Final Fantasy has been many things over the years; card games, an anime, movies, books, and manga. Even within the confines of the games Square Enix haven’t been afraid to experiment with genres; lending the name or characters to rhythm titles like Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, fighting games like Dissidia Final Fantasy or racing games like Final Fantasy VII G-Bike. So when a monster-taming RPG (think Pokemon or Digimon) comes out, we should only question why it took so long. Particularly when the formula had already been applied to Enix’s own long standing RPG series, Dragon Quest, back in 1998. While we saw Square Enix toy with the idea of capturing and using monsters to fight in Final Fantasy XIII-2, it wasn’t until 2015 that World of Final Fantasy was announced.
Designed as a celebration of the series’ 30th anniversary, World of Final Fantasy sees many of the other games’ characters and monsters changed into super cute ‘chibi’ forms aimed at attracting a younger audience to the franchise. That’s not to say the game can’t be enjoyed by older fans, however; like Kingdom Hearts the game can appear childish and simple on the outside but it hides complex mechanics and a dark story underneath.
World of Final Fantasy is the tale of twins Reynn and Lann who, while suffering from amnesia, are informed by a mysterious stranger that they must regain their lost powers as Mirage keepers (see Pokemon trainers) in order to learn the secrets of their past. To this end the young siblings dive into the world of Grymoire, an amalgamation of previous Final Fantasy worlds, only to become embroiled in the war between the evil empire and heroic resistance. It is a story ripped straight from the ‘how-to’ book of RPGs at first glance but the further into the game you go the more the subplot becomes evident, and the darker the overall tone becomes. Like summons, anime hair, and chocobos, it wouldn’t be a Final Fantasy without a plot so thick the spoon would stand up in it.
Both Reynn and Lann possess a strange metal gauntlet which grants them the power to summon, capture, and control mirages, monsters from other worlds that have become trapped on Grymoire. Each time a new creature is met a prism is magically granted to them, sort of like a Pokeball which only works on one species of monster. For example, a chocobo can be caught with a chocobo prism, but not with a behemoth prism, and the chocobo prism works on all variations and evolutions of chocobos, be it baby, black or giant mecha chocobo. A prism is only granted the first time you see a creature, and one per variant. If you want to catch say, a team of moogles, you would have to either wait until you'd seen a new type and use the extra prism it granted, or level your moogle up until it gives you a new prism. This method of obtaining prisms is limited depending on the mirage’s potential growth; the more evolutions a mirage has the more prisms you can ultimately obtain. The only exceptions are certain mechanical creatures, like magitech armor's, which require a special item to catch that you can purchase in a store. In short, there is always a prism available for each mirage you wish to catch, you may have to work for it but it is entirely possible to obtain every single mirage, either through capture or evolution.
Most mirages can evolve, either through leveling them or by obtaining a certain item, but unlike other games of its type, evolution in World of Final Fantasy is completely optional. Not only that, it is also reversible. You are free to switch between a mirage’s evolved forms at will at save points, but still have access to the evolved form’s skills and abilities. This provides a distinct advantage in battle, as mirages come in four sizes: small, medium, large, and extra large, and most grow bigger as they evolve. Since parties can only have up to two mirages of each size in them, it may behoove a player to evolve a mirage to gain access to a stronger skill then shrink them back down to a prior, smaller, form. Both Reynn and Lann have a small party to themselves, also known as a stack, made up of three combatants - themselves and two mirages of differing sizes. Stacks can only have one of each size creature in, the two siblings can switch sizes between large and medium to suit your needs, and can’t include extra-large monsters. These two stacks combined gives you six characters in total. These characters can either fight separately or you can pile a stack together like jenga to combine their power, skills, and health pool.
