World of Final Fantasy – Stacked

Square Enix has decided to release another nostalgia trip. World of Final Fantasy is a strange JRPG focused around a pair of partially amnesiac siblings, Lann and Reynn. The two of them wake up one day and go about their normal business, but are surprised to find that there’s nobody else in their town. No one except a strange silver haired woman who calls herself Enna Kros.

Enna tells them that they were once great ‘Mirage Keepers’ who commanded an army of monsters known as mirages. She then sends them to a world called Grymoire and tells them that, if they wish to remember their family, they must reclaim their lost mirages. Finally, she points out that Lann has a creepy fox thing on his head that he has somehow completely failed to notice all day, who turns out to be their first mirage, Tama.

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Nostalgia Trip

Probably the biggest selling point for World of Final Fantasy is nostalgia. I know it probably sounds trite, but World of Final Fantasy is pretty much designed from the ground up to remind people of the good times they had with previous Final Fantasy entries. There are several homages to previous music tracks scattered throughout to put you in the right mood. Everywhere you look you’re surrounded by environments inspired by the numbered Final Fantasy series, with areas like Cornelia, the train graveyard, and the castle of Figaro scattered throughout. And of course, all of the enemies are cutified versions of classic Final Fantasy foes.

But of course the biggest source of nostalgia lies within the characters and subplots. You see, every location you visit has a story to tell, and many of these are extremely simplified versions of classic Final Fantasy storylines complete with chibi versions of relevant characters. You’ll meet Edgar at Figaro’s helm, Celes as she prepares for an opera, Princess Sarah who needs to be rescued after being kidnapped, and so on. You even get to watch Tidus hit on Yuna yet again. It is truly a trip down memory lane, and each of the characters is represented relatively faithfully. So faithfully, in fact, that Squall still hasn’t gotten over his need to brood excessively.

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The core story is pretty narrow, and unfortunately not thoroughly explored. We have a weird Goddess, some sort of weird difference between summoners and mirage keepers that is poorly explained, and some weird evil army whose motives are clearly the destruction of all that live… yet have no reason to exist beyond that. As far as Final Fantasy plots go, World of Final Fantasy’s core storyline is some of the least explained in the series’ history. What bothered me most about it though was that the ending didn’t really resolve the characters’ stories in a satisfactory way. It resolved the overall ‘war’ story, such as it was, but it left two big loose threads in the form of ‘our protagonists’ without really leaving room for any sort of sequel. If you’re not planning a sequel, you want to make sure to offer closure to fans and World of Final Fantasy didn’t do that, which left it feeling a bit hollow.

Gotta Ca… Imprism ’em All

The gameplay revolves heavily around the afore-mentioned mirages, which are – for all intents and purposes – Pokémon. And, throughout the entire game, you’ll be using ‘Prisms’ (Pokeballs) to ‘Imprism’ these mirages for use in battle. The distinction is that instead of the mirages being summoned to do battle while their master stays safe in the back and orders them around, in World of Final Fantasy you create stacks for each of our main characters to augment them and grant them access to different abilities.

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The character progression system for the mirages was fantastic. Over time you gradually unlocked a skill tree that eventually led into other transformations for the mirage with special rewards for completing an entire grid. There were even customizable slots where you could teach mirages new abilities and passive effects to either augment their strengths or counteract their weaknesses. And the fact that the skills, resistances, and stats all synergized when you stacked characters created some great moments of exploration and experimentation.

Mirages come in four sizes, Small through Extra Large. Lann and Reynn can be either Large or Medium, depending on whether they choose to take on the appearance of the locals of Grymoire or retain their original appearance. If they retain their original ‘Jiant’ form, they count as a large monster for the purpose of stacking, but if they shrink down and assume a ‘Lilikin’ form, they become medium sized. Each of the two siblings can form a stack with up to two different sized monsters. Each stack can contain up to one small, one medium and one large creature. For example, I had a stack featuring a Red Dragon, Lann in Lilikin form, and a Nakk – a small catlike mirage. Now, you might be saying ‘wait, he said that monsters come in four sizes, but he only talks about three…’ and you’d be right. Extra Large mirages are basically the game’s summoned monsters. They function most similarly to Final Fantasy X’s Aeons. When Lann and Reynn summon them, they appear and temporarily take the place of all other characters and have their own set of commands for you to fight with until they run out of MP or die, at which point the normal flow of combat resumes.

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Toppled

The stack system is the underlying core of the combat. Your battle party consists of two stacks – one for Lann and one for Reynn – each with two mirages. These stacks are strongest when together, but if hit enough times will eventually topple down unless you restabilize them using items, spells, or by unstacking and restacking them in combat. If they’d made the difference between stacked and unstacked less glaring, this system could have presented some tremendous strategic variety. The decision between whether to be stacked for durability and more powerful hits, or unstacked for more command options could have been a rich one… but they made individual characters so fragile that – outside of briefly unstacking to restore stability – there is no reason to ever unstack and doing so will usually result in most of your party being instantly killed by the game’s gratuitous area of effect attacks.

My other problem with the combat is simple: two character party systems rarely work. Political jokes aside, unless there is some other element that adds strategy, a two character system makes ‘recovery’ impossible. Once things start going wrong, you’ll basically end up just falling deeper into the hole unless you get lucky. This perpetually growing deficit is made even worse by the fact that when you revive a stack, they revive in an unstacked state which means they’ll get a turn even slower than normal since stacking increases all stats, including speed. It ends up creating a situation where if anyone dies, you’re going to spend the next minute or so just wasting money as you try desperately to revive them at a time where they won’t immediately die again before you have the chance to heal or stack them.

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That’s not to say the game’s combat system is bad, mind you. I had a great deal of fun with the game throughout, and playing around with various stack configurations to unlock new abilities or maximize the potential for a certain stack was a lot of fun. There were just moments where the game felt like the design team was really confused about what they wanted. The combat system could’ve been amazing if either unstacked characters were useful or if it had 3 stacks in stead of 2. Either of those would’ve likely alleviated every problem I had. In the end, what we had for a combat system was just on the border of being awesome, but not quite reaching it.

Overall

The game is a definite testament to what Final Fantasy has built over the years. The layers of nostalgia, reminding us of the memories we’ve had with this series, go a long way to making this game fun. It recaptures some of the magic that has made Final Fantasy special over the years, but it doesn’t quite realize what it was that truly made the series special.

In the end, World of Final Fantasy feels like a shallow dip in the Final Fantasy pool, touching on what made it great but not quite delving deep into it. Each area of the game’s design left a little bit to be desired, which all combined to create an experience that was a lot of fun, but not terribly memorable overall. Kind of ironic for a game with such a large focus on recovering the characters’ memories, if I do say so myself.

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