More than just a collection of static backgrounds, such as the pre-rendered levels and environments of games like Final Fantasy 7, the dioramas in Fantasian are fully 3D, each one scanned using the same sort of 3D photography used to map real-world cities with drone photography.Scanning with drones over traditional 3D scanning techniques “proved more effective in getting and extracting the 3D information from the dioramas and then rendering in the 3D space,” Sakaguchi said, calling the work “a unique challenge.”
Another challenge Sakaguchi and company encountered when building the dioramas arose from the inherent lack of flexibility: once the diorama is built, it can’t simply be changed in a graphics program.
“Once you lock that design in, you create this, there is no ‘hey let’s move this path over this way’ or ‘hey let’s add some more trees over here,'” he said.
“We have to spend extra time in the concepting phase. You’re really kind of committed to that environment, and it shifts the kind of workflow, in a way.”
Sakaguchi said one benefit to being locked into the world of the dioramas was how it sometimes could change their ideas for the game design.
“You’ll see the actual object and it could inform the game design in a way,” he said. “Like, this roof looks really cool, I didn’t expect it to turn out this way, I think we can allow the characters to walk on top of it. It kind of jogs the imagination in a way we didn’t think it would and it expands how you might want to design the game or that particular map.”
Fantasian introduces more than just novel level design, bringing a new “Dimengeon Battle” system to its traditional random enemy encounters. In a nutshell, you can “bank” encounters when you’re exploring the world, sending monsters into an alternate dimension. Later on, you can visit this alternate-dimension dungeon to battle the enemies in one massive group, rather than individually. The system allows for the chance to reap higher rewards, and lets you have more say over when and how you approach battles.
Fantasian Art and Dioramas
There’s also an aiming system in place, with certain attacks having the chance to curve and hit multiple enemies, with bonuses granted for cleverly aimed shots.
As far as Fantasian’s story, Sakaguchi said he drew inspiration from his roots with Final Fantasy, but the dioramas themselves also affected the narrative design.
Fantasian follows the story of Leo, a young man in search of his father, who travels “across the world and between dimensions, using whatever he can at his disposal,” according to Mistwalker. In a classic JRPG plot device, Leo’s memory is wiped out, caused by “a massive explosion at a hybrid magic-tech factory” for which Leo was responsible. His one remaining memory, “a vision of a young woman,” leads him to a remote village where Fantasia’s larger quest truly begins.
“Dioramas have a unique charm and warmth I think can’t be replicated through different, other mediums,” Sakaguchi said of how the settings helped inform the story direction. “There was a little bit of synergy, I would say, between the story and what the themes of the game were with the diorama sets.”
Ultimately, the dioramas and the gameplay were designed with the Apple Arcade touch-interface coloring much of the process. Sakaguchi said there’s a unique relationship “between these hand-crafted dioramas and the sheet of glass” of the iPad or iPhone’s screen.
“Players using their hands to then interact with this hand-crafted world,” and how “human hands play a big role in connecting those two” also inspired the direction of Fantasian.
Fantasian is coming to Apple Arcade later this year, and right now it can be found on the Apple Arcade “Coming Soon” page.
Seth Macy is IGN’s Executive Editor, IGN Commerce, and just wants to be your friend.