World of Final Fantasy was announced along with the highly requested Final Fantasy VII remake, and as such, was quickly forgotten about. I myself had little expectations of it, not even because of the art style. I figured it was going to be a mobile-esque atrocity with little depth that would bank on the nostalgia of its fanbase to sell itself (not unlike All the Bravest). Oh, how wrong I was.
That wasn’t the only reason I almost disregarded it entirely. The demo that launched prior to release was absolutely atrocious. There was no context given to anything that was happening, and none of the mechanics were explained. But knowing that Square Enix has a tendency to release poor demos, I decided to give WoFF a shot. It has its issues determining what audience it wants to appeal to, but as a longtime series fan, I can still appreciate it for what it is.
WoFF casts you in the role of Lann and Reynn, a pair of twins who wouldn’t be out of place in the Kingdom Hearts universe. They live in a town called Nine Woods Hill and exist day in and day out not noticing that they are the only residents, until one day a mysterious woman points out that they were once Mirage Masters in a different world called Grymoire. Realizing they have an opportunity to regain their memories and reunite with the rest of their family, they step into Grymoire to acquire their former abilities.
The plot is not entirely complicated, which is fine, since it mainly serves as a vehicle for escorting the protagonists through areas that exist in other Final Fantasy games as well as facilitating character cameos. As such, the more familiar with the franchise you are, the more you will appreciate the various nods that crop up during your journey. As someone who has been a fan since the very first entry, I can’t tell you how excited I was to be able to visit Cornelia and experience remixed music from the original game and talk to the characters.
That being said, being pure fanservice does little justice in terms of raw storytelling and folks who are only casually acquainted with FF will not be nearly as forgiving. The antagonists aren’t particularly compelling and many of the plot devices are rather predictable. Then again, the visual aesthetic seems like it would appeal to a younger audience, which would render these drawbacks as less of a problem. Especially since the colorful and often cheesy dialogue would appeal to them most. But then, the younger crowd wouldn’t appreciate references to FFI, so who is this really for?
And while we’re on the topic of aesthetics, I can’t express enough how adorable the character designs are. Everyone from Cloud to the miniature Behemoths look like Funko Pop figures come to life, and watching them execute familiar maneuvers in these forms is guaranteed to make you smile. Most surprisingly of all, is that the locales that they inhabit are beautifully designed, so it’s not as if you’re sacrificing the visual fidelity of environments for the sake of cutesy appearances. The fact that it runs rather well is a bonus too.
The soundtrack is damn good, mostly due to the remixes of familiar tunes that fans should already be acquainted with. Which isn’t to say that the original music isn’t well done (because it is), but it’s quickly overshadowed by new renditions of Clash on Big Bridge or the tunes from Final Fantasy VI. The voicework is spot on too. Characters with established English voice actors, like Tidus or Lightning make their return, but series fans will be delighted to hear the likes of Vivi or Rydia speak for the first time. Honestly, the only real sore spot is Tama, whose speech pattern of inserting “the” in between every other word is as much of an annoyance to hear as it is to read. If the original dialect is more your flavor, you can download the Japanese audio as a separate 1 GB download.
If I had to sum up the core gameplay in one phrase, it would be classic Final Fantasy meets Pokemon. Players engage in turn-based battles technically using only two characters, but there’s a catch. The various monsters you meet be they cactaurs or goblins have a set of criteria that must be met in order to be captured. This could range from the classic Pokemon method of lowering their health below a certain threshold or casting healing spells on them. Once the conditions are met, the monster will have a glowing ring underneath them, making them eligible for capture (also known as Imprisming). Upon capture, the monsters can be stacked above or below Reynn and Lann, combining their skills and stats together as one.
You can have one small monster, one medium, and one large for a total of three per stack. Reynn and Lann can change between Jiant (large) and Lilikin (medium) forms to accommodate whatever size creatures you decide to add to your roster. Not only are their stats added together, but if two different characters have the same skill (such as Blizzard), they will be combined into a more powerful version of that same skill (Blizzara), thus making stack makeup a huge part of the strategy.
