Since 1997 I have been playing Final Fantasy. I have never missed a major release no matter the circumstances, earning great admiration for the franchise along the way. Although more recently my enthusiasm for the series has been tested, I owe it tremendous praise for delivering some of the most memorable games I have ever played. Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Final Fantasy XI stand as three of my top 10 favorite games of all-time.
This makes me the perfect demographic for World of Final Fantasy, a title focused on being a nostalgic experience in celebration of Final Fantasy’s 30th anniversary. I was thrilled to begin my latest adventure, ready to be reminded of why this is my favorite RPG franchise. Sadly, it didn't come close to meeting my expectations.
World of Final Fantasy follows the story of two twin siblings, Lann and Reynn, who awake one morning with shattered memories. These two characters are cheerful and outgoing despite the cataclysmic events that they face. Thus, they head out into the mysterious world of Grymoire, a surprisingly linear place filled with the occasional treasure, puzzle, and plenty of creatures.
My Mirage Collection
Although most of your time will be spent engaging with colorful and varied creatures in random battle encounters, they can be “captured” in a way not too dissimilar to Pokemon. In this regard, World of Final Fantasy is highly entertaining. The system includes a three step process of finding the Mirages, learning what the criteria is for capturing them, and then containing them in a prism to add to your roster.
Up to four mirages can be carried with you into battle. Sometimes you will use them on their own to attack enemies (up to a total of six party members), but most of the time they will be stacked on Lann and Reynn. Which Mirages you stack on them is up to you, although there are minor parameters that must be met related to their size. When stacked, they contribute not only their stats to the stacked character, but also their skills. There is a catch, though. When stacked all weaknesses in the stack are expressed. In other words, you don't want to stack with a water Mirage when fighting Ramuh.
Employing Mirages allow them to earn experience and level up, similar to Lann and Raynn. With this, you will have an opportunity to place skill points in a variety of trees, unlocking both passive and active abilities in the process. What you choose has large ramifications in battle, as one useful skill can hard counter certain enemies. These skills can later be baked into one of the main characters using an item, allowing the usefulness of certain Mirages to be utilized without necessarily having to keep them around.
The Mirage system provides a great sense of freedom. It’s up to you which of the hundreds of Mirages you bring with you into battle, and they all have strengths and weaknesses. The system builds up slowly early on; you won’t have many mirages, and enemies will be very easy to kill with no difficulty setting available. Later on your mastery of their strengths and weaknesses is pivotal to survival and a satisfying experience. Because of the way it works, at times World of Final Fantasy feels like a strategy game, which results in an engrossing feeling that encourages you to spend time leveling up characters and building them in ways that will make you a hazard for enemies to deal with.
A Traumatic Anniversary
This is billed as the 30th anniversary title for Final Fantasy, so nostalgia is a huge theme. It is true that World of Final Fantasy contains a wealth of referenced material, with its soundtrack being the most commendable example, including notable characters and familiar locales. Though, these make up a minor portion of the experience, and when they are encountered they struggle to make a connection due to the art style and writing. Even the appearance of fan favorites like Sephiroth and Yuna fall short of making an impression.
On this note, writing is another area where World of Final Fantasy stumbles. In an attempt to make the game friendly for younger generations, Square Enix has delivered something that could fit right into Nickelodeon’s prime time schedule. Where this is bothersome is most people—including myself—who are looking for a nostalgic experience are now in our late 20’s, 30’s, or even 40’s. It doesn’t resonate well, and it hurts the game experience because of it.
It doesn’t help that the inhabitants of Grymoire aren’t all that interesting to begin with. Neither Lann or Reynn are charming characters, and nor are the antagonists that they encounter. When you combine this with the constant bombardment of cutscene-delivered dialog that interrupts the consumption of the game's greatest asset (gameplay), the end result is a diminished motivation to complete the game.
That said, the issue isn’t necessarily with presentation or voice acting; World of Final Fantasy gets two thumbs up in these areas. While the inclusion of chibi characters will prove divisive, there’s no doubt that the game world, characters, and its user interface are clean and kind on the eyes, backed by superb audio work. This is yet another shining example that Square Enix never makes compromises when it comes to art and sound.
The game manages to last more than 30 hours, and there is plenty of additional activities in the form of a coliseum-style side content, collectibles, and more. If the game and its charming albeit youthful design happens to resonate with you, you're in for a large JRPG adventure.
At the very least I hoped that World of Final Fantasy could have re-invoked the best qualities of its kin: open-world exploration, interesting characters, and epic stories. It lacks all of these elements and suffers for it.
Even then, World of Final Fantasy manages to be an entertaining game. Its combat system is the highlight of the show, combining classic turn-based qualities with a spoonful of strategy gameplay. For this reason the game will be welcomed by some JRPG fans. Though, chances are they won’t be the same Final Fantasy veterans that World of Final Fantasy was hoping to attract in the first place.