Given that the Final Fantasy series has seen countless spinoffs, I’m surprised that it’s taken so long for Square Enix to release an entry that embraces the monster catching elements of Pokémon. What better way to celebrate the series’ upcoming 30th anniversary then than by releasing World of Final Fantasy, an RPG that blends Pokémon-esque gameplay with the history of the Final Fantasy universe.
It’s an interesting amalgamation and one that couldn’t have come at a better time; Pokémon is hotter than ever right now thanks to the popularity of Pokémon Go, whilst the eagerly anticipated Final Fantasy XV is less than a month away. Taking the elements that makes both series so popular and putting them together just seems to make sense. The experiment pays off too, with World of Final Fantasy offering an incredibly enjoyable, charming, and lengthy adventure that’s worthy of the Final Fantasy name.
World of Final Fantasy puts you in the shoes of Lann and Renn, two twins suffering from amnesia that learn they have the ability to harness ‘Mirages’ – the world’s monsters. They meet a mysterious woman named Enna Kros who tells them of their destiny to use these Mirages and protect Grimoire, a mysterious world that is currently in a state of disarray due to the conflictive methods of the villainous Bahamut Army. It’s up to them to stop this conflict and in turn re-discover their lost memories.
It’s an enjoyable tale, though in honesty I found that protagonists Lann and Renn were fairly forgettable characters. Their personalities were a little cliché, taking on your typical RPG duo of a spunky yet obnoxious guy, and a girl who’s more sensible and tends to take things a little too seriously. I didn’t dislike them, but there was nothing about them that made me feel any attachment to the role they played.
Thankfully the supporting cast are great, especially those who have had a place in their own Final Fantasy games in the past. The whole story and experience is a love letter to Final Fantasy fans, so being able to see your favourite characters in this new world and following their own unique sub-plots was great. Their interactions with Lann and Renn are always enjoyable too, with characters like Yuna, Cloud and Tifa often upstaging the protagonists. Their personalities were simply stronger and unique, whereas characters like Lann and Renn could be found in just about any RPG. I am being a little harsh since they do develop more the further you progress, but don’t expect them to stick in the mind after you’ve completed the game.
World of Final Fantasy features a unique visual design style that blends what would be considered normal character models with a more chibi style that is reminiscent of the sprites from the classic Final Fantasy games. It looks really neat in-game and both styles work together well, even if they do look completely different. You’ll recognise a few familiar faces such as the Warrior of Light who looks like he might’ve come straight out of the original Final Fantasy (albeit in 3D), but it’s also great to see re-imagined forms of the like of Tidus, Cloud, and Sephiroth too. Whilst characters in-game vary between these styles, you’re able to freely switch between both for Lann and Renn. It’s not just an aesthetic gimmick either, with the style you choose also affecting your party in combat.
The battle system in World of Final Fantasy is very reminiscent of that in classic Final Fantasy games, though it’s certainly took a more accessible approach. There are two menus that you can switch between: ‘simple’ and ‘classic’. The ‘simple’ menu allows you to perform four different moves with the press of a face button, whilst the ‘classic’ menu allows you to utilise every skill at your disposal through a more intricate menu. Whilst most encounters with enemies can be conquered by simply relying on the ‘simple’ menu, more complicated showdowns such as boss battles do rely on you utilising your full skill set in order to take advantage of their weaknesses. It’s all very simple and incredibly easy for just about anyone to pick up, regardless of their past experience with RPGs.
Of course, there are a few elements to the battle system that make it feel different to other RPGs out there right now. Take the stacking system for example that doesn’t offer you direct control of each of the six characters in battle, but instead puts them into a totem-pole like stance that sees two sets of three characters merge their skills and stats, in turn becoming more powerful through team work. It’s an interesting approach and manages to make the game feel unique, even if the tower of characters and monsters can end up looking a little ridiculous at times – in a charming way, of course.
The stacking adds a little depth to something that is otherwise very simple, especially when you consider that it can affect elemental stats. If you were going to fight an enemy that is weak to fire you can purposely set up Lann and Renn with fire Mirages, giving yourself a massive advantage over your foe. This can work both ways though, because you’d also be burdened with any fire type’s weakness, so you’re going to suffer from ice damage pretty badly. You have to think things through and some battles demand you set up your stacks properly, though most can be won by simply spamming the attack button.
