written by Matthew Finneman
We live in an age of remakes and reboots. A world where ’80s throwbacks are slowly giving way to ’90s throwbacks. A time where cashing in on nostalgia has never been more prevalent or lucrative. A lot of these endeavors are met with eyerolls, and are often called out for being cash grabs. Fans claim imagination and inventiveness are dying. And maybe they are right. But sometimes, just sometimes…an attempt to hearken back to an earlier era, an attempt to throw caution to the wind and fanservice in our faces just works.
That is exactly what happened with World Of Final Fantasy.
At first glance, World Of Final Fantasy comes off as a super Japanese, chibi-fied kiddie version of a “real” Final Fantasy game. It did not help its case that it was unveiled directly ahead of the Final Fantasy VII remake at E3, ensuring that it would be swept under the remake’s hype rug for the duration of its media cycle. But beneath its adorable exterior, and despite the overshadowing of its bigger brother, there is one damn fine JRPG within World Of Final Fantasy. This is a game which is a true throwback to the golden age of the franchise, and some would say RPGs in general. This is a game for the turn-based combat purists. The SNES-era diehards. This is a game designed to appeal to younger gamers, but also to be appreciated by older fans.
Let’s get the biggest issue out of the way: the battle system! An RPG can have the greatest story in gaming, but if the gameplay to get to that story is awful, most fans won’t ever make it to the end. With that said, it is with great joy (and no small sigh of relief) that I can say World Of Final Fantasy delivers fantastically in the combat department. The elevator pitch for the combat is simple – it is classic turn-based combat merged with a Pokémon-esque monster collection and raising mechanic. The biggest draw of World Of Final Fantasy is by far its large collection of “Mirages” to recruit – the in-game designation of the monsters and characters you can have join you in combat. Mirages can then join alongside you in combat as a new partner, or can “stack” on you to combine strengths and weaknesses, sacrificing more turns for better versatility.
Once you capture a new Mirage, things get interesting. The simple premise of the combat gives way to an incredibly deep upgrade and leveling system that can leave casual gamers a little overwhelmed, but will have hardcore JRPG fan and min/maxxers in heaven. Using an upgrade mechanic that is very reminiscent of Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid, the depth available to you can sometimes be staggering. Each Mirage has its own strengths, weaknesses, elemental affinities, etc. When combined with other Mirages and your own characters in a stack, you can create a very potent combination with just a little experimentation.
The battle system lends itself to a lot of options if you choose to explore them. Choosing whether to be big or small, to stack one or two Mirages or none at all…each fight might play out differently. Add in the ability to not only summon classic Final Fantasy Espers such as Ifrit and Shiva, but also fan-favorite Final Fantasy characters like Terra, Cloud, and Lightning as “assist” special attacks, and your options in combat become very plentiful indeed. The entire battle system has a distinct old-school vibe to it, while being married to a more current sensibility and depth.
The second strongest part of this game, alongside the battle system and Mirage collecting, is easily its sense of humor. This is a game which balances the occasional grimness of its story with a humor that is equal parts pun-filled, self-referential, and fourth-wall-breaking. The main characters Reynn and Lann toss puns out like they are going out of style, which as a pun lover myself, I found infinitely charming. (You may hear of people who claim puns are annoying. Those people are clearly dead inside, and therefore their opinions must be treated with caution.) Putting puns aside, the real charm of this game lies in its monster descriptions. They run the gamut of all types of humor. I mean, just look at some of these descriptions. Every single Mirage and character in the game gets a similar treatment. I can only imagine the localization team was allowed full freedom.
The nostalgia and fanservice in this game can be a positive or a negative, depending on your personal preferences. This game throws characters, monsters, locations, items, and more from almost every main entry in the franchise at you in such rapid succession that it’s a miracle they managed to work in their own characters. That may be one of World Of Final Fantasy’s biggest issues. The story is good, but it doesn’t nearly reach the heights that the games of the franchise it tries to reference so often hit back in the day. Reynn and Lann are fine protagonists, but the sibling duo will not be cracking any “Favorite Final Fantasy Characters” lists any time soon. Sadly, their ever-present companion Tama is frequently cringe-worthy, and had me very thankful that a fast-forward button existed. By the end of the game’s plot, you’ll have found a few moments that really made you think the story would hit some high points, but ultimately it finds itself pretty good at best and a misstep at worst.
The game’s natural difficulty curve is marred by a few troublesome late game fights, but the biggest offender has got to be the insane encounter rate. World Of Final Fantasy showcases some truly great dungeons, with some excellent puzzles strewn throughout. But when every other step forces you into another battle, it can be hard to enjoy the journey because of the amount of time it takes to get from one end of a room to another.
At the end of the day, World Of Final Fantasy seemed like a game tailor-made for fans like me. Lovers of turn-based combat. Lovers of older Final Fantasy games. Lovers of a game that isn’t afraid to be silly and have some fun. Lovers of Pokémon. There is a lot to love about this game, but it isn’t all perfect. It can be a truly daunting game for completionists due to the large amount of Mirages which need to be recruited and leveled up. The encounter rate is one of the highest ever seen in recent memory, the story will never reach legendary status, but the combat keeps you coming back for more. And let’s be really honest here: When was the last time you saw a game this darn cute?
- Incredibly addictive battle system
- Pokémon-style collection mechanic
- Amazing sense of humor
- Very adorable art style
- Story hits some unexpected highs and can get pretty grim compared to its own aesthetic.
- Return of the classic JRPG dungeon
- The throwbacks and fanservice work well
- Encounter rate is crazy high
- Story never capitalizes on its own promise
FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10