Square-Enix says Final Fantasy VII is too big for mobile phones right now. They’re wrong.

October 14, 2013

Cloud's hair, and the game where it lives, is too big for an iOS app. (Square-Enix)

Last week I went a little fangirl crazy because Final Fantasy VI was coming to mobile phones. In fact, the first six entries in the Final Fantasy series will all eventually be available on mobile devices as part of the Final Fantasy Legacy series. And the man behind the the ports, Takashi Tokita, hinted that the much-beloved Final Fantasy VII might be next in line, telling Kotaku,"we have VII fans in our own company. If this Legacy project works out well, we would like to one day be able to work with VII."

But he also recently told Shacknews that such a port isn't going to happen anytime soon due to storage constraints: "Unfortunately, it's not that it's not impossible for us to develop 'Final Fantasy 7' for mobile," he said, "it's that currently, space will be an issue." Tokita said that at minimum, people are likely to have to wait a few years.

The most recent PC re-release of Final Fantasy VII clocks in at 2.16 GB, according to the Square-Enix online store. That's already outside of Apple's 2 GB limit on app size — and if the legacy team wanted to follow the example set by their earlier ports and clean things up a bit or add some new content, it would like be even larger. It is under the 4 GB app size allowance on Android devices, but it's worth noting that the Android cap was 50 MB until last year.

I asked Apple for an explanation for their 2 GB cap, but did not receive a response by press time. Considering the fixed size of iPhones and iPads, I can understand why they might be wary of letting consumers take up significant chunks of their storage space with just one app. The slightly larger app limitation for Android makes sense because you can expand many devices using the OS with memory cards.

But the app size limitations on both devices could end up driving consumers who want to play the video games of their youth on their mobile phones to the emulator market. Emulators are programs that are designed to recreate the functionality of another platform — in this case, retro consoles. Both have been around on personal PCs for a long time — in fact, my first playthrough of Final Fantasy VI when I was a wee tween was using the Super Nintendo emulator snes9x. Because they typically rely on unauthorized copies of old video games, they exist in a legal grey area.

Emulators have also made the jump to mobile devices. But the restrictive Apple Store app approval process means you'll typically need to jailbreak your iOS device to get it to run. Emulators occasionally disappear from Google's Play Store. That's not too surprising, considering the somewhat murky legality of many uses. But typically, with a bit of elbow grease and some minor technical know-how, you can get your mobile phone to play a lot of games from Atari to modern day Playstation Portable games pretty quickly.

Smartphones remain a bigger opportunity than handhelds devoted to gaming because over half of American adults own them already. Thanks to rapid improvements in mobile computing technology, most phones can now adequately replicate the experience of consoles like the original Playstation. And there's a big group of consumers who would pay for the opportunity to have mobile access to childhood favorites without going through shady ROM sites.

Clearly, some game publishers realize the opportunity, like Square-Enix. But artificial size restrictions might limit their ability to serve this market. App size limitations are surely not the only factor, but they could be one of the things causing gamers who would happily pay a fair amount to play legitimate copies of old games on mobile devices to resort to piracy.

Update: An Apple spokesperson confirmed that although the app size limit for downloading an app from the App Store is 2 GB, games can expand and grow once on a users's device as developers can add or make available additional content from the server side. However, this doesn't seem like it would resolve the issue with with Final Fantasy, as the current version of the executable is over 2 GB.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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Brian Fung | October 14, 2013