Start saving your Gil.
Since debuting on the platform just a few months ago, Square Enix has been working overtime to bring as much of their iOS library to Android as possible. We now have remakes of all three 8-bit Final Fantasy games, but Dimensions is something quite a bit more exciting; an original, full-length Final Fantasy game in the grand tradition of the series’ 8-bit and 16-bit roots. This is not a spin-off or side-story, but a brand new adventure that could have nestled into the series somewhere between the fifth and sixth games.
There’s no shortage of retro-styled RPGs on the Play Store, at far more reasonable prices than Square’s head-turning $20 price tag. If a credible imitation of the Super Nintendo era is all you crave, the Final Fantasy name alone hardly seems worth the exorbitant asking price. But Dimensions is more than just a name. It manages to pull the best elements of the first five Final Fantasy titles, along with some original storytelling ideas, and blend them into a game that is genuinely worthy of the name.
As you’d expect, Square has lifted the look of their classic games to match the old-school guts. When it was first released on Japanese iMode phones in 2010, it was an almost perfect match for a Super Nintendo game. The translation to iPhone/Android has brought higher resolution graphics, but the aesthetic is still strongly reminiscent of those 16-bit classics, right down to the “Mode 7” overworld map and those hydrocephalic sprites with their giant saucer-eyes. There are Moogles, Chocobos, and some of the signature tunes you’d expect to hear along with them.
Dimensions borrows most heavily from Final Fantasy V. The fifth chapter didn’t make it to the English-speaking world until its PlayStation port many years later, and is often forgotten as a result, but many – including this reviewer – consider it the best game in the series, thanks to the depth of its gameplay systems and the way it did something fresh with the original trilogy’s style. These compliments can also be paid to Dimensions, which, despite its origins as an episodic dumbphone game, has simplified nothing.
In a unique twist on the typical formula, Dimensions places you in control of two separate parties: the Warriors of Light, and the Warriors of Darkness. Unlike the groups referred to by these names in past games, both of these parties exist at the same time, in parallel. In a reversal of FF5’s world fusion twist, the world of Dimensions is ripped apart into two, with one party in each world. The action switches between them at key points, and you get to experience concurrent events from a different perspective. The device lends an episodic feel to the game, a likely vestige of being distributed in 13 chapters in its original iMode release. It also creates a very linear progression, with little ability to go back and explore the world freely until very late in the game, although this was also true of most of the older games in the series before FF6. Still, the split narrative is a unique twist to the usual storytelling in early FF games, and it allows for a large cast without the messiness of swapping characters in and out.
Dimensions reintroduces the Job System that served as the centerpiece of FF5. First introduced in simplified form in FF3, the Job System allows players to switch their character’s classes at will, and introduced a slew of new classes, each with their own unique abilities. FF5 (and Dimensions) further deepen this by allowing Job levels to unlock “abilities.” These class-specific abilities, once earned, can then be equipped even after a character changes classes. In this way, you can create a Warrior that can use White Magic, or a Black Mage that can use the Monk’s martial arts attacks. Dimensions even complicates things further by allowing players to discover “Fusion” attacks that combine these class-specific abilities and create a new spell that can be used regardless of class.
These systems make leveling up a whole lot more interesting. And make no mistake; you will spend time leveling up. Dimensions is pretty old-school with frequent random encounters and a relatively steep (by modern standards) difficulty curve that encourages players to grind their way up. The welcome inclusion of a speedy auto-battle mode does much to help ease this pain. Indeed, Dimensions still shares some of the flaws of the games it imitates – repetitive dungeons, the usual plot clichés, and some bitterly difficult bosses – but this is a game aimed squarely at those who still hold those classics in high regard.
Dimensions’ price tag is likely to be its biggest point of controversy. One would expect the most expensive game on the Play Store to be packed with high-end graphics and lavish production values, not 16-bit spites. But I review games, not price tags, and Square’s retro romp is a genuinely great J-RPG, worthy of the name Final Fantasy. It pulls all the best elements from my favorite games in the series, and weaves them into a compelling original chapter, that is longer and more enjoyable than Square’s remakes of the original trilogy. For those that still hold the flame for the early FFs, it’s the best old-school J-RPG on the Play Store, and that’s either worth $20 to you or it’s not.
Dimensions plays like the lost sequel to Final Fantasy V, with all the depth that was pruned from later games and then some. Although it will do little to convert those who have outgrown the early games in the series, it’s sure to be a hit with faithful fans.