Throughout the last few years (read: decades) Square-Enix has seemed a bit uneasy about what to do with the large amounts of nostalgia their game’s fans stockpile while obsessively grinding for EXP, min/maxing equipment combos, enslaving cultural dieties and murdering gods. World of Final Fantasy is the latest in their attempts to inject that tasty nostalgia filling into something they’re not unfamiliar with but not experts in. World of Final Fantasy (or WOFF as I’ll refer to it now, since the Vita version I play more can’t be bothered to display the full name on the menu screen) is a very Final Fantasy take on your average monster hunting game, but doesn’t take the usual route of relabling Pikachu as “Thunder Flan” and simply call it a day. Square-Enix does attempt to cover new ground here, but with varying degrees of success.
I suppose it would behoove me to begin this story at the beginning, which I suppose would be the trailer reveal at E3. The moment the chibi-style characters hit the screen, I heard my old room mate groan, and something occurred to me instantaneously; holy shit this was a polarizing art style for them to take. It’s sort of funny, because non-JRPGers tend to look at us as one uniform group of underage-girl-objectifying, weird-bean-candy-eating, “-desu” speaking pillow-humpers, but honestly there’s probably as many shades of Japanophile as there is the rest of the groups combined, and at least half of that as many different kinds of Final Fantasy fans. My roommate was of the school that believes Final Fantasy is on it’s way towards photo-realism and hanging itself up on concepts and art styles of the past. I for one think that the spirit of a Final Fantasy game comes FROM harvesting those sweet memberberries we all love; Gilgamesh stumbling upon you on his never-ending quest through dimensions, the political story that ends in dietycide, the occassional moogle and chocobo strolls through the most beautiful environments I can imagine, regardless of the artistic style. And the thing about it is, neither of us are wrong. Square Enix said in a progress report for XV not too long ago that a major part of speeding up production involved getting rid of the teams preconceptions of what a Final Fantasy game had to be in order to discover what this game truly was. This means that even the people in charge of saying what constitutes a true FF game couldn’t quantify what truly makes one, which explains how my friend and myself, who each had the same background of playing nearly EVERY FF game, spin-off and numbered entry, could have such different opinions. Where he saw laziness, I saw an artistic 3D realization of the characters I knew and loved in the way that I originally knew them. Where he saw tooth-rotting sweetness I saw colors and environments that echoed the old days of SNES FF’s, some of the best. Where he saw something coming between us and our ever-in-the-future XV, I saw something to clean the palette after (originally when XV was coming in September) XV no doubt made me cry for a billion years. I was drawn instantly and the funniest part was I never saw anything that really told me what kind of game it was. Whether through lack of trying on my part or for a true lack of publicity, I wasn’t aware it was a monster-catching game at all. I never saw a single scene of gameplay in any of the trailers, only anime cutscenes and brief instances of classic FF characters conversing with the game’s protagonists, and decided the artistic style and anime feel warranted my interest. Upon the debut of the Collector’s Edition option, I even decided to up it to that point. The game I’m already set on getting, an artbook no doubt filled with chibi versions of characters and monsters I love, a CD most likely filled with new takes of Uematsu classics, rearranged in new ways and three mini-figures of some of the coolest FF characters ever, all housed in a massive box disguised as a pop-up book? It was like a dream come true. Even if the game was bad, I figured I’d break even in awesomeness for the side-goodies. How backwards I was on that account.
Last week the Demo was put out, which I happily downloaded, installed and consumed in the span of an hour. The game revealed its monster-collecting nature, which, as I said, was news to me. I had two conflicting feelings as I played, the first being a sort of disappointment. Anyone who plays any of the Final Fantasy mobile games is no doubt familiar with Final Fantasy Record Keeper, an F2P “RPG” that tends to have the most advertisements in the other titles. Record Keeper followed an original (read: Token) player-named avatar as he experiences classic battles that took place throughout the FF universe, picking up new fighters along the way. I love this game and for a long time have envisioned a true fan service game that plays like an early Final Fantasy but features characters from across the universe. Sadly, WOFF was not it. Your focus is on establishing teams of classic recurring FF monsters to help your character (and I do mean help; your characters themselves are present in battle just like your monsters) do battle and traverse this new world, and the other Final Fantasy characters only serve as plot devices and a new type of “Limit Break” system, that lets you summon them to play a fun little video of them attacking, do a large amount of damage and normally either give you a buff or the enemy a debuff. The game is slightly odd about how these summons are obtained, though, forcing you to exchange a specific type of currency earned from challenging battles in order to unlock the “medals”, which become available for purchase after you meet each character from a young girl in a dimensional pocket with only a large grandfather clock and a table (because anime, of course). I actually felt like this removed the feeling of comradery that could’ve been gained by having the characters give the ability to summon themselves to the player directly. You can carry three medals at a time into battle, and have to return to the clock room girl to equip new ones. While I’m listing slight annoyances, I’ll also state RIGHT now that the English dub is absolutely atrocious to me. Lann, the main male protagonist, suffers from a bad case of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX style accenting, and the translation staff couldn’t be bothered with changing most of the wording jokes to reach the American audience. The game’s Pikachu/Jibanyan/Augumon/Suezo/MegaMan.EXE (how’s that for representation?) has a terrible verbal tick causing it to throw the article “the” haphazardly about any and every sentence, making even the (Day 1 DLC) Japanese voice over a bit of a pain at times. Finally, at least where I am a few hours into the game, the game has been extremely linear so far, with any and all rewards within arm’s reach of the main path. The maps have had an almost XIII style feel to them, being long and straight, sometimes with a 90 degree bend, some zig-zaggy steps and/or a small puzzle between.
