World of Final Fantasy combines monster catching with the Tower of Hanoi


Gotta Cactuar ’em all

I had an hour to check out four games Square Enix was showing at PAX West this year. One was Dragon Quest Builders, which Chris just looked at recently. Two others were old games being brought up to current visual standards, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age and Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue. No thanks, I would rather spend my time on a deep dive into World of Final Fantasy.

After what seemed like a reasonable period with it, I asked the Square Enix representative how much time I had left. “Your appointment ended 20 minutes ago.” Oops. I spent all my time and then some on the semi-nostalgic role-playing game, and I probably would have kept going if I had my druthers. For a certain type of player, this is going to melt time away.

World of Final Fantasy stars twin siblings Reynn and Lann, and right off the bat it establishes their brother-sister dynamic, for better and for worse. It has been described as being targeted toward families, and the dialogue shows. It’s a scattershot of puns, dad jokes, sibling sniping, fourth wall-breaking, and the usual heroic Final Fantasy speeches.

It’s about half cringe-inducing, half charming and funny. In one interaction, Reynn apologizes for Lann “acting like a royal idiot,” to which he retorts, “Hey, I’m not royal!” I laughed at that one, but other punchlines didn’t land as well, either from being too kiddy or too hammed up.

The visuals are also set up to appeal to multiple generations, with the back story providing a passable reason for it. Most everybody in Grymoire is rendered in a chibi style, reminiscent of the early Final Fantasy titles, but brought from sprite to 3D model. Reynn and Lann have chibi forms, but they also have more modern Kingdom Hearts-looking models, and they can freely transform between the two.

This matters in battle because a central mechanic is stacking party members. Large characters form a base, medium characters can sit on top of large ones, and small creatures can be the cherry on the monster sundae. I can imagine there being strategic considerations with the stacking mechanic. Forming a stack combines the stats of each member into one powerful entity, while unstacking allows each to take an action separately, albeit with lower defense and weaker attacks. In the short demo, it seemed like always staying stacked was the way to go, but there might turn out to be situations where the other is preferable.

Reynn and Lann get other party members in a very Pokémon-like manner. Each area has certain monsters to fight, and weakened monsters can be captured and domesticated into allies. Those monsters are then trained in battle, leveling up along with the main characters. And then Reynn and Lann basically wear them like living hats. It’s almost as if the designers had a dartboard with popular game mechanics and they randomly hit monster collecting and cosmetic hats. Silly as it sounds, the combination works well.

Upon leveling up, points are awarded to put toward new skills, which are unlocked in something similar to a simplified version of Final Fantasy X‘s Sphere Grid. The Mirage Boards are significantly smaller, but each monster has a unique layout with its own specific skills and abilities to learn. I didn’t get nearly far enough to complete a board, but it also seemed like there was an evolution mechanic for creatures who put enough experience into their Mirage Boards.

Otherwise, combat is standard for Final Fantasy. In a sort of modified Active Time Battle, order of action is determined by a stack’s speed, allowing action when its icon reaches the end of a track. However, getting to the end pauses everybody else’s movement up the track, so choosing commands is not as time sensitive. It’s a little strange to even have the track, because it leads to some periods of waiting several seconds when both friend and foe have just acted and are reset to the start.

Still, the main draw for most people is probably going to be the monster collection, capitalizing on the completionist nature of many RPG fans and the nostalgia many hold for chocobos, moogles, cactuars, and the rest. It helps even more that the monsters are cute, and Reynn and Lann can rush into battle with them balanced on their heads.