Typical, isn’t it? You wait ten years for Final Fantasy XV to come out only for it to get gazumped a month beforehand by the series’ 30th anniversary title, World of Final Fantasy. However, despite having been made by the same studio, these two games couldn’t be more different.
If FFXV is Square Enix’s answer to what Final Fantasy would look like in the real world, then World of Final Fantasy is its saccharine, saucer-eyed cousin, an exercise in pure, unadulterated fan service to make you coo with delight ahead of the main event next month.
Not only has its cast been shrunk down so they’re knee-high to a tonberry, ensuring everything looks ridiculously adorable, but fanfic writers will be feasting on its cameo-filled multiverse for years to come. After all, this is a world where FFIV‘s Rydia can pal up with Tifa from FFVII in a very Midgar-esque version of Nibelheim, Sherlotta from FF: Echoes of Time can run an inn on the outskirts of a frozen Saronia with Refia from Final Fantasy III, and you can ride around on the head of a miniature chocobo to toe-tapping remixes of classic Final Fantasy tunes.
It’s definitely a game that’s been built for its fans, but to its credit, WOFF‘s indulgencies with the past are rarely laid on very thick, and you could just as easily enjoy it without ever having played a single Final Fantasy game. Most cameos are brief and to the point, and every word of dialogue exists to serve the main story, showing surprising restraint from a team that’s built its name on creating long, winding epics.
And yet, WOFF still has plenty of bad habits that will have series veterans hanging their heads with despair. The first hour, for instance, is almost 80% cut-scene and 100% exposition dump, possibly creating the fastest Final Fantasy story setup ever seen. Twin heroes Lann and Reynn are barely out of bed, for instance, before they’re bombarded by a fluffy-tailed fox and sarcastic wind sprite telling them they were once actually all-powerful ‘Mirage Keepers’ and must now travel to world called Grymoire to regain their army of monsters and find out their true identity.
It’s head-scratching even by Final Fantasy standards, but persist and its barmy setup eventually turns into a kind of madcap brilliance. For much like a certain other critter-collecting game coming out on 3DS next month, WOFF‘s central premise lies in catching classic Final Fantasy monsters and evolving them into different forms to help you save the world. However, unlike that other critter-collecting game, the only way to do proper battle in the world of Grymoire is to stack your hard-won monsters on top of your head. Really.
It’s utterly daft, but there’s a certain satisfaction to be gained from working within its tight constraints to level up your monsters, teach them new skills and ‘transfigure’ them into those beasts you know and love to help create the ultimate stack. Lann and Reynn must feature somewhere, for instance, but their ability to switch between their large, normal Jiant-sized form and their medium Lilikin bodies at will (the general term for Grymoire’s entire pint-sized population) gives you plenty of scope to slot in other L and M-sized monsters in addition to the teeny small ones sitting up top.
The weight of each monster can also help firm up the stability of your stack, making you harder to topple under duress, and you can also merge their collective abilities to create more powerful spells or combo attacks. Have two monsters in your stack who know Fire, for instance, and you’ll be able to use its more powerful variant Fira, albeit at the cost of more Action Points (AP). Add in individual elemental resistances and the chance to ‘destack’ in order to increase your number of turns and WOFF is easily just as complex as any mainstay Final Fantasy game, giving it a much harder edge than its cutesy exterior might imply.
Indeed, I’d go as far to say that it actually has a more engaging monster collecting system than even Pokémon, as the sheer number of additional forms available to each monster, not to mention the ability to switch them back and forth without penalty, opens up a huge number of tactical opportunities.
You’ll need to work through each monster’s so-called Mirage Board, or skill tree, to open up these transfiguration paths, but whereas previous Final Fantasy games might have had me complaining about the numerous different coloured reskins of various enemy types, here they come into their own, as each one opens up a new set of skills for your favourite critters.
You’ll have to put in the work to capture them, though, as each one’s so-called ‘imprism-ment’ state can only be triggered by fulfilling certain battle conditions. Casting Libra will reveal these requirements, but they vary from monster to monster. It might involve using a physical or certain elemental attack, for example, or inflicting a certain status effect, such as sleep or blindness.
In other cases, the monster must be the last one standing, so you’ll need to adapt your battle plan accordingly if you’re going to truly catch ’em all. This adds a welcome extra layer of strategy to the mix that Pokemon just simply doesn’t have, even if the actual moment of capture still boils down to lobbing prism sphere after prism sphere at it until one of them sticks.
However, as satisfying as WOFF‘s battle system is, the game’s myriad of linear dungeons make for some pretty uninspiring backdrops to the main action. You’ll find the odd treasure chest down a winding dead-end, but with only one main path leading through to the next town, you’ll spend most of your time retracing your steps as you head back onto the main corridor.
It’s not even as if the treasure chests are optional, either, as the infuriating ‘Gimme-Golems’ at the end of each dungeon demand that you present them with pointless key items before you can progress. These are only ever found in each dungeon, so you’ll need to open each chest as a matter of course to make sure you have the required item. This led to a lot of mindless back-tracking in one particular chapter, as the item in question lay beyond a powerful hidden ‘Mega Mirage’, exactly the type of monster the game encourages you not to engage on several occasions until you’re much stronger.
In a way, it’s a shame the titular world of WOFF isn’t more appealing, as it makes each subsequent dungeon feel that much more of a slog. Its battle system and prophecy-fuelled storyline carry you through to a certain extent, but by the time you’re on your tenth dungeon whose structure is nigh-on identical to the last one, even the most hardened Final Fantasy fans may find themselves flagging– especially when Lann and Reynn’s cloying American anime voices start grating on your ear.
World of Final Fantasy has its flaws, then, but as a warm-up to Final Fantasy XV, it does a pretty decent job of reminding why you love this series in the first place. After all, you could say that Final Fantasy X is just one big, long corridor, and yet that’s arguably the second best Final Fantasy game of all time (VIII is top, naturally). Admittedly, World of Final Fantasy doesn’t have quite the same narrative chops as some of its series forebears, but if the thought of having a baby chocobo waddling around after you fills you with joy, then World of Final Fantasy is very much your gaming equivalent of gysahl greens. In other words, right up your street.
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