Twelve years ago, nearly everyone had a portable gaming console, whether a Nintendo DS or a PlayStation Portable (PSP). Now, the ubiquity of the smartphone has reduced the demand for dedicated consoles for on-the-go gaming since it is more convenient to play Candy Crush Saga on your iPhone than on a DS. Fast-forward 10 years and big companies like Square Enix and Nintendo are diversifying, putting more time and attention into their portable games, from ports of older games like “Chrono Trigger” to full-fledged new titles like “Super Mario Run.” “Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition,” an abridged take on 2016’s “Final Fantasy XV,” is a well-made rendition of the original that proves that mobile gaming does not need to be limited to bare-bones gameplay.
The biggest issue “Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition” faces is its category. Neither a port nor a remake, “Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition” offers too little (bar a totally new Chibi art style) to somebody who has played the original game. Established Final Fantasy fans who did not play the original will also find this game too empty given its sizeable price tag relative to other Final Fantasy games available on mobile. That being said, for a newcomer to the franchise, this might be the perfect introduction to the series.
I was not surprised to see that the plot is trippy, like that of most Japanese role-playing games (JRPG). You play as the laidback Prince Noctis, accompanied by his three friends, as they set out to bring peace to the Kingdom of Lucis, which the Empire of Niflheim is attacking. YouTuber and writer Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw jokingly said that “a JRPG just isn’t a JRPG unless it doesn’t end with teenagers using the power of friendship to kill God,” and his proposal fits well into the Final Fantasy archetype. Even though the graphics are a castrated version of those of its home console companion, “Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition” does justice to the epic scenes from the original game, ensuring that the cutesy style never distracts from the plot. The witty writing from the original game still feels fresh on a phone, particularly in the banterous exchanges between Noctis and his boys as they drive through the world of Eos.
Though the original “Final Fantasy XV” has been praised for its breadth of side quests, my experience with “Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition” was far more streamlined. Each chapter of the game feels like a simple movement from A to B, with dialogue and enemies along the way. The linear story matched the linear gameplay. Action RPGs often have a disconnect between real-time combat and navigating menus to choose attacks, but the simple controls of “Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition” mean that the game’s fighting is intuitive. Take into account the dynamic camera angles that change to best suit your situation, and you have the first action RPG that hasn’t given me an aneurysm while in combat. Even when swarmed by enemies, the simplicity of the combat meant that I wasn’t randomly swiping my fingers on the screen in hopes of killing enemies.
The biggest issue with the game is its pricing. The first chapter is free, but the next four chapters cost $1 each, and the remaining five chapters cost $4 each, unless you buy the entire game for $20. It is difficult to justify a $20 price tag to the average casual gamer, and a true fan of the franchise would shell out the same amount of cash for the fully loaded PlayStation 4 version, meaning there is no obvious target market for this game. I am the rare Final Fantasy fan who does not own a compatible console, but even I felt uncomfortable dishing out $20. Additionally, the Google Play Store and App Store offer several classic RPGs like “Final Fantasy IX” and “Final Fantasy VI” which are more fleshed out games at similar or cheaper prices.
Another issue is how much this game taxes the average smartphone. I played the game on a OnePlus 5T with a huge 6GB of RAM and a blazing fast Snapdragon 835 chip so I didn’t experience lag, but if you have a weaker or older phone you might experience performance drops. This game drained my 3300 mAh battery to the point that I had to carry my charger around with me, which I normally don’t do.
Overall, “Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition” is Square Enix showing off exactly what it can do with mobile gaming. Though this game is marketed to existing fans, newcomers and old fans of the franchise will be impressed by how engrossing a game you can play on the bus can be. If you have $20 and need a good excuse to mess around in your next psychology lecture, give “Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition” a chance before dismissing it for its simple art style and hefty price tag.