The lights are on
Do you remember the days when Black Mages wore pointy hats? When bosses threw insanely powerful status magic in your face every turn? When Final Fantasy was more about airships and crystals and less about sulking heroes in a sci-fi world? If so, then you should be very excited about Final Fantasy Dimensions.
Dimensions’ episodic adventure features everything gamers could want from an RPG throwback: an elaborate job system, a 40-hour quest and of course plenty of melodrama. But it also includes those frustrating rough edges that later Final Fantasies smoothed out, including an absolutely ridiculous number of random battles and the need to grind for level-ups.
Dimensions started life as an episodic adventure, released slowly onto Japanese flip-phones over a period of almost a year. The English-language iOS port is available in a single package and features fully revamped graphics, sound and touch-screen controls.
The game’s graphics have a smoothed-over, high-res style in place of the original’s chunky pixel art. This gives certain elements an impressive amount of detail – especially the huge bosses.
The story follows two separate groups of heroes: The Warriors of Light and the Warriors of Darkness, both on a mission to stop the evil Avalonian Empire from seizing the world’s power. When the empire attempts to steal the land’s magic crystals, it tears the world in two. Each group must recover the Crystals left in their dimension and mend the world back into a single whole.
Although each of the 13 three-hour episodes gets the warriors one step closer to thwarting the Empire and provides insight into their characters, they’re largely self-contained stories. You’ll visit a secretive ninja village, help an android discover her humanity, find the last dragoon, teach a fallen knight how to recover his honor and plenty more.
This episodic structure keeps the adventure fresh, but it also makes it hard to get invested in the story. Just when things begin to get interesting the party is whisked away to a new corner of the world for the next episode.
This structure also severely limits player freedom. Players can’t fully explore the game world until they’re almost at the end – over 30 hours in! Earlier than that, the game forces you to complete each objective in order, although there are optional dungeons and bosses within each episode for diligent gamers to uncover.
What Dimensions lacks in scenario & story flexibility it makes up for with sheer depth and flexibility in its job system. Players can assign any party member to any available job on-the-fly, with more opening up as the story progresses. As a character’s job-level increases, the character earns the power to use that job’s abilities any time they want, even when they switch to a new role.
For example, this means if you level-up a character’s White Mage job level, you can set White Magic as a secondary skill even when they’re a different class. You could have a party full of speedy Ninjas that can heal themselves, or a party of Warriors that also use versatile Red Magic. Or a party of Black Mages that use buffs from a Bard’s songs or a Dancer’s dances.
It’s a very powerful and very fun character progression system.
Since Dimensions features five-character parties, you’re encouraged to experiment and have a few different party configurations prepared for specific encounters. I usually kept one full-time healer for random battles, switching to two healers for boss battles.
Players will need to take every advantage the job system offers them, because Final Fantasy Dimensions is hard. At least, the boss battles are. They throw a huge amount of damage and status effects in your party’s face every single turn.
Many boss fights also act as puzzle battles. One boss leeched my party’s MP and used it to power devastating spells. Switching to a no-mage party made the fight much easier. Another boss fires off crazy spells when his health reaches critically low levels – to win I had to save back some MP to burn him down quickly at the end.
Random battles are a different story. They pop up waytoo often, and don’t require much thought – you can auto-battle your way through them. The enemies still hit hard though, so most dungeons become a race to see if you can hit the next save point before your healer runs out of life-giving MP. It’s tense
Don’t be fooled by Final Fantasy Dimensions’ status as an iOS release - this is a full-length, full-fledged oldschool Final Fantasy through and through. The simplistic episodic storyline is disappointing, but the very fun and very deep job system, lengthy quest and rewarding boss fights still make Dimensions an excellent throwback RPG.