Final Fantasy games are like buses. You wait ages for the next main entry (in this case, a whopping ten years), and then two come along at once. However, if FFXV is Square Enix’s answer to what Final Fantasy would look like in the real world, then its latest spin-off, World of Final Fantasy, is its saccharine, saucer-eyed cousin, where everything looks ridiculously adorable and feels like a direct injection of pure, unadulterated fan service.
World of Final Fantasy isn’t just for JRPG addicts, though, as there are plenty of influences from other games such as Pokemon and even Jenga to ground it in something more familiar. So, even if you don’t immediately coo and squeal at the sight of a baby Chocobo waddling along behind you, you shouldn’t feel too isolated if you’re a complete newcomer.
It’s certainly more whimsical than its serious FFXV sibling, if only because you can transform leading heroes Lann and Reynn into a chibi-like ‘Lilikin’ forms at the drop of a hat. Just tap either the R or L trigger buttons and each one will suddenly shrink down so they’re knee high to a tonberry, bringing them more in line with their menagerie of monster ‘mirages’ trailing in their wake.
Far from being a mere cosmetic touch, switching between Lann and Reynn’s usual ‘Jiant’ size and Lilikin form is crucial to progressing through the main story. Whether it’s solving light environmental puzzles, such as reaching treasure chests stuck on rooftops (although how they got up there given the pint-sized population of Grymoire is anyone’s guess) or using your height to adapt your attack power, you’ll be shooting up and down more often than you think.
In fact, managing your different forms is key to combat, as it’s only as a Jiant that you can maximise the number and power of your spells and abilities. Your attack stats aren’t just better in Jiant form, but you can also stack up to two additional mirage monsters on your head – one medium and one small (yes, really) – to deal extra damage.
Match similar types of monsters and you’ll be able to combine your collective abilities to dole out those classic Final Fantasy magic attacks, such as Fira and Firaga. By comparison, the medium-sized Lilikin Lann and Reynn can only stack one small monster on their head, thereby limiting the types of attacks they can use. Of course, stacking your monsters also reduces the number of turns available to you, but the payoff is worth it, especially as you can access all their abilities at once by holding down either the Triangle, Circle, Square buttons and selecting them with the left analogue stick.
That said, you’ll need to bear in mind the stability of your overall stack, as becoming too tall or top-heavy will increase the likelihood of being toppled, potentially sending a significant chunk of your party into a state of confusion. Here’s where the Lilikin combos come in handy, as their squat stature generally makes them a bit more robust. You can always choose to de-stack in order to lessen the odds, but fortunately, I managed to escape being sent into such a daze despite the best attempts of my equally stacked enemies.
That said, the path to success doesn’t simply lie in conquering your foes, as the only way to gain more mirage monsters is to capture them in battle. That might sound like another famous catch ’em all title, but World of Final Fantasy adds an extra layer of strategy to the mix by introducing specific capture requirements. Sometimes it will be a standard physical attack, but others might need a specific elemental spell or a status-altering debuff. Once the requirements have been met, you’re then free to try and ‘imprism’ them (again, yes really) and add them to your party.
There are, of course, similarities between the two systems – you still need to make sure they don’t faint, for instance – but you also need to take into account the relative power of your stack. You might need to topple the specific monster you want first, for instance, or de-stack in order to weaken your attacks or increase your chances of activating your capture conditions. It’s satisfying stuff, and its puzzle-like nature helps liven up its otherwise rather static active time battle system.
Mirages also have their own in-depth skill trees to learn, as well as evolutions and the like, and summon monsters make a welcome return, too, although you’ll need to best them in battle first before you can attempt to imprism them on a second attempt. It certainly makes better use of its monster bestiary than the Monster Hunter-esque Final Fantasy Explorers, and its more traditional kind of story structure should also make it less repetitive, although it’s hard to tell at this stage just how well its surprisingly funny, well-scripted narrative will turn out at this point.
The good news, though, is that we won’t have to wait long to find out, as World of Final Fantasy Explorers is due to launch on 26 October for PS4 and PS Vita. It supports Cross Play, too, so you can carry on your PS4 save on your Vita when you’re out and about, making it a perfect fit for those who want their daily dose of cute on the move. It might be a game built for the fans, but if you’re yearning for a more sophisticated catch ’em all adventure, then World of Final Fantasy could be right up your street.