Fantasian, the new mobile RPG from Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi and Mistwalker -- and one of Apple Arcade's most anticipated games -- arrived Friday alongside Wonderbox from Aquiris and a slew of new games. Since it was teased at the gaming service's release in 2019, fans have eagerly awaited news on a potential release. Not ones to disappoint, Sakaguchi and Mistwalker have been consistently dropped updates on social media.
Through a translator, Sakaguchi spoke with CNET in early March about Fantasian, its connection to the Final Fantasy franchise, and what players can expect from the new game, which was three years in the making.
Fantasian's story focuses on young protagonist Leo, who's searching across multiple dimensions to find his missing father. Leo has lost his memory after an explosion at a hybrid magic-tech factory. After waking up in a world dominated by machines, he has only one clue: a repeating vision of a young woman. When Leo arrives in En, a dusty frontier town, he meets Kina -- the woman from his dream.
The pair set off on a quest to reclaim Leo's memories and discover their destinies. As Leo's past is revealed along with other mysteries in the multidimensional adventure, the balance between order and chaos becomes harder to maintain.
When players lead Leo and his newfound companions through Fantasian's multiple realms, they'll be exploring over 150 handcrafted dioramas built by artisans in the Japanese special effects industry, who had a hand in projects like the Godzilla films, Attack on Titan and Ultraman. The worlds give players plenty of chances to explore, admire subtle details and search for Easter eggs.
In addition to the focus on handcrafted dioramas, Sakaguchi's team paid close attention to how the game would be played. Sakaguchi said the first half of Fantasian is more narrative driven and that the second half takes on a more traditional quest experience. As players progress through the game, they'll notice that even the supporting characters have their own heritage, personal quests and even emotional baggage.
Fantasian also polishes the classic Japanese RPG genre with its gameplay mechanics. Mistwalker used a "novel" approach to tell the story: As players collect various memories, journal entries, and notes, the story unfolds as "miniature in-game novels," with unique artwork, music and sound effects, for a more immersive experience. Players can also use a feature called the Dimengeon Battle mechanic to send previously encountered enemies to another dimension to fight later.
Read more: 10 games coming soon to Apple Arcade
Back to the beginning
A few years ago, Sakaguchi was playing Final Fantasy VI with some old colleagues when the idea for Fantasian was born. Sakaguchi said it was like returning to his roots.
"It really reminded me how much I love this classic RPG game genre," Sakaguchi said. "And even from the Final Fantasy days, we've carried on this spirit of innovation and pushing the boundaries in terms of the status quo."
The technological advancements since Final Fantasy VI alongside the art form of the dioramas made for a new and different experience in making Fantasian, Sakaguchi said.
Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu, who scored the Final Fantasy series and has worked with Sakaguchi for over 35 years, composed 60 tracks specifically for Fantasian. Uematsu has also worked on other Mistwalker games, like Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon.
"I've had some of my colleagues test-play this and asked for their impressions," Sakaguchi said. "They've told me that playing Fantasian somehow felt nostalgic. I guess that nostalgia is in a way what links Fantasian to its Final Fantasy heritage."
A personal touch
Fantasian places 3D characters into real, physical environments full of striking details. Each diorama was specially lit, photographed and 3D scanned before the 3D models were superimposed on top. This adds a new element when it comes to gameplay.
"I think the dioramas have an interesting synergy with the Apple Arcade platform," Sakaguchi said. "Most of the devices I imagine [that people play on] are iPads or iPhones. Because those are mediums were you tap the screen with your hand, there's a touch-based interface. The dioramas, which are also handcrafted, have that human touch. Through the glass -- the medium -- you're touching these elements that the artisans created by hand."
Sakaguchi said the handcrafted environments lend the game's visual expression a unique charm and warmth. With more traditional, computer-generated games, it's more about copying and pasting, he added.
"You could copy and paste a bunch of trees and make a forest," Sakaguchi said. "Dioramas are an interesting meld of two different worlds where you're re-creating these natural elements that exist in our real world, but by human hand. It gives it a very unique kind of 'unbalance,' which to me lends itself to being an interesting environment design for this game."
In the time of the pandemic, video games have provided many people with a way to cope and escape. With Fantasian, Sakaguchi hopes to add something extra: connection and warmth. When something is created by hand, he said, it has a certain touch and feel that creates a connection between the person who made it and the person who uses it.
"Take music for example," he said. "With advancements and technology, there are so many amazing synthesizers and sampling libraries that you can use to create entire orchestras. That doesn't compare to when someone plays the string of a violin. I think the same could be said of video games."
During these uncertain times, when physical human touch is lost for many, Sakaguchi said he hopes Fantasian can help players see the world a bit differently.
"I think there's a sense of excitement that we can all share and get from that," Sakaguchi said of Fantasian and the characters' journeys. "What I hope the audience feels as they step into the world of Fantasian is that, 'I'm so glad I spent time in this world.' That's the emotion I would love to draw out as they transport themselves to another world."
Apple entered the mobile gaming world more than a year ago with the release of Apple Arcade. The subscription gaming service costs $5 a month and lets you play more than 145 new and exclusive games across the iPhone, iPad, Mac, iPod Touch and Apple TV.
If you want to give Apple Arcade a try, you can get a one-month free trial, or a three-month free trial if you purchase a new iPhone 12 device. The Apple One subscription bundle also launched last year, which makes it more affordable to get up to six Apple subscription services, Apple Arcade included, for one price.