1997. 24 years ago. That was the last time I reviewed a traditional Japanese role-playing game. This, apart from a few exceptions (Secret of Mana, FFVII, Zelda), is not a genre that I am ever associated with. It is in many ways very rarely my thing. But when Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi announced almost three years ago that he would make a final RPG and that that adventure would be designed and structured to mimic the layout, style and narrative of Final Fantasy VII, I naturally lit up. Since then, I have been waiting, secretly. This is because Final Fantasy VII is a memory that I will always cherish, an adventure that I have loved dearly for 24 long years, and Fantasian is in many ways a lovely retro return to everything that made Cloud's cyberpunk-inspired journey through Midgar so memorable.
The fantasy revolves around the hero Leo who wakes up in a burning industrial room, dazzled by laser lights from a howling alarm as well as by a memory loss that has left him completely empty besides an small fragment of a girl, who at one point saved his life. The world is on fire, an evil race of droids has invaded and slowly but surely everything from natural resources to the freedom that man once enjoyed is being strangled. In order to regain his memory, find his way back to himself and on the coup try to put everything in place, again - Leo needs to find the girl who saved him, find out what's going on with the world and who's behind it all. The story is very similar to the one in Final Fantasy VII with everything from environmental destruction, memory loss and innocent romance as basic foundations for the narrative. The story is typical Sakaguchi, as it is epic and hilarious and in the end it is a fine-tuned and memorable, even if it never reaches the same soaring heights as Cloud's journey.
The base premise is super classic and is one big tribute to the PlayStation masterpiece. We're talking turn-based role-playing action mixed with point-and-click here and it all centres around searching areas, talking to computer-controlled characters, knocking on doors, looking for secrets and performing various side missions to appease the population and collect clues to be able to advance. Everything happens at a calm and comfortable pace and for me there is something meditative about a game that can convey excitement without rushing away in terms of pace, and the turn-based battles are just as good as they are in the genre's best titles.
The big talking point before the launch of Fantasian has been the design, and here Mistwalker has really made something very special. To recreate that cozy glorious retro feel from Final Fantasy VII, Sakaguchi has chosen to build the game world from 150 handmade dioramas in order to create a clear contrast between the environment and the characters. This gives Fantasian a very peculiar, strange feeling, however, which I absolutely appreciate. The fact that the handmade models (made of clay, glass, stone and wood) are also wonderfully well-made hardly makes things worse. I can only imagine the time that went into this.
The music is of course written by Final Fantasy veteran Nobuo Uematsu who wrote 60 pieces for Fantasian, which just like the story itself and the overall design, oozes Final Fantasy VII. It alternates briskly between sweeping beautiful piano pieces to more solid doomsday-like orchestral arrangements, and it is of course difficult not to like the atmosphere that the music to a very high degree helps to create.
This game is good. Really good. Original but at the same time familiar, exquisitely told with lovable characters and an ingeniously written basic premise. The hand-modeled environments are beautiful just like all of the main characters and together with retro-inspired battle arrangements and superb music, it is difficult for me not to fall completely in love with Leo's journey. If, like me, you are constantly longing for the remarkable journey of Midgar and Cloud, Fantasian is something you should take a closer look at. If this in fact is Hironobu Sakaguchi's last RPG, this is of course an absolute must.