Mixing modern ideas with time-tested genre staples, World of Final Fantasy is a celebration of 30 years of epic quests. That means that you can expect to encounter everything you love about the storied JRPG series, as well as a few of the things Final Fantasy should maybe outgrow completely.
When I first saw the trailer for World of Final Fantasy, I wasn't sure what I was looking at. We've got a guy and a girl running around looking like they were pulled straight out of Kingdom Hearts half of the time and, the other half of the time, they look like they belong on the shelf next to all of those Funko Pop toys folks can't seem to get enough of. And then there are those anime cutscenes, just in case you needed one more aesthetic to round out the package.
If nothing else, I at least understood that World of Final Fantasy was less a main entry in the long-running JRPG franchise and more of a side project. And as much as I've enjoyed various core Final Fantasy games over the years, it's those tangential games like Dissidia and Theatrhythm that manage to win me over more easily. The core games are great, but what I really love are opportunities to see those beloved worlds collide in interesting new ways.
Thankfully, that trend is alive and well in World of Final Fantasy, a surprisingly old-school take on the genre that mostly serves as a reason to collect monsters from the series and see characters from various games come face to face.
World of Final Fantasy stars Lann and Reynn, twins who just so happen to have lost their memory. In case you're already rolling your eyes, my advice is to buckle up. While World of Final Fantasy is full of neat new mechanics, the game also relies heavily on genre tropes that are, at this point, almost too tired to be forgiven. Along with our amnesiac heroes, we've got a ridiculous story that goes from goofy to dramatic at about the midway point, grinding aplenty, mostly straightforward dungeons populated by random encounters, boss fights that can take a ridiculously long time to muscle through, and more. It's kind of charming how closely the game sticks to that well-trodden ground but, at the same time, JRPGs have evolved over the years for good reason.
As for Lann and Reynn, they're your typical duo of smart and strict (Big sister Lann) and dumb-as-a-brick comedic relief (Younger, by three minutes, Reynn). They're voiced well, though, and manage to be charming much of the time. The same cannot be said for your sidekick, the floating fox-thing, Tama. To be clear, I'm perfectly fine with cutesy characters and obscenely high voices. What I had serious trouble abiding, though, was Tama's verbal tic. Instead of ending a sentence with "nya" or pronouncing certain words in a silly way, Tama's clever character trait is that she inserts the word "the" in the most random of places. Here's an example: "If you the-want to get through the dungeon, you're the-going to the-need the key." It makes no sense and, for whatever reason, it drove me absolutely batty...Moving on.
World of Final Fantasy opens like a traditional JRPG, which is to say you can expect to spend the first few hours getting in minimal gameplay while an ocean of pop-up tutorials explain how the game works.
In case you can't tell at this point, I wasn't the biggest fan of World of Final Fantasy for those first few hours. It felt like a bunch of antiquated items on a checklist were being ticked off for no good reason while the exploration and combat took its sweet time opening up to me.
But then something happened. The depth of the game's combat engine finally revealed itself, an insanely addictive collection and customization system became fully available and more and more bits of fan service started popping up, reminding me why I enjoyed playing Final Fantasy games in the first place.
The narrative is mostly ridiculous, which is actually appropriate since, again, we're talking about a Final Fantasy compilation here. Lann and Reynn are super trusting of a handful of strangers despite the fact that they can't remember a thing from their previous life. Those strangers tell them they need to head to the magical world of Grimoire and they hit the road without question, deciding that helping the realm's various regions fight against the evil Bahamution army might help them reclaim some of their lost recollections. It's serviceable enough, though clearly only there to give players a reason to venture to worlds pulled from or inspired by previous Final Fantasy games.
What really sank its hooks into me, though, was the game's unique spin on traditional turn-based combat. Borrowing a bit from Pokemon, you can actually capture most of your enemies, called Mirages, in World of Final Fantasy. Some have to be pummeled a bit while others have unique triggers to allow their capture but, once you snag one, you can immediately add them to your stack.
"What is a stack," I hear you ask. Well, rather than fight solo, World of Final Fantasy allows the player to literally stack their party members on top of each other. That's actually the reason your characters can travel around in both standard (Jiant) and tiny (Lilikins) sizes. Standard stacks feature a small, medium and large character. As a Jiant, you can have a medium character ride on your shoulders with a small character settled at the very top. If you go the Lilikins route, you can have a small creature ride on your shoulders while you yourself ride on a larger beast.
That alone makes for some interesting fighting combinations, as you can switch between your stacks on the fly while exploring dungeons. WoFF takes it quite a few steps further, though, as your stats, abilities, and elemental effects actually stack, too. Create a stack with enough Fire, for instance, and you'll be upgraded to Firaga. Getting trounced by baddies while fighting as a group? Stack up and your stats are now a single pool, meaning you can take and dish out even more damage. You might also discover some hidden abilities depending on your stack's composition.
Capturing Mirages is pretty easy most of the time and each Mirage has its own skill tree that lets you decide what abilities you want to unlock and when. Many can also transmorph into different versions of themselves or evolve into greater forms. While you can certainly get through the game just mixing and matching Mirages to your heart's content, folks who like to micromanage will be giddy to find out just how much customization can be done to your battle teams.
And that sort of "every man's" approach to the game actually pops up all over the place. If you don't care about the story, you can fast-forward through the cutscenes. Don't want to wait for the timer in battles? You can speed it up, switch to a more real-time option or even punch in an "auto" command to blaze through the less trying fights. Tired of pursuing the game's story? Then why not jump into unique challenges in the colosseum or intervene in the adventures of Final Fantasy legends with some side quests?
But while the combat offers some great new ideas, the rest of the game is classic Final Fantasy, and whether or not that is a good thing is entirely up to you. You will be plowing through many, many dungeons in this game that only occasionally offer some light puzzle solving and the odd treasure chest or two to break up the constant battles. At the end of each dungeon is usually a boss fight, followed by the next town and a few story beats. Then you'll wash, rinse, and repeat over and over again. In my case, I grew to appreciate this flow since, again, World of Final Fantasy is an homage to the series' roots. If this game wasn't specifically about remembering the good ole times, though, I doubt I'd be so accepting.
World of Final Fantasy tries to be a lot of things to a lot of different groups of people and, for the most part, I think it pulls off that difficult task well. If you prefer a more focused experience, though, you might have trouble getting used to so many extremes in one game. It's got classic turn-based combat, but with more modern party management and customization. The story goes from slapstick silliness to somewhat somber drama. While the game's aesthetics scream "younger crowd," I feel like the nostalgia and complexity of some of the systems can only be appreciated by adults; adults who might also shy away from just how sugary sweet the rest of the package can be.
Thankfully, World of Final Fantasy is one of those games that is more than the sum of its parts. While there are aspects I could certainly do without, I can't deny that the creative combat, wonderful cameos and a handful of side distractions helped keep me coming back for more. Whenever the proceedings started to get too goofy or repetitive, the negatives were quickly overshadowed by a fresh batch of Mirages to capture, a new take on a beloved Final Fantasy song and even more little surprises that I never saw coming. And I really can't overstate how good those collecting, customizing and combat systems are. Square Enix could have focused even those aspects on nostalgia and instead put forth the extra effort to deliver something fresh.
With Final Fantasy XV gearing up to show us how far the series has come in the past three decades, World of Final Fantasy is a solid reminder of why these games have stuck with us for so long.
This review based on a PlayStation 4 copy of the game provided by the publisher.