Square-Enix’s long running Final Fantasy series has been in quite the dilemma in recent years. While each and every new game in the main series have no ties in terms of setting and characters, it’s hard to pull in new players because of the sheer amount of titles it has under its belt in the nearly thirty years since it revolutionised the RPG genre. This, accompanied by the dark and mature themes the main series entries deal with, also alienate younger gamers from experiencing the series. As a result of this, developer Tose and game director Hiroki Chiba (scenario writer for the fan favourite Final Fantasy: Type-0) have teamed up to draw in a new generation of Final Fantasy fans for the series’ impending 30th anniversary but also please the returning veterans of the series. Does this cute, light-hearted Final Fantasy anniversary title succeed at retaining the spirit of the series, or does it keep with the recent streak of disappointing releases?
World of Final Fantasy‘s story centres around two siblings: Lann, an energetic yet somewhat frivolous young boy, and Reynn, a sensible and cautious young girl who is more careful about tackling a situation than her brother. Upon awaking in an unrecognisable world, Lann and Reynn meet Enna Kros, a mysterious girl who informs them that they are in a world without time after losing their memories. The only way Lann and Reynn can retrieve their lost memories is by traversing the land of Grymoire, where famous locations from previous Final Fantasy games such as Cordelia and Midgar exist in one world. Along the way though Lann and Reynn must use mysterious engravings in their arms to capture Mirages, the monsters of Grymoire based off the designs of previous Final Fantasy creatures. One of these creatures, Tama, accompanies them on their journey as they not only try to reclaim their lost memories but also get caught up in the world’s ongoing conflicts.
One of the game’s strongest assets is the fact that instead of using the regular summons of the traditional games, World of Final Fantasy instead uses iconic protagonists and side-characters from the history of the franchise in their place. These include both fan-favourite and spin-off characters, from the likes of Cloud and Lightning from Final Fantasy VII and XII, respectively, to Feris from Final Fantasy V and Sherlotta from Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time. Fan-service is something Square-Enix has always been good at, and this game is the all-encompassing definition of it in their games. Thankfully, this doesn’t distract from the new characters though, as I found myself immersed in Lann and Reynn’s adventure because of their quirky dynamic and great voice acting. The storytelling is a lot more similar to a Kingdom Hearts game than a main series Final Fantasy game, but thankfully it avoids Kingdom Hearts’ tendency to become too convoluted in the later hours and manages to grow slightly darker as it goes on, while still not appearing too alienating to younger players. The game also sports some great writing from the director Hiroki Chiba that definitely doesn’t shy away from making one or two jokes intended to go over the younger players’ heads.
World of Final Fantasy returns to the traditional turn-based RPG gameplay that the series revolutionised with the option to use the Active-Time Battle system. As opposed to playing like a traditional Final Fantasy game, the Mirage capturing and collecting system causes the game to play more similarly to Pokémon and Shin Megami Tensei. Instead of just controlling a party of Mirages in battle, a stacking mechanic is introduced where Mirages are stacked either on top of or underneath Lann and Reynn individually during combat, and they share stats, abilities, and turns. This causes the party number to never hit above 3 characters at once but also requires the player to be more tactical with what Mirages they decide to use, as the shared stats can sometimes counteract each other. Later in the game there are traditional summons from the main series Final Fantasy games that return as special Mirages too; players can summon these into battle until their AP is depleted.
Mirages are also used while exploring the land of Grymoire, as Mirages like the iconic Chocobo can be used for traversal, and others like their younger Chocochicks assist by searching the area for items. Speaking of which, each and every Mirage can be upgraded through the Mirage Board. The Mirage Board is similar to the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X, in which you can use SP to unlock new abilities and upgrades for Mirages and even Transfigure them, which is similar to evolving a Pokémon. In using the Mirage Board, the creatures can also learn attacks that will assist you while traversing Grymoire so you may unlock secret areas and even find some hidden bosses.
The gameplay in World of Final Fantasy is a lot more dense than I imagined going into it, especially for a game targeted to younger audiences, but if anything that’s a good thing. Collecting Mirages never becomes dull as each area is themed around a certain type, and you won’t find the same Mirages in two locations. The designs of the dungeons are quite linear though, and never have the player really explore for any reason other than opening treasure chests to acquire new items. There are one or two times when you encounter an obstacle that requires you to search for an item to progress, but this only really highlights the game’s high encounter rate in the middle and end and the very low escape rate of combat, which really irritated me as the game went on. These are really the only big things that stood out to me in terms of gameplay though, as I found myself unexpectedly hooked on the gameplay, which I hadn’t expected at all.
Following his work on the Japanese mobile game Pictlogica Final Fantasy, Yasuhisa Izumisawa returns as the main character designer for this game with series veteran Tetsuya Nomura designing the main characters, and both do an excellent job creating a cute and colourful world for this more light-hearted take on the RPG series. Visuals on both the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita versions of the game are beautiful, with very impressive lighting effects on the PS4 version. They’re not on par with something like the upcoming Final Fantasy XV, but they’re not trying to, and they get the job done while also representing the returning characters in a new (and adorable) take. Character animation in the cutscenes can almost be a bit too much sometimes, especially in Lann’s case, but it’s never unwatchable. There are also well animated anime cutscenes sprinkled throughout gameplay that help keep the plentiful storytelling fresh.
The soundtrack is composed by Masashi Hamauzu, known for his work on the Final Fantasy XIII and Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII soundtracks. His soundtrack for this title does a great job of bringing the world of Grymoire to life with exciting new tracks and faithful remixes of iconic music from the series’ history. While it isn’t as memorable as a Nobuo Uematsu or Yoko Shimomura, it stands alone perfectly as a fitting soundtrack that introduces fitting new music and stays respectful to the songs it remixes. The voice acting is also fitting, as the English voice acting was recorded nearly alongside the Japanese for the first time in Square-Enix’s history, but also staying true to Square-Enix’s history there are a few questionable choices of voices and line delivery. The worst voice acting comes from the series staple creatures, Moogles, which is just annoying. Other than that there are the previously mentioned questionable line deliveries and just unfitting voices, but that is just down to interpretation.
Following Square-Enix’s divisive Final Fantasy XIII series, World of Final Fantasy manages to be a surprisingly deep and enjoyable JRPG that will interest younger gamers with its Mirage capturing gameplay similar to Pokémon and Yo-Kai Watch and light-hearted storytelling, while also bringing back series veterans with its fan-service, dense mechanics, and great soundtrack. It’s a truly immersive and fun experience only bogged down by its annoying mid-game encounter rate, questionable voice acting in some areas, and lack of multiple difficulty options for younger players, as they might find the density of the mechanics intimidating.
Platforms: PS4, PS Vita
Release Date: 28th October 2016