When Final Fantasy XV launched at the end of 2016 it was relatively well received. Personally speaking, I thought it was a great piece of work, and one that felt fresh despite its horribly drawn-out development and a few lingering design missteps. Prince Noctis and his retinue felt as though they really were a group of tight-knit friends on a road trip, albeit one where mechanical knights and giant tortoises try to kill you, and it was an adventure that put character and friendships at its centre.
One of the most extraordinary things about XV has been its ongoing support from Square Enix. They’ve fixed many of the problems of the initial console release and added in new storylines, but it’s their vision for Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition that is perhaps most remarkable. The team decided to bring the entire FFXV experience to smartphones and tablets, swapping out the cutting edge visuals for simpler ones more befitting the hardware, while translating the exploration and combat to utilise touchscreens. Beyond that, this is Final Fantasy XV, with elements of the soundtrack and both Japanese and English voice acting in place from the home edition. It’s a slightly barmy set-up, but it’s also one that has panned out surprisingly well.
Smart, if not unexpected design choices are abound, with the most obvious being the loss of the sprawling open-world. Instead you’re funnelled between different areas, with each zone featuring a select number of quests, side-quests and treasure hunts to get involved in. You still get portions of the all-important world-building motoring in the stately Regalia, and the banter and chatter between the four friends, but it is in a slightly truncated form.
XV’s action-heavy combat actually translates really well to touchscreen, and doesn’t feel too dissimilar to the home version. The original game’s detractors may use that as proof that it wasn’t very complicated after all, but there’s still a frantic thrill to Noctis warping about the battle area, chaining attacks with your pals, and counter-attacking at the right time. It’s mainly during these sections that playing on your mobile becomes less ideal, as you’re obscuring your own view with your fingers, but moving to an iPad or Android tablet mostly remedies the situation.
Tapping or holding in a direction to explore and move around works exactly as you’d expect, and thanks to some decent pathfinding you can tap on the other side of a fence and Noctis and co will find their way around. The smaller areas, and a very clear map layout, should mean you barely miss anything of importance, as long as you remember to tap on anything shiny and every wooden crate. That does mean that the game is much more linear, and like Final Fantasy XIII it can feel as though you’re simply being funnelled down each area to its conclusion. There are of course plenty of other games where that is the case, but to go from the wide-open landscape of the original to this feels like a major reduction.
The game is also overly welcoming, and as long as you’re not completely bereft of reactions you can probably trundle your way through everything without too much worry. If anything, the streamlining has given the storyline a bit more focus, and it plays out with plenty of drama despite the new chibi aesthetic. This being Square Enix, the iOS/Android pricing is perhaps closer to the console game than you’d have hoped, but for £20 there are hours and hours of Noctis’ trials to take part in. You shouldn’t expect it to match up with length of the full version, and the idea of mobile value is hugely skewed, but as a companion piece it’s fantastic.
There are unfortunately a few technical niggles though, and despite playing across two more than competent mobile platforms – a 2017 iPad and an LG V20 – you’ll find that the frame rate can struggle at times and pop in is apparent when the camera pans about. Don’t even think about trying to move the camera around while your car is in motion either. Still, these are things that can hopefully be improved, and maybe if you’re rocking newer hardware these issues aren’t present, but it’s worth mentioning.
So then, what about bringing it to Switch? With its hugely successful first year under its belt, Square must surely be eyeing up some way of bringing a Final Fantasy experience over to it. The graphical style would be right at home on Nintendo’s hybrid, and it would be great to have the option of both traditional and touchscreen controls. It’s probably the problem of linearity and length that would want to be dealt with, but the Switch has already proven more than capable of powering huge open worlds in Breath of the Wild, Skyrim and Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Opening up the map and packing it with monsters should be more than possible, all the while played out in a processor-friendly cartoon form.
Square have played the long game with Final Fantasy XV, and the fact that it’s having another resurgence over a year since its original release is testament to the game’s strengths, even if some Final Fantasy fans simply can’t get into it. Alongside the new Windows version and the Royal Edition on consoles – we’ll get to that later today – XV’s Pocket Edition tells a surprisingly personal story that’s well worth taking part in. If Square could now find some way to bring that over to the Switch by marrying those versions together, Nintendo fans would surely be in for a treat.