World of Final Fantasy might not be the Final Fantasy game everyone is talking about this year, but its addictive gameplay and entertaining callbacks make it a must-play.
After a long, strained absence away from the current generation of consoles, the Final Fantasy franchise returned looking to make a statement in the last few months of 2016. While Final Fantasy 15 is the game that has the weight of a decade-long development period resting firmly upon its shoulders, World of Final Fantasy comes to the PS4 and PS Vita with a different kind of intent. Where Final Fantasy 15 will look to become the next evolution in a storied series of innovative RPG releases, however, World of Final Fantasy is aimed at ensnaring a new generation of diehard fans, perhaps in anticipation of the franchise's renewed vigor should Final Fantasy 15 be a success.
That might, quite unfairly, make World of Final Fantasy appear to be the prequel to a much more important release in late November. While its fondness for old-school JRPG tropes and awkward, at times too-cutesy story makes the game a bit more difficult to get into than it perhaps should be, World of Final Fantasy is a beautifully crafted Final Fantasy experience at its heart - the kind of game that is appealing to both the new fans it hopes to attract and those who have been with the franchise for many years already.
The story of World of Final Fantasy follows twin siblings Reynn and Lann as they navigate the world of Grymoire, itself a collection of various floating islands that correspond with Final Fantasy worlds of games past. The amnesiac twins are immediately thrust into a conflict in Grymoire where they stand at the center of a prophecy, and although the story features a number of groan-worthy moments and stereotypical fantasy inclusions, it manages to stand on its own once the twins begin to question the truth behind the Crimson Prophecy.
That isn't to say that the game's story and characters are great, because they're definitely the weakest elements in World of Final Fantasy, which comes as a surprise given the story-telling prowess of the franchise it shares its name with. Reynn and Lann are self-aware of their roles as video game protagonists, which can be funny, but they also constantly feel the need to talk at every moment, and the chatter between them eventually becomes grating. Luckily, Square included a fast-forward feature for cutscenes and dialogue, perhaps in anticipation of the fact that World of Final Fantasy is designed to be interesting for children to play. Nowhere is that more evident than in the game's approach to story and characterization.
There's a lot to be had for adult fans of the Final Fantasy series within World of Final Fantasy, however. Some of the most interesting moments in the game come when super-deformed, Chibi-style versions of famous characters from other Final Fantasy games make their appearance, usually to save Reynn and Lann. It might be a cheap nostalgiac ploy, but seeing Tidus, Squall, and Cloud work together is fan-service done right, and there's enough of it in World of Final Fantasy to make the game a worthy endeavor for diehard fans of the core Final Fantasy series.
Luckily, it's World of Final Fantasy's gameplay, not its meticulous attention to the games it pays homage to, that truly makes it an exciting inclusion to, well, the world of Final Fantasy. The turn-based dungeon crawling action might appear old at first, but if it is, it has been given several new layers of paint to make it more fresh and engrossing. Reynn and Lann are Mirage Keepers, a gift that gives them the unique ability to "imprism" (read: capture) enemies and add them to their ever-growing roster of helpful critters. It's equal parts Pokemon and Persona, and it's a welcome new wrinkle to the Final Fantasy franchise.
While the combat is simple at first glance, that's because World of Final Fantasy is attempting to bridge the gap between younger fans and series stalwarts, and experienced veterans of Final Fantasy games will soon find themselves lost in the endless customization of their teams of Mirages. Reynn and Lann can alternate between regular and Chibi-style appearances, and that change isn't just aesthetic - it's an important gameplay element as well. Players can "stack" their Mirages on top of their head as Jiants (regular-sized), and on top and underneath them as Lilikins (Chibi-sized), and these stacks influence everything from elemental resistances to attack combinations. It's a deep system, one that mimics the job systems of Final Fantasy games past quite well, and it's easy to get lost for hours modifying teams to reach their peak potential.
While that level of micro-managing isn't necessarily needed for the game's main story, which takes many twists and turns and asks much of players, it is for the game's deep side-quest offerings. There are some optional quests scattered throughout Grymoire that are the usual kill-and-retrieve kind of missions that fantasy games so often employ, but the real treasure here is the Intervention system. Reynn and Lann can go to a special room in their hometown that allows them to inhabit the bodies of the Final Fantasy heroes they meet over the course of the game, and it's always a delight to do so - gamers can discover more about the Lilikin versions of their favorite characters while also engaging in rewarding boss fights, mini-games, and more.
If there's one element of World of Final Fantasy that hinders it from being a truly luminous take on games-as-nostalgia, it's simply how long-winded the game really is. Dungeon exploration can be very grindy, and the story often creates the illusion that players are making progress before forcing them to circle back to achieve a newly-added objective before they can proceed. It's the one time in World of Final Fantasy where its love of characteristics that have colored past Final Fantasy games is executed poorly - those games needed their respective stories to go countless hours to reach their conclusion, while World of Final Fantasy chooses to reach that length instead.
That isn't to say that World of Final Fantasy isn't worth the time. World of Final Fantasy is a remarkable blend of old-school JRPG mannerisms and innovative, mold-shattering gameplay elements that challenge what a Final Fantasy game is "supposed" to look like. Later this year, Final Fantasy 15 might challenge the genre once more, with the might of a tireless multimedia machine supporting it while it does - but World of Final Fantasy has very much done the same, and it is quietly, and cutely, one of the best Final Fantasy games in recent memory.
World of Final Fantasy is available now for PS4 and PS Vita. Game Rant was provided a PS4 code for this review.