I spent $31.42 on an iPad game two weeks ago. $31.42. On an iPad game.
That's the price you have to pay for Square Enix's latest foray into old-school role-playing, Final Fantasy Dimensions. This new Final Fantasy is a traditional, turn-based RPG for both iPhone and iPad. You can download the app and play the prologue for free, but to keep playing after that, you'll have to dish out some cash: $2.99 for the first chapter, then $9.99 for each of chapters two through four. Or you could spend $28.99 on the whole package. That's what I did. (Plus $2.43 in taxes.)
Was it worth it? I don't know. But Final Fantasy Dimensions is a surprisingly fun old-school experience. After seven or eight hours, I'm currently about halfway through Chapter Two. That's about enough time for some impressions, right? Right. Here are some things I like and don't like about Square Enix's new RPG.
Like: Old-school feelings
You will roam between towns, trawl dungeons for treasure, buy items and equipment, switch between jobs like Warrior and Red Mage, and explore a fairly big world map. You'll fly in airships, defeat (and recruit) summon monsters like Titan, and meet characters named Cid and Matoya. This is as Final Fantasy as it gets. If you're into that sort of game, you'll dig it.
Dislike: Old-school annoyances
You will stave off invisible random encounters, watch crystals shatter like they've shattered thousands of times before, and spend a fair amount of time fiddling with menu swaps and job switching. Everything you didn't like about games like Final Fantasy IV or Final Fantasy V is back for more. An auto-battle option helps speed up random encounters, but it doesn't make them any less tedious. On-screen enemies would have improved this game quite a bit.
Like: That catchy music
The legacy of Nobuo Uematsu carries on here: composer Naoshi Mizuta has done a wonderful job dreaming up hum-worthy tunes for the towns and dungeons of Final Fantasy Dimensions. There are also several great battle themes, each of which helps make the random encounters far easier to stomach. I haven't heard a single bad track yet.
Dislike: That ugly art
Re-used textures. Ugly, blotty sprite design. Weird perspective shifts. This is not a pretty game. It's a sharp game, a game that I enjoy seeing and exploring, but it lacks the charm and spirit of any of those old Final Fantasys. It's more like Final Fantasy V Lite.
Like: Lots of personalities
Characters in Dimensions each have very specific traits. One woman is really nice to everyone. One man is stoic and mysterious. One villain likes to constantly scream about how awesome he is. Another villain is polite, but deadly. If these all sound stale and familiar, that's because they are. They're archetypes, not people.
That might all sound like it belongs in the Dislike category, but I genuinely enjoy this sort of hammy characterization sometimes. There's something uniquely comforting about experiencing the same sort of traditional, good-defeats-evil, beat-all-four-elemental-fiends-to-continue story we've been experiencing for decades.
Dislike: Tries too hard to be funny.
I appreciate the effort that was put into localizing Final Fantasy Dimensions, but many of the jokes miss their mark hard. Much of the dialogue feels stilted, unnatural. Conversations will suddenly just end, as if the translators ran out of room to give them proper conclusions. It's jarring.
Like: The iPad controls
In many ways the touch-screen controls are impeccable. Field menus and turn-based combat both work really well, with nice big icons that are easy and convenient to prod with even the chubbiest of fingers.
Dislike: The iPad controls
On the flip side, walking around the world still doesn't feel quite as precise as I'd like it to feel. When using the directional pad—which is, admittedly, the best implementation of a directional pad I've seen on iOS—I would constantly overshoot or undershoot my target destination by at least a square or two. Touchscreen controls work when they feel like they're designed from the ground up to work for touchscreens; this directional pad feels like it's designed to replace a controller.
Like: The challenge
This is not an easy game. Goods are expensive and you'll have to make significant decisions about whether to spend your money on weapon, armor, spells, or new items. You'll find yourself in situations where good resource management is the only way to beat a dungeon or take down a tough boss. It's refreshing.
Dislike: That egregious price
$31.42. I have mixed feelings about this one.
On one hand, we're used to much cheaper games on our iOS devices. Even big, beautiful experiences like Infinity Blade and Avengers Initiative won't cost you more than $15. Dimensions is an unwelcome anomaly.
On the other hand, this is a game that could easily sell for $30-40 as a 3DS cartridge. It's long, it's deep, and it's packed full of things to do and see.
But this isn't a 3DS cartridge. This is a digital-only release. Square Enix doesn't have to pay packaging fees, or shipping fees, or retail fees other than the cut that Apple takes.
Argue all you want about how low costs lower the value of games, but I don't think developers on Steam who are making a pretty penny selling their games during the Summer or Winter Sales are arguing much at all. The fundamental truth is that digital distribution has changed the way we look at value. It's happened for movies; it's happened for music; and it's happened for games.
With less ridiculous pricing, it's realistic to think that Square Enix could be moving a whole lot more copies of Final Fantasy Dimensions. At $10, it could be an easy impulse purchase for nostalgic Final Fantasy fans. At $30, it's most assuredly not.
So is it worth the money? I can't answer that for you. I don't know what's in your wallet. But if you're a fan of old-school RPGs, if you're the type who misses the days of turn-based Super Nintendo games from the likes of Square and Enix, you'll probably have fun with this one too.