If you’re like most gamers of parenting age, you’ve played at least one Final Fantasy game. And if you’re like most Final Fantasy players, you have fond memories of classic scenes from the games. But who wants to dust off their original Playstation to relive them?
Mobile-games giant DeNA has a better idea. They’ve paired up with Square Enix to produce the free-to-play game Final Fantasy Record Keeper on iOS and Android. The game’s been out since September in Japan, but hits North America today. It is a devoted homage to and celebration of one of the most enduring franchises in videogame history.
The story is straightforward: You are an apprentice watching over the history of the Final Fantasy universe, the memory of which keeps peace and order alive in the kingdom. But the records underlying that memory are beginning to fade, and chaos is beginning to reign. It’s up to you to save the kingdom by revisiting those records, which Final Fantasy fans will recognize as the series’ most iconic moments, and fighting the monsters and bosses all over again.
Don’t worry: You’re not going it alone. You’ll assemble a party of up to five members, and that party will comprise some of the most legendary figures of the Final Fantasy series. When I played the demo, my roster included a Black Mage, Cloud, and more. (Players who play the game in the first week will unlock Final Fantasy X favorite Tidus.) You set up your party and equip it before entering each “record,” or dungeon. Hardcore players can hand-tune their party; casual players can let the computer optimize for them.
The battle system is the Active Time Battle mechanic that originated in the early days of the franchise. Once your gauge is full, you can act. But the world doesn’t stop while the bar is filling and you’re pondering what to do. Monsters are free to attack you, and you have to act quickly when the gauge is full. Defeated monsters give you gold, weapons, healing potions, and orbs that can be used to craft new abilities. As you move through an area, you gain the ability to use special massive-damage abilities. It’s been a long time since I played a Final Fantasy game, so the crew at DeNA helped me out for my demo, though it was still hard to keep track of everything going on. The tutorial, however, which I went through after DeNA later sent me an access code, will give beginners the basics. Any Final Fantasy fan will be instantly at home.
The fight-scene graphics deliberately evoke the early sprites of the series, even when you’re visiting a record from, say, Final Fantasy X. This can be a bit jarring when you see rendered artwork as a reward for finishing a sprite-based battle, but obviously an iPad is not a PS3. The music for each story will be the familiar music of that particular game.
Anyone familiar with free-to-play games will recognize some of the tactics to get your dollars and cents. In order to enter a battle, you need to have stamina, and stamina refills daily. You can, of course, buy more. But you can also get more — and increase your maximum — by defeating monsters. In-App Purchases will also get you special gear. Iconic gear paired with iconic characters within the particular Final Fantasy story they came from (e.g., the Buster Sword held by Cloud in a Final Fantasy VII story) will net massive rewards for you and your team. Weekly events will keep you coming back for more and will net you new stories and other unlocks.
If you’re a Final Fantasy fan, this game will bring a smile to your face and a wistful sigh to your lips as you remember gaming days gone by. But even I, for whom Final Fantasy is a distant memory, enjoyed the frantic battle pace and the sense of a larger universe underlying the game.