World of Final Fantasy Due October 25 for PS4 and PS Vita
Square Enix’s latest Final Fantasy spin-off is a game so brightly coloured and adorable that it almost hurts to look at it. After the dark and drab recent entries in the series, Square has wisely decided to tear open the curtains and flood the world of Final Fantasy with some much needed colour and charm.
Set in a land where everyone is inexplicably two-foot tall and looks like a cute Comic-Con plushie, World of Final Fantasy follows the story of amnesia-suffering protagonists Laynn and Reynne as they explore the magical realm of Grymoire and try to regain their lost memories.
Setting its sights on JRPG fans and younger gamers, this new spin-off opts for a traditional turn-based battle system, cutesy charm and a more-than-healthy dose of fan service. Yet this isn’t the throwback to the classic battle system you might be expecting – as well as something old, there’s definitely something borrowed here too. It takes an unsubtle bit of inspiration from monster battlers like Pokémon and Ni No Kuni, with you fighting and ‘imprisming’ over 200 well-known tiny monsters from throughout the franchise’s history.
Believe it or not, the tiny characters are more than just a cute aesthetic choice. As well as being able to capture and collect these pint-sized creatures, our twin protagonists also have the ability to switch between their normal ‘giant’ form and this mini form at the press of a button. This may sound like a great opportunity to use your giant form to terrorise towns like a spikey-haired Godzilla, but Square has instead ordained that players should use this unique ability to solve a wide variety of puzzles and to add an extra tactical layer to battles, called “stacking”.
Throughout my fleeting time with the game, I spoke to tiny dancing Cactuars, experimented with the battle system, solved a few puzzles and even fought some very familiar elemental bosses. Revolutionary it definitely wasn’t, but the game had an undeniable sense of charm and a gorgeous visual style that made it a unique and grin-inducing proposition. Intrigued to find out more about how this strange project came about, I sat down with the game’s director, Hiroki Chiba.
“We saw that Final Fantasy was about to reach its 30th anniversary and we wanted to create something that could reach the younger generation,” explains Chiba. “Many gamers have grown up with Final Fantasy and we see a lot of mature audiences playing the game. Now we can introduce their children to what we love about the series.”
With Final Fantasy games becoming bleaker and more complex with each new title, it’s not hard to see why Chiba and his team opted to make a more kid-friendly entry, but he was also keen to appeal to the series’ older fans too. “Looking at the visuals, you might get the impression that this is a very light, casual sort of game, but we made sure that it’s very Final Fantasy-like in terms of the volume of the story as well as the gameplay experience.”
A lot of this adult appeal comes down to the grinding nature that comes with the monster-collecting element of the game. As you ‘imprism’ the monsters, you find yourself able to stack different monsters on top of each other, creating different tactical teams for different battles. And with over 200 of the critters to catch, that means there’s a lot of grinding on offer for Dad, too. “You won’t have any trouble getting through the first part, but at the same time there’s a lot of replayability. That grinding element means that if you wanted to go back and battle and capture more monsters, you can always do that.”
Yet while this was originally meant to be a nice palate cleanser after the release of FFXV, the mainline entry’s delay means that antsy fans are eager to get their hands on World of Final Fantasy. “Honestly there wasn’t really a lot of pressure from fan expectation on this title, for me anyway. I’ve been with Square since FFVI and since then I’ve worked on Chrono Trigger and several numbered titles like FFVII, FFVIII, FFX and several spin-offs. With any Final Fantasy title there are obviously high expectations, and I have my own expectations as a big fan of the franchise myself, but I’ve been working and creating games for over 20 years. That pressure, it’s part of the creative process.”
It’s hard not to feel the man’s passion for the project, and why wouldn’t he be passionate? It’s not often that developers get the chance to go back and cherry-pick their favourite bits from older games. Featuring summonable heroes and GF’s from old titles, World of Final Fantasy somehow straddles the line between being a greatest hits celebration of Final Fantasy and the perfect introduction to the world for interested newcomers.
“It was such a great honour to be able to work on this title. We kept in mind that concept of bringing in the new players as well as making something which satisfies long-time fans, and aimed to deliver a game that everybody can enjoy. A lot of the rest of the team – artists, designers – have a long history of making FF titles, but we also had young staff members who joined our development team who have such a love for Final Fantasy. Everything came together because of this love for the series, whether the team had worked on the series or grown up playing it.”
If you have a low tolerance for high-pitched voices and have no idea what the words “Kawaii” or “Chibi” mean, World of Final Fantasy may not be for you. For anyone looking to get younger family members into the series or for a more traditional FF experience, however, World of Final Fantasy could be just the thing to wile away those autumn blues.