s a good balance? You can’t sleep walk it, but it’s not excessively punishing.
Character attacks come in a few shapes. Straight line, curved line, or area of effect. A major part of the strategy is picking the right targets to hit as much as possible, constantly adjusting as new enemies warp in and clustering changes. A few shots at the center, and then everything will be at the perimeter, perfectly lined up for a sweeping curve attack. Clear that, and the center will refill. But also consider the elemental weaknesses of each enemy. This keeps the game from becoming as repetitive as FFX used to be (Wakka hits the flyer, Auron hits the shell, etc.).
Each character has a few elemental attacks, and usually just one characteristic geometry (straight line or curved). My complaint here is I don’t think these are well balanced. Every skill (ice attack, revive, etc.) exists on two characters, but the distribution results in some odd arrangements. Sometimes the whole team has something useful to do, sometimes half the party is basically useless.
This especially matters during boss fights. They made some changes to the game which make grinding less productive. (This does not mean there’s no grinding! More on that later.) There’s a soft level cap, which basically prevents leveling up from fighting enemies below your current level. In order to keep leveling up, you need to fight harder enemies, not just more enemies. But the harder enemies are gated behind the next boss, so you can’t simply grind levels to beat a challenging boss. The only way to beat them is to figure out their attack patterns and weakness, which is never quite as simple as just ice on fire. It’s more like a puzzle game. Fight, die, reload, fight, die, reload, until you figure out what works. In some cases, it was not obvious at all, even with in game hints, and I resorted to a walkthrough.
The key to nearly every boss battle is first equipping the right equipment, to prevent the bad status effects, and learning the right skills, to attack their weakness. Accessory equipment mostly comes from enemy encounters, so there’s usually a fair bit of farming in the area right before a boss to get that. There’s more skills than skill points, though fortunately they’re easily and freely reassignable. So getting through a boss fight requires reconfiguring the whole party from whatever setup works best for mobs of minions to something specialized for one boss. It can be done, but I found this part of the game had the worst time consumed to fun provided ratio.
I focused on combat because that’s how you spend 80% of your time playing the game, even if the plot is the point. Without giving it all away, the outline is very similar to FFX. Mysteries of the universe revealed as you fight to save the world from gods gone rogue. One difference is that party composition changes more frequently, however. It’s a lot more like FFIV in that regard, where it’s mostly the same characters, but occasionally separated by major events.
Nothing remarkable, but sufficiently compelling to carry the game.
I would not have signed up for Arcade to play this or any game, but now that I have, a few comments on value. If FFX Remaster is worth $30, then I’d say this game is as well. You get a little less game, but it’s a new game. Except you can’t buy it. With regular play, it can be done under a month, two at most. So $10 to rent. I’d say replay value is pretty low, since there’s almost no choice. You can only play it one way. Nevertheless, I’ve recommended the game to several friends who were skeptical about the whole subscription service thing. Apple at least makes it easy to cancel subscriptions. And there’s a few other games I’ve found that seem worth it (Oceanhorn 2, though not Arcade exclusive). Viable strategy might be to sign up for two months each November and December and play whatever you can during holiday time.
One thing I was pretty impressed with is how seamless the multidevice play worked. I play mostly on Apple TV, with a PS controller. But then I go out to a cafe and start the game on my phone, and pick up from lat save. The overall experience was definitely better on TV, just like playing FFX on PS2, for advancing the story. But grinding levels and farming equipment while sitting on a bus or train is a “better” use of my time.