Over the last ten years, the Final Fantasy series has traded more on nostalgia for its golden years than on original material. While the latest main entry in the series, Final Fantasy XV, has been in development for that entire decade, publisher Square Enix has flooded the market with spin-offs, fighting games, rhythm games, remasters, ports, and ill-advised mobile games that even now clog my Facebook feed with their damnable advertisements. (No, Final Fantasy Brave Exvius, I will not download you even though your algorithms have somehow detected that my favorite characters are from Final Fantasy Tactics.)
Some of these trips down memory lane are well-constructed and laser-targeted at people of my age and temperament. I put almost two hundred hours into Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call because the compositions of Nobuo Uematsu still have the power to make me feel like I’m twelve years old and still believe there might be magic in the world. I unlocked absolutely everything in both Dissidia fighting games because taking control of Tifa Lockhart and socking Kefka in the jaw just felt right. When a Final Fantasy spin-off sets its focus squarely on one of the series’ strengths (like its music, or its characters), it can offer some of the best fan-service in all of gaming.
And so when I first saw trailers for World of Final Fantasy, which takes the series’ best characters and transmogrifies them into little hobgoblins with all the soul of a comic-store rack of Funko Pops, I was wary. When I loaded up the game and discovered that after several hours of play, there just wasn’t much there there, I was a touch disappointed. But as I continued to make progress through the game and continued to think about it, I realized that the game just plain wasn’t for me. I was filling my notebook with complaints and grievances, but I felt an awful lot like the kind of person who would go to a screening of a comic book movie and then complain about all the ways it didn’t live up to my expectations as a lifelong reader of comics. Comic book movies aren’t for thirtysomethings, they’re for the ten-year-old kids whose parents are going to buy a bajillion dollars worth of action figures, plastic toys, and screen-printed onesies. Despite being draped in all of the nostalgic signifiers of this thirty-year-old series, I don’t think World of Final Fantasy is for me. I think it’s for my kid.
In 1992, Square released an SNES game called Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, which would be released a year later in Japan as Final Fantasy USA, a tip of the hat to the perception that American kids preferred their games to be easier, more straightforward, and more accessible. Mystic Quest was all of those things: it had fewer systems, less plot, only a handful of characters, and it was something like a third of the length of its immediate predecessor, Final Fantasy IV. To anybody with enough wherewithal to get through Final Fantasy IV, Mystic Quest was pretty underwhelming—but for someone who didn’t know their Bahamuts from their Behemoths, it was an accessible entry point into the mechanics and basic structure of the series.
Mystic Quest might not have been a smashing success because Final Fantasy IV wasn’t that complicated. It was, ultimately, still a game aimed at kids. In the past 24 years, however, the level of gaming comprehension necessary to understand a mainline Final Fantasy has ballooned considerably. I think that Square Enix rightly believes that Final Fantasy XV is going to be beyond the reach of the younger set, and I don’t think they perceive much audience overlap between it and World of Final Fantasy (they are, after all, releasing the two a mere month apart). World of Final Fantasy isn’t for Final Fantasy veterans, it’s an entry point into a sprawling multimedia franchise for the next generation.
World of Final Fantasy stars two twins named Reynn and Lann who look a bit like they didn’t quite make the cut to be protagonists in a Kingdom Hearts game. They’re joined by a magical talking animal named Tama who is admittedly cute but who has a maddening vocal tic in which she appends “the-” to the beginning of words at random. (“I know! It doesn’t make the-sense at all!”) After some brief exposition, they’re tossed into an alternate world called Grymoire that is an amalgam of themes and locations from the Final Fantasy franchise proper. Midgar, from Final Fantasy VII, is there. So is Cornelia from the original Final Fantasy. Besaid from Final Fantasy X makes an appearance.
Reynn and Lann learn quickly that they have the power to capture and control Mirages, the game’s term for its monsters, and also the power to shrink from their mostly-normal proportions into the bobble-headed “Lilikin,” which is the game’s term for its chibi denizens. Mirages come in different sizes, and the game’s primary battle mechanic is that its teenage heroes can each stack up to three creatures to create two uber-fighters. Reynn and Lann can either be the large creatures at the bottom of the stack, or they can be the medium-sized creatures in the middle while in their Lilikin forms. In practice, this looks completely ridiculous, but it’s good fun to have a character riding a Behemoth while balancing a Moogle on their head. If your stack of fighters takes too many hits from enemies, it can wobble and topple, leaving your trio stunned and vulnerable.
In order to capture new Mirages, you must fulfill certain conditions: the game’s earliest enemies can be captured just by dealing damage, and then later it’s often specific elemental damage, and then after that, inflicting specific statuses (or even granting them specific buffs). This creates engaging sub-objectives in battle, but you don’t need to bother with it if you don’t want to—I created a stack of monsters with powerful physical attack and defense, made sure I could heal, and just slammed on the attack button and got through the entire game just fine. It’s not difficult. It’s not complex. It doesn’t require critical thinking. (It would be excellent for a kid, is what I’m saying.)
The game is enormously forgiving. Only boss battles can cause a game over (and there’s a save point before every boss, so no sweat). Losing a regular battle just spits you back out of Grymoire into the hub world, with no money or experience lost. There is, blissfully, a fast-forward button that lets you speed up every single battle and cutscene (an option I used liberally, which is to say exhaustively). The story is barely more than a premise used to justify your stroll through this Final Fantasy theme park (and perhaps Final Fantasy World might be a more apt title), though it does ramp things up considerably at the end for a pretty intense conclusion which is effective, if a trifle unearned. The voice acting and localization are well done, though again the script skews very young, with much silliness and plenty of terrible puns. The game’s score, by Final Fantasy XIII composer Masashi Hamauzu, is mostly solid but is replete with elevator-music versions of tunes composed by Nobuo Uematsu. The game is… fine. It’s fine! It didn’t leave a lasting impression on me.
But again—all of these complaints are coming from someone who’s been playing Final Fantasy games for twenty years or more. I’ve seen and done all of this before, and better. And yet I can’t hate World of Final Fantasy, because I see what it’s going for, and it’s not aimed at me. My son is still a toddler—too young for games—but in a couple years, when he’s ready, World of Final Fantasy might be just the way to introduce him to the worlds, characters, and teenage amnesiac melodrama that shaped me as a youth. So if you have a young person in your life that you want to introduce to Chocobos, Curaga, and Celes Chere, World of Final Fantasy might be just the ticket. It’s a much better game than Mystic Quest, anyway.
If you’re like me, a thirty-something long-time Final Fantasy fan looking to recapture some of the magic you once felt around pretty teens and saving the world, there’s a game coming out for you next month, and it’s called Final Fantasy XV. Fingers crossed.
World of Final Fantasy was developed by Tose and published by Square Enix. It is also available for the Playstation 4 and Vita.
Nate Ewert-Krocker is a writer and a Montessori teacher who lives in Atlanta. His first book, an adventure novel for teens, is available here. You can find him on Twitter at @NEwertKrocker, where he mostly gushes about final boss themes from JRPGs.