Final Fantasy Dimensions is the Laserdisc of mobile gaming. Compared to most mobile games, this Square Enix spinoff was better conceived, better designed, much more fun — and utterly, utterly doomed. Playing the game is an emotional rollercoaster, from the soaring highs of “I can take a top-notch JRPG with me anywhere” to the crushing lows of “we’ll never see another mobile game like this.”
Over the past 10 years, mobile gaming has become a cesspit of advertisements, microtransactions, shovelware and occasionally outright malware. In that respect, Final Fantasy Dimensions is a sad glimpse into a future that never happened. The game shows us how mobile gaming could have been a haven for substantial, affordable adventures that took full advantage of small displays and ubiquitous touchscreens. Instead, we still need to go out and buy expensive handheld consoles if we want real gaming experiences on-the-go.
What Final Fantasy Dimensions has
In case you’ve never played Final Fantasy Dimensions, it’s worth briefly explaining what the game is. (In case you’ve never played a Final Fantasy game, you should probably consult our ranking of every Final Fantasy game before you read any further, just to get an idea of what the series is all about.)
Final Fantasy Dimensions is a game that debuted for mobile phones in Japan in 2010, and iOS and Android devices in the rest of the world in 2012. The game looks and plays like a classic Final Fantasy title — Final Fantasy V, specifically. You take control of two parties of eager young adventurers, the Warriors of Light and the Warriors of Darkness. From there, you explore a colorful 16-bit world, engage in countless turn-based battles, master a variety of different Job classes and experience a high fantasy story all about war, friendship and magical crystals.
The first thing I noticed about Final Fantasy Dimensions is that it’s much more expensive than most mobile games. While most iOS and Android games cost somewhere between nothing and $5, Final Fantasy Dimensions costs $14 up front.
However, the relatively high price was eminently forgivable, given the second thing that I noticed: Final Fantasy Dimensions is a regular old, full-fledged Final Fantasy game. It doesn’t make any of the compromises you’d expect from a mobile spinoff.
The game has tons of enemies to fight, and tons of equipment to collect. The difficulty curve is neither insultingly easy, nor artificially difficult. There are two huge worlds to explore, eight different characters to customize and 18 distinct Jobs to try out. While I haven’t finished the game yet, HowLongToBeat suggests that it takes about 50 hours, putting it on a par with most other FF titles.
At the risk of sounding dismissive, it’s not worth going into great detail about what happens in the game, as you can probably sing along if you’ve ever played a Final Fantasy game before. There’s an evil empire, a bunch of protective crystals, a fleet of airships and two groups of plucky young warriors — you can fill in most of the rest. There are good guys, bad guys and guys who are somewhere in-between. There’s love, hate, betrayal, redemption and all that good JRPG stuff. In fact, some contemporaneous reviews dinged FF Dimensions for hewing too close to the “typical” FF formula, and had hoped for something more creative in the mobile space instead.
If only they’d known what the alternative was.
What Final Fantasy Dimensions lacks
What struck me most about Final Fantasy Dimensions was not what it offered, but rather, what it didn’t offer. You won’t find any of the following things in this game:
- Inscrutable in-game currencies
- Artificial content gates
- Excessive level grinding
- Repetitive side quests
- Never-ending live service elements
- Limited-time events
- Pay-to-win multiplayer
In other words, Final Fantasy Dimensions is a regular single-player video game. Square Enix simply developed it for mobile devices first and foremost, rather than porting it over from a more traditional console.
Granted, it helps that JRPGs are a natural fit for the mobile format. The overhead movement makes touchscreen navigation easy, while menu-driven, turn-based combat obviates the need for split-second precision. You can save anytime you’re not in battle, which means it’s easy to pull the game out and put it away at a moment’s notice.
On the other hand, single-player JRPGs didn’t become the gold standard for the mobile gaming market. Instead, the most popular mobile games include Candy Crush Saga, Subway Surfers, PUBG Mobile and Pokémon Go. These games represent a respectable variety of genres and gameplay styles, but they all share many of the problems referenced above. Their primary goal doesn’t seem to be providing the player with a fun experience. Rather, the goal seems to be to nickel-and-dime players indefinitely, eventually amassing much more money than a one-and-done game purchase ever could.
While Final Fantasy Dimensions arguably played it too safe, look at what the game accomplished. It was a completely new entry in a beloved series, comparable in gameplay, story and length to a classic title. It charged a fair price for a substantial experience, and never asked for another penny. It offered players a discrete beginning, middle and end, rather than a Skinner box to trick them into playing for years on end.
As much as I’m enjoying Final Fantasy Dimensions, the game also makes me wistful for what mobile gaming could have been. Imagine if other developers had followed Square Enix’s lead, and adapted beloved series into titles optimized for mobile platforms. Imagine what mobile gaming would look like with high-minded spinoffs rather than endless gacha games. Imagine if in addition to Final Fantasy, mobile gaming had worthwhile entries to series such as Super Mario, Mega Man, The Legend of Zelda, The Elder Scrolls, Assassin’s Creed, Tomb Raider and more.
(Actually, most of those series do have mobile spinoffs — and they all fall into the typical freemium mobile game traps, save for the excellent Lara Croft Go. You may not be surprised to learn that Lara Croft Go is a paid, single-player game with a gameplay style optimized for mobile screens.)
While Final Fantasy Dimensions II does exist, the game is a reverse-engineered version of a free-to-play game, unlike its predecessor. I’m currently about 30 hours into Final Fantasy Dimensions, and once I’m done, I just don’t know if I’ll find another game like it. Sure, there are ports of other Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games. But I’ve already played most of those. Part of FF Dimensions’ charm was that it was a brand-new experience.
I imagine that at this point, mobile gaming is too far gone to save. In a world of obscenely profitable free-to-play, live-service games, why would a mobile developer bother to make a one-and-done experience — especially when most players are unwilling to spend a single dollar up front, let alone $15 or $20?
Sadly, there weren’t many games like Final Fantasy Dimensions 10 years ago, and I doubt we’ll be seeing more anytime soon. The only consolation I can offer is that if you overlooked Final Fantasy Dimensions back in 2012, you can — and should — still play it today. It’s a glimpse into what might have been.