World of Final Fantasy Review (PlayStation 4)
Few franchises have as long and storied of a history as Final Fantasy. Over the last 30 years this role-playing game megalith has won the hearts of gamers around the globe with countless games featuring rich worlds to explore, engrossing gameplay, and fantastic characters. World of Final Fantasy throws on a pair of rose-colored glasses to take a look at Final Fantasy’s past with a Japanese role-playing game that’s indelibly modern. Whether or not that look is a good one may depend on how much Final Fantasy you know.
Twin 15-year-old siblings Reynn and Lann are Mirage Keepers, special mages who can summon phantasmal beings to do their bidding. They're also suffering from a nasty case of the amnesias, and the only cure is to do some dimension-hopping to travel to the world of Grymoire, a world conveniently full of Mirages for them to collect and Final Fantasy characters for them to hang out with. The plot moves with traditional FF paces, taking the twins around their world as they enrich each city they come through and make allies out of a varied group of badasses and weirdos.
World of Final Fantasy uses a fairly standard turn-based combat system, with the added wrinkle of the Pokemon-esque Mirages. These Mirages start off as small, cute creatures, but over time gain new skills and evolve into bigger, badder forms by leveling up and unlocking slots on a Mirage Board, a branching skill pathway reminiscent of Final Fantasy X’s sphere grid. Leynn and Rann command their Mirages by “stacking” them on their heads, which looks incredibly silly but somehow works with the aesthetic of the game. The Mirages, whether they’re classic FF creatures or entirely new beasts, exude charm and personality, and it’s a joy to watch the small critter you captured at level one grow up to become a massive behemoth or a titanic mythril knight. Plus, the Mirage Board has many open slots for custom abilities, granting a great deal of personalization for each creature.
You’ll also gain Champions as you go along— famous FF characters who can perform tide-changing special attacks. You don’t get to use these attacks that often, but they’re sold with such drama that they’re always satisfying to behold. Dungeons and boss fights are generally serviceable, but nothing special. They’re long enough and have just enough variance to them to be interesting while rarely doing anything audiences haven’t seen before.
It’s not often that a game’s direction catches your eye, but World of Final Fantasy’s cutscenes are marvelously directed things. Whether it’s a simple conversation or a flashy, over-the-top special move, WoFF’s cinematography is top-notch. Its locations are absolutely beautiful as well, and the soundtrack is nothing short of breath-taking. WoFF makes use of thirty years’ worth of phenomenal Final Fantasy music, offering brilliant remixes of classic tunes that are sure to delight longtime fans.
Its characters are a bit of a sticking point for the aesthetic, though. While the human characters have a cartoonish style that's well animated, the small, chibi-esque characters are basically emojis dressed like Final Fantasy characters. They have barely enough expressiveness to emote, but not enough to provide any kind of subtlety or humanity. The toyetic design seems like a nod to the 8-bit and 16-bit era, but lacks the charm and emotional expression of those old sprites.
The voice cast is great, and Square Enix went the extra mile to get as many voice actors back to reprise their original roles as possible, so characters like Final Fantasy XIII’s Lightning or FFX’s Yuna sound like themselves. It’s unfortunate, then, that the writing doesn’t always match the quality of the cast. The dialogue is often kind of annoying, and the characters are prone to overreactions and telling jokes that don't land very well. The worst offender of this is Tama, the fox-like creature who is your constant companion throughout the game. Tama has the annoying habit of inserting "the" before random the-words in the-sentences, and it gets the-annoying almost the-instantly.
WoFF is slow to unveil its complexity; like too many modern JRPGs, it takes far too long to get through the “tutorial” section of the game and into the real meat of the gameplay. New game elements are unveiled in excruciating fashion, typically with a cutscene, then in a text pop-up, then again with the characters discussing it as you wander around (and if you interrupt them by opening a chest or starting a battle, they'll start their dialogue over).
Conversely, the constant stream of dialogue and pop-ups unveil a massive love of the source material and craft a rich world for players to lose themselves in. There are so many wonderful little touches here, whether it's the Cait Sith doll in the twins' house, or the ability to change the battle theme to remixes of battle themes from previous FFs, or modern amenities like the ability to speed up combat and cutscenes with the push of a button. WoFF revels in nostalgia, and has something for everyone, whether you're a newcomer who only played XIII, or an old-guard player who remembers trying to survive the accursed Marsh Cave back in the original Final Fantasy.
World of Final Fantasy acts as a "best-of" Final Fantasy; it's Kingdom Hearts with (fewer) nonsensical plot points and 100% less Disney. If you somehow haven’t made it through at least one Final Fantasy game before, it could leave you feeling like the one kid who doesn't get everyone's inside jokes. Still, the core of the game might just make a convert out of you yet. World of Final Fantasy is light and fun and offers tons to do. With a fun world to explore, gorgeous aesthetics, this is a nostalgic adventure built around the history of one of video games’ most iconic franchises.
This review is based on a digital copy of World of Final Fantasy provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.