Written By: Erika Haase
It only takes a few key strokes on a piano or plucks of a harp, and millions of people around the world, in hundreds of languages would be able to say in unison “Final Fantasy.” To think that it has been 30 years since four Warriors of Light set out to defeat evil is almost staggering. For some of us, that’s nearly our entire adult life-spans. Others, however, are just beginning to discover the legacy of Final Fantasy and while us older gamers might scoff that “kids these days” have no idea what it was like to deal with the punishing random-encounter RPG difficulty of yore and instead enjoy life-like renditions of Noctis and crew, it is still just as valid of a way to discover the series.
I’m not a big fan of cross-overs but I believe that Square-Enix first attempted, whether on purpose or not, to make the history of Final Fantasy approachable to newcomers through Kingdom Hearts. By playing as Sora, and recruiting the help of characters from various games, it was a great way to at least get a brief introduction. However, Kingdom Hearts become a beast of its own with a following dedicated to characters within that specific franchise. Other attempts such as the Theatrythm music games and Dissidia fighting games, have also squished characters from across the Final Fantasy spectrum together into a bizarre stew. However, being that neither of these games is the same genre as the original title, it’s hard to say you’d enjoy the experience an RPG has to offer by waging epic battles between title heroes and villains, or hitting buttons in time to the beat of some of the series’ most iconic songs.
Finally, the perfect balance was found in World Of Final Fantasy. An entry point for newcomers that I think is so perfect to the story, genre, conceptual, historical, and even musical legacy of the franchise that I found myself grinning from ear to ear despite some minor flaws. If you have the time to walk down the road of nostalgia, or if you have children you’d like to discover the worlds you grew up with, then this is what World Of Final Fantasy was built for.
Sandwiched into a mega release wave of games, full of behemoths everywhere you turned, this adventure full of chibi-style, bobble headed heroes, that can stack on top of each other may seem silly at first glance. You may think I’ve lost my mind writing a thought piece about it. I promise you – do not be fooled by the child-like appearance. Without being overly-difficult to initially figure out, the game offers complex strategy and battle approaches that run wild with possibility. Without needing prior experience with any of the heroes, you can grow fond of each and every character you interact with. Most importantly, this is actually a true Final Fantasy game and one you can feel proud to own; not a cheap cash grab on the part of Square-Enix that takes advantage of your fond memories.
The main characters of World Of Final Fantasy (WoFF) are a brother and sister set of twins named Reynn and Lann. They live in a strange kind of limbo world known as Nine Wood Hills and seem to not notice anything amiss about their lives until the arrival of a mysterious woman named Enna Kros at the game’s start. It’s at this moment that both siblings realize they actually remember nothing about how they came to be in Nine Wood Hills, only that they are. Enna promises them answers if they travel to Grymoire, as well as the reveal that they once were able to harness powerful creatures known as Mirages. Refusing to tell them much more than this tantalizing bit of information, she opens a gate way to Grymoire for the twins and tells them to find the rest of the answers on their own.
When the twins arrive in Grymoire, they discover that they’re known as Jiants in their regular human-sized forms, and can switch at will into the smaller-sized Funko pop looking versions of themselves to fit in better amongst town folk. As they adventure, they awaken Champions. These Champions, of course, are Final Fantasy heroes spanning the entire franchise history.
By giving us such neutral main characters, who the player can switch between as being the “lead” character at any time, they let us see the Final Fantasy world through a newcomer’s eyes. Yes, Reynn and Lann have their own story, and it’s a good one (if not a bit confusing at the end), but their story stays out of the way of your discovery.
World Of Final Fantasy is not without some odd decisions made. The most glaring of these, simply because you have to listen to it all the time if you choose to play the game with English voice-overs, is the way your magical partner fox creature, Tama, speaks. She sticks an extra “the” into many places of a sentence, making the subtitles a confusing jumble to read, and the audio ridiculous to listen to. It was for this reason (along with my natural preference for Japanese audio in Japanese games), that I immediately switched to the Japanese voice overs. I believe this was a decision on the part of the translators based on the overly formal way Tama speaks in Japanese. She uses the sentence-ender “desu” a lot, which in Japanese sounds cute, but in English translated as “the” sounds confusing and makes Tama sound pretty stupid.
Furthermore, I feel the stacking systems could have been better explained in regards to the depths of their customization, as well as the ability to evolve Mirages you capture. In what is essentially Pokemon meeting Final Fantasy, many of the monsters you “Imprism” can be upgraded into bigger and better versions of themselves. This is often critical to getting better magic and having a stack with higher HP to battle with, and while you do figure it out through trial and error, I was still discovering certain advantages and disadvantages the hard way several hours into the game.
Aside from these factors, however, World Of Final Fantasy is a great game. For something so adorable looking, you may be surprised to know it was conceptualized by series producer Shinji Hashimoto, and Square Enix staff member Hiroki Chiba who was previously known as being the scenario writer for many games with very dark stories and tones, including Final Fantasy Type-0. To give you an idea of how important it was to keep the heart and soul of the seriousness of the titles this game is lending heroes from, this was a quote from Hiroki Chiba when asked by NZGamer back in 2015: “…When the producer, [Shinji] Hashimoto, asked me to take on World of Final Fantasy, there was a specific order from him to keep the darkness and heaviness that Final Fantasy is known for, so that is definitely still in there.”
