|Platform PS Vita, PS4|
|Publisher Square Enix|
|Developer Square Enix|
|Release Date Oct 25, 2016|
World of Final Fantasy seems like little more than adorable, fluffy fan service at first.
In a fall filled to the brim with Final Fantasy media — A movie! An anime! A new mainline entry! — World of Final Fantasy is a cutesy, cameo-filled spinoff that tries to be greater than the sum of its troubled parts. It tries to live up to the Final Fantasy name, even as it gets bogged down in annoying throwbacks that the series has long since grown out of.
World of Final Fantasy’s long-winded, convoluted narrative follows the amnesiac, magically gifted twins Reynn and Lann. The duo wake up at the start of the game with minimal understanding of what's going on. With the help of Tama, their walking, talking fox sidekick, and denizens both familiar and foreign, Reynn and Lann's journey to save their mother — and the world — in accordance with a controversial prophecy eventually gets under way.
The plotline's a total bore, thanks to its sibling leads. Despite their ignorance, the pair are can’t go without commentary for even a moment. While I welcomed their flurry of often self-aware jokes at first, their incessant banter later had me thankful there was a fast-forward button.
Once the story is under way, though, World of Final Fantasy offers several distractions from Reynn and Lann's yapping. The biggest of these are the battles, which make up the core of the gameplay. Reynn and Lann have two special powers that set them apart from the average role-playing game hero: They can switch between their average-sized human forms and smaller, chibi-style ones, and they can catch and harness the power of monsters called Mirages. Depending on if they're tall or tiny, the siblings can stack up to two monsters on their heads to create an adorable, if unstable totem pole.
Collecting Mirages is fun and challenging, as each one has different elemental abilities and capture requirements. Beyond hunting them down, I spent many hours fine-tuning my monsters' skills and party combinations to nail down different resistances and expanded abilities. It’s easy to get lost in building and perfecting your monster collection, and World of Final Fantasy encourages the most detail-oriented player to try to catch 'em all.
The dungeons where these Mirages are found are also easy to get lost in, which is good news to anyone resentful of the recent trend of more linear maps in some Final Fantasy games. Each one of these diverse, enormous areas is littered with monsters to capture and puzzles to solve. I spent most of the game traversing them, but each one is unique and memorable enough to keep moving from place to place feeling fresh. Their sizes and layouts were dizzying, but some of my biggest personal victories were conquering the dungeons' inventive shortcuts and specific intricacies.
Each dungeon also comes with new monsters to catch, but I saw each one about a hundred times. The random encounter rate is, like the dialogue, one of the highest I’ve ever experienced in an RPG. The dungeons' size forced a lot of running back and forth and back again, and constantly happening upon a lengthy monster battle on the way to the next floor gets tiring fast.
Just as frustrating as the encounter rate is the number of puzzles required to get through each area. The abundance of tricky puzzles represent the game at its best and its worst. Like the dungeons themselves, the puzzle design is unique to each area; I often had to flip switches with specific conditions, but they were supplemental to the area-specific trials I had to solve. It's just that solving sliding ice puzzles to move forward through the long, layered dungeons gets grating after hours and hours.
The dungeons are one of World of Final Fantasy's more nostalgic indulgences, and they began to feel overstuffed with roadblocks. I frittered away needless hours in dungeons that sent me in circles to solve puzzles with zero narrative motivation, all while the same monsters loaded slowly onto my screen, time and again. What was once interesting design became monotonous quickly.
There's a big payoff for surviving these arduous dungeon trials, though. I got to see some of my favorite classic Final Fantasy heroes in action, albeit usually in cutscenes. These are aww-worthy highlights in a sea of otherwise terrible dialogue. The presence of characters like Cloud, Lightning and Tidus doesn't feel as forced as it might; they simply inhabit and protect this, the World of Final Fantasy. I also gained the ability to summon certain Final Fantasy stars in battle for a limited time, but I could only actually play as them in special "champion quests."
Unsurprisingly, these quests are often where the game shines. Instead of following the same rote dungeon runs that drive the main storyline, the side missions include varied types of gameplay. In one, I raced across a map as an adorable version of Final Fantasy 13’s Lightning against a time limit toward a boss. Another included a charming, tough puzzle game starring Vivi and Terra (Final Fantasy 9 and 6, respectively). They're excellent palate cleansers and more substantive ways of getting hands-on with fan favorites than in-battle cameos.
Champion quests are accessible whenever the player gets bored of dungeon crawling. Between those and the minutia of Mirage taming — not to mention a battle coliseum, which spotlights the fun intricacies of fighting — World of Final Fantasy offers a few diversions from the repetition of the main campaign. There's still much to be desired, considering the series' legacy of unforgettable characters and stories, but the variety of options and the pure joy of monster management bode for some deep pleasures.
World of Final Fantasy brings originality to the franchise when it can get past all the nostalgia
World of Final Fantasy wants to be fan service for everybody, an almost impossible task in such a long-running, varied franchise. In that regard, the game may look like lighthearted filler on the surface. But those shimmers of something greater and World of Final Fantasy’s more original, modern elements are worthwhile, even if they don't quite make up for the hours of annoyances that pay lip service to nostalgia.
World of Final Fantasy was reviewed using a pre-release retail disc provided by Square-Enix. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.About Polygon's Reviews