I sat on my couch, and despite the ludicrous dialogue coming out of the TV speakers, I couldn’t cringe: The oftentimes annoying script for World of Final Fantasy couldn’t overcome the smiles on my children’s faces. If Square Enix was indeed courting old fans while seeking a younger audience for Final Fantasy, it’s pulled off the deed.
Coming out Tuesday, October 24, for PlayStation 4 and Vita, World of Final Fantasy does for games what countless Disney and DreamWorks animated features have done for movies: engaging both adults and children on their own levels while also meshing the two into one enjoyable experience. And this surprises me, for I never expected a mix of “Final Fantasy 101” and Chocobo Pokémon would work.
But just as Square Enix has made the collectible monster game jive with Dragon Quest: Joker, it’s showing that it can do the same with its most important franchise — while also providing a great entry point for children as older players dig re-experiencing beloved musical themes, revisiting worlds they’ve explored since 1990 (at least here in the U.S.), and rekindling old friendships.
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What you’ll like
Old friends, new beginnings
World of Final Fantasy brings characters, locations, monsters, and musical themes from through the franchise’s history into one game. Melding this altogether in a coherent story is an accomplishment on its own, making it all work in a joyous quest across the world of Grymoire.
You play as brother-and-sister duo Reynn and Lann, who need to rebuild their memories. How do they do this? By collecting monsters known as Mirages. See, they’re “Mirage Keepers,” and as they go through Grymoire and finish off quests and acquire more critters, they remember more about themselves. Yes, it’s well-worn territory for Final Fantasy, but it also feels, well, right that in a game celebrating nearly three decades of history and tropes that you have to deal with amnesia.
Reynn embodies the practical, good-head-on-her-shoulders leader, while Lann is the goofball whose impulsive decisions sometimes instigate the plot. Think of them as the Pokémon equivalent to C-3PO and R2-D2 as they bumble around Grymorie rebuilding their memories.
They have help from a mysterious being, Enna Kros, who seems to have power over time itself (you’ll laugh at her “alternative title”). You also get the most annoying sidekick since Scrappy-Doo, Tama, a cat-like Mirage who loves to insert the article “the” in front of random nouns and verbs. At least she’s useful in combat.
Characters from Final Fantasy’s many games also pop in to give a hand. Some of them help move the plot, others are special summons known as Champions that you equip as medals. These appear in combat and deliver powerful attacks or heal your party. One of the most enjoyable parts of World of Final Fantasy was encountering these guest stars and explaining to my children who they are, why they’re important, and any memories associated to the first time I played a game they were in.
Monster collecting and stacking
You gather these Mirages in a Pokémon-like manner, finding their weak points, attacking the vulnerabilities, and “imprisoning” them in a ball of light. Look, it’s not original, but it is enjoyable. My 6 year old quickly figured out how important the Libra skill is, learning what a monster is weak to and then finding the proper attack to weaken it for imprisonment.
What makes this different from Pokémon is how you build your team. You see, you stack your monsters. Reynn and Lann can appear as their normal selves — “Jiants” in Grymorie lingo — or as Chibi art-style characters like everyone else in this mashup world. And this is key to stacking. The stars each take a leading role in a tower of monsters, with a large, medium, and small unit making a stack. When Reynn and Lann are Jiants, you can put them at the bottom, a medium monster in the middle, and a small on top. Or you can put one of the duo into their “medium” mode and have them ride a larger monster, with a small one on top.
Strategy comes in how you mix them. All monsters have elemental strengths and weaknesses consistent with Final Fantasy (fire, ice, thunder, water, dark, light, and so on). Two monsters with Fire skills and resistances make the stack’s power and defense stronger — two Fire spells turn into a stronger Fira, or a Fire and Fira grant you the powerful Firaga magic. Or you take one that has Thunder attacks and another with Water resistance when facing monsters that use aquatic magic — you blast them with a bolt, but you can use the Water protect to ride out their attacks. Combat uses the turn-based Active Time Battle system of past Final Fantasy games, where you wait for your time to attack. You can speed this up by boosting your Mirages’ agility, or you can use spells like Slow one your foes to give you an advantage.
You strengthen a monster’s abilities on the Mirage Board, which resembles a basic skill tree from other role-playing games. Get to a certain point in these, and you can evolve your monsters to stronger forms (or just catch these later on).
The progression is basic enough that you can walk a child through it, yet it has enough strategy to keep an adult engaged. Some of the battles tested our stack builds, and more than once against powerful bosses and special Mirages, we faced a party wipe and had to craft a different stack with the knowledge we gained in defeat.
Kid friendly, mother approved (well, at least by my wife)
I played a significant chunk of World of Final Fantasy in front of my kids, and they enjoyed it on not just their own level but on one between mine and theirs as well. Some references and jokes were over their heads, either because they didn’t understand the wordplay or because they didn’t get the importance of one Final Fantasy historical moment or another. But much of the interplay between Reynn, Lann, Tama, and other characters is basic enough that the little ones will find enjoyment out of it.
My oldest dug learning about Final Fantasy as well. We listen to video game music in the car and at home, and some of the series’ great songs are on my playlist. He recognized a number of them in World of Final Fantasy, and when he learned their history and where they fit, it was like watching a smaller version of me enjoy it again for the first time. These are moments I’ll treasure, and many fans with children will as well.
What you won’t like
The script — especially Tama’s lines
This the-Mirage is the most the-annoying character the-Square Enix has the-ever created. Notice how I injected “the” throughout that previous sentence? That’s how Tama talks, and it’s maddening. The dang critter does this throughout World of Final Fantasy, and it took me and my kids out of the world each time it did so. They hated it.
Tama is Square Enix’s Jar Jar Binks.
Going to town
A few towns give you optional side-quests and contain adventures themselves. Others are just places you stop in, see the tourist attractions (like Nibelheim), and move on. I would’ve like more of the tourist stops to be larger adventure hubs, something more consistent with the spirit World of Final Fantasy celebrates.
World of Final Fantasy will please fans of one of gaming’s longest-running series. But I think it’ll also help find new players, who’ll get a taste of what we old fogeys have loved about Square Enix’s flagship for decades. With combat that’s simple but has some depth and a story that fits in the franchise’s lineage, this ramp up to next month’s Final Fantasy XV is a great way to enjoy a story you love while also sharing it with others who are experiencing it for the first time.
Just do your best to ignore Tama.
World of Final Fantasy comes out October 25 for the PlayStation 4 and Vita. The publisher sent GamesBeat a cross-platform digital download of the game for the purposes of this review.