Now that I have the disappointing points out of the way, IT’S TIME TO START GUSHIN’. First off, Tetsuya Nomura really shines throughout this game. It’s so Kingdom Hearts it almost hurts. The two main characters look like Roxas and Kairi got Goldeneye DK moded and gained the Innocence arms from D. Gray-Man, but for the purpose they serve their design is fine. Every Pokemon-style game leaves us wanting something from our avatars, amiright? Most of the other characters are displayed as “Lilikin”, short chibi people that look like 3D realizations of Squaresoft’s classic FF spritework, who call your characters “Jiants”. As in most Final Fantasy games, progression is made by talking to various characters and townsfolk, accepting quests, completing quests, and usually then returning to the quest-giver before finding the new route forward. This endless repetition is made slightly less tedious with the addition of magical gateways that take you to a sort of hub town then allow you to return to any previously accessed gate of your choosing. The gateways are plentiful, so if you find yourself in danger and low on supplies you can always return to your hometown quite quickly. Now we get to what I consider to be this game’s bread ‘n budduh; the monsters. At it’s heart, WOFF is less a Poke-clone and more of Square-Enix’s genuine take on what they believe a Final Fantasy Monster Catching game should be. All the series mainstays are here, of course, from Moogles and Chocobos to Tonberries and Behemoths, and all given not only impressive chibi treatments, but also evolved or un-evolved forms, and FF-history-faithful weaknesses, resistances and attacks. Each new field or area gives you more than enough monsters to enjoy collecting, and each new monster has a unique stat and ability makeup. You’ll be collecting SP points upon leveling up your monsters, which you’ll spend on a sort of map that reminded me of small segments of FFX’s sphere grid displayed in 3D space; a sort of sphere cube. Lighting up nodes will gives you everything from new spells and boosted stats to extra prisms (pokeballs specific to species of monsters), the ability to joyride on larger monsters on the field, and specific abilities that are used to solve puzzles outside of battle. These make leveling monsters of different types necessary to progress on, either to use a fire monster’s ability to melt ice or stacking a few monsters to prove you have so much resistance of a certain element in your party. Speaking of stacking, it’s about time that I got to the battles. As I said before, WOFF doesn’t let you send your monsters into battle alone, but fear not; you take a nice 4 monsters with you, which added to the 2 protagonists, makes 6 players. Instead of being organized into rows a la a numbered FF game, you stack the monsters on top of your head. Yup. There are 3 sizes of playable character, S (small), M (medium) and L (large). The protagonists in their “Jiant” form are treated as “L”-size, and are switched easily (outside of battle) to their “M”-sized Lilikin forms, and each character and form can be assigned its own specific monsters to be stacked. Each stack can be composed of 1 each of the sizes, with the largest on bottom and the smallest on top. Characters in a stack combine stacks, elemental resistances and weaknesses, and even share one HP bar, which decreases everyone’s HP equally when damage is taken. Monsters in battle can form similar totems, creating enemies that pose more of a threat than average ones through combining. Stacks, be they yours or the enemy’s, can be toppled using attacks that have a possibility of toppling, separated into low medium, and high probabilities. Toppled stacks revert to the individual members, and until re-stacked are vulnerable, depending on their individual attacks and stats in battle. If this all sounds interesting so far, it’s because it is, and min-maxing your teams to deal with certain environments, activate certain puzzles and still keep a team leveled enough to take on rare monster battles (which are visible on the map, and can have their lvl’s checked if your character possesses a certain spell) can be challenging and rewarding. The battle mechanics are something to be lauded, for sure; I haven’t experienced such a creative re-imagining of the turn-based battle system in quite a while, especially not a version of it that played so well (I’m looking at you, Yo-Kai Watch! A bunch of touchscreen minigames mid-battle DOES NOT AMUSE ME).
