Final Fantasy Dimensions II Might Not Be Just Another Mobile FF (UPDATED)

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UPDATE: All of this was wrong. Final Fantasy Legends II ended up being a rebranding of the pre-existing free-to-play mobile game Final Fantasy Legends: Toki no Suisho. I was so very wrong and there’s little to no hope of a game like Final Fantasy Dimensions ever again and life is hard sometimes.

The past few years have seen a bumper crop of Final Fantasy titles for phones. I don’t envy anyone wading through their respective online store and trying to suss out exactly what any of these games are. Tell you what; I’m going to search ‘Final Fantasy’ in the app store right now and report back what I find:

FINAL FANTASY BRAVE EXVIUS
FINAL FANTASY
FINAL FANTASY 6+1-in-one
MOBIUS FINAL FANTASY
FINAL FANTASY DIMENSIONS
FINAL FANTASY Record Keeper
FINAL FANTASY ALL THE BRAVEST
FINAL FANTASY VI
FINAL FANTASY IV
FINAL FANTASY IV Complete Pack
FINAL FANTASY PORTAL APP
FINAL FANTASY TACTICS: THE WAR OF THE LIONS
FINAL FANTASY III
THEATRHYTHM FINAL FANTASY
FINAL FANTASY II
FINAL FANTASY V
FINAL FANTASY VII
FINAL FANTASY IX
FINAL FANTASY IV: THE AFTER YEARS
FINAL FANTASY XIV: LIBRA EORZEA
PICTLOGICA FINAL FANTASY

And that’s just the titles that contain the words ‘Final Fantasy’ in them – Kingdom Hearts and Justice Monsters Five are a whole other can of worms.

Side Bar: Reading through that list, it actually took me a moment to realize that FINAL FANTASY 6+1-in-one isn’t a Square Enix Wacky Name™; it’s a bundle of 6 games but then also another game. Here in Canada we call that 7 but what do I know?

Anyway, that list is a mess of numerals, subtitles, words that aren’t real, and combinations of numerals and words that aren’t real. I don’t blame anyone who would rather swear off the experience of trying to find the right Final Fantasy for them entirely. But this list is as varied as it is confusing. Certainly there are cynical cash-grabs like All The Bravest and severely compromised ports of classics like V and VI. But there’s also a handful of really interesting experiments that show off how to make a rewarding free-to-play experience: Record Keeper focuses on customizing dozens upon dozens of classic FF characters and engaging exclusively in combat, Brave Exvius adds in map exploration and other traditional RPG elements, and Mobius takes the production value to an entirely new level.

Ugly ports and free-to-play games aren’t for everyone though. Luckily there exists a charming little oasis from it all in the form of Final Fantasy Dimensions. Originally named Final Fantasy Legends in Japan, Dimensions was rebranded to prevent confusion between it and the 1989 Game Boy title ‘The Final Fantasy Legend’ which was actually part of the SaGa series in Japanese. Names are hard.

Dimensions was a passion project by then head of mobile development Takashi Tokita, one of the driving forces behind Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV and my personal favourite, Live-A-Live. Dimensions represented his refusal to let micro-transactions become the only path forward for Square on mobile; it is a standalone game that doesn’t require an online connection, and it’s only in-app-purchases are the chapters of the game itself and an optional chiptune soundtrack. You won’t find any gacha-style mechanics marring this beauty.

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Artist for the FFIV novelization and The After Years, Akira Oguro returned for Dimensions

The game itself isn’t the best 2D Final Fantasy in the world. It’s light on side-quest and content outside the main story, the touchscreen controls are a typical pain, the localization has a few too many ‘lol meme’ moments that wouldn’t be missed if they were sent to a farm upstate, and it is a linear affair given the episodic structure. That said, the job system from V makes a triumphant return with plenty of tweaks that make things feel fresh, the soundtrack is full of great work by series-regular Naoshi Mizuta, and the story is charming and full of interesting characters. And it’s a full-on 2D Final Fantasy. That alone is a novel enough concept in this era of gaming to give it a fair shake.

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It has that unfortunate ‘RPG Maker’ look that mobile FFs have, but there’s a gem under there

Astoundingly, Tokita announced this morning that a full-fledged sequel to Dimensions is on the horizon. Outside of the requisite Yoshitaka Amano art, little is known about the game, however, Tokita has mentioned that the title will be a ‘rebirth’ and a true sequel to Final Fantasy Dimensions. This might sound redundant to call a game with a ‘II’ in its title a true sequel, but he’s likely referring to Final Fantasy Legends: Toki no Suisho – a Japan-only mobile game also directed by Tokita that featured the usual mobile game trappings of stamina bars and luck-based item draws.

