Right now is a particularly exciting time for Final Fantasy, here, on the eve of its next major numbered title. Final Fantasy XV hopes to bring a new level of realism to the series typical fantasy-based stylings, and with it is a presentation that evokes much of our own world. So here we find ourselves in the final countdown… and… hello, what’s this?
World of Final Fantasy is a hop out of the gate before FFXV, and couldn’t be any more different. A cursory glance at this spinoff title reveals a very simple, cute, whimsical flavor. Those who know the series well can attest to its changing face over the years, and I enjoy that we have this funny little juxtaposition of things we can call Final Fantasy releasing so close to each other.
Director Hiroki Chiba made it no secret that this game is aimed at a younger cache of potential fans, probably around the age when most started their first Kingdom Hearts title. In fact there are a few ways this game has smacked me as familiar to the first KH title as I played, aside from the obvious cues. We’ll return to this a little later.
In this spinoff you can expect myriad Final Fantasy character cameos monsters, summons, and even the return of the Active Time Battle system with a new twist. Oh yeah, to touch briefly on the cameo thing: FFII, FFXII, and FFXIV fans are left out in the cold here sadly, but it’s interesting to see some other spinoff titles like Dirge of Cerberus and Crystal Chronicles get some rep – now that we have games like Dissdia and so on covering the bases.
The game opens in a town called Nine Wood Hills where our protagonist siblings Reynn and Lann live. What seems to be a routine morning is interrupted by a strange woman named Enna Kros, who reveals the two have been split off from what they knew as the real world and that the pair are destined to become “Mirage Keepers” – summoners of beings known as Mirages.
Gone are their memories of their parents and pasts and identity, save for Reynn and Lann’s name and relationship. Once they are made aware of the glaring problems in their existence, Enna Kros reassures them that by travelling to the land of Grymoire and collecting Mirages, all of these questions – including the whereabouts of their mother – will be made clear. To accomplish this, she sends Tama, a small, white, fox-like fluffball thing to be their guide. And poof – we begin.
World of Final Fantasy’s story starts off a bit wobbly trying to get across what’s actually going on, but before it starts to get too thick, everything pulls back to send you off on a grand adventure. It’s in this respect that I was reminded of Kingdom Hearts in that many of the key overarching story beats usually get jampacked the opening and closing hours with breadcrumbs along the way.
Where the game’s writing is brightest isn’t in convoluted world-building or dramatic cinematics, but in establishing Reynn and Lann as siblings and as characters. Their dialogue is quippy and punchy (though not all swings are hits here), and they behave as a very believable brother and sister. The game knows when to have fun with them, and it really shows. It really helps that the English script and localization isn’t a carbon-copy of its Japanese counterpart, unafraid to play with cultural references or breaking the fourth wall. Thankfully, we’re far beyond the days of tone-matching Japanese voice actors too. You’ll get your fill of smirk-inducing Mirage descriptions as well.
Final Fantasy series characters are handled just as you might expect them to be if you’ve known them from the series’ past, though their relationships are modified just a bit to fit Grymoire. There’s a fun bit of mixing from different games regarding locales as well. Oh, and I’ll just say I feel rather vindicated to know I’ve pronounced “Quistis” and “Celes” right after all these years.
It’s hard to say what people will make of where the story ends up; there are some upsides and downsides. While I thought a few twists and turns were genuinely interesting, the game starts to rely on a slightly overbearing amount of terminology that comes a little too fast at you for it to really stick. A series of unfortunate events occurs after which the final acts play out, and the player is left to explore a bit more of the story’s goings-on – but since this is a spoiler-free review I’ll cap it here. I may be in the minority, but despite some fumbles, it ended up in an okay-if-not-good place. I think that’s in part to Reynn and Lann’s characters growing on you over the course of the game’s scenario.
The world of Grymoire is composed of a handful of floating continents on which its citizens live. They refer to themselves as Lilikin (the tiny or “chibi” humans you see designed by Yasuhisa Izumisawa), and to Reynn and Lann as “Jiants” (Tetsuya Nomura) as they are of normal human proportion. In order to blend in, they’re given the ability to change sizes at will. This fundamental ability also shapes the core of what is unique about World of Final Fantasy’s classic random encounter and turn-based battle system.
There are two tenets to the game’s battle system: Active Time Battle and Mirage stacks. You’ll have the option to set ATB to “Active” (turns pass even though you’re in menus) or “Wait” (the default option that will pause battle while you select a move). The ATB gauge is visualized on the left hand side of the screen with portraits moving along its length denoting time left until you are able to act.
Defending will only send you half way down the ATB gauge, and it becomes a nuanced tool I had a lot of fun with in pulling through some difficult encounters by intercepting enemy attacks or restoring some much-needed AP. Newbies will likely appreciate that game overs (save for key boss fights within “Thresholds”) will not result in a loss of save data progress — instead, being whisked back to Nine Wood Hills to think over your mistakes with experience points intact.
Mirages you collect can be stacked on top of Reynn and Lann’s heads, or they can ride on top of them. Each sibling has a party of three that can be stacked together, combining a Mirage or human of small, medium, or large sizes.
