Don’t sleep on Fantasian, Apple Arcade’s genuine killer app

It’s easy to forget about Apple Arcade. With a sudden influx of gaming services in the past few years, Apple’s mobile gaming platform has never been top of mind for most gamers. The company has had to fight against a misguided, ongoing stigma that many still have against mobile as a legitimate gaming platform. Plus, it’s only available to players who own Apple products. Gaming is the one area where Apple still has to constantly prove itself.

What’s funny, though, is that Apple Arcade has proven itself time and time again. The service has delivered a string of excellent games since it launched, from Grindstone to Alba: A Wildlife Adventure. The service has only improved in 2021 as well by adding classic mobile hits to its ever-expanding lineup.

But when it comes to gaming platforms, players are programmed to look for one thing: The ever-elusive killer app. That’s the one exclusive game that’s so “can’t miss” it’s capable of selling a console or subscription through its own strength alone. If you’re looking for that game on Apple Arcade, it’s Fantasian.

The modern Chrono Trigger

Fantasian is a JRPG written and produced by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, with an original score by legendary game composer Nobuo Uematsu. The game drew attention before its launch due to its gorgeous art style, which uses real, handcrafted dioramas for its sets. That was an immediate entry point for curious players, but the real hook is its classic RPG systems, formula innovations, and intriguing world.

One of Fantasian's handcrafted dioramas in real life.

The game half-launched on Apple Arcade in April as part of a strange release plan. Developer Mistwalker released the first part of the game, containing around 15 to 20 hours of gameplay. Part two wouldn’t hit the platform until August 13, piling another 40 hours onto the game’s runtime.

In retrospect, it was a smart — though frustrating — strategy on Apple’s part. As a subscription service, Apple Arcade needs consistent subscribers to stay afloat. Through its lifespan, the service has gained a reputation for being something that players can subscribe to once every six months, cram in a bunch of short games, and unsubscribe. Fantasian’s odd release cycle gave players a reason to keep paying. Part two only had a vague 2021 release date attached to it, so players didn’t know when it would shadow drop. Its sudden August release came as such a surprise that I was left scrambling into my account to make sure it was still active.

A character stands in a scrapyard in Fantasian.

Part one was an excellent snippet of the game, but a bit of a tease, too. Rather than cleanly cutting off after a big boss fight, Fantasian suddenly cracks wide open. In its final hours, the game introduces an entire skill system that can be used to pick custom battle abilities. The most interesting location and characters are introduced just as it’s wrapping up. The story ended on a true cliffhanger as well, enticing players to keep their subscriptions running.

Now that part two is here, we’re finally able to see the full scope of the game, and it’s even more impressive. The pace immediately changes with a more quest-based dynamic that lets players tackle multiple objectives in any order they choose. Opening the game’s party menu now gives players a message about how to swap out members, confirming that players will have control over which characters they bring along. Plus, the aforementioned skill tree significantly changes how players approach battles, adding a sudden shot of depth after 20 hours of play. Fantasian opens up in every way after part one.

Fantasian has only become more enticing, and that’s an existential win for Apple Arcade. For one, it’s a true exclusive to the platform. While games like What The Golf? and Dodo Peak have been ported to other platforms since launching on Apple Arcade, Fantasian is supposedly going to remain exclusive. Anyone who wants to play it will have to go through Apple in the same way that Ratchet & Clank fans need to snag a PS5. Heck, I’m even on the verge of upgrading my very outdated iPhone just to run it better.

It’s not too hard of a sell, either. Expected to clock in at over 60 hours in total, Fantasian has turned into a full-fledged RPG. It’s not your average mobile game that’ll keep players occupied for a few hours. It’s a console-length experience that only costs $5 a month.

For those who have long been skeptical about Apple’s service, Fantasian is the game that stands the best chance of converting cynics into believers. It’s an incredibly memorable JRPG that would be dominating 2021 gaming conversations had it widely launched on popular platforms like the Nintendo Switch. Now, it’s up to Apple to capitalize on that momentum and get the word out to the masses — something that the company still struggles to do, as it tends to market Apple Arcade as a whole as opposed to individual games.

Apple has the modern-day Chrono Trigger sitting in its App Store. Now’s the time to brag about it.

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