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Hopefully that clock doesn’t represent a stamina timer

It’s not difficult to read between the lines and infer that Tokita is making a second attempt at crafting a traditional Final Fantasy experience. I could be completely off-base of course, but the language he’s used so far suggests that he’s returning to the structure and spirit of the original Dimensions.

Unfortunately, despite his attempts to assuage people’s fears of the ‘mobile Final Fantasy’, it seems like people online are quick to write off the announcement of Dimensions II. Just take a look at some of the comments and headlines that have cropped up before any information on the game has been revealed:

“Chrono Trigger Director Working on New Final Fantasy… For Mobile”

“I refuse to use, buy or play any mobile thing made by this company.”

“Your headline had me so excited then I saw mobile.”

“Not sure why…but this being a mobile game makes me feel like it’s not worth my time.”

It’s easy to see that there’s a disconnect between Tokita’s vision for games like Dimensions II, the chosen platform, and the perception of mobile games by Final Fantasy fans. Even comments on the mobile-friendly site Touch Arcade are overwhelmingly negative and already assume that the game will be a F2P social game.

My hope is for people to give games like the original Dimensions a fair shake despite being on a platform associated with micro-transactions and luck-based pulls. It isn’t that kind of game. It might not be a perfect 2D Final Fantasy game, but showing support for it, for Tokita, for games that buck monetization trends, means studios will see that there is a place for games like this. Mind you, maybe there isn’t. Maybe the 2D JRPG is destined to be unprofitable for big publishers. Maybe indie studios are the only ones who can afford to put their resources into projects like this. But I’m not convinced that people like Tokita and their visions can’t co-exist somewhere between the AAA behemoths like FFXV and the F2P money-makers like Brave Exvius and Record Keeper.

Hopefully Final Fantasy Dimensions II will build upon the high points of Dimensions and offer a full-fledged classic Final Fantasy experience. We just need to not let cynicism towards the mobile market distract us from the unique experiences that are worth checking out. Do it for Tokita.

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Dimensions had a female Dragoon named Barbara and you didn’t even play it, you monster.

Review – BitBoy

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Wander into any used game store across North America and there’s a decent chance that you’ll spot a couple Game Boy Cameras; a charmingly bizarre accessory/game released during the Game Boy renaissance of the late 90s. Equal parts tool and toy, the Game Boy Camera is the brainchild of longtime Nintendo composer/designer/programmer Hirokazu ‘Hip’ Tanaka. And if there’s anyone out there who would appreciate what the BitBoy can do for the Game Boy Camera in 2016, it would be him.

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Originally released in a limited 100-unit first printing in October 2015, the BitBoy is a third party device that has been created for the express purpose of extracting pictures from Game Boy Printer-compatible software and transposing it into a .bmp format that can be easily transferred to a computer. And once those pictures are on your computer the sky is the limit. The potential behind the BitBoy is virtually limitless and breathes new life into the Game Boy Camera — one of the most unique and versatile game peripherals of 90s.

Technically speaking the BitBoy is a cinch to use. Simply connect the little black box to your Game Boy of choice using a game link cable (generously included with the BitBoy, but your own cables from 20~ years ago will do the job) and use it the same way you would use a Game Boy Printer with any compatible software. That means your photos in Link’s Awakening DX, your high scores in Pokemon Pinball, and even your Pokedex entries from Gold and Silver are all extractable.

The BitBoy also comes with instructions that show you how to batch extract multiple photos from a Game Boy Camera at a time, making what could have been a patience-testing affair into a simple push of a button. Everything about the BitBoy is user friendly and designed to maximize ease of use.

The unit itself is a lightweight, minimalistic, 3D printed black box that could easily fit into a pocket – it’s so non-descript that it’s almost nefarious-looking. Both connector ports are easily accessed and the SD card is easily removed. It has LEDs showing power and transfer status – a feature that designers with less passion and talent would have easily looked over. And it’s these small details that make the BitBoy such a curious and exciting device. Having the monopoly on the Game Boy Camera transfer tool market means that the BitBoy could easily have been much less impressive and still been received by the market with open arms. That these standards have been set so high for such a niche product is kind of incredible.

