For many out there who follow the happenings of the gaming industry, World of Final Fantasy has existed under a shadow of infamy since last year, as it was the game that Square Enix “trolled” us with before finally revealing the Final Fantasy VII remake. In that spot during Sony’s E3 2015 press conference, it almost felt like Square Enix was acknowledging that the game was inconsequential fluff quickly gotten out of the way before the real offering—a weird position for a company to put one of their major upcoming releases in.
I wasn’t particularly looking forward to World of Final Fantasy, but the reasons I’ve now come to be disappointed in it (where I am) aren’t at all the reasons I was expecting to have. The biggest surprise here are the game’s dual protagonists, twins Lann and Reynn. As a long-time lover of JRPGs, these kinds of character designs usually lead to stereotypical, obnoxious personality types that you have to force yourself to tolerate throughout the adventure. And yet, that wasn’t the case here. While each does offer up some of the tropes that you’d be expecting, there’s actually a lot of charm in them doing so. In other moments, I found both to be fun and likable for their own reasons, leading me to enjoy tagging along with them as the player. The writing throughout is both smart and totally ridiculous, and that combination works incredibly well here. The one low point to the band of main characters is Tama, the requisite mascot character who was given one of the most annoying speech patterns in the English translation that I’ve ever had to suffer through. (Basically, he adds “the” to words at seeming the-random intervals, and it’s the-awkward in text dialogs but completely obnoxious during voiced the-cutscenes.) It’s funny, too, that he’s upstaged so quickly after the game’s opening by Serafie, a somewhat similar character whose greatness outshines Tama in nearly every way possible.
The three are brought together by a mysterious woman named Enna Kron, who tells the twins of a strange other world named Grymoire where their mother lead a life her children never fully knew about—or, at least, can’t currently remember. At first, Grymoire seems like your typical fantasy land that could serve as the setting of any random RPG, but the first major encounter with the fierce Bahamutian Army also offers up a chance encounter with some familiar faces. Here, the “Final Fantasy” part of the game’s name starts to become apparent, and your travels soon become filled with crossing paths with some of the biggest names from the entire history of the franchise.
It’s the perfect set-up for a nostalgia-fueled trip through one of gaming’s most legendary RPG brands in a more playful package, but what the team at Square Enix did to build on that potential has me filled with mixed emotions.
I still remember my first introduction to the original Kingdom Hearts. I was staying with my host family over in Japan, and the younger of my host sisters was deeply engrossed in the new Square Enix release. The idea—mixing the world of Final Fantasy and Disney—seemed like an utterly ridiculous idea to me at the time, but it ended up being one that would completely work with how all of the elements had been brought together. World of Final Fantasy feels like a similar style of “character(s) travel to mythical cross-over world to give players overloads of fan service” project, but the execution here ranges from interesting, to serviceable, to downright baffling.
The biggest problem I have is the game’s combat and party system. When you fill a game full of beloved characters like Cloud, Tifa, Vivi, Lightning, and so on, one naturally expects that they’ll be fighting alongside you in epic battles. Except, that’s not the case here. Once met and unlocked, a roster of legendary Champions can be called into combat to perform a special attack or aid your party with support, but just as quickly as they arrive on the scene, they’re gone again until their summoning meter is refilled. Instead, Lann and Reynn are joined by Mirages, the various creatures that inhabit the world of Grymoire.
If Dragon Quest Builders was Square Enix taking major cues from Minecraft, World of Final Fantasy is the same thing for Pokémon. Whenever you meet a new Mirage in battle for the first time, you’re given a special crystal matching their monster type, and by either wearing down their health or satisfying other specific conditions, you can capture them to add to your team roster. For me, this was the single biggest point of confusion in playing, and the mechanic left me a little unsure of who the target audience for World of Final Fantasy is. For longtime fans like myself, let’s be honest: many of us are only really going to care about capturing and fighting with iconic creatures like Chocobos, Moogles, or Cactaur. And, even then, that’s not what I would want—I want those party slots to be filled with the likes of Celes and Squall. Are younger players more the target here? If so, they probably won’t have an appreciation for all of the cameos that crop up during the various plotlines that thread all throughout the game.
