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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (461)

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Greak: Memories of Azur 3.5/5
Yaga 2.5/5
Riverbond 3/5
Bug Fables: The Everlas... 4.5/5
Front Mission 1st Remake 1.5/5
Middle-earth: Shadow of... 3.5/5
Bladed Fury 3.5/5
Ruzar - The Life Stone 3.5/5
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin 3.5/5
Mighty Switch Force! Co... 2.5/5
Aegis of Earth: Protono... 3/5
Torchlight III 2.5/5
Cyberpunk 2077 3.5/5
Mario + Rabbids: Sparks... 4.5/5
Eiyuden Chronicle: Risi... 3/5
Psychonauts 2 4.5/5
Castle in the Clouds DX 4/5
Ocean's Heart 4/5
Just Die Already 2/5
Sable 2.5/5
Midnight Castle Succubus 4.5/5
Tower and Sword of Succ... 4/5
Thronebreaker: The Witc... 3/5
Battletoads (2020) 1.5/5
Door Kickers: Action Sq... 4.5/5

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World of Final Fantasy   PC (Steam) 

Ugly-Cute Façade Hides Great Gameplay    4/5 stars

In 2016, Square-Enix released quite possibly the worst ‘Final Fantasy’ title to date: “Final Fantasy 15.” Apparently, though, some of Square-Enix’s long-time ‘Final Fantasy’ crew wanted to make a different ‘Final Fantasy’ title, one that was lighter and appealed to a broader audience than the overly-convoluted disaster that was “Final Fantasy 15.” These Squaresoft Old Guard were thus allowed by the powers that be to work with the venerable third-party development team at Kyoto-based Tose Software on exactly such a game.

The result was a ‘Pokemon’-esque mashup/spinoff title called “World of Final Fantasy” (“WoFF”), which blends elements spanning the long-running series with a healthy quantity of new concepts. The initial release of the game on the PlayStation 4 and Vita sold well enough that it warranted some DLC, which was bundled with the base game and ported to other digital platforms including PC under the title “World of Final Fantasy MAXIMA.”

While I was initially interested in “WoFF” based on the fact that Square-Enix has done far better with ‘Final Fantasy’ spinoffs in the last decade-plus than they have with mainline titles, I was somewhat dubious about the game’s semi-questionable art style. Furthermore, I certainly wasn’t going to buy a digital-only game on a console, so I was obligated to wait for both the initial PC portage, as well as a reasonable discount, which finally came during the Steam Summer Sale of 2021.

“WoFF” shows its true nature as a budget spinoff title in the fact that it was developed in Silicon Studio’s Orochi Engine – specifically the Orochi 3 Engine which is an all-in-one console devkit dating back to the 7th Generation. That said, “WoFF” does not look like a lazy effort, as the visuals are very stylish and eyecatching. However, the visuals are heavily divided between two different, conflicting art styles, which are actually written into the in-game lore. On one hand, ‘normal’ people in “WoFF” look, stylistically, very similar to Square-Enix’s Disney mashup series, ‘Kingdom Hearts,’ and are referred to a ‘Jiants’ internally. The vast majority of the game’s population, however, are super-deformed chibi characters referred to as ‘Liliputs’ internally, and who look like animated Funko-Pop vinyl figures. While these two art styles tend to clash horribly, the internal narrative justification just barely makes the chibis tolerable. Environments also tend to be overly small, but at least they all have a distinctive visual identity.

Audiowise, “WoFF” is quite good. The game is fully voiced, with performances coming from the typical stable of low-end anime dubbers, some of which are incredibly good, most of which are competent, and a few of which are… sub-par. Of course, none of the returning ‘Final Fantasy’ series characters who were in games with voiceacting are voiced by the original performers, which could be a problem for purists. The game’s soundtrack heavily employs remixes of classic ‘Final Fantasy’ series tunes, but also features a fair amount of new compositions, all of which are pleasant.