You can also use ‘Champions’ in battles, a ‘summon’ like attack that allows you to call up a legendary hero from the Final Fantasy series to assist you and dish out some serious damage. You have to charge your champion gauge by taking and dealing damage in battles, but it’s always a delight to see a recognisable character pull off their signature move to get you out of a sticky situation. You can’t use a character until you’ve met them in-game and completed a small side quest for them though, but it did make meeting up with all these previous Final Fantasy protagonists all the more satisfying when I knew they’d eventually be by my side in combat.
Whilst World of Final Fantasy’s combat is enjoyable, the simplicity of it often left me feeling a little underwhelmed. Too many battles were winnable with next to no effort, and whilst later encounters could provide a bit more challenge, they never really pushed my abilities with ‘game over’ screens few and far between. Battles were certainly visually impressive with their cinematic camera angles that kept each encounter engrossing, but I did feel like I fell into a routine of simply pressing the attack button until I won.
One of the most interesting aspects of World of Final Fantasy is that you can capture almost any Mirage you encounter in combat and then use them as part of your team. Every time you encounter a new Mirage you unlock a ‘prisarium’ – World of Final Fantasy’s Pokéball equivalent. You then have to get the Mirage into a dazed state in order to attempt to catch them. Whilst most Mirages simply need a bit of a beating to capture, others require more specific requirements such as healing them, using a specific element attack, or even giving them an item. You can find out the means through experimentation or alternatively you can use the ‘Libra’ ability to learn directly. There’s a real satisfaction to be found in capturing the Mirages – the Final Fantasy series has always had fantastic monsters, so being able to capture the likes of Tonberrys, Chocobos, Behemoths, and Moogles is fantastic. The sheer amount of Mirages available is impressive too; my obsessive personality left me spending a ton of hours simply hunting new Mirages. ‘Gotta catch ‘em all’, right?
Each Mirage you find has their own ‘Mirage board’ that allows you to level them up in a similar manner to the ‘sphere grid’ from Final Fantasy X, though it’s certainly in a much simpler manner. As your Mirage levels up in combat they unlock SP that can be spent on stat boosts, new skills, or even to transfigure (evolve) them into more powerful forms. The ‘Mirage boards’ aren’t overly complicated so you won’t be able to finely tune your Mirage’s stats, but it was satisfying to see your team become stronger and stronger.
Outside of the main storyline and Mirage collecting, World of Final Fantasy offers plenty of side quests and endeavours to complete. It’s an incredibly meaty game and you always have something to do. There’s also the option to fight other players from around the world in combat via the game’s Coliseum in a neat online competitive option that isn’t commonly found in RPGs. I haven’t tried a whole lot of it yet, but its inclusion is certainly appreciated.
Whilst World of Final Fantasy doesn’t feature the almost life-like stunning graphics we’ve come to expect from the Final Fantasy series, it still manages to offer something that’s full of life and visually impressive. Everything looks clean and charming, whilst each locale has a real sense of personality to it that’ll keep a smile on your face. Best of all are the nods to locales from previous Final Fantasy games – in the first few hours alone you’ll visit Cornelia from the original Final Fantasy, as well as the spring from Final Fantasy X where Tidus and Yuna shared their romantic scene. Sure, you’re not in Macalania Woods, but the obvious nod is there. These nostalgic moments are all made even more special thanks to the game’s soundtrack that features a mixture of original pieces as well as remixes of some classic Final Fantasy tunes. It’s easy to get suckered in by the nostalgia that World of Final Fantasy offers, but when it looks so good and sounds so impressive it really can’t be helped.
As an RPG World of Final Fantasy offers plenty to keep you engaged throughout its lengthy story, though the combat doesn’t have the depth that more hardcore fans might be seeking. It doesn’t stop the overall experience being great though with its wonderful world that will tug at the heartstrings of Final Fantasy fans. Re-visiting all these locations and seeing these characters that have played a big part in so many of my favourite games was great, especially in their charming new re-imagined state.
The Pokémon-like mechanics added something fresh and I lost hours to game simply seeking all of the Mirages out. It’s incredibly accessible too, offering something that even newbies to RPGs will easily be able to pick up and play – even if they won’t be able to appreciate the nostalgia it offers. Either way, World of Final Fantasy is a fantastic way for gamers to celebrate thirty years with the much-loved series.
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 25/10/2016
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Playstation Vita