When Square Enix took the stage at E3 2015, the first thing they showed off was World of Final Fantasy. This received a lukewarm reception, perhaps partly because the audience is always expecting something huge from the publisher in question. Well, they got the megaton announcement when, immediately following this preview, Square Enix hit us right between the eyes with the long, long-awaited Final Fantasy VII Remake. Of course, as we’ve come to understand since, the latter probably won’t feel much like an actual role-playing game and certain cynics like myself believe it’ll be the travesty to end all travesties. In fact, at this point, I’m actually more interested in that “kiddie” World of Final Fantasy.
A “chibi-sprite” game in the works for PlayStation 4 and Vita, with director Hiroki Chiba at the helm, this one is indeed designed for a younger audience. Specifically, it’s to introduce younger gamers to the legendary universe of Final Fantasy, with which they may be unfamiliar. The series isn’t anywhere near as popular as it once was and with such stiff competition in today’s industry, many younger gamers have only a basic knowledge of the esteemed IP. As in, they’ve heard of it but they don’t really know what it is. Well, World of Final Fantasy seeks to change that, and it’d be a mistake to assume it’s a Monster Hunter ripoff, and a bigger mistake to believe only children will be interested by this great traditional format.
Speaking of traditional, the game will boast the “old-fashioned” ATB battle mechanic, which was a tried-and-true system utilized in the golden age of Final Fantasy. It was never the same twice, as there were limitless design opportunities within this structure (hence, Jobs, Espers, Materia, Junction, Sphere Grid, etc), and also why each new FF felt entirely fresh and different. In this case, the ATB mechanic will indeed be reminiscent of past triumphs, but it will also boast modern-day twists, such as the ability to swap between big and small character forms on the fly. And yes, you will capture and befriend monsters but this doesn’t appear to be the game’s focal point, and really only reminds me of the classic Blue Mage class. Said Chiba concerning the battle mechanic:
“The playstyle is like Final Fantasy games before Final Fantasy X, so it's more geared towards an RPG style game. Players will be able to input commands or go for a more retro-esque Final Fantasy command system during battles. I want to keep that Final Fantasy feel of previous titles, so there will be random encounter battles but also story-based battles where you will have to fight them to progress the story.”
In terms of setting, we find ourselves in the land of Grimoire, where all FF characters live. We see two characters in the trailer shown off at E3; one is Rain and the other is her little brother Lon. They set out into a fantastical world filled with creatures that will be familiar to franchise veterans, but new and all kinds of alluring to newcomers. Sure, you and I are well aware of the chocobos and behemoths and things like that, but remember when we saw ‘em for the first time? And now, a new generation gets to see them for the first time, and not in a sprite-based form that, by today’s standards, is barely recognizable. The stories and locations will be based on spin-off titles like Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, too, so it really is an homage and an introductory package all in one.
Perhaps most importantly, this is no low-budget, free-to-play little game; it’s a full-fledged $60 production that supposedly takes full advantage of the PS4’s capabilities. This adventure will be loaded with all sorts of attractive and diverse locales, many of which will be based on iconic locations in the franchise’s lore, and the characters will play a large role as well. We see Cloud in the trailer, for instance, and Cornelia Castle. Additionally, it seems each of the main characters will have their own side-quests and mini-stories to pursue, which should increase the variety and longevity. In the end, Square Enix hopes to simultaneously cater to old-school followers and newcomers alike, as Chiba recently stated:
“If these fans are looking for a realistic type of game, then this might not appeal to them. But World of Final Fantasy does have a lot of elements from the previous titles, and a lot of stuff that’s in there that Final Fantasyfans tend to like, so I feel like it’ll appeal to the new and the old fans.”
Chiba, who worked on the decidedly grittier and darker Final Fantasy Type-0 had orders from FF brand manager Shinji Hashimoto to make this a lighthearted and approachable adventure. Obviously, Chiba has obliged. However, he wants us to know that because the stories in this franchise have often been heavier and more complex, he doesn’t want to completely ignore that feature. In other words, expect a game designed for all ages that will also satisfy those with a taste for some good old-fashioned RPG and narrative depth. And I’m totally down with that.
3/7/2016 Ben Dutka