Final Fantasy isn’t a stranger to smartphones. In 2004, Square Enix published Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII, a prequel to Final Fantasy VII which told the story of Turks and a group of covert SHINRA operatives, on mobile phones. Just a few weeks ago, the free-to-play mash-up title Final Fantasy: Record Keeper launched in the United States, and it’s already been downloaded over a million times. Square Enix has even brought some of the series’ mainline entries to phones and tablets: Final Fantasy 1 through 6 are available to download from the Apple and Google app stores, as is the classic PlayStation spin-off, Final Fantasy Tactics.
Still, porting an 8 or 16-bit title to portable devices – even if it’s a well-received modern remake – is one thing. Bringing a fully 3D, multiple gigabyte title to smartphones is another entirely. As miraculous as modern technology can be, phones and tablets still aren’t as powerful as, say, a PlayStation 3. Despite all of its faults, Final Fantasy 13 is a big game, and it simply wouldn’t run smoothly on a smartphone.
That’s not stopping Square Enix, however. In Japan, a new 20 megabyte app lets players enjoy Final Fantasy 13 – in its entirety – on iOS and Android devices. The trick lies in the cloud: the game doesn’t run directly on phones themselves, but rather on remote servers maintained by G-Cluster, a remote gaming company. Players tap the phone (a controller-like interface is superimposed over the in-game footage) for input, and G-Cluster sends the results back to the consumer via streaming video.
It’s not a perfect solution – players need to have a 3 MB/second Wi-Fi connection, and some users are still experiencing a little bit of lag – but it’s a big step forward for people who dream of playing AAA console titles on the go.
Reportedly, the first 30 minutes of the game are free, while access to the full title costs around $15.99, which is what Square Enix charges for other Final Fantasy games. That gives users enough time to make sure that their Internet connection can handle the stream, while still making sure that Square Enix gets its (substantial) cut of revenue.
It’s an interesting experiment, and one that many companies are likely to be watching very closely. Previous experiments with cloud-based gaming haven’t fared particularly well; the biggest player in the industry, OnLive, shut down a couple of weeks ago.
Despite these setbacks, however, many publishers are pushing forward with streaming games anyway. PlayStation Now offers Sony owners access to PlayStation 2 and 3 games for rent or purchase, or through a Netflix-like monthly subscription. In addition, Square Enix has its own streaming programed named “Shinra Technologies” in development.