This all sounds complicated but most of the time your characters will remain in a stacked form, as later enemies are just too strong for you to stand much of a chance separated, and are able to pick off one of your creatures at a time. Despite the fact that, while unstacked, you would have six attacks per turn instead of the two that stacking gives you, the drop in overall strength means unstacking is not a viable option mid to late game. The added strength isn't the only reason you’d be stacked, however, as when piled up any skills shared by multiple members of the stack gets multiplied. For example, if two of the stack members know a fire spell, when they stack this becomes a single more powerful fire spell called Fira. When all three know this spell it becomes the even more powerful Firaga. Stacking and skill combination adds a level of complexity to otherwise simple combat, as not only do strengths multiply when stacked, but weaknesses too. One fire creature may be weak to water, but two stacked up have twice the weakness and take twice the damage. It’s all about balancing your stacks, and teaching creatures moves to round out your team since things like equipment and weapons are absent from the game, only the monsters you stack with can affect things like your damage, defence, and health.
Extra large, or XL mirages are a party all to themselves. Like the Aeons in Final Fantasy X, calling an XL mirage requires the whole team to evacuate the field, leaving that one creature to fight alone until it either wins, dies, or you dismiss it. As a result the mirage only has access to its own attacks and skills, but its growth rate exceeds that of standard mirages, making them worth having later down the line. Since each mirage joins the party at level one it takes a while before the XL monster is ready to join the battle, but when it does it will far outstrip any monster you have caught so far.
The limit break also makes an appearance, a battle skill that only becomes available after taking and dealing damage enough to fill a meter. Reynn and Lann don’t have their own limit skills though, these are borrowed from the various Final Fantasy characters you meet after you have helped them out or travelled with them. After that a medal becomes available to purchase using tokens obtained from beating bosses. These medals contain one of the aforementioned characters’ limit breaks, and you can equip up to three for use in battle. It’s rather cool seeing a tiny Squall Leonhart (Final Fantasy VIII) using Lion Hart or The Warrior of Light (Final Fantasy) using Oversoul at your command. The fact these moves temporarily change the battle music to that of the game which they first appeared in is a very nice touch too.
With the monsters, the characters, the music, and the moves, it's clear the game leans heavily on nostalgia, sometimes ripping whole dungeons from games of the series with only slight changes. Within the confines of the story it makes a degree of sense, and certainly does the job of introducing the worlds to newcomers, but it ends up feeling rushed and sloppy. It may sound amazing, stepping from an enchanted forest reminiscent of Final Fantasy X’s Macalania woods into an inn run by Sherlotta (Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time), but the shine wears off quickly. Certain games only get a token glance, and though this may be to encourage players to seek out the games from which the areas were inspired, to a veteran of the series it’s just not enough.
Visiting the town of Nibelheim should have been an amazing and exciting experience for fans of Final Fantasy VII, but it did very little to deliver. The whole town was basically Midgar with a different name, and while it's understandable that going into the town's famous brothel, the Honey Bee Inn, was not possible in a game that was aimed at a younger audience, the fact that aside from one small screen no part of the town was available to visit was disappointing. In fact the whole game suffers from the problem that only tiny bits of the games are available. Famous towns like Figaro (Final Fantasy VI) are only one screen big and are visited once for five minutes then left forever. Characters you meet will stick around for a short while or a few lines of dialogue before leaving, sometimes for good, with only a few having extra bonus missions available to purchase with boss tokens. This all wouldn’t seem so bad if the game had a lot of original content, but when everything is taken from other games with such a rich and interesting lore these tiny nibbles hardly satisfy the hunger they inspire. It’s the Final Fantasy equivalent of tapas.
That being said the world that Square Enix has created is beautiful, with some stunning pieces of music to accompany it. Most of the soundtrack is made up of remixes of old Final Fantasy tracks, and as a result completely captures the spirit of the older games. While it would have benefitted from a Kingdom Hearts map style, with each Final Fantasy getting its whole own level and environment, the idea of making all the worlds interlock and mesh together is certainly an interesting one. The lack of an open world, or even an overworld map, is understandable too, given the fact the game is supposed to feel linear like a book being read. The only issue is then, despite each area having at least one hidden boss, that everything feels short and crammed together. Without the diverse cast of monsters to catch and level the game would be a lot shorter than it ends up being, taking around sixty to eighty hours to fully complete.