The Uneven History of 'Final Fantasy' on Mobile 

The franchise is kind of all over the place.

Final Fantasy is big business – even on mobile platforms. Square Enix’s storied RPG series has been a long-running staple for smartphones along with a number of other original games and classic ports since Japan really began to embrace the platform half a decade ago. In short, there’s a bunch of them.

No mobile entry has ever looked quite like this week’s newest edition, Mobius Final Fantasy. The new game uses full 3D models and voice acting (albeit with the caveat that the gameplay doesn’t let you fully explore a 3D world in the way that Final Fantasy XV will) while, traditionally, the series has mostly stuck to variations on the classic sprite-based artwork in mobile-exclusive games and re-releases of series favorites.

It hasn’t always mattered, and some Final Fantasy phone games have been better than others — and here’s how they stack up. (Note: For the sake of brevity, this sticks to RPGs only).

Final Fantasy Brave Exvius

The second-newest FF to grace phones, the free-to-play Brave Exvius is a social RPG that fuses traditional JRPG design with more modern sensibilities like time-based combo attacks and a lot of crafting in a new story that brings back fan-favorite characters from past games to fight alongside you. The game’s grinding-heavy gameplay may be a turn-off to some — though it’s on par for the type of F2P experience typical of the genre — but the localization is impressive and the detailed sprites are gorgeous.

Final Fantasy Dimensions

Dimensions is a throwback in every way, from its extremely simplified sprites to the job system ripped from Final Fantasy V. Oddly, it’s episodic, so instead of a grand, sweeping adventure with a cast you get to know over time, the investment lies more in the strategy of which jobs to take into battle. Old-school fans might be satisfied, but mind the price tag.

Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions

Final Fantasy Tactics is technically not a proper FF entry in the traditional sense. Instead, it’s a deep, grid-based strategy RPG from the creator of Ogre Battle and Final Fantasy XII, Yasumi Matsuno, that replaces the traditional archetype of mythical heroes and flying airships with a grim and bloody political drama in the vein of Macbeth with a touch of Berserk. Tactics originally debuted on the original PlayStation in 1997, and, although by no means a short game, it’s among the finest strategy RPGs ever made. Luckily, the mobile version is a port of the best release. A masterpiece.

Final Fantasy All The Bravest

On the opposite end of the spectrum is All The Bravest, one of the most cynical and exploitative titles ever released on any platform. Basically, ATB presumes that FF boiled down to its essence is 100 percent solely battling, which you do by taking a horde of allies and mindlessly swiping at enemies in breakneck encounters until they die or all of your reserves are exhausted. That would be fine if every member of your ever expanding party had more than 1 HP each. And the kicker comes from having to either wait for a dead party to revive at a torturously slow rate — we’re talking up to 40 characters at a time — or you pay 99 cents to resurrect the whole shebang in one fell swoop.

With zero strategy involved, the design is really gambling masquerading as nostalgia, only you get nothing for winning. Don’t be fooled.

Final Fantasy Record Keeper

Another nostalgia-puller, Record Keeper lets players relive their favorite moments from across the entire FF saga with sprite-battles starring the heroes of each respective game (who can team up with other entry’s characters, of course). Unfortunately, the novelty can wear thin quickly given that there’s effectively no story of its own and little context to anything outside of combat; the world of the various FFs is just a series of portraits. Nice try, but probably better to avoid.

Final Fantasy IV: The After Years

As Hollywood loves to remind fans, it’s usually not a good idea to revisit characters in sequels decades after their original stories ended. It almost always feels about as a good as a reunion special for a long-running TV show (i.e., bad). The same rule applies for The After Years, which brings back the cast of the original game along with their kids in a story that’s never as compelling as IV. So, why bother? Play Final Fantasy IV’s mobile port instead.

Rest of the Numbered Entries

The original Final Fantasy to VII, plus IX, are now playable on smartphones. In case you haven’t played any of them, here’s how they break down on mobile platforms. It’s also worth noting that Square’s retro RPGs can be pretty pricey.

I and II: Okay if you’re cool with something super old-school. Really basic storytelling.

III and IV: 3D ports of each game’s respective DS remake. III’s story is not quite as beefy but makes up for it with job classes; IV marks the first time in the series that narrative became a major character-driven component.

V and VI: V doubles down with job classes but the plot suffers for it. VI is widely considered the best game in the series, but the mobile version is inexplicably marred with graphics that look like someone ran a crappy Photoshop smoother over them.

VII: The classic every one knows and loves, albeit with a tiny digital control pad shoehorned onto the screen.

IX: The title that brought FF back to a world of whimsy and adventure, IX is still one of the best numbered entries and looks phenomenal on mobile. Unlike VII, it was redesigned for touch controls.

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