Technically, “WoFF” meets the bare minimum of quality expectations. I experienced a couple of crashes. Furthermore, Square-Enix (or perhaps we can lay the blame on Tose this time) seems completely baffled by the process of porting console games to PC. There are gobs of unnecessary pop-up messages when starting the game, there’s no quick way to quit the game when one is done playing, and the mouse cursor refuses to auto-hide itself. Furthermore, the save system locks each player to a single slot. At least the game supports Xinput natively and didn’t give me any guff using an Xbone controller.

“WoFF” takes place in a world called Grymoire, which is but one of innumerable “A”-Worlds, which were created by a god named Enna Kros. Our heroes are twin teenage siblings, Lann (the boy) and Reynn (the girl) who seem to live a mundane life in a fairly modern-looking city called Nine Wood Hills. However, one day while apparently late for his mundane part-time job at a coffee shop, Lann notices that there’s no one else in the city, except for a single customer – a silver-haired woman in a white lab coat. Reynn shows up at the coffee shop not long after Lann, noting the lack of populace, but also noticing a strange chibi fox creature wearing a bib that has taken up residence on top of Lann’s head.

The mysterious customer turns out to be none other than the enigmatic god of the world, Enna Kros, who expresses delight at the fact that the twins have finally ‘woken up.’ Without explaining anything to the twins about their current situation, and assuring them that their all-consuming amnesia will eventually go away, Enna Kros encourages the twins to employ the mysterious tattoos on their arms to venture into the world of Grymoire and begin capturing adorable versions of traditional ‘Final Fantasy’ monsters known as Mirages. She then buggers off and leaves the twins (and the player) to bumble along.

The twins and the player aren’t completely on their own, though, as the afore-mentioned fox-thing sitting on Lann’s head, whose name is Tama, serves as something of a Vergil, introducing the ins-and-outs of the “A”-Worlds. Tama isn’t alone, but further brings in the assistance of a cynical, emotionless pixie named Seraphie, who looks like a reject from ‘Animal Crossing.’

With these two ugly-cute characters as guides, the player is then thrust fully into the world of Grymoire, which is a mash-up of locations, events, and people drawn from a disparate variety of ‘Final Fantasy’ narratives, stitched together into a sensible composite fabric, and populated by living Funko-Pop figures of some of the series’ most popular characters. Yes, we’re unfortunately saddled with a cast stuffed with the characters that Square-Enix thinks are popular – Cloud, Squall, Tidus, Lightning. And while there are representatives from the BEST ‘Final Fantasy,’ it seems odd that Edgar would get in instead of Locke. Other top-tier ‘Final Fantasy’ titles either have no representatives, token representatives, or representatives who only appear as DLC/postgame content.

As a mashup game featuring content cherry-picked from across such a long-running series, it’s impressive that “WoFF” manages to create a world that does make sense and is internally consistent. It’s even more impressive that, as a game that starts off re-treading the story beats of older games, it manages to weave its own original narrative, focusing around the twins’ mysterious past and lost memories, into the mix, creating a final product that is actually an original, engaging tapestry of narrative. Really the only downside to the worldbuilding and plot in “WoFF” is the fact that a lot of the game’s more obscure bits of lore and backstory aren’t delivered organically, but are buried in a ‘Who’s Who’ book that the player can consult to read character profiles.

“WoFF” is just the right length for a classic turn-based RPG. Getting to the ‘bad’ ending takes about 40 hours, while getting the ‘good’ ending tacks about 10 more hours onto the experience. Tackling the post-game content will also add a good deal of hours, since it’s all high-level and will likely require the player to grind-out roughly 30 levels just to complete it.

