Final Fantasy XV is now only a matter of weeks away, but if I'm being entirely honest, that isn't the Final Fantasy release I was looking forward to most this year.
Ever since the first overtly-colourful trailer a couple of E3s ago, I knew I'd love World of Final Fantasy. I wasn't wrong.
This is a game designed with love, and with long-standing fans of the Final Fantasy franchise in mind. Any FF fan, no matter how many past titles they've sunk their teeth into, would be a fool to pass World of Final Fantasy up; this is fan service done exactly how it should be. It's a neat little package that's perfectly playable and enjoyable even if you've never so much as heard of Final Fantasy before (who are you?!), but it's at its best when played by someone who's familiar with the universe and lore from Final Fantasy I all the way to XIII.
The first thing that will likely strike you about World of Final Fantasy is just how staggeringly beautiful it looks. No exaggeration, the first transition from cutscene to gameplay - smooth as butter - almost took my breath away. Character models are gorgeously designed, but it's the world map and the locations within that really steal the limelight. Vivid colours pop over hyperrealistic landscapes, and modern reimaginings of familiar locations are more charming than you remember them to be; the effortless 3D animations being some of the best in the genre. World of Final Fantasy has got the visuals spot on; a game can be mind-blowing without the need to be realistic, and in this case its cartoon-like charm works far in its favour.
The story follows twin "mirage keepers" Lann and Reynn, who inexplicably have lost their memories and yet find themselves as the key to save the world of Grymoire from evil domination. It's a fairly clichéd story, but it's more than serviceable in keeping you engaged from one plot point to another. It's certainly somewhat simplistic and watered down compared to the epic and interwoven narratives of the likes of Final Fantasy VII and VIII, but there are still a few twists and turns along the way to keep you satisfied. It's also a pleasant surprise to know that every last character is fully voiced, and by a talented cast, too. The main characters are all brought to life brilliantly thanks to top-notch acting and witty (if not slightly annoying) dialogue.
You can choose to play as either male Lann or female Reynn – it has no bearing on the story, but at least offers a fair and welcome choice as to whom you'd like at the helm. Both characters can change form at the touch of a button, between "Jiant" and "Lillikin" form. For whatever reason, the locals of Grymoire are small "Lillikins" - small, chibi-style characters. In their regular form, Lann and Reynn are "Jiants" - normal-sized folk, but a rarity in the land of Grymoire. You can choose to play as either form, and can switch on the fly. It doesn't affect much in the way of gameplay, but can be useful in setting up your battle loadout.
As mirage keepers, Lann and Reynn capture "mirages" – a name that collectively describes the myriad of weird and wonderful creatures that roam the land. Some of these are familiar – Moogles and Chocobos to name but two – and some are unique enemy types designed specifically for World of Final Fantasy. The majority of them can be captured in battle, and tamed Pokémon-style to fight alongside you. Rather than Lann and Reynn having equippable skills and abilities, your battle loadout comes from the mirages you have in your "stack" - both Lann and Reynn can be stacked with two other mirages. In a stack, they'll have combined HP and AP, and access to the pool of spells and abilities that each mirage has individually. Each mirage has their own skill upgrade tree, so there's a good sense of progression, and the combination of mirages is almost endless - but it's a fairly simplistic system that doesn't allow for any advanced character building.
World of Final Fantasy is exactly what a classic RPG should be, turn-based battle system and all. It encompasses the best of Final Fantasy VII to IX's Active Time Battle system, and it works flawlessly. Of course, the downfall of any turn-based battle system is the frequency of the random battles, and World of Final Fantasy certainly likes to throw them at you constantly. For me, this was the biggest downfall of the game. Whilst fairly linear, the maps do allow for a little exploration - and the beauty of each location means that you want to take in as much of it as you possibly can. Unfortunately, getting interrupted every ten seconds – no exaggeration – soon makes wandering off the beaten path a tiresome effort. It's a shame that some areas have a small pool of enemies so you end up repeating the same battles with the same enemy types again and again. The constant reward of XP, gil and items is nice, but an option to skip over the battles in return of some exploration would be very welcome too. You have that old "escape" option in every battle, but rarely does it work; once you're in there, you may as well just fight your way out.
There is a lot to sink your teeth into here. Around the 20-hour mark I thought the story was coming to an end, but World of Final Fantasy threw me for a loop and did a great job of mixing up the plot. Aside from the main story, there is a plethora of side missions in various shapes and sizes too. In short, you're not going to get bored of the game any time soon - and the best part is that you'll keep wanting to come back thanks to the game's brilliant design, graphics, sound and fan service. Hell, you get the point by now; World of Final Fantasy is fantastic.
With the only downside being the all-too-frequent random battles – a side effect of a classic battle system that I'm glad to see return – there's absolutely nothing that I can say truly put me off World of Final Fantasy. The classic save point system meant that occasionally I had to wander around longer than I'd have liked before turning off my console, but again, it's a small price to pay to see a nostalgic remnant of a classic game series return. Any classic RPG fan - whether an ardent Final Fantasy fan or not - would be wise to give World of Final Fantasy a try. Definitely, FF followers will get a massive kick out of the familiar names and faces, but everybody else will find value in the tight gameplay, incredible visuals, better-than-average story and brilliant writing and voice acting. It's been a long time since I've been this engrossed in an RPG that I'm constantly looking forward to jumping back into.
World of Final Fantasy is available on PS4 and PS Vita. We reviewed the PS4 version.