Final Fantasy is a series I’ve played since I was a kid, and I’ve seen it grow and evolve over the years, but somewhere along the line, the franchise lost its lustre. It was probably around the release of All the Bravest, a cheap, and quite frankly, disgusting mobile cash-grab that used nostalgia to drive its microtransactions, that I became somewhat disillusioned with one of my favourite franchises. Even though this game uses past titles as a hook to draw fans in, it’s a far cry from the way Square has treated the series and in all honesty, this is probably the most hopeful I’ve felt about Final Fantasy in quite some time.
If I had to tell you that this game uses one the most overused JRPG tropes to drive its narrative, what would you guess it is? If your first thought is that the main characters have amnesia, then congratulations, you’ve played too many JRPGs in your lifetime. Yes, our protagonists, Lann and Reyn have somehow forgotten their true identity. After a mysterious character named Enna tells them that they were once powerful keepers of creatures known as Mirages in the world of Grimoire, they set out to regain their memories and find out what exactly happened to them in the first place.
It’s a clichéd premise, and the narrative really struggles to gain momentum in the early parts of the game. You kind of feel like there is hardly any progression being made in the story as you move from one area to the next and if I’m honest, I wasn’t all that into the main arc, at first. As more key players are introduced however, the story eventually picks up and it somehow managed to hook me in the end.
Thankfully, the world, characters and writing were enough to keep me entertained from start to finish. Expect lots of puns, 4th wall breaking and adorable, nostalgia-fuelled cameos from past Final Fantasy characters. While most of the cameos in the main story are quite short-lived, it was great to see them again and don’t worry, there’s no convoluted narrative (like in Dissidia) as to why they exist in this game, they just do, and I’m grateful for that.
The world of Grimoire is inhabited by tiny little people known as Lilikins. When the protagonists first arrive they’re quite big compared to other denizens, so they’re given the ability to switch between Lilikan and Jiant Form. This ability can be used at will, but doesn’t really have a purpose outside of combat, which I’ll get to later. When it comes to the exploration side of things, the game is quite linear, but each and every area and town you visit is distinct enough to never make the journey feel like a slog. It also helps that there’s a quite a bit of side content from optional stories involving the previous Final Fantasy characters to battling it out in the coliseum in both online and offline skirmishes. There’s a lot on offer here.
The main gameplay focus is a lovechild between two unlikely, but similar genres. The amalgamation of classic Final Fantasy with monster catching is something that has been attempted in the series before. Final Fantasy X had its own flavour of monster catching, but it was more of an afterthought, a side activity rather than a core feature. The first time it was really integrated into the game itself was in Final Fantasy XIII-2, where the third party member had been replaced by a monster you catch in battle. Even though this was much more in-depth than in X, it still ended up feeling like a slapped on and ultimately unnecessary addition. With that in mind, I was quite sceptical about World of Final Fantasy’s gameplay, but thankfully, this game manages to bring forth the best of both worlds.
Catching Mirages consists of pretty standard stuff. Each Mirage has a certain condition that when met, will allow you the opportunity to catch it. These conditions range from simply reducing their HP to more complicated ones like landing a counter or using certain elemental attacks. They each also have their own skill tree called the Mirage Board (think X’s Sphere Grid or XII’s License Board) with multiple nodes mapping out their progression path. By filling out their boards, it’ll lead to unlocking new skills and evolutions (or Transfigurations as it’s called here). It’s an addictive system and seeing your Mirages grow is really satisfying but I especially enjoyed the evolution routes you can take which yielded some surprising results like a certain Mirage evolving into Valefor from Final Fantasy X for example. The system itself really comes into its own once you start creating your Stack.
Now this is where it gets a bit weird. A Stack is basically your party composition, but unlike normal parties consisting of individual members, Mirages are stacked on top of your head (yes, literally on your head) instead to form a single entity. When Reyn or Lann are in Lilikin form, you can place them on top of a large Mirage with another one on their head, whereas if they’re in Jiant form, you can place 2 Mirages on their head. It’s probably one of the most outrageous systems I’ve seen in a JRPG, but somehow, it works, really well.
Stacking applies to member’s attributes and abilities as well. By having 2 or more members with the same spell for instance, you’ll be given access to a higher level version of it to use in battle. You can also unlock and equip extra abilities for that added bit of customization. So for those that are into micromanagement, like me, there’s a lot to play around with.
It all comes together quite nicely during battle where you pit your stacks against enemies in classic turn-based fashion. It’s everything you’d expect from a turn-based system with the exception of how stacks behave. The more blows you sustain, the more you’ll lose your balance. If this goes on for too long, your stack will topple over and you’ll be stunned for a short while. The same applies to enemy stacks as well so it’s both a point of strategy and caution. While mechanically, battles are really simple in nature, the visual flare really liven things up. From the incredible summons which involves the past Final Fantasy characters you meet throughout the game to the combo attacks you can pull off, it’s all very flashy and helps keep battles exciting. Oh, and you can press a button to speed up battles as well which is truly a godsend for those grinding sessions.
On the presentation side of things, this game is actually quite gorgeous. The world is just bursting with vibrant colours and it has this nice clean and glossy look that it manages to maintain throughout. While the chibi artstyle might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I found it to be absolutely adorable and seeing cute little version of past Final Fantasy characters was a real treat. The soundtrack fares just as well, featuring absolutely stunning original compositions like World of Beauty as well as remixed tracks from older titles in the series. If you’re a long-time fan, then those remixed songs will most definitely put a smile on your face.
World of Final Fantasy blatantly plays on your nostalgia, but not in the way that Square Enix has done before. This is not a game to cash in on your childhood, but rather a sweet love letter to a series that has touched the hearts of many gamers over the years, me included. It may have some issues with the story, but for the first time, in a very, very long time, Final Fantasy, feels like Final Fantasy again.