World of Final Fantasy’s Old-School Charm Brings Square Enix Back to Its Roots [NYCC 2016]
Turn-based battles. Straight-up dungeons. Random encounters. For decades, these were the calling cards of the Final Fantasy series, making it one of the most prolific and beloved RPG franchises of all time. In recent years, however, Square Enix has strayed from its origins, using more real-time, action-based fighting sequences set on wide-open maps. Whether or not that’s a good thing is entirely dependent on your perspective, but one thing’s for sure: there’s still plenty of room in the modern gaming world for the turn-based RPG, and World of Final Fantasy scratches that itch in the cutest possible way.
Your party is made up of siblings Lann and Reynn, respectively an adventurous but clueless boy and his more cautious, intelligent sister. When a portal opens up in their home world, the pair end up in Grymoire, where many classic Final Fantasy locales can be found. The hands-on demo took place a bit later in the game, so the siblings already had several Mirages at their disposal. Mirages are the game’s monsters, which can be trapped (or Imprismed, as it’s called in-game) during battle and used for good. The mechanic is a bit reminiscent of early Persona games, which also allowed the party to capture monsters and have them join the team.
However, other RPGs with this mechanic don’t typically have human characters standing on monsters’ heads. World of Final Fantasy employs a “stacking” mechanic in which Lann or Reynn can double up with a Mirage for higher strength and defense. The trade-off is that the stack only has one action, while each member of the party has its own turn when unstacked. Switching back and forth between forms is just one layer of battle strategy.
The Active Time Battle system will feel familiar to longtime Final Fantasy fans—it’s sheer turn-based goodness with different actions mapped to button presses. I spent a few minutes mapping out commands and playing around with various attacks, but mostly stuck with straight-up physical hits; I’m hoping combat feels deeper and more expansive in the full game. As it was, the ATB system was simple but satisfying, even with limited demo options.
But let’s talk about what’s really important: the cuteness. The twins have two forms: their normal or “Jiant” form, in which they look like typically stylized fantasy RPG characters, though more out of Kingdom Hearts than Final Fantasy. Then there’s the form you’ve likely seen in screenshots and trailers if you’ve been following this title since its E3 2015 announcement, the ones with big heads on tiny bodies. This basically makes the main characters, as well as any others they encounter, look like walking, talking bobbleheads, to great effect. There are lots of other sweet touches, too—a big-headed Chocobo chick with an eggshell on its head, for example, and a Cactuar in a police hat spinning wildly in the background.
Once outside the safety of town, my party made its way to a cave, where they found another of these mysterious portals—the doors to other worlds apparently show up before dangerous sections to give the player a chance to prepare. I was more concerned with defeating Mirages than trapping them until I came to puzzle sections that required baddies with certain stats in order to continue. One such platform required me to stack Mirages to reach a certain weight, while another tasked me with imprisming foes with high resistance to earth magic.
The grand finale of the dungeon was the arrival of three familiar faces: summons Shiva, Ifrit, and Ramuh. I was pretty happy to see them until I realized I’d have to fight one of them in order to proceed. I didn’t put enough thought into my battle strategy before choosing Shiva, and some poor stacking and unstacking decisions, paired with a weakness to ice, brought my party to its knees and my demo to an end.
World of Final Fantasy is fun, light-hearted, and familiar, making it a perfect counterpart to Squenix’s main FF line. The thought of re-exploring classic worlds and running into my favorite characters was already enough to grab my attention, and the gameplay demo simply assured that this is, indeed, the classic RPG fix I’ve been seeking.
World of Final Fantasy will be out on Oct. 25 for the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita.