We've spoken before about our hype for stack 'em up, World of Final Fantasy, and now it's finally here. A cutesy spin-off of one of the most famous role-playing game series of all time, the game tells the tale of two twins, as they journey across the land in search of their lost memories, partaking in the land's most unusual pastