How a Mobile Game Became My Favorite Final Fantasy in 15 Years

The original Final Fantasy was released in 1987, two years after I was born. I have quite literally grown up with the series. Final Fantasy IV on the Super Nintendo (or as it was known in the United States back then, Final Fantasy II) was my introduction to the series and I was immediately hooked. The story, characters, combat system, and world were incredible for young Trevor to behold. A few years later, Final Fantasy VI came stateside as Final Fantasy III and improved on absolutely everything I loved about it's predecessor. Both of these games still hold the place at the top of my favorite games of all time list and I own many iterations and re-releases of them both.

Final Fantasy IX  sits holds the number three spot as far as my favorite games within the series (don't worry Final Fantasy VII fans, it's there at number four). But all of the games from Final Fantasy X to present have lacked some of the magic I fell in love with. Most notably, I haven't been able to connect with the story or characters. I often feel like I've outgrown the more juvenile aspects of the JRPG genre: adolescents in wacky outfits just doesn't have the same surface appeal like they did when I was a kid. But even then, characters like Cecil, Terra, Locke, and Vivi had incredibly vivid stories to tell. Tidus, Vaan, and Lightning never managed to resonate as well with me. Admittedly a large part of this could be the (in my opinion) atrocious voice direction on the American localizations. Back before the characters had voices, it was up to me to determine what people sounded like. But SquareEnix has managed to take some of the best voice actors in video games and just get the worst performances out of them. On top of that, the more action-RPG elements of the recent games just don't match my preferred style of Active Time Battle of my youth.

So that's all the long-winded backstory leading up to this thesis: the mobile game Final Fantasy Record Keeper has surprised me in becoming the most fun I've had with a Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy IX in 2000. I've had more fun with it than X and X-2XII, the entirety of the confusing mess that is the Lightning trilogy of Final Fantasy XIII games, the Dissidia games, even Crisis Core on PSP (my favorite of this batch). 

The "story" of FFRK is pretty paper thin and largely forgotten following the game's introduction. You're a museum curator watching over painting that just happen to resemble moments from the core Final Fantasy games. An evil force is bringing these painting to life and it's up to you to fight that evil and unlock the power hidden within the portraits. This all serves as a flimsy cover to play through story beats from the mainline games.

You setup your party with equipment and abilities and fight through a few rounds of enemies from a given game's portrait. For example, you start with Mako Reactor No. 1 from Final Fantasy VII. Fight through a few rounds of SOLDIER enemies and the like from the early game and that painting culminates in a boss battle with the Guard Scorpion from the game, complete with mechanic tail rising into the air and delivering a counterattack if you strike while it's up. Your reward for beating him: a combination of Gil, Stamina Shards, Mythril, and unlockables like new characters (in this case, the archetypal Black and White Mages).

  • Gil - in game money used for upgrading weapons, armor, and abilities
  • Stamina Shards - collect five shards to increase your Stamina. Each round of battle costs Stamina and Stamina points take 3 minutes per point to restock. The more stamina, the more battles you can complete in a given session.
  • Mythril - in-game currency that can be used to heal your party mid-painting (as there is no item system to restore health outside of battle), expand your weapon and ability slots, or (most commonly) try for a chance at rare and unique gear. This is the currency that has a comparable microtransaction counterpart in "Gems".

Playing through painting unlocks more paintings from that game or others. Over the past 6 months, I've put in countless hours here and there fighting through the nostalgia-filled games of the entire series. Final Fantasy Record Keeper has consistently added to the game since launch and includes limited time events every week or two in addition to the core game. As of this writing, I've collected 69 different party members from across nearly every game in the series (they've mostly stayed away from FFXI and FFXIV, though I do have a couple characters from a limited time FFXIV event). Each character has unique abilities and can equip unique rare gear if you're luck enough to obtain it from the random Mythril spends.

This is actually the biggest downfall of the game for me: the lottery system of these loot drops. If you save up 5 pieces of Mythril, you can trade it for a Rare Relic Drop. All gear is rated from 1 to 5 stars, 1 being common and 5 being the rarest or unique to a specific character. Using the Rare Relic Drop guarantees your gear will be 3 stars or higher. But it's still completely random. There's no way for me to just buy the Buster Sword if I want it. I'd consider paying the microtransactions for this kind of guaranteed selection but because even paying real-life money still leaves everything up to chance, there's just no incentive for me.

That design flaw aside, this is probably one of the games I've put the most time into this year. Sure, it's just a few minutes here and there but I've played it nearly every day since launch. I can't say that about any other game out on the market. It's a very simple game but it thrives on the nostalgia of it's NES/SNES inspired pixel art (even later game characters and enemies are redesigned in this style) and it favors the strategic turn-based battles I prefer of the button mashing hack and slash of the recent games. The bar wasn't set all that high for me from Final Fantasy these past 15 years, but this game managed to clear it for me.