While you meet series “celebrities” like Cloud (FFVII), Squall (FFVIII), and Lightning (FFXIII), there are also much lesser-known characters included for more recent players to meet. FFIX’s Eiko, Rydia from FFIV, and even the ongoing feud between Bartz and Gilgamesh from FFV make several appearances. Many of these characters become used as a kind of summon known as a Champion later on in the game, but others are simply part of your journey. Amusing optional side quests exist that highlight comedic interactions between the characters, pairing up individuals you’d never image seeing in the same place. There’s even a heartwarming side quest involving a Tonberry, a Moogle, and a Cactaur. While each character is presented with a context that make sense for World Of Final Fantasy’s story line, their personalities and settings are preserved to give you a sense of who they are that doesn’t waver from the game they’re from. Squall and Cloud are still broody, Snow is still a jock, Vivi is still adored by everyone, and Celes still almost gets roped into performing an opera scene. Yes, this game even has its very own Cid.
To take the immersion and introductions a step further, the game has fantastic musical renditions of the classical themes from each title referenced. As the twins journey into new areas that contain new sets of characters to meet, theme songs float past your ears in new and exciting arrangements. As soon as you get a hero you can summon as a Champion, you also unlock the option to have their title’s battle theme as your default battle music for all random encounter fights. There are more than one hundred tracks in this game, composed by a host of people from all over the series’ history that wanted to lend their talent and sound to this experience. There’s a fantastic playlist here, that also shows off some of how beautiful the game is in action on the Playstation 4.
As for the battle system, I only had one gripe: they kept random encounters in place. In many modern RPGs, even remakes of classics like Dragonquest VII, battle starts are now often controlled by the player by running into a visible monster on-screen. In newer RPGs like the Bravely franchise, you can even choose to turn battles off entirely in the event that half your party is operating on very low health and needs to book it back to the nearest town. This is offset a bit in World Of Final Fantasy by a generous helping of healing items throughout the game and never having a shortage of Gil, meaning you can always buy yourself things to heal with. However, when you’re trying to simply get to a next save point, it can get tedious. I’m used to it from my years of playing RPGs, but younger players might be put off a bit.
On the plus side – battles can be as turn based or Active Time as you’d like. In that regard, I thought this was a great innovation. You can choose in the settings menu to have enemies wait until you’ve made your turn to be able to act, or to act as soon as it’s their turn, even if you’re still sorting out your magic. You can even pick an option that’s half way in between. This is a great way to give yourself an extra challenge of getting very fast at decision making, or lower difficulty if you are getting KO’d too frequently. Another feature that people grinding for great Mirages will appreciate, is the ability to fast-forward through battle. By pressing a button, you can speed up simple battles to hyper speed to be done with them quickly if you’re just jumping into a game session for leveling up purposes, or on the hunt for a rare creature.
With a physical Vita side kick version that allows you to seamlessly access your cloud-saved PS4 file and game on the go, you can decide exactly how much of a completionist you want to get with your Mirage hunting, with only a slight dip in graphical resolution as a result.
To this end, World Of Final Fantasy strikes a perfect balance of the familiar and the new. For those of us who grew up on these games and already know the plots, we get to see new adventures with familiar faces like Yuna, Tidus, Edgar, Quistis, and more. For new comers, none of the original stories get spoiled for them, but they can certainly get a sense of which characters they like, and which titles they’d like to go back and discover on their own. With so many fantastic HD remasters in existence or coming up, and the remakes on Nintendo 3DS that have helped the older titles age better, there is no shortage of means to continuing the adventures with these characters and discovering them all over again.
Reynn and Lann become interesting characters as well. While newly introduced to us in this game, and at first glance blank-slates for the purpose of conveying the game’s purpose, their true pasts are revealed in the end in a surprisingly heavy tone that weighs out against the otherwise light-hearted nature of the game.
It reminds you that for just as many moments that make you laugh in the Final Fantasy series, there will be just as many that make you cry, which is exactly what its creators intended. While it may suffer from some of the lack of clarity issues that plague many Final Fantasy stories, even this is poked fun of by one of the characters saying “Oh just go along with it.”
As for World Of Final Fantasy becoming a franchise in its own right, it certainly seems like Square-Enix will try to do so. As you might imagine, not every game could possibly be crammed into one title. As it is, there’s a solid 30-40 hours of game play, and that’s without doing a 100% run. Several heroes also make mention of “being on the trail of a silver-haired swordsman” or “continuing my journey” and similar hints towards a sequel that will give us even more characters to spend time with.
There are even some free DLC Champions that have been made available such as Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII, Sora from Kingdom Hearts and the upcoming Balthier from Final Fantasy XII who will probably be released around the time of the HD Remaster of his game.
World Of Final Fantasy may not be for everyone, it may not be for you reading this right now. Some may be put off by the artistic style, others might just be tired of cross over titles and think they’re not worth it. However, the love and dedication put into this title is palpable. I certainly think it deserves your attention, and for the next generation of RPG gamers who are learning to love the legends we grew up with, I think it’s good that some fantasies are never truly final.