Mixed. If released twenty years ago, FFD might have occupied the same hallowed headspace as the Squaresoft masterpieces of the mid 90s—all the ingredients look to be here in more-or-less the right quantities, and no one would balk at the $29 price for a full console RPG. Today, though, you have a decent iOS RPG with above-average graphics, sound, combat, and character customization, but the cookie-cutter character archetypes and job system—beloved and well-designed as they are—do not justify the headline-making price tag.
+ Everything you love about Square's "golden years" are here—super-deformed characters, emotional twists, moogles, airships, tough bosses, crystals, menu-based combat, equipment, accessories, summons, etc.
+ Pretty sprite-based character visuals and animations, great spell effects
+ Good touch controls with a short learning curve
+ We've seen it before, but the job system is pretty great
- Everything you hate about Square's "golden years" are here—goofy translations, the same old moody characters, random battles, an evil empire, epic but often nonsensical plot, etc.
- Poor pacing with little character development
- A possible lack of value for the price when compared to other good iOS titles
You could argue that Square Enix is trying something courageous with Final Fantasy Dimensions (FFD). You could argue that, alongside the veritable firehose of tens of thousands of freemium iOS games, they have brought a complete, high-quality RPG to the platform and that they are paving the way for other triple-A titles to charge the appropriate amount for the experience. You could argue their goal was to take a strong step towards your i-device becoming the gaming system you reach for even when you're at home and capable of playing on a console.
I don't think that was their goal.
Based on the first four hours (the prologue and Chapter 1 which you can play for $2.99), FFD looks to be a fine, but maybe too familiar, game. When you consider the relatively expensive cost of Square Enix's ports of their older titles, like Final Fantasy Tactics at $17.99, and when you consider that FFD is a two-year-old Japan-only mobile RPG, I think that Square Enix knows how much weight its brand pulls and is banking on their reputation to push downloads.
Alongside many quality games at a fraction of the price, I think they are wrong to do so.
I must point out now that I have only played through the prologue and first chapter of Dimensions. As an ardent RPG fan with several of Square's older titles in my all-time favourites list, I set out with only some trepidation to see if Dimensions was worth the money, and whether Square Enix was taking that step towards a more legitimate "gamer" play on a more casual device.
My findings were mixed. There's nothing broken in Dimensions, though even at this early juncture some critical pieces are missing.
For example, the storytelling and character development is clumsy and poorly paced. I have a cast of eight main characters with only the vaguest sense of who three or four of them are. I was charmed to see Square's "fade-to-black" treatment with my first character, where they provide you with a short description of your new hero and then let you name them, but unfortunately, that makes up much of the character-development efforts for the entirety of Chapter 1. Here is a guy—he's quiet and brooding and this is his name. Here is a girl—she's mysterious and kind and this is her name. It's a bit lazy, and really should be unacceptable when they've so successfully built interesting characters through carefully paced in-game narrative in past games. See FFIII or FF Tactics.
I must acknowledge that Square set out to remake their classic RPG experience, and here they've succeeded. This is airships and dungeons and glowing save points before boss battles. It's technically a new title and I won't rail too much on a lack of gameplay innovation, especially considering how versatile and fun the job system is, but if you're familiar with any of their older titles you've already seen these characters, with these abilities, moving through this plot.
It's a shame, because a brand-new, focused storyline with fully developed characters married to Square's high-fantasy, element-based, steampunky world—the world I have spent hundreds of hours falling in love with—could have sustained my interest past this initial trial purchase. As it stands, I feel a little cheated after grinding random mobs for four hours with a cast of cardboard cut-outs. And if FFD isn't for me, the old-school gamer with a special fondness for sprites and menu-based combat and summon spells, who is it for?
Still, I must also acknowledge that a there's a solid experience here that might develop into the game I would be willing to pay real money for. Once the job system was unlocked in chapter 1 and the plot started to take shape, my opinion of the game softened. I enjoyed building my party, seeing hints to what I imagine are plot twists, and even exploring the towns while rubbing against set dressing to find hidden items. Too soon afterwards, though, I hit that dreaded "final save point of the chapter" and I found, no matter my love for Square's works and for the potential game hidden away here, I wasn't sire I would gamble the $10 on chapter two. Not with excellent titles like The World Ends With You, Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy VI within easy reach on my DS, the Wii Virtual Console, and Playstation Network respectively.
Seldom have I been so conflicted. I want to love Final Fantasy Dimensions, and there's a side of me that demands that I give in to my fondness for retro games and buy the next chapters to fully realize Square's vision. I believe there could be strong characters here, I know the gameplay, and there is comfort in the familiarity of the setting and plot. Besides, I had only scraped the surface of a forty-hour game.
The adult gamer in me, though—the guy with limited spare time that has been moved by serious narratives across all genres, and who would never be tempted to excuse a gameplay rehash wrapped up with so-so writing and glacial character development—that guy votes with his wallet. He won't be buying the next chapters of FFD, and unless you absolutely must have every Final Fantasy game in existence, he suggests there is better value out there.