From here, I’ll have to throw a bit of shade the game’s way again. As any and all Final Fantasy fans can attest, story is everything. We’re not willing to play 20-year-old games re-made for the ump-teenth time because we’re in love with watching numbers flash on a screen. A good story can mean the difference between being hyped enough to keep yourself leveled enough to enjoy it, trying to rush through things and getting caught with your pants down with no idea where to go or even simply giving up. RPG’s have this distinction among other games, and a great deal has to be done with the rest of the game to overcome this. I’m pleased to say that so far as I’ve gotten, WOFF strikes a balance that keeps we wanting to play. The story isn’t as groundbreaking as any of the numbered FF’s have achieved, but a healthy combination of mystery and fun propels it along anyhow. I will say without spoiling that they appear to be setting up the story to reveal new things through later playthroughs, and as a completionist this has always been an idea that sits well with me. All in all, don’t expect much (any) talk on the FF stories outside of this world. WOFF’s world appears to “channel” characters from other FF universes, so each character, while possessing the same attitude and outfits as their counterparts, aren’t the actual characters themselves. It’s a bit of a bummer, but also makes it a bit more accessible for people who didn’t play every game as well as give them new motivations to work on, which again leads to surprising results. The “R” button (R2 on PS4) can be used to speed through most dialogue in a fashion similar to the 3DS’s Streetpss games, and is a welcome addition. Some story plotlines can be testing, as can some of the humor segments, and using the R Fastforwarding allows you to see all the text more quickly, so you can glean important information from the narrative if you please instead of risking your sense of direction by skipping the scene completely. This feature can also be used in battle to fast-forward to the next turn, or speed up Champion animations.
For the last part of my first impression, I’d like to talk about the Collector’s Edition bundle I purchased as a whole. I purchased this pricey ($120) CE via Square-Enix’s site, the exclusive way to obtain it. The set comes enclosed in a large (.75 Heavansward CE’s, or 1.25 Realm Reborn CE’s) box, displaying the game’s logo in the classic FF style of tall black letters over an artistic rendition of the game’s theme (in this case, a shit ton of monsters) in a gradient color scheme all on a white background. The sides change it up a tiny bit by putting in-game models of characters ant monsters to fill the void not filled by the logo, something that I don’t think looks very clean on a shelf when it’s turned sideways. A minor annoyance, because if you want to display anything, it would be the massive pop-up-book-style box within this one. When I saw the press releases for this CE, I had a feeling this it would open to reveal only one pop-up style page, though my hope was for something of a small story giving the game’s prologue. Square hit somewhere in between by offering 4 pages of seemingly random juxtapositions of characters and scenery, ending with a pretty cool castle scene. The top rectangular “stack of pages” conceals a slot that holds three mini figures of popular FF heroes in Lilikin form in one blister pack, something that frustrated me a bit because I wanted them out for display but can’t bring myself to open the pack since the figures won’t fit nicely back into the book once opened. The bottom “stack of pages” conceals a pull-out box that holds the soundtrack selection (which is a perfect addition to a set like this, I might add), the art book which has page after page of Final Fantasy characters and monsters chibified, and the “Day One Edition” of the game, which contains a download voucher for 3 exclusive coliseum battles (White Chocobo, Glow Moogle, and Red Bonnetberry) and 1 exclusive Medal, used to summon Sephiroth in battle. The additional monsters are welcome, but the rewards for completing their coliseum battles are negligible. Sephiroth is cool but it needs to be said that unlike other Champions in the game proper, which unleash their summons using the game’s engine and their in-game models, Sephiroth’s Champion Summon is an unskippable, un-fastforwardable FMV reminiscent of his Meteor attack in his final battle in FFVII. It looks cool, but takes a billion years, so after a few uses I shelved it for something quicker and may actually uninstall it eventually (It was 615 MB on my Vita for that video!). Overall, the bonuses and presentation make it justifiable if you’re a hardcore fan and like the overall asthetic. Or it would have been...
I’m not sure about the community as a whole, but my CE came in slightly damaged. This first-impressions review is only happening because I originally wanted to do my first unboxing video, but as I shot the video and opened the packaging, few unexpected things happened. First, I noticed a small rectangular dent on the side of my box. No big, but I expected the box to be sort of pristine, coming from the manufacturer itself. Pulling out the pop-up book revealed that the dent wasn’t only on the box, but made it through to the book (grumble grumble), but still not my major problem. Opening the first page of the book, the page only wanted to open about 1/2 way, and everything only popped up about halfway. I inspected and saw I had already begun tearing through one of the pop-up characters, and freed it but the page was still seemed somehow stuck. I opened the second page to reveal the same problem, and some of the characters literally popped up. I wasn’t sure what was going on, and stopped recording, figuring I’d look it up on the net when I was done inspecting the rest. I opened the artbook, and on the 3rd page encountered the SAME problem, and finally saw what was happening. A close inspection revealed that ink had transferred from page-to-page, my theory being that the whole package was sealed up before the ink had a chance to dry. Another look at the pop-up pages revealed the problem to be identical, with monsters stuck to each other’s faces, pulled apart to reveal ink transfer damage. This was extremely disheartening, and a search of the net revealed no one else complaining of similar problems. Of course it’s just me.
I didn’t want to post my unboxing and create some kind of scare to people interested in purchasing the game; our purchases tell them what to make, and what to invest time in improving, and seeing this new series die prematurely would break my heart. This style of Collector’s Edition is also something I’m all for, and detracting sales of it might mean more CE’s like Kingdom Hearts 2.8's pathetic pin compared to the fantastic art book we got with 1.5's CE. Overall, even though mine is sort of damaged, I really like the entire package and would recommend it to anyone who likes FF and monster catching games and can take a generous amount of KAWAII DESU DESU cuteness.