World of Final Fantasy does at least try to mix up the idea in a few ways. Instead of just calling forth singular Mirages, you craft stacks, which consist of three sizes of character: small, medium, and large. Right off of the bat, Lann and Reynn need to be somewhere in that equation, so they can either fill in the “L” or “M” slots depending on what form they’re currently in (more on that in a moment). As you collect more Mirages, you can rotate them in and out of the other slots, depending on which are your favorites, what particular abilities you need at a certain time, or the bonus spells you might want to use (having two ice-type Mirages in your stack, for example, opens up additional ice spells you wouldn’t have otherwise). Once in combat, your characters are literally stacked one on top of the other, and while in that position, their stats and HP/MP are combined, created one stronger, more powerful “character.” At any time, you can unstack, splitting back up into one hero and two Mirages. It’s a tactic that can give you an advantage depending on the battle, but it also leaves all of those character open to being taken out far easier.
Offering an additional layer of depth are Mirage Boards, skill trees that each of the Mirages posses which feel reminiscent of similar options in games such as Final Fantasy X. The upside is that this gives players at least some control over how their Mirages advance and what their talents will be; the downside is that, if you want a larger number of Mirages in active rotation at any one time, keeping up with all of their Mirage Boards can sometimes feel like a real chore.
The element of the Mirages and juggling which ones you have with you at any time adds an extra layer of strategy to battles, as do the option for summoning Champions. Beyond that, combat is pretty standard Final Fantasy fare. The problem is, it’s also frustratingly slow—even when you crank up the speed to its highest level—and that can really take some of the fun out of random battles, especially when you’re facing off against a bigger group of foes. Having the process take much longer than it should almost feels like a bit of self-sabotage to the combat system—especially given there’s also no indication of where or when those battles will occur before they do. Thankfully, boss battles are far more enjoyable, and where the game’s combat is at its best.
There’s one other divisive element to World of Final Fantasy, and that’s its art style. Outside of Lann, Reynn, Enna Kron, and key other characters, the population of Grymoire are what’s known as Lilikin, a tiny super deformed-style of person that features a smaller body and appendages with a gigantic head and face. It’s a style not unfamiliar to both Japanese gaming and anime, but I’m still mixed on the results here. The Final Fantasy series featured characters of unrealistic proportions up through Final Fantasy VIII, and I think a style more fitting to those earlier-era games would have worked far better than what’s presented here. Lann and Reynn can transform between either Lilikin or normal human form at will, but it has little bearing on the game throughout most of its runtime (with the exception of your stack load-outs). World of Final Fantasy easily could’ve worked without that body-switching element, especially since some of the more interesting storyline moments come when dealing with the mixed feelings Grymoire’s populace has with two foreign giants from an alternate world getting involved in the unfolding drama. On a technical level, however, the game shines in the visuals department. Even if you aren’t a fan of some of the design choices, the graphics are downright gorgeous on the PlayStation 4, at times looking more like a CG movie than a video game running in real time. (Being the Vita fan I am, I tried out that version as well—it’s visuals are more than adequate, but do lose the impressiveness of its console counterpart.)
At the end of the day, World of Final Fantasy is a mixed bag, with every one of its elements having both good and bad points. The story and characters are surprisingly enjoyable, but there’s numerous moments where you’d wish storylines or character had more attention paid to them. Combat and world exploration provides some of that old-school Final Fantasy fun, but it’s also be a slog due to combat speed or obstacles that slow down the pace too much. You don’t really want a Final Fantasy version of Pokémon, and yet, as weird as that design choice feels here, it is actually kind of cool during its better moments. And, though you wish those beloved characters from the franchise’s past played a bigger role—and looked better while doing so—you still can’t help but feel the excitement as yet another cast member makes their return.
In the end, World of Final Fantasy gets more right than it does wrong, but it’s a game that you’ll swear could have been far, far better had it gone down a very different route in its journey across Grymoire.
I don’t know exactly how the idea to create World of Final Fantasy came about in the halls of Square Enix, but it’s a game that could have been so much better had it been given different focus. As it is, it’s a relatively enjoyable RPG that offers up some legitimately enjoyable moments while simultaneously causing you to sit in bewilderment at what you’re experiencing.
E10+ - Everyone 10+
|World of Final Fantasy is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita. Primary version played was for PlayStation 4. Product was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|
Mollie got her start in games media via the crazy world of gaming fanzines, and now works at EGM with the goal of covering all of the weird Japanese and niche releases that nobody else on staff cares about. She’s active in the gaming community on a personal level, and an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming, consumer rights, and good UI. Check her out on Twitter and Mastodon.