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World of Final Fantasy Review | Gotta catch ‘em Squall

World of Final Fantasy Review | Gotta catch ‘em Squall
Carl 'Malkaurai' Phillips

Over the last decade, Square Enix have repeated the mantra that the Final Fantasy series is one of evolution. Each instalment tries something new with its various gameplay systems, some of which have been well received and others that have, well, not. The next main entry in the series will be taking its gameplay in a real-time direction, but it’s fair to say that sometimes fans just want a reminder of the good old days. If anything, that’s exactly what World of Final Fantasy aims to be – a look back at what made the series so popular through a different lens – and the end result is one of the most enjoyable spin-offs the franchise has produced.

World of Final Fantasy centres around Lann and Reynn, amnesiac twins who unexpectedly learn they are able to control and capture entities known as mirages. Instructed to go to the world of Grymoire if they want to regain their memories, they soon find themselves involved in a struggle against an oppressive ruling force who use mirages for their own nefarious plans. As you might expect, the twins end up playing a key role in the resistance’s fight, coming across familiar faces and locations in their journey to save Grymoire, beat the big bads, and recover their past.

In short, it’s a very Final Fantasy affair with the usual twists and turns that most fans of the series should be comfortable with.

The core gameplay experience boils down to Lann and Reynn capturing mirages during their travels and then battling with them. The obvious comparison here is the Pokemon series, but WoFF makes things more interesting by adding in conditions for certain captures (such as using specific status effects or abilities.) This means that there are a number of mirages that can’t be caught initially, but I felt this added a sense of achievement and progression. If anything it should give completists a sense of satisfaction should they get every last mirage in their collection.

Another notable difference from the Pokemon series is the stacking system, in which the twins fight with mirages on top of and/or below them. Organising the Small, Medium and Large selections for each stack creates a greater tactical depth than Nintendo’s franchise as the player must balance abilities and resistances. The fact Lann and Reynn can switch between being the Medium and Large parts of their respective stacks give even more choice to the player. You can’t switch between them in battle, but the two options should allow players to deal with most of what the game throws at them.

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While Lann and Reynn’s stat growth happens automatically, mirage upgrades occur on a board similar to FFX’s sphere grid (which I’m a huge fan of.) Unlocking new abilities and stat increases in a freeform manner eventually leads to the transfiguration nodes (ie. evolutions) which give new options at the price of reorganising your stacks. So, that cute little Chocochick at the start can become a fully fledged Chocobo under the right conditions. It’s an element I really enjoyed, as powering up a mirage to harness a new set of abilities offered satisfying progression. Best of all, you can always revert them to their smaller form if you need to. Such flexibility allows players to come up with various strategies, be it combining spells to create more powerful versions or access to abilities to use in the open world.

Besides, who hasn’t owned a Raichu and secretly wished they could switch back to Pikachu?

The combat has an air of familiarity to it as well, with the screen breaking out into battles as the twins traverse the world. The turn-based ATB system works just like it always has done in the Final Fantasy series, but the option to turn it into real-time – meaning continuous action without pause – offers an increased difficulty to those masochistic enough to switch it up. If there is a complaint here it’s that the loading screens post-fight interrupt the otherwise seamless flow of the game. It might not be an issue when you’ve beaten a boss and need a breather, but when grinding these loading screens really are annoying. The fast-forward function that’s available during fights does offset this slightly, but still.

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Otherwise, everything about the gameplay is an absolute joy. The initial simplicity makes it easy to learn the basics, and the save points are never too far away outside of a couple of instances. That’s not to say it’s a complete cakewalk, though. I mean, you could probably get through most of the game just thwacking away & healing when necessary, but the side missions throughout Grymoire and rare mirages to capture require preparation, patience and care to beat. The end result is that it feels like an old school Final Fantasy title but with all the life of quality improvements of modern games.

While WoFF features popular characters from the series, it’s important to note that this is an original story that just happens to include familiar faces. More than that, locations such as Cornelia or Princess Sarah from Final Fantasy I aren’t quite as you remember them (and I don’t just mean the chibi art style.) If anything, it’s more of a tribute to previous games instead of retreading them. It’s a balancing act that the writers have managed exceptionally well, meaning that the likes of Cloud, Rikku, and Rydia all appear but these versions are very much residents of Grymoire.

