There's little other way to describe World of Final Fantasy than 'weird'. It almost seems like Square Enix want to position this game as an alternative to Final Fantasy XV. That long delayed, mega-budget next instalment in the main series is something of a gamble after all — an open-world adventure with real-time combat and hyper-realistic visuals, it represents a stark departure for the franchise.
World of Final Fantasy is instead a nostalgia bomb, a cutesy adventure where super-deformed versions of previous heroes and monsters join new characters Lann and Reynn as they travel through the world of Grymoire in search of their lost memories. It's a fitting framework, as the game's main trick is to spark moments of "Hey, I remember that!" in veteran players, even as it strives to provide a standalone adventure for newcomers.
Even the environmental structure of the game evokes the earliest entries, with fixed locations and specific paths through them. Thankfully, it's not linear — there's space to explore, and it's plenty easy to get lost in dungeons, but you'll be walking around defined areas, like the pre-rendered Midgar City of Final Fantasy VII or Final Fantasy IX's Alexandria.
You'll be doing a lot of battling while doing that walking too — WoFF has one of the highest encounter rates of any JRPG in years. Thankfully, combat is pretty swift and customisable to your preferences. Ostensibly turn based, you can switch between active time for speed or wait — where time freezes until you've decided your actions — for precision. A particularly nice touch is being able to flip between Kingdom Hearts-style one-button-per-action inputs in battle and full menus as with previous Final Fantasy games, giving you even more control over battle actions.
WoFF's main deviation from Final Fantasies of old is its 'Stacking' system in battle. Monsters — known as Mirages — can be captured in Prisms, Pokémon-style, and used in battle. Every partner creature is assigned a size (S, M, or L), and up to three can sit on each other's heads. Lann and Reynn themselves can switch between 'normal' (L) and 'chibi' (M) forms at will, allowing them to ride larger Mirages in their chibi forms.
The benefit is all attributes of stacked characters combine, boosting health or unlocking new abilities. Enemies can stack too, and certain skills can break stacks on either side, leading to a surprisingly deep and satisfyingly complex battle system, where greater combined power is balanced against more turns for weaker unstacked characters. With literally hundreds of Mirages to capture (or "Imprism" in the game's pun-heavy parlance), there's a staggering number of skills and combinations to experiment with.
That's where World of Final Fantasy excels: its unlikely depth and variety. Lann and Reynn's quest is ultimately forgettable, and overly cheery squeaky-voiced dialogue doesn't help endear us, but there's enough going on to keep most players' attention.