Fantasian, the new adventure from Hironobu Sakaguchi’s studio Mistwalker, is a classic Japanese role-playing game at heart. Fantasian has it all: turn-based combat, a hero with amnesia, a cast of handsome protagonists on interwoven adventures, and, of course, an airship.
But Fantasian stands out because of a design decision that has caught the eye. Mistwalker’s RPG was built with more than 150 handmade physical dioramas. The game’s 3D characters were laid on top of them. The miniature-based environments give the game a unique sense of charm and warmth, Sakaguchi said in an interview with Polygon, and helped inform Fantasian’s game mechanics.
Fantasian includes a system that twists how players deal with random monster encounters. Unlike the classic Final Fantasy games Sakaguchi created, where a fight with a group of enemies could come unexpectedly, Fantasian lets players deal with random encounters … later. Mistwalker calls it the Dimengeon system – a mix of dimension and dungeon – and it sends the monsters players encounter into an alternate dimension. Players can then jump into a Dimengeon whenever they want and enjoy the satisfaction of exterminating them all at once.
Sakaguchi said Fantasian was partially inspired by his own work on Final Fantasy 6. He and some of his colleagues who worked on that game replayed it on Nintendo’s Super NES Classic a few years ago. “That really renewed my interest and love for this classic JRPG genre, and gave me a chance to return to my roots,” Sakaguchi said through a translator.
The game’s dioramas were built by a team of 150 artists. Mistwalker itself is a team of less than 20, but it often works with external studios. Sakaguchi said that the decision to build physical environments had its benefits, letting the designers see new opportunities in game design. But it also came with its own challenges. Once you design a physical object, he said, you can’t alter the environment to add a new road or exit, as one could with a computer-generated 3D space.
“Once you begin building it, you’ve committed to your level design,” Sakaguchi said. “You really have to be very intentional and know what you’re looking for at the conception phase. Once the artisans get to work, that’s going to be your stage.”
Final Fantasy’s new game has a cool diorama look and commemorates random encounters