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Instructions, a game link cable, a USB charging cable for the BitBoy’s built-in lithium-ion battery, a 4GB SD card and the BitBoy itself are all included with price tag. A price tag that will seem prohibitive to some, but considering the number of items included in the package — and features included in BitBoy that streamline the process — 100 USD plus shipping isn’t the most expensive thing in the world. And for the relatively tiny market that this little guy is designed for, it’s a small price to pay for an item that by all rights shouldn’t even exist.

But with the advent of BitBoy it’s likely that market will only continue to grow as 90s nostalgia is reaching its zenith.

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Small but passionate communities of Game Boy Camer photographers (not sure if I’m willing to appropriate the title of ‘FUNtographer’ just yet) have cropped up in the last few years. Facebook groups, blogs, and Instagram pages dedicated to exclusively Game Boy Camera photography aren’t taking the world by storm, but they exist and produce some remarkable work that would look right at home in their own gallery. It’s easy to chalk it up to nostalgia but there is something genuinely beautiful about good Game Boy photography – you want to see an artist push composition to its limits, give them only 4 shades of grey. My personal favourite is showcasing found photos on second hand Game Boy Cameras. Lo-res pictures of brothers and sisters and family pets, their anonymity protected by the sheer fact that no one can really make out faces on a Game Boy Camera to begin with. It’s a wonderful little world that I can’t wait to see grow in the coming years.

And none of this would have been possible without a way for people to extract their photos from the Game Boy Camera.

After its initial limited run of only 100 units, BitBoy is available again for purchase from gameboyphoto.bigcartel.com. I can easily recommend BitBoy to artists and photographers or fans of Nintendo’s bizarre history of accessories that can afford it. I can personally testify that a number of art projects I’ve been experimenting with lately just wouldn’t have been possible without BitBoy. I hope that others out there find the same joy and creative satisfaction that I have while using BitBoy to resurrect one of Nintendo’s strangest and most wonderful peripherals.

Timed Hits List 001 – Route 209 (Pokemon Diamond & Pearl)

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Welcome to Timed Hits List; a monthly exploration of music from the world of video games. That may mean a song from a game’s soundtrack, it may mean an arrangement of a song that originally appeared in a game, it may mean a song inspired by a game, or it may mean something entirely different altogether! We play it pretty fast and loose here.

Featuring a song on Timed Hits List doesn’t necessarily mean I think it’s a ‘Top Whatever Song in Video Game History’ — in fact we’re going to try to stay away from some of the obvious picks — but each song will be something that has resonated with me in a way that made me feel like sharing and exploring it to the best of my ability. Keep in mind that that ability is limited — I’m certainly no music expert. If you have any corrections or further insight into the music I showcase feel free to let me know in the comments or on Twitter: @victorehunter. 90% of the reason I started Galuade is to talk to other people about the things I love so don’t ever hesitate to share your experiences as well.

Now let’s get started with something upbeat, light, a little odd, and with a hint of adventure to it…

This month’s song is the infectiously charming and surprisingly anthemic “Route 209” from Pokemon Diamond & Pearl.

Geographically speaking, Route 209 isn’t the most remarkable stretch of land in Sinnoh. It’s a short, L-shaped road with a few small points of interest, a smattering of trainers, and the requisite patches of tall grass. However, it ends up being a place that trainers will visit quite a few times if they’re interested in Pokemon breeding.

Beginning with Ruby & Sapphire, Pokemon Day Cares were regularly placed near long stretches of uninterrupted land to provide easier egg hatching routes. Sinnoh’s version consists of a dirt road stretching from Route 209’s elbow in the south, up through Solaceon Town (where Day Care Man can be seen by the side of the road), and north onto Route 210. Players can collect an egg from the Day Care, hop on their bike, and ride along this unbroken path back and forth until either their egg has hatched or they’ve seen that the Day Care has another fresh ovum to offer them; then it’s rinse, lather, repeat, repeatedly. The breeding/hatching cycle is a little grotesque when you think about it too hard — in which case I would recommend not thinking about it too hard.

“Route 209” is composed by longtime Game Freak staff member Hitomi Sato. Credited as a Planner and Scenario Writer from Pokemon Crystal (2001) onward, Sato’s first Composer credit would be for Diamond & Pearl. According to Sato herself in an interview on PocketMonsters.net, a position had opened on Game Freak’s sound team after a member had left. She says, “I had told them once that I could play the piano and when I was asked if I wanted to give it a try, I said yes.” It’s fair to say that ‘I could play the piano’ might be a bit of an understatement. Sato’s Diamond & Pearl compositions are quintessentially ‘Pokemon’-sounding while adding a flair and nuance that wouldn’t have been possible in prior generations due to hardware limitations. With Sato’s help the transition from GBA to DS was a sonically positive one for the Pokemon series and “Route 209” exemplifies this.
The song opens immediately with a snare drum straight out of a marching band and leads into the cymbals-crashing bombast of our first melodic line. Whether it’s a deliberate homage or not to ELO’s Telephone Line remains to be seen – the two songs go through tonal shifts that aren’t entirely dissimilar after all. Then almost as quickly, things de-escalate until around the 0:25 mark where we get a more laid back drum beat and piano line. Totally different melody from what we had before in our march. It has an inspirational “setting out on a journey” feel that Pokemon tunes so often nail – but if you listen closely there are some really killer drums fills going on in the background around the 0:40 mark. I can’t help but imagine the tiny drummer in my DS loving the hell out of this song. But don’t get lulled into thinking that “Route 209” has played all of its cards yet…

0:58 transitions into another melody, again with a completely different feel. Piano is traded out for flute, the cello has been replaced by bass guitar, and our little drummer boy has opted for a syncopated hi-hat. Swap the flute out for a horn section and you’d have a ska song from Hoenn.

And that’s it. The entire loop is roughly 1:14 with the track on the Pokemon Diamond & Pearl: Super Music Collection running 1:22.

Let’s be real here; “Route 209” isn’t setting the world on fire. It’s not going to go down in history as a classic. But it really represents a shift in Pokemon music. The leap from the GBA to the DS gave the sound team a lot more freedom to experiment – both with the complexity and number of samples as well as the range of emotion that can be conveyed in any given area. “Route 209” has 3 different musical sections complete with different instruments and a couple bars that segue into those sections with a unifying sound. It’s kind of magical if you can buy into the DS’s sound.

Hitomi Sato’s first composition for Diamond & Pearl was “Route 206”. It’s a piece that feels like it could have been from an earlier Pokemon generation yet doesn’t feel out of place next to the songs that set Diamond & Pearl apart like “Route 209”.

“Route 209″‘s life didn’t end with Diamond & Pearl; an arrangement has appeared in the Smash Bros. series as background music for Pokemon-themed stages. The Smash Bros. Wii U sound test – being frustratingly opaque with its credits – lists Shogo Sakai (Composer for Mother 3) as ‘Arrangement Supervisor’, whatever that means. I’ll include links to the Smash Bros. version, the Nighttime version from Diamond & Pearl, and a jazz arrangement by Youtube channel ‘insaneintherainmusic’ (which I beg you to check out) below.

And that’s about it for the first installment of Timed Hits List. Hopefully something in here either piqued your interest, gave you a bit of insight, or at the very least sent you down a musical rabbit-hole that took you to something you DO find interesting. If you have any further information about this month’s song or composer, or just want to say ‘hi’ don’t hesitate to contact me on Twitter @victorehunter. See you next month!

Further Listening:

WELCOME TO GALUADE

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Nestled in the mountains of the Central African nation of Gindra, Galuade is a non-canonical video game blog with a focus on the sights, sounds and feelings of games that we refuse to let be lost to the flow of data.

Regular updates are scheduled for Fridays in a monthly rotation but are subject to the whims of a cold and uncaring universe:

Timed Hits List – 1st Friday
A moment to appreciate a piece/pieces of music from, about, inspired by, or tangentially related to a game. Can range from a breakdown or analysis to a simple re-listen to a tune. May even showcase a song in it’s different incarnations across remakes and arrange albums.

Editorial/News – 2nd Friday
Maybe current events, maybe old events, maybe non-events.

Every Pixel Perfect – 3rd Friday
A visual counterpart to Timed Hits List, Every Pixel Perfect takes a look at a visual element from/of/surrounding a game — whether that be in-game assets, an iconic screenshot, a piece of key-art, a famous advertisement, or a character design.

Review/Retrospective – 4th Friday
Less about “should you buy this game” and more about “what’s up with this cool thing?”

Wild Card – 5th Friday
Who put this day here? Hmm. Sneaky, God.

If you have any questions, comments, corrections, input, ideas, recommendations, or just need a friend to talk to about why Klonoa deserves more love, get a hold of me on Twitter: @victorehunter.