The flip side to this is that certain reunions are very much played up to, which I’m sure fans will absolutely love.

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While the voices and personalities remain intact, the chibi-fied makeovers hammer home that not only is this a spin-off but that it ultimately isn’t the guest stars’ story. In fact, the art direction of chibi-ness mixed with Kingdom Hearts-esque environments works well in creating that nostalgic lens the game aims for. It also makes everybody look absolutely friggin’ adorable. Even the more serious types like Squall and Lightning can’t escape the cuteness factor in their Lillikin form.

But yes, this is very much Lann and Reynn’s story. Their dynamic is a tried-and-tested one in Japanese entertainment – the good-natured, heroic yet air-headed boy, with the level-headed, thoughtful and determined girl – although I did feel sorry for Lann with the constant belittling at times. Still, it manages to illustrate their relationship well (and allows for it to flip to great effect at a few key moments.) Best of all, most of their jokes are often terrible, terrible puns, leading to some of the most enjoyably cheesy moments I’ve had in a game all year.

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One observation I had early on in my playthrough was how the storyline and characterisation of the original characters could have easily turned into an animé series. I felt this way well before the (oddly late) opening cinematic and animated cutscenes littered throughout the game appeared, but the overall effect gives the game its own identity away from the main entries of the franchise. The cutesy anime-like stylings are full-on, though, so if you’re not a fan of that sort of thing or prefer a more serious time you should probably keep your distance.

It’s also clear that the developers have put a lot of effort and care into making WoFF such a colourful and rich experience. From a visual point of view, it’s almost as if the art design of Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts collided, and then filled the world with tiny cute characters. It’s a blend that absolutely works, breathing new life into familiar tones. There’s also a tongue-in-cheek approach to the writing, both in terms of the pun-filled script (which is some may find too much – I found it brilliant, though) and the flavour text for mirages. Yes, there are some horrendously cheesy moments as a result, but as a fan of the series it all made me giddy with glee.

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I also need to take a moment to mention how much I enjoyed the soundtrack. The musical texture of certain tracks like the main theme are absolutely superb, and while there are a few remixed themes from previous FF games that don’t quite hit the mark there are others that pulled the heartstrings with ease. More to the point, the Final Fantasy VII tracks here give me hope that a certain remake will feature music with the same level of production quality.

With over 30 hours of game time under my belt I still have things to do and mirages to collect, but there’s also a multiplayer mode for those who wish to show off their best stacks (on PS4, anyway. Vita owners only get the offline version sadly!) These real-time battles are some of the most intense things I’ve done all year, and while I probably won’t be returning to them (after being utterly trounced) I do appreciate the mode for what it is – a working arena to show off your mirage-stacking skills.

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As a fan of the series I’ve thoroughly enjoyed World of Final Fantasy. It’s like the duvet day of gaming, letting you get all cosy and snug with its polished gameplay and cute characters. That said, while I feel newcomers might get a kick out of certain aspects the many in-jokes and references could be lost on them. It’s also hard to say if going back to play older games after experiencing the slickness of the game mechanics here is a good idea too, regardless of your FF veterancy. But maybe that’s the point and it’s time to move on. This is why World of Final Fantasy is a great underlining of all that has come before it – a comforting look back at what made the series so loved by fans before it wanders off into the future.

Pros:

  • Familiar turned-based gameplay that has been polished to high standards.
  • The initial simplicity helps ease players into a surprisingly deep experience.
  • Series fans will enjoy the nostalgia the game creates…

Cons:

  • … but the in-jokes and references could be lost on newcomers.
  • Loading screens post-battles are annoying.
  • If you’re not a fan of anime-style narratives and characterisation you probably won’t get on with the storyline here.

The Short Version:

With adorable character design, slick gameplay, and surprisingly deep progression, World of Final Fantasy is the perfect nostalgia trip for series fans.

DO-Review-Score-09
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Platform: PS4 (tested), PS Vita

Developer: Square Enix, Tose Ltd.

Publisher: Square Enix