The abilities the two have access to are determined by their own Mirajewels, accessories that allow them to equip magic, and the abilities of Mirages in their stack. Certain abilities can be transformed into combos – where two mirages in a stack that can both use Fire will get access to the Fira upgrade. If all three do then you’ll get Firaga.
A lot of battle prep will involve figuring out the right combination of Mirages to suit variety of possible circumstances. That being said, the game could have used a bit more flair when it comes to encounter design, and making the most out of its twist on combat. Many enemies, even some bosses, have a shallow pool of abilities or gimmicks which won’t test you strategically.
Mirage Boards are the catalysts whereupon your ever-growing army of FF monsters will get stronger and obtain new transfigurations (forms.) What’s nice about this game is that once you unlock different transfigurations, you’ll still be able to upgrade different boards that belong to the same Mirage family. While you have the option of catching every single Mirage form, the game softly nudges you towards upgrading the same Mirage but on different paths. It’s nice to be able to change things up without having to wipe progress. Monsters in your reserve will gain a chunk of experience points too.
“Imprisming”, or capturing monsters, involves more than reducing HP – many of them will have special conditions that must be required before you can snag them, such as using ice magic or status effects. Once captured, you can rename Mirages and add them to your travelling party or your stock back in Nine Wood Hills – which serves as the siblings’ base of sorts.
World of Final Fantasy’s battle system keeps things simple, which’ll help newbies to ATB or the series adjust to this kind of combat. Vets, however, will likely enjoy playing around with building the optimal Mirage crew to take care of business. It’s enjoyable to race enemies on the ATB bar to get in a critical defend, and rewarding to go the extra mile and capture Mirages or unlock that next node on Mirage Boards.
In Nine Wood Hills, you’ll be able to manage your Mirages with Serafie, buy items from Chocolatte. You can also access the Coliseum, where you can participate in single-player challenges and online multiplayer.
(Heads up: In the pre-release version we played, multiplayer was not available. When I’ve had some time to play around with this, I’ll update the review with my thoughts. Stay tuned!)
From Sylver Park, you’ll be able to warp to many locations in Grymoire with Tama’s help. The World Map system is similar to Final Fantasy X in which you are presented with a list of locations to travel to.
You’ll also be able to chat up The Girl Who Forgot Her Name, who will offer you special “intervention” sidequests that revolve around the Final Fantasy characters you meet on your adventure. Each one is about ten minutes in length and have a variety of difficulty levels, but usually involve a few short scenes. Without spoiling, a few of these are quite funny and those of you here for a few nostalgic tingles won’t be disappointed.
This is also where you can trade Arma gems for Champion medals, which can be used to summon them in combat. To be honest, these guys are just a bit OP, and it might be tempting to blow half a chunk off a boss’s HP with them. It’s a bit disruptive to the rest of the combat
Visually, World of Final Fantasy keeps things simple and colorful. Short anime cutscenes punctuate the game much like FMV in the PlayStation-era titles, but the quality isn’t something that’s standout, which is a bit of a shame. 3D animation for the protagonists in many cutscenes where they appear in Jiant form is quite good; it’s almost too bad that most of the characters in-game are limited in expression by their simple Lilikin form. The game looks very crisp on PlayStation 4, though I ran into moments where the framerate in cutscenes took a bit of a hit, as well as some rare combat loading screens that were a bit long. Dungeon design varies a bit too – Big Bridge will probably be a bit too monotonous for many folks, while I really enjoyed a dungeon towards the end of the game that looks and traverses like a giant, rotating chunk of bismuth. Enjoy that.
World of Final Fantasy hits that sweet spot of what a really enjoyable Final Fantasy spinoff should be: taking concepts introduced previously in the series and introduce a unique, fun spin on it. While the game’s story, worldbuilding, and final leg are a bit shaky, the protagonist siblings grow on you through time thanks to their peppy, humorous dialogue and earnest interaction. Maybe you’re mileage will vary here, but I enjoyed it.
The battle system here is the star, and you’ll enjoy its simplicity while feeling a sense of mastery. The stacking system adds a fun twist to the turn-based formula. However, the encounter design could have managed to be a bit more creative. You’ll get more out of preparing for battle than in most of the moment-to-moment combat.
Presentation-wise, WOFF is clean and colorful, and the effort put into the protagonists’ animations adds some joy to their more humorous interactions. Hamauzu’s soundtrack here is also on point, arrangements and original tunes alike. Just try getting that Plaza 99 tune out of your head – it’s an earworm, I swear! I enjoyed the voice cast adding a lot of life to the main cast, thanks to a charming English script and voice cast. (I’m happy that voice performances in Final Fantasy games in general have been on the upswing in recent years.)
Just tackling the main scenario from start to finish, you’ll likely put in 40-50 hours, and there’s more activities to mess around with after that, such as collecting and powering up Mirages, battling in the Coliseum, sidequests, and few mini-games.
World of Final Fantasy is a great entry-level game for those curious about the series, but veterans should find a lot to enjoy here too. If you’re looking for something to tide you over until Final Fantasy XV or the next Final Fantasy XIV expansion, World of Final Fantasy is an ideal choice. If none of those matter to you, know this game stands up pretty well on its own and is enjoyable as another solid spinoff for the Final Fantasy franchise.
Disclaimer: A PlayStation 4 version of World of Final Fantasy was provided to Nova Crystallis by Square Enix for review.