Once in battle, characters take turns based who’s portrait reaches the top of the lefthand bar first. Similar to classic FF titles, the game can be set to where time continues to pass on your turn or it can wait until a selection is made before moving on. Standard abilities like attack, item, escape and the like are all here, plus you can unstack your parties to have a total of six characters take action instead of just two. There’s a surprising amount of depth for how basic it is, and the game seems to accommodate players of all skills by having a simple quick menu and a more standard one littered with options.
Despite wanting to be everything to everyone, there is a distinct lack of difficulty settings. The game is quite easy for the majority of it, especially if you put together an overpowered stack right from the beginning. There are optional quests and post game battles that will give seasoned vets a run for their money, but anyone with a good build will blast through most fights without much thought, which can lead to tedium on account of the high encounter rate. And unlike Bravely Default, there is no option to turn off random battles until you’re ready for them (though you can fast forward!). That there are still save points and not just a simple save anywhere feature is odd too, especially since there’s also a Vita version where this would be more problematic.
I also don’t think the capture mechanic was all that well thought out. I did enjoy that you had unlimited imprisming attempts, but in exchange, the fail rate seems incredibly high. And some of the requirements involve inflicting status effects on the foes before they can be captured, which itself has a low rate of success. At least the monsters can “evolve” and revert as needed without having to capture multiples of them, which I thought was nice. Each monster has a level up system not unlike FFX‘s sphere grid where SP is exchanged for things like stat boosts and new skills to further customize your party. The stat gains are even shared between a monster’s various forms, so it’s advantageous to level up the versions you aren’t using as well. Some skills are needed to progress in dungeons, similar to the HM’s of Pokemon, which is… not an element that needed to be copied. It limits what Mirages (monsters) you should have in your party at all times and while you can swap among them at save points, it discourages experimentation.
The main story is a good length for a spinoff title, clocking in at about thirty hours if you want to get a not terrible ending and aren’t doing all of the side content. Townspeople will often request you to perform tasks for them, and partway through the game you will have access to intervention quests. These missions focus on the misadventures of the other FF characters and tasks you with bailing them out of whatever situation they are in. The cutscenes that surround them are always amusing and some monster forms can only be unlocked by doing these. A coliseum lets you test your mettle against a themed group of monsters with an opportunity to capture them if you wish. And if all that isn’t enough, there’s also a multiplayer mode where you can pit a stack of your choosing up against an opponent’s, but it feels like an afterthought.
If you opted for the collector’s edition version of the game, the package is massive. Almost excessively so. The tradeoff is that the game looks like a hardcover book and even functions as an adorable popup book, which I’ve never seen before in a set like this. The soundtrack is also a must, especially for a franchise that prides itself on its music. Everything else, from the mini figures to the art book, was just icing on the cake. It’s a bit on the expensive side, but I don’t regret the purchase one bit.
World of Final Fantasy so desperately wants to be everything to everyone. It wants to appeal to newcomers, while appeasing veterans. It wants to be simple, yet in-depth. It wants to be approachable, but still challenging. Try as they might, they were only able to succeed at a few of them. Fans will enjoy the cameos, but will find the base plot too shallow. Non-fans will not appreciate any of the references thrown at them. The gameplay is accessible, but without adequate difficulty settings will be too easy for most. And despite all of that, it is still a journey worth taking, because for all of its faults, it does what matters: it’s fun.
Short Attention Span Summary
Two distinct gameplay styles collide in World of Final Fantasy, where elements of Square Enix’s flagship franchise are mixed with Pokemon style monster catching. The game is intended to appeal to new and younger fans with its cheesy humor and chibi character designs. It’s also quite easy for the majority of the game, making it something of a Final Fantasy Mystic Quest for the new generation (only better). The ability to stack monsters on top of your two main party members leads to a lot of planning in what skills you want to supply for battle and you can even take the stacks apart during battle to have up to six active (but weak) party members. The various cameos you encounter during the journey feel like an afterthought to appease longtime fans, though it is nice to hear previously unvoiced characters and including songs from their respective games is a nice touch. Despite its faults, WoFF is an easily accessible JRPG that makes for a great entry point for potential young fans, while providing nods to the older ones. Just keep in mind it’s not as story driven as its brethren, though fortunately it doesn’t overstay its welcome.