How do you celebrate 30 years of one of the most iconic gaming series of all time? How do you make it appeal to lifelong fans whilst not appearing too niche for newer fans? Of those newer followers, how do you make it appealing to an entirely new generation, who for many this will be their first Final Fantasy experience? And if all that wasn’t enough, how can you still fill it with enough references to keep those existing fans happy?
World of Final Fantasy MAXIMA is that game and represents one of the best spin-off Final Fantasy games, easily standing toe-to-toe with the main series.
And those references come thick and fast: your first playable moments start in your home and instantly recognisable plushies of Moogle, Chocobo, Cactuar and Cait Sith are all sitting pretty on the bed. A fantastic indication of what older fans can expect as well.
World of Final Fantasy tells the story of twins Reynn and Lann who awake in a strange town called Nine Wood Hills, and cannot remember anything. They notice a pattern on their arms and are told by a mysterious floating creature called Tama that these patterns act as gauntlets to capture and control Mirages, the monsters that inhabit the world of Grymoire. Initially, it’s a lot to take in as WoFF goes heavy with details in the first hour or so. After this, things calm down as you navigate the first dungeon and learn a bit about the battle mechanics.
There is an easy comparison to make with the capturing and battling mechanics of the Mirages: this is very Pokemon-like. But to differentiate it from being a complete clone, WoFF has another mechanic up its sleeve.
Rather than having your party line-up across the screen, we instead see you and your Mirages pile into a stack of three in total, resembling a totem pole. It allows you to also stack your stats and abilities, making you much stronger as a trio than separately – which remains an option but only recommended on certain occasions – but it also means you share any susceptibilities you have to specific elements and debuffs.
Mirages in the game are split into sizes: Small, Medium and Large – with some considered XL but used for different reasons. Each stack can only have one of each size, meaning you cannot have two small and one large, or all large. Each stack must also contain Reynn and Lann, who can switch between medium and large sizes to suit what is needed.
Reynn and Lanns’ ability to swap size is a vital plot element. When they are medium size they fit in with other inhabitants of the world of Grymoire and are known as Lillikins. When they’re full size, they are known as Jiants (pronounced Giants). Legend tells of ‘the Jiants from the Hills’ and many believe these two are those Jiants from the prophecies.
Mirages can’t simply be caught by purchasing equipment though. After your initial encounter with a new Mirage, a prism is generated in your inventory. This allows you to catch one of the Mirages, and no more. This Mirage can be levelled up and upgraded using the Mirage board – a simplified version of Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid. If you can manage to progress on this board far enough, then you can unlock additional prisms to catch repeat Mirages. Progress further still and you can transfigure a Mirage into the next stage.
The stacking mechanic will be new to Final Fantasy veterans and is accompanied by an awkward looking battle menu. Battling is a standard turn-based affair with a timer on the left-hand side showing participants’ place in the queue, but the new battle menu attempts to give a more real-time flow to battling, assigning each attack a different button. For veterans, you will be pleased to hear that a simple tap of the bumper can bring a more traditional menu that will make battling feel much more natural to that of what you will be used to.
Another new feature that takes some time to get used to is the artstyle. Final Fantasy has always changed its visual look across games from the 2D sprites of the earlier outings, to the much more lifelike avatars since Final Fantasy X, but WoFF introduces a whimsical chibi-style to the game. It is designed to appeal to younger players; a new generation of Final Fantasy fans. Older fans will appreciate seeing classic monsters such as cactuar, behemoth, tonberry and all the other favourites and summons in this deformed appearance. But this doesn’t detract away from the fact this is still a Final Fantasy title at heart, complete with a deep plot and long cutscenes, which may not be the most appealing to younger gamers.
The version that has launched on the Xbox One is the MAXIMA version which contains the base game, with a few new features playable for the first time. The biggest addition being Champion Jewels. Champions were present in the base game and acted as your summon in WoFF, allowing you to call upon classic characters such as The Warrior of Light, Tifa Lockhart, Balthier, Yuna, even the mighty Sephiroth to balance a tricky battle in your favour. Some of these Champions also have a Champion Jewel associated with them, allowing you to equip it to either Reynn or Lann, and become that character within your stack! Many of these also have a unique musical theme when summoned; nothing beats hearing One Winged Angel when Sephiroth turns around from the flames. As iconic a moment as it gets in Final Fantasy, now recreated in chibi form.
Becoming a Champion does have a severe downside though, perhaps negating any positives to using Champions Jewels altogether. When taking on the appearance of a Champion, other Champions cannot be summoned, nor can a Mega Mirage (an XL Mirage that stacks with Reynn and Lann). The trade-off doesn’t seem worth it, and as a result, Champions Jewels can feel tacked on.
This isn’t the only addition with the MAXIMA release. More quality of life additions are added to make the gameplay a bit easier and smoother; extra Mirages can be taken with you in your active party than before, that all share EXP when battles are won. A New Game Plus mode has been added, but with a harder difficulty known as Nightmare, more Mirages to capture, and a new minigame featuring Noctis once again fishing.
Away from the main story, there are a couple of distractions in the form of minigames, coliseum battles and intervention quests. The coliseum is self-explanatory for an RPG but the intervention quests sound a bit more exotic. Thankfully, they are easy to understand; most major characters you encounter on your journey will have a short vignette or two after your exposure with them and will come up against a tough enemy in these intervention moments. These quests allow you to ‘intervene’, meaning Reynn and Lann will fight on behalf of the character who will be none the wiser that you’ve done so, and can often lead to unique and rare Mirages once complete.
The minigames also take their inspiration from classic Final Fantasy minigames including fishing with Noctis, Standstalker which acts like a weird hybrid of chess and battleships – yes, it can be as infuriating as it sounds – and Einhalder Invasion which takes inspiration from blitzball from Final Fantasy X. There are others as well but overall, these minigames are disappointing.
As with any JRPG, you can expect this to be one of the longer games in your collection. The main story will take between 30-35 hours to complete but to unlock every one of the 58 achievements will take around 80 hours in total. Yes, there is an achievement for capturing every last Mirage, as well as ones for unlocking every treasure chest, acquiring each Champion Jewel and Medal, beating every intervention quest, 500 battles and a little annoying 10G achievement for obtaining every other achievement. A lazy carryover from the PlayStation’s Platinum trophy requirements.
Unlike other JRPGs though, there is only one save slot. The game takes this into account by only offering certain moments where death in battle means a real ‘Game Over’ – most losses in battles simply mean the twins are transported back to Nine Wood Hills and must restart the dungeon again. Again, this is to make things a bit easier for newcomers, but it is still a bit unusual.
World of Final Fantasy MAXIMA on Xbox One strikes a perfect balance for seasoned veterans and new players with a mix of old gameplay tropes and new. The graphics and genuinely laugh out loud moments will appeal to younger audiences, but older fans will also appreciate seeing deformed versions of classic Final Fantasy characters and monsters. With plenty to see and do this is an essential purchase for existing Final Fantasy fans, and those looking to experience the series for the first time.