Well, I’ve finally managed to stop playing long enough. It only took a few weeks.
While it’s true that my desire to own a PS4 was primarily driven by the need to play Persona 5 in its purest form, I’m not letting the system lie dormant until April. Instead, I’ve been obsessively playing both World of Final Fantasy and Gravity Rush for the past few weeks. and while I am enjoying both games immensely, it’s World of Final Fantasy that’s really got me hooked. It pushes every single one of my gamer buttons in the best ways possible while delivering a charmingly nonsensical plot built upon adorable piles of nostalgia.
Although this game represents the maiden voyage of first-time game director Hiroki Chiba, Tetsuya Nomura designed many of the characters original to the game, so it’s unsurprising that many of them look like they could have escaped from a Kingdom Hearts game.
The plot is also like something out of a Kingdom Hearts game. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kingdom Hearts. I’ve played most of the games in the franchise. But that plot, y’all. If you can call it a plot. It might be more accurate to describe it as a fever dream made mostly of keyblades and awkwardly positioned zippers.
So in World of Final Fantasy, the story follows a pair of twins named Lann and Reynn who have lived in a timeless pocket dimension for some unspecified number of years.
One day, a talking white fox with a crown on its butt appears on Lann’s head while he serves coffee at Totally-Not-Starbucks to a mysterious woman who may or may not be God.
Reynn and Lann discover that they are Pokemon Trainers…I mean, mirage keepers, and they must journey through the mysterious land of Grymoire, a world full of Final Fantasy franchise characters, monsters, locations, and spells. The kingdoms of Grymoire are being annexed by the (clearly evil) Bahamutian Federation. There are a bunch of equally mysterious and clearly evil bad guys in improbable costumes lurking about and muttering ominous things about prophecies.
Reynn and Lann must embark on an adventure through the kingdoms, running into as many Final Fantasy cameos as possible, capturing mirages, and rediscovering their pasts.
I love it.
The systems underpinning this silly romp through the land of nostalgia are deeply satisfying to the classic JRPG gamer in me. It’s turn-based menu combat, for one thing, which is, as far as I am concerned, the hallmark of a Final Fantasy game (looking askance at you, Final Fantasy XIII and XV).
The Active Time Battle system makes a triumphant return. You can adjust the speed and you can even turn it off, if you like, but I’ve been playing on the second-fastest speed, and I’ve been pleased by the pleasant challenge that this offers, particularly if you’re facing off against a large mob of monsters who are throwing a barrage of attacks at you as you scroll desperately through your menu to select the most effective abilities to defeat your enemies as efficiently as possible. At slower speeds, the ATB drags painfully, and turning the battles from Active to Wait makes them boring, so I would definitely recommend playing them at as fast a speed as you are comfortable.
Most of the strategy, however, comes from organizing your stacks. Your party is comprised of Reynn, Lann, and four of their captured mirages configured into two “stacks.” Basically, you wear adorable renderings of classic Final Fantasy baddies as hats. It’s all very silly.
Despite the undeniable silliness, the whole thing is wonderfully complicated and interesting. By changing which mirages are within which stacks, you are able to completely change the stats, skill load-outs, strengths, and weaknesses of your stacks as a whole. Abilities “stack” as well, meaning that, for example, if you have two mirages in your stack who know Fire, you can cast Fira. It’s an addictive and endlessly customizable system. Especially once you add in the exciting fact that every mirage has its own tiny sphere grid!
Mechanically-speaking, it’s a very solid game. As for the aforementioned plot? Well, it’s a hot mess of madness made even weirder by some cheerfully hammy voice acting and a localization that appears to have been crafted by slightly tipsy hipster nerds. I don’t know if things are a little more sedate in the Japanese voice tracks, but the English version is unilaterally crazypants bananas. When Lann isn’t making a nonsensical non-joke, he is misunderstanding every situation and statement directed towards him, usually in head-scratchingly stupid ways that would only make sense if he were catastrophically stoned 100% of the time.
The rest of the dialogue is equally weird. Tama (the fox with a crown on its butt) speaks the-with the “adorable” the-quirk of adding the word “the”in front of random the-words. Some mirages make up entirely new words.
Some mirages speak in hilariously inappropriate slang.
Even the mirage descriptions climb aboard the redonk train, making terrible puns, Final Fantasy in-jokes, and the occasional American pop-culture reference.
Now, I just want to be clear: I am not complaining. It’s endlessly fascinating to see what weird-ass thing the localization is going to do next. The cutscenes are constant, but they are never boring, because there is a 100% guarantee that someone will say something completely ridiculous. I admire the aplomb and gravitas with which these (presumably) professional, adult voice actors read some of these lines.
The game is quite nice to look at, with a colorful, cartoon-y style and bright, attractive colors. The chibi re-imaginings of classic Final Fantasy characters are more than tolerably charming.
The backgrounds are full of depth and rich color, and the monster designs are attractive and varied, though it wouldn’t be a Final Fantasy game without the occasional palette swap.
I have few real complaints about this game thus far. I wish the music were better, but holding the soundtrack of every game up to the Uematsu gold standard is probably unreasonable. There’s nothing in the game’s soundtrack that is bad, exactly, it’s just bland. It sounds a bit like the slow pianos of Kingdom Hearts, but without the groove, and with more lame remixing of old Final Fantasy tunes. Other than this minor gripe, I am having a blast. It’s doing everything I want a game to do, and it’s doing those things pretty well.
Playing World of Final Fantasy is like snorting pixie stix of nostalgia — it’s colorful, saccharine, and kind of weird, but it tastes pretty great.