World of Final Fantasy, a game for long term fans wanting to take a trip down memory lane or a game to welcome in younger audiences new to the franchise? This is a question the game has been trying to deal with in its marketing and now I can safely answer that question for you. It’s both. The game does an amazing job of having nods to all the games in the franchise from enemies and characters to famous locale, all whilst keeping things easy to jump into for those with no prior Final Fantasy experience.
Of course the Final Fantasy franchise has been around for a little while (since 1987 to be exact) and all have played differently from the last, so what can you expect from this spin off? The battles and story is far more akin to the earlier entries, with fans of old-school turn-based battles or the more traditional ATB battles being well catered for here. Of course there a few new mechanics to enjoy such as champions, mirages and stacking. The story has the protagonists set off on their journey with plenty of twists and turns, so far so Final Fantasy.
Diving into the new mechanics, there are a few fun additions to the standard Final Fantasy battle system that make things interesting. First and foremost is the addition of mirages, mirages are your standard enemies, everything from the classic chocobo to the big and nasty not so interestingly named Red Dragon, the twist being that you can “imprism” them and have them fight for you. Think Pokémon but with a Final Fantasy twist and you’re not far off. You’ll use these mirages to help build up your party and each mirage can be levelled up and learn skills (every mirage has its own skill tree), with each one becoming an integral member of your team.
You’ll want to imprism every monster you come across just to see what they can bring to the team, not every monster is a gem but they certainly all have their own style that can help the party. Of course catching ’em all is never straight forward. Each monster type requires different conditions to be met before you can attempt to imprism it. These range from simply lowering their health to needing to use specific elemental attacks or even healing them. Much of the fun is finding out how to meet these conditions and this adds that extra layer to your monster hunting.
Following on from the new imprism system is the stacking battle system. Your party members can form up into a stack of up to 3, the playable characters and 2 creatures. Stacking puts the party members on top of each other, which looks as ridiculous as it sounds. Each stack is made up of one large creature, one medium creature and one small creature. So your party composition will be the 2 playable characters and up to 4 mirages. The benefit of stacking the creatures, besides pretending you’re some kind of power ranger, is that all the stats and resistances of those in the stack are combined. You essentially create one really strong party member as opposed to three weaker ones.
Still with me? Good. On top of all of that each stack has a stability rating, certain attacks will lower this rating until eventually it collapses, destroying the stack and leaving your party members in their more vulnerable solo state. You can restack with a simple command but you are really vulnerable to attacks in the meantime. Where the stacking mechanic gets really interesting is that dependant on the mirages in your stack you can gain access to new abilities you wouldn’t normally have. Got two mirages that know fire in your stack? You’ll get access to the more powerful Fira attack. There are dozens of combinations that can open up loads of abilities you just normally wouldn’t have so expect to spend time experimenting with various set-ups.
It sounds a little (ok, very) complicated but the game does a good job of easing you into the new system and before too long you’re a stacking master who knows how to build stacks for maximum effect. The problem with stacking however is that it feels at odds with the desire to imprism and use all the various mirages you’ll come across. Too often I would get a cool new mirage that just doesn’t fit into my party because I can only utilise a maximum of two large mirages as the base of each stack, and if it doesn’t benefit the stack then you’re not making the cut. It is a shame because there are many possibilities for great varying teams but more often than not the stacking seems to limit my options more than I’d like.
All in all, the mechanic certainly adds a new level of nuance to battles that is definitely interesting and keeps the game feeling fresh as you try out new combinations and level up your mirages. The depth and novelty certainly outweighs the negatives in this case.
In addition to the stacking and mirages we also have champion summoning. This is the biggest fan service the game offers, throughout your journey you’ll encounter various iconic Final Fantasy characters ranging from Lightning to the original Warrior of Light. After meeting these characters you can unlock them to use as champions and by utilising a special meter you can summon the champion to perform a single action. These can range from a super powerful attack to healing your entire party. It’s all very flashy and a brilliant nod to some of the characters from the franchise’s history.
So that covers most of the new gameplay mechanics you can expect to find. Moving on from the battling, the story of the game is also just as commendable. Right from the first hour you’re thrown into a mystery, there are no slow starts here. Heck you even meet god. The game manages to keep this pace going throughout, always keeping an interesting plot thread just ahead of you. What stood out most to me though was the writing, Square have clearly tried to keep this adventure light hearted, evident in all the jokes present throughout the game. Almost every interaction is an attempt at some sort of laugh, some hit and some miss, such is the nature of humour but on the whole the game does a pretty good job only faltering slightly when it relies too heavily on a character being a bit of an idiot.
The humour in the game even goes as far as the bio for the enemies which also like to fit in a joke or two. If you’re looking for a wholly serious venture, then this game most certainly isn’t for you.
Following on from the light hearted writing is the art style, as you’ve probably noticed by now, the game mostly utilises chibi style characters which are adorable and very very cute. I say mostly because the game also features characters that look more like they belong in a Kingdom Hearts game. All the designs look great and certainly suits the Vita’s lack of oomph compared to home consoles. The problem is when these art styles mix, it can often be quite jarring seeing a large normally proportioned character talk to a tiny chibi character. Adding to that problem is that some cut-scenes are in an anime style. Whilst individually all these art styles look good, mixed into one game it can look very weird at times, although it is far from a deal breaker.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning the sheer amount of content in this game, the main storyline will take you a long time, somewhere in the region of 30 hours on its own but on top of that there are various side quests and secret areas to explore. The game has plenty for you to do, you can take on optional one-off fights in the coliseum which can give you access to mirages that you wouldn’t find elsewhere. There are also side stories which follow some of the other characters you meet and end with a battle to conclude the story. You can access these diversions at almost any time you want so you’re free to change pace from the main story and test out other team set ups. Finally, on your travels you’ll encounter NPC’s that will request certain items, everyone’s favourite kind of quest – fetch quests! These can often have you out exploring nearby dungeons and figuring out which enemy will drop what you need. Nothing exciting and this is easily the most forgettable part of the game.
All in all World of Final Fantasy is an amazing entry to the Final Fantasy name and should definitely not be overlooked by any fan of RPG’s. Some of the new mechanics miss their mark at times but there is certainly enough varied content here to make up for it. Fans of Final Fantasy and newcomers alike will be able to enjoy all this game has to offer, I’ll even make the claim now that this could very well be the best Final Fantasy game this year.