World of Final Fantasy feels like a game that celebrates the series’ massive legacy while also making it friendlier to a younger audience. Unfortunately, it stumbles in a few key places, making it more of an awkward mixer than the all-encompassing RPG party players might be anticipating.
Things don't exactly get off to a rollicking start. After a cryptic initial cutscene, you’re treated to a too-long set of introductory cinematics that offer little in the way of actual introduction. You meet fraternal twins Lann and Reynn, who apparently have been living a normal life in a city working at a coffee shop--until a mysterious woman and a strange creature give them surprising news. The twins learn that they--and their mother--were once important figures in a world named Grymoire filled with monsters and tiny people known as Lilikin. It’s a pretty head-scratching introduction--and not in a good way. It doesn’t help that Enna vanishes while calling herself “god.” The duo are left with Tama as their guide, who has a speech the-pattern that will very quickly start to drive you the-bonkers.
When the twins get to Grymoire, they discover they can change from tiny to normal size to get around and interact with the populace. They also can “imprism” the Mirage monsters that roam Grymoire, turning them into battling companions. Bad things are afoot in Grymoire, however--a group of armor-clad figures called the Bahamutian Army have annexed numerous territories in the realm under the guise of benevolence, though their true goal is to enact a complex prophecy involving plenty of good old fashioned chaos and destruction.
Grymoire is a beautiful place filled with otherworldly environments that, combined with the cute monsters that lurk within, capture a whimsical, storybook feel. When they’re not traversing the wilderness, Lann and Reynn wind up in towns based on locations from previous Final Fantasy games, such as Nibelheim from Final Fantasy VII. It’s here that the duo will usually encounter familiar (but cuter) Final Fantasy characters who harbor the souls of “champions” and use their abilities to help Lann and Reynn defeat the Bahamutian Army’s evil machinations.
Despite its chibi-sized Final Fantasy heroes and focus on monster collecting, you won't be summoning an army of adorable Final Fantasy characters to do battle for you. Most of your battling companions are of the monstrous variety--you can only summon famous Final Fantasy characters to battle after dealing and accruing enough damage, and only after meeting them in the story and acquiring their Champion Medal. They don’t show up for long--they just unleash a special attack and then peace out, acting much like summoned monsters would in a traditional Final Fantasy game.
Despite its chibi-sized Final Fantasy heroes and focus on monster collecting, you won't be summoning an army of adorable Final Fantasy characters to do battle for you.
That isn’t to say that combat is a completely by-the-numbers affair. Lann and Reynn can have up to four monsters accompany them in fights. Every monster is assigned a size--small, medium, or large--and you can “stack” the twins and monsters into a cute critter column to fight with. Stacks offer a lot of benefits: characters in a stack pool their health, ability points, attack and defense power, skills, and elemental resistances together to create a powerful entity that can withstand heavy hits and deal more damage than the characters would individually--at the cost of the turns each individual character would get in battle.
Characters in a stack can also combine certain skills and turn them into more powerful techniques. For example, if two stacked characters have water magic, you’ll get access to a higher-level water spell. Enemies can also stack up for similar benefits, so sometimes you’ll want to use attacks that can topple a stack of characters. When a stack collapses, everyone in the tower winds up stunned for a turn, giving you free rein to smack them around. Naturally, your towers are just as vulnerable to collapsing, so you need to be careful when you see signs of wobbling.
Of course, before you can stack up critters like a pile of pancakes, you’ll need to capture them. While many monsters become catchable after a few simple attacks, others require very specific actions before you can imprism them: You may have to hit them with a particular status ailment, give them an item, or use a particular style of attack. While this helps make the game’s monster-catching element a bit more dynamic, it can be extremely annoying in practice. You may run into some one-time-encounter monster in the field, only to discover that you don't have the skills in your current party necessary to capture them. You can't run from these fights, nor can you swap out monsters in battle, leaving you no choice but to beat the rare monster normally and cry over the missed opportunity.
That’s only one of a pile of little annoyances that drag down the World of Final Fantasy experience. The battles, even at max speed, move at a glacial pace, making it almost necessary to hold R1 to fast forward through them at all times (and tiring your index finger in the process). Every monster has a “Mirage Board” similar to the Sphere Grid and Crystarium from Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XIII, respectively; these unlock various skills and abilities by using points earned from leveling up. These kinds of skill-up grids work nicely in role-playing games with limited character sets, but they become a royal pain to manage when you’re juggling numerous creatures in and out of your party. Most monsters in the game have alternate forms that you can access when they reach a certain level, but these variations don’t retain many of the skills of their previous incarnations, and the new forms have their own Mirage Boards to futz around with.
The overarching story, exploration, and monster collecting didn’t interest me nearly as much as seeing which Final Fantasy character I might encounter next.
Dungeons tend to be very linear (and they’re less fun to explore than they are to look at), and you’ll sometimes come to a puzzle or obstacle that requires a specific monster skill or set of properties in order to progress. If you don’t have the right monsters in your current party you must either use an expensive item or go back to a teleport/save point to swap in the correct monsters or capture some new beasts with the properties you need (and perhaps grind them up to unlock the necessary skill to progress).
At least there’s some reward for suffering through these aggravations: The dialogue and character writing are both incredibly charming, filled with lots of peppy exchanges between the twins and the assorted NPCs they encounter (the aforementioned Tama excepted). A little bit into the game, you get the ability to participate in various character vignettes starring the Final Fantasy characters.These segments are ridiculously adorable and tons of fun to watch. The further I advanced in World of Final Fantasy, the more it felt like I was just playing to see the little interactions among the twins and the other characters--the overarching story, exploration, and monster collecting didn’t interest me nearly as much as seeing which Final Fantasy character I might encounter next. The game is ultimately worse when it stops being cute and goofy and tries to tell a serious story.
Unfortunately, you have to put up with a fair amount of frustration and filler before you get to enjoy the best of what World of Final Fantasy has to offer, namely charming writing and Final Fantasy fan service. If you’re willing to put up with some of the game’s mundane sequences, you’ll get some enjoyment out of it, but if you’re not a Final Fantasy fanatic, the magic in these moments may be lost altogether.