Billed as an accessible spin-off based on Square Enix's beloved role-playing property, World of Final Fantasy is a colourful and buoyant game with an emphasis on collecting and battling monsters. Featuring critters and characters from past Final Fantasy titles, existing fans of the series will get more out of the experience, but the game's aforementioned accessibility also makes it a manageable starting point for those who may be new to the franchise – or to turn based RPGs as a whole.
Structurally, World of Final Fantasy is very much a traditional Japanese RPG. You'll journey from one location to the next in linear fashion, delving into dangerous dungeons and exploring peaceful towns, all while developing your party through repeated battles against enemies of all shapes and sizes. Naturally, the story also takes a central role, with lengthy, fully-voiced cutscenes popping up on a regular basis.
You play as twins Reynn and Lann, who awake one day to discover that all is not what it seems. After an encounter with a mysterious woman known as Enna Kros, the siblings set out to realise their supposed destiny as Mirage Keepers – heroes who command monsters in order to keep the peace. Of course, in typical JRPG fashion, the two protagonists are suffering from quite a severe bout of amnesia, which means that the overarching plot is slowly patched together as the adventure progresses.
As cliched a narrative device as lost memory is, the title does a pretty good job of pacing its main story beats, steadily dropping important plot points so that you don't lose interest. That said, you'll likely see many of the big twists coming a mile away, and much of the story's foundation is composed of scenarios that you'll have seen countless times before. Four elemental crystals that are scattered across the world, anyone?
For all of its predictability, though, the plot still manages to be enjoyable for the most part – largely thanks to a huge cast of supporting characters. As mentioned, both heroes and villains from past Final Fantasy games show up now and again to keep things ticking along, and although you could argue that their presence sometimes feels a little forced, fans of the series will no doubt cherish their involvement, even if it's just a brief few lines of dialogue.
Speaking of dialogue, it's worth pointing out that some of the game's writing is questionable to say the least. Within the first 20 minutes of your adventure, you'll be introduced to Tama – a cute little floating fox thing who's a constant companion. Tama acts as the title's mascot to some extent, but rather than wanting to go out and buy a plushie of her, you'll quickly develop an urge to kick her into the sun. For some incomprehensible reason, Tama prefixes words with 'the', which leads to some of the most unnecessarily the-annoying dialogue that we've heard in a long the-time.
Fortunately, World of Final Fantasy doesn't stumble nearly as much in the gameplay department. The monster collecting aspect of the release is easily one of its greatest strengths, providing a very addictive reason to keep playing – even if the story isn't to your liking. Much like Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, the game's flaws are pushed out of focus when you're having so much fun obtaining, training, and transforming your beasts.
There are a ton of creatures to find and capture, and all of them are impeccably designed. Ranging from cutesy chocobo chicks to hulking behemoths, forming a team of made up of your favourite monsters can quickly become an obsession, and running into a Mirage that you haven't seen before gives way to giddiness as you wonder what benefits this new recruit may bring to your squad.
You can carry up to ten monsters with you at any one time, but only four of them can join Reynn and Lann in battle, so there's definitely a need to find some sort of balance. Whether it's making sure that you have a Mirage that's capable of healing or one that deals specific elemental damage, you'll need to carefully consider your team's composition. This is especially true later on in the release, as enemies with increasingly large health bars all but demand that you exploit their weaknesses unless you're looking for some tediously long encounters.
To be totally honest, though, this isn't a particularly tough game. As long as you're actively trying to strengthen your party by levelling up and unlocking a wide variety of abilities on your monsters' skill trees, you won't run into too much trouble. Optional bosses can pose a threat if you're underleveled or underprepared, but even then, it's reasonably easy to stock up on healing items and tank your way through some of the game's later challenges. In that sense, it's fair to say that World of Final Fantasy succeeds in its goal of presenting the series to a younger audience.
With accessible combat and addictive monster catching, it's difficult to really fault Square Enix's latest when it comes to gameplay. However, there is one element that we're not entirely keen on, and that's the stacking system. Basically, instead of being able to throw all of your Mirages into combat at once, you need to 'stack' monsters on top of one another to create a single, capable fighting machine. As they're able to switch between their normal forms and tiny incarnations of themselves, Reynn and Lann act as the basis for your stacks, either balancing smaller creatures on their heads, or riding atop larger beasts.
It's certainly not a bad mechanic and it allows for a touch of tactical thought, but the actual process of arranging your stacks is cumbersome, as are the game's menus in general. You can't switch out monsters in battle, so you'd best get used to fiddling with your party's composition whenever you come across fresh foes. What's more, the fact that Mirages can eventually change forms – learning new abilities in the process – makes the whole thing even more complex since you'll have to take their transformation's size into account when balancing your stacks.
Relatively minor design frustrations aside, it's ultimately hard to sustain any negativity for World of Final Fantasy purely because it's so pleasant to play. Environments are consistently pretty, from lush green fields to craggy mountain paths, and the variety of locations makes for a distinct sense of adventure and discovery. A charming art style helps too, as does a catchy soundtrack.
Following on from I Am Setsuna earlier in the year, Square Enix has produced another RPG with traditional elements for the current generation, and it's once again found success. World of Final Fantasy offers a polished and pretty adventure through a lovingly made world, and even though its story is let down by some poor writing, the addictive process of capturing and training monsters is enough to keep you playing. All in all, this is a great little spin-off.