For about as long as I’ve paid attention to smartphone gaming, I’ve seen a lot of people wishing that the Game Boy Final Fantasy Legend games would come to mobile. It makes sense; mobile gamers tend to have an affinity for gaming on the go, so they probably put in a lot of time on their Game Boys back in the day. And if you were a Game Boy gamer who loved RPGs, you almost certainly came into contact with one of the games from Square Enix’s Final Fantasy Legend trilogy. The years passed, and we got a lot of Square Enix games. Remakes, re-releases, and so on. But the Final Fantasy Legend games never came… until now.
When it rains, it pours. We don’t just get one of the games. All three Final Fantasy Legend games are included in Collection of SaGa FF Legend ($19.99), and that adds up to a whole lot of good times if you can deal with the capricious nature of the series. It’s fairly well-known at this point, but even if you didn’t realize it, the name of the app pulls back the curtain on the true nature of the Final Fantasy Legend series. These were never Final Fantasy games, not in the direct sense. No, it was Akitoshi Kawazu all along! These are in fact the genesis of the SaGa series, which has gotten a lot of love in the last few years from Square Enix. But SaGa is kind of Final Fantasy in the sense that the first two games very much follow on from the controversial Final Fantasy II.
Before we shine a light on each game, let’s talk about the app itself. It is more or less the same as what we saw on the Nintendo Switch, with similar display options and extras. You can play in portrait or landscape, with the game appearing in a smaller window with a fake console complete with working touch buttons filling out the rest of the display. The same alterations have been made to the art and scripts in places as the Switch versions, and the games allow you to speed up the gameplay without messing up the music. You can choose from a variety of skins for your fake game console, which I suppose is a nice touch. The games play well enough with touch controls, and as you can imagine modern smartphones have no problems emulating Game Boy games. Alas, no external controller support. Perhaps it will be added in later.
Let’s look at the games themselves. The first game is The Final Fantasy Legend, or Makaitoushi SaGa in Japan. It was the first handheld RPG video game in history, and was designed to be completed on a flight from Tokyo to Hawaii. As such, it can be a pretty short game if you know what you’re doing. Figuring out what you’re doing is another matter entirely, as it is full of the kind of opaque design that Akitoshi Kawazu would become famous for. Some players love this kind of thing, others hate it. You probably know which of the two you are. There isn’t much to the story beyond a novel premise, but the visual design has a lot of appeal and the soundtrack is superb.
Final Fantasy Legend II takes the basic framework of the first game and both builds on it and refines it. It has a more involved story and an overall better focus. While it still contains a myriad of bizarre mechanics, it’s a bit easier to sort out in this installment. This tends to be the favorite of most players when it comes to this trilogy, as it sands off some of the rough edges of the first game without losing its quirky charms. It’s a much longer game with a smoother difficulty curve, and while the plot isn’t going to win any awards, it’s interesting enough.
Something weird happened on the way to Final Fantasy Legend III. The team responsible for the first two got the call to make a full 16-bit console SaGa game. A relatively new team was tapped to make the final game in the Game Boy trilogy. Many of the people involved in this game would go on to work on Final Fantasy Mystic Quest and Super Mario RPG. Akitoshi Kawazu had little involvement with this installment, and it shows. This is a much more conventional RPG that has a neat time travel plot. There are still some elements of the earlier games here, but I find this one tends to go over better with people that didn’t get on with the first two and worse with those who loved them. Well, it’s nice to have different flavors.
Given that even the newest of these games first released in 1991, you have to put up with some issues that RPGs were still sorting out at the time if you want to get into them. They can be grindy, but grinding without understanding the complicated systems behind the games can be nearly pointless. This is particularly the case with the first two games. You can absolutely paint yourself into a corner in the first game especially if you aren’t careful. Characters will lose a life if they die, and if they run out? Sorry, they’re gone. You can buy more lives, but that’s an expensive life to live. Well, you all probably know what you’re getting into with SaGa games by now. These are even more prototypical and built for a rather low-powered handheld, so add that into your calculations.
Still, there’s a bit of a charm to these games and it feels pretty amusing to play them on an iPhone. There are probably more broadly entertaining Square Enix RPGs you can buy on mobile, especially if you’re looking to splash out a cool twenty. But if you have cozy memories of huddling under your blanket with a flashlight or sneaking a quick bit of grinding at school, Collection of SaGa FF Legend will honor those feelings of nostalgia. If you don’t have those warm fuzzies but happen to have enjoyed the recent SaGa releases, you’ll also want to check these out. They’re not always fun, but they’re certainly interesting.