“WoFF” is CLASSIC ‘Final Fantasy,’ and by ‘classic,’ I don’t mean ‘so painfully retro its archaic,’ but instead I mean that it draws from the best implementations of the series’ battle system: the Active Time Battle (ATB) system. The player is in control of both Lann and Reynn in combat, with each character and enemy occupying a spot on a gauge. These gauge icons rise to the top based on the character’s agility, and when at the top, the player (or enemy) is free to choose an action from a menu. “WoFF” by default includes new-fangled menus that are obviously inspired by mobile games, considering how stripped-down and useless they are, but a simple option toggle enables a classic-style menu with all the options a player could ever need.

Lann and Reynn don’t go into battle alone, though, as they are natural-born Mirage Keepers, allowing them to capture all of Grymiore’s monsters inside prisms in a process called… imprisming… yeah. Anyway, throughout the game, the twins can have 4 Mirages join them in battle at a given time… by forming stacks… on top of their heads. Yes, it’s weird and silly, and actually started out as a visual joke during the game’s development, but creating ‘Stacks,’ in combat is actually novel, as a given Stack will have the combined stats of the twin as well as the two Mirages in the stack, including spells and skills. Furthermore, if multiple creatures in the same Stack have similar or identical skills, those skills can combine to unlock more powerful versions or different skills altogether (e.g., stacking multiple characters that can cast Fire unlocks Firaga, while stacking a character who can cast Dark and a character who can cast Holy unlocks Flare). Stacks have a stability stat, and they can be knocked over by strings of powerful attacks… or unstacked at the player’s behest.

“WoFF” uses an AP system in place of an MP system. There really isn’t that much of a difference, though. Each character has 4 AP available to them, thus giving a full Stack a maximum of 12 AP. Using any spell or skill (but not basic attacks or items) consumes a varying amount of AP. Likewise, when a character’s (or Stack’s) turn comes up, they recover one or two AP. Combined with the series’ omnipresent Ethers to restore AP as a consumable item, and there are multiple layers of strategy and resource management in play.

Perhaps the best thing about “WoFF’s” gameplay, from a mechanical perspective, is the way in which Mirages level-up and improve. While the game has the standard RPG fare of ‘kill enemies, get experience, gain levels,’ when Mirages gain levels, they also gain a number of skill points, which can be spent to unlock both active and passive skills on a Mirage Board, which is remarkably similar to the Job Boards from “Final Fantasy 12.” While completely mastering a Mirage Board is time consuming and requires roughly level 70, following the right path through the board’s various nodes can allow the Mirage to gain access to Transfiguration forms, allowing it to ‘evolve’ (‘Pokemon’ style, not Darwin style) into a different Mirage altogether. Some of these Transfigurations share Mirage Boards with each other, allowing the Mirage to gain access to even more skills and passives, while others Transfigure the Mirage into one of its various pallet-swaps, effectively acting like the Job System in “Final Fantasy 3 and 5”. However, while those older ‘Final Fantasy’ titles typically used the Job System as a way to introduce endless grinding to players who wanted to min/max their characters, the Transfiguration system has some surprisingly excellent Quality of Life features. Specifically, when Transfiguring to a form that doesn’t share boards with its original form, a Mirage automatically gets an equal amount of skill points to spend, as though the player had been leveling it in its Transfigged form all along. Furthermore, while the twins can only have 4 Mirages actively battling alongside them at any given time, the player can actually carry 12 Mirages in the party at any given time, with inactive ones receiving a share of the experience earned in battle.

These mechanics all combine together to create exactly the type of experience I want out of a new ‘Final Fantasy’ release: Keep the good, add novely, keep things balanced, and minimize the tedium of grinding.

While the super-deformed Funko-Pop chibi characters might be an affront to the eyes and cause traditional ‘Final Fantasy’ players to shy away, they really just take a little bit of getting used to. Underneath the child-friendly façade of ugly-cute, there’s a very solid RPG with an engaging narrative and a fantastic battle system, which stands as the best ‘Final Fantasy’ game to be released since 2006.

Presentation: 3.5/5
Story: 4/5
Gameplay: 4.5/5
Overall (not an average): 4/5



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