Anyone who has been following the story of Final Fantasy Agito knows that the development of the game has had almost as many twists and nonsensical turns as the average Final Fantasy game's plot. Back in 2006, a game called Final Fantasy Agito XIII was announced for mobiles as part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis project of Final Fantasy XIII companion games. It helps to put things into scope when you realize that announcement predates even the original iPhone by more than a year. Eventually, the team's ambition grew beyond what phones of that time could manage, so the project was moved to Sony's Playstation Portable in 2008. After the whole Final Fantasy XIII business didn't go quite the way Square Enix envisioned, the game was retitled Final Fantasy Type-0, finally releasing in late 2011. That seemed like it was that for Agito, but late last year, Square Enix announced out of the blue that they would be developing a prequel to Type-0 for mobiles, once again claiming the name Final Fantasy Agito. I guess they were really proud of that title.

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Last week, the game finally released on the Japanese App Store. As I did mostly enjoy Type-0, I dove in pretty eagerly to see what this prequel had to offer. After a few days of playing, I think I've got a good enough handle on the game to fill you guys in on what to expect in the event that Square Enix decides to give this the localization its predeccessor never received. Let me start off by chasing away a bunch of you guys. Stamina meters, social elements, internet connection required for frequent check-ins, mission-based structure, requires a device with an A6 chip or better (no iPad 2 or iPhone 4S allowed), premium currency.

Okay, for the three of you still reading, let's get into the details of the game. Square hasn't exactly been hiding the fact that they really, really want some of that Puzzle & Dragons [Free] cheddar. Just in the last year, we've seen Final Fantasy Pictlogica and Rise of Mana, both games carrying mechanics heavily informed by Gungho's mega-hit. Agito is yet another attempt to lure away some of that lucrative audience, but what makes it interesting is how well they've integrated things from Type-0 into that framework. You once again play as a student of Rubrum Magical Academy, though this time you get to make your own character, customizing their appearance and starting weapon.

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On the high chance you didn't play Final Fantasy Type-0, as it has yet to leave Japan, it tells the story of the land of Orience and the four nations that compose it. Each nation has a crystal that grants it power, and I'm sure you will be surprised to find out that not every country is satisfied with just their own lot. In Type-0, a huge war breaks out and you, playing as the students of Class Zero from Rubrum, need to try to set things right somehow. Agito, being a prequel, deals not with that war but a prior conflict. There's a bit more to the situation than that, but it's not really that important for you to know to enjoy Agito, and I don't want to spoil anything on the off chance Type-0 actually does get an English release someday.

You'll meet and interact with the characters of Type-0, most notably receiving instruction from the teacher of Class Zero, Kurasame. Various characters will give you the context for the main missions you'll be completing. There's not much to the story at the moment, but Square plans on adding more chapters as time passes, so perhaps something interesting will develop. Regardless of the framing, the main missions all play out the same way: you have to clear a set number of arena battles by taking out all of the enemy groups. Each mission actually needs to be finished multiple times to open the next one, with the exception of chapter-closing boss missions. Naturally, each attempt uses some of your stamina meter, with the game balanced around letting you do three or so missions before needing to take a break. If you fail the mission, you're still out the stamina, and you get none of the experience or treasures dropped during the fight. It's a pretty standard Puzzle & Dragons set-up.

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The battles themselves are an interesting twist on those found in Type-0. If you ever played Crisis Core on the PSP, you'll find some hints of its action-based approach here. Battles play out in real time, though the traditional ATB system still plays a bit of a part. Your party is made up of your character and two AI partners selected before each mission, but you only need to worry about your own actions for the most part. You have two basic tactics to choose from. In attack mode, your party will continuously attack whichever enemy you've targeted. In addition to regular strikes, you have access to special moves and magic spells that are on cooldown timers. In defense mode, everyone will stop attacking and take up a defensive pose, which reduces damage taken, slowly restores HP, and speeds up cooldown timers. On top of this, sometimes a special target will appear around an enemy, and if you tap it, you'll perform a powerful attack called a Kill Sight, which usually fells the enemy in a single blow.

You can set up your abilities as you like between battles, though typical of this style of game, you have a maximum cost that limits how many you can bring at once. You can even set up chains of skills if you have the cost to allow for them, enabling you to unleash a combo at the push of one button. Naturally, you can use the materials and gil you've gathered to upgrade your skills, reducing their cooldown and increasing their effectiveness. Enemies will also occasionally drop recipes that can be used to craft entirely new skills, equipment, and items. You can also pick up new skills from the gatcha machine if you're lucky. The machine works like any other in this genre. There's a machine that you can use easily-acquired friend points to pull from, and a machine with better goodies that requires premium currency to pull from. At least initially, the game is fairly generous with coupons for the premium machine, enabling you to get a good head start on your character.

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Outside of battles, you're free to wander around the Academy as you like, though if you just want to skip to a particular area, you can do that directly via the menu. There are lots of people to talk to if you want some extra flavor text, and by talking to the main cast from Type-0, you can build relationships with them which offer you extra bonuses and even some new sub-missions. Sub-missions have you performing some sort of task in exchange for a reward, such as creating a level two Fire spell, or performing a certain number of Kill Sights. You can get a lot of useful items this way, like Phoenix Downs or Hi-Potions. For the most part, though, the Academy is just window dressing. There's very little you can actually interact with, and what little you can do is far more easily accessed via the menu. Still, it's worth running around at least once to appreciate how nice it all looks.

The graphics look pretty good, though I feel like I've seen better on iOS. Most of the assets have been lifted from Type-0, so you can basically expect somewhere around PSP-level visuals. I'm not sure why this game requires circa-iPhone 5 tech or higher to run, to be honest, but it does. Some of the music comes from other Final Fantasy games, but there are some new pieces in here, too. It's a really light and poppy soundtrack, for the most part.

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I'm not sure they've hit quite the right balance in the metagame yet, but the game is still very young, and they've got lots of time to sort that stuff out. Most importantly, Final Fantasy Agito's battle system is really fun and a lot deeper than it initially appears. Once the difficulty cranks up, you really have to think strategically to win, and the pace is snappy enough that you're always doing something during fights. After getting over the mild disappointment that Square was once again chasing the dragon, I found myself really having a great time with the gameplay. I think if you come into this with the right expectations, you'll enjoy it. If you come in hoping for a grand single-player traditional RPG, you're probably going to leave upset. As of now, Final Fantasy Agito has not been announced for worldwide release, but I hope it gets its chance. As usual, please check in regularly here at TouchArcade for any further news or information.

  • defunct32

    Oh dear... Suddenly I'm not interested... Lol, thanks for the insight though, Shaun, you sexy thing!

  • KillerSpecialK

    Damn, rocking a 4S here still. Maybe if this comes stateside I'll have another reason to upgrade.

  • 16bitAindo

    Yet another example SE forgetting about the core fans of the final fantasy franchise. I can't believe they keep churning out crappy console games and think it's then ok to do something like this.

    The FF games and fans both deserve better.

    Yes it looks great.....I just really, really wish it was not freemium.

    • defunct32

      Yes, while reading the review I kept asking myself "what happened to Square?" I like them better when they were soft!

      • defunct32

        I mean Squaresoft...

      • bigred447uk

        No need for any explanation. These companies that were doing most things right till they asked some 'industry analysts' what we 'all' want.

        Dimensions was great though Imo.

      • defunct32

        I love Dimension and their classic FFs, the last FF I love was 12, tried a bit of 13 didn't like it, not sure where FF is going now...

  • Ponycakes

    Good review!

  • Siveon

    So glad fans are translating the Type-0.

    Can't wait to try that on my PSP.

    • zergslayer69

      Or in super HD elsewhere.

      • Siveon

        Pfft, like Square would do anything cool.

  • Billy Ocean

    annnd removed from watch list.

  • tpianca

    Not only Shaun is the best reviewer around, he also knows Japanese! I'm really impressed!

  • chank

    Was hoping for Flappy Fantasy

    • Goggles789

      I read Floppy Fantasy. :/

  • Devok

    U mean flappy fantasy!

  • ZarieoZ

    Hey Shaun I'm the one that commented about long articles a few days back. You know what. keep at it, man I love your writing style, entertaining to read. It's bittersweet but I rather deal with long reading sessions for the sake of reading more of what you write :D