Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition Hands-On

Is this mobile-tailored Japanese RPG worth $20?

The Final Fantasy series is one of the most popular franchises in gaming, and XV is generally regarded as a return to form after years of choppy waters -- but it doesn't run on mobile devices. However, publisher Square Enix anticipated this and began work years ago on a mobile-optimized version called Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition (Android, iOS). At $20, it's the most expensive Final Fantasy game for Android or iOS, which is saying a lot. But you can get the first of 10 chapters for free, so we've put it through the paces to decide whether it would be worth the price tag.

Don't Let the Size Fool You

While a number of game mechanics have been streamlined for mobile devices, this is still a huge game. You get full voice acting in four different languages, and subtitles for nine languages. There are three different options for the level of visual detail, if you're running an older device or you need to conserve some battery juice. There are three different audio sliders for dialog, music, and sound effects. You can even choose an unlocked framerate or 60 frames per second, if your device supports it (our iPhone 8 Plus did). There are more settings here than you'll find in most console games.

There are trade-offs, though. The 6S is the oldest iPhone that the game supports. iPad users need at least an Air 2, Mini 4, Pro, or fifth-generation iPad. Everyone who checks those boxes also needs to be running at least iOS 11.1. And you should have several gigabytes of space to actually download the game. For Android, the requirements are less clear due to the sheer variety of devices, but you can at least get an automated refund within the first 48 hours. For our Motorola Moto X4, the Play Store would not even let us install the game, despite the phone coming out just a few months ago and running a compatible version of Android.

If you play the free first chapter and you're still on the fence, you can also buy Chapters 2 and 3 for 99 cents each. Chapters 4-10 are available for $3.99 each.

The Pocket Edition's Story

In short, there's initial confusion, followed by satisfying gameplay. FFXV starts out in the middle of a boss battle cutscene, without much context, and it takes a few minutes to piece together who your character is, why they're doing certain things, and what their long-term goals are. Every Final Fantasy game has a separate story, location, and set of characters, so we're not missing crucial plot points. It just seems that way at the start. Fortunately, understanding the opening of the game isn't necessary to enjoying what comes after. The main thing you need to remember is that your character is a prince who is about to enter into an arranged marriage, and he's on his way to meet his fiancée.

The Pocket Edition's Combat

Also, you have three followers who will engage in combat with you, but you don't directly control them. Instead, they auto-attack when a fight begins, but there will be pop-up messages on the right that you can tap on to coordinate an attack with one of them. Your character will keep swinging when you select a target, so you don't have to keep tapping to stay in combat.

You'll also frequently need to dodge or parry; large buttons pop up above your character that you have a few seconds to tap on to trigger your evasive maneuvers. You can still take damage if you're attacked by multiple bad guys at the same time, but fighting in FFXV PE is generally pretty straightforward, striking a balance between touchscreen optimization and player engagement.

We did not encounter a method to focus-fire, however, so attacking a large group of creatures can take time because of the lack of team coordination.

The Pocket Edition's RPG-ness

FFXV PE frequently has branching conversations that allow you to roleplay a certain type of personality, a deep ability upgrade tree, open areas (but not a fully open world) containing hidden loot and optional side quests, an inventory where you can store weapons and junk, and area maps with legends. Ultimately, everyone has different criteria for what they consider RPG elements, but FFXV PE checks a lot of popular boxes.

The Artwork and Sound

If you didn't know this was FFXV, you might not have recognized it. Character models are highly stylized versus the console/PC version, exaggerating facial features and body composition to make up for lower complexity. World objects and surface textures are also much less complex, on the level of a PlayStation 3 game. But the Pocket Edition still has the same voice acting and varied soundtrack -- the soundscape definitely warrants playing with headphones or earbuds. And at $20, you might as well get your money's worth.

So Is FFXV PE Worth the Price Tag?

Twenty bucks is not an easy sell in the mobile gaming world, even though it can be much less than you would ultimately spend on a variety of "free to play" competitors with their in-game currency purchases, timers, energy bars, video ads, and so on. Then again, it's also one of the most polished games on mobile, which is rare for a production that isn't bankrolled by a steady flow of microtransactions. If you want to see more of this type of game on mobile devices, becoming a customer is a crucial first step. Android gamers at least have that 48-hour window in which to get a refund with a single tap, but determining if your Android device can run the game okay is largely a roll of the dice. Square Enix games frequently go on sale, so you can at least put the game on your app store wishlist and wait for a discount.

About Tom McNamara

Tom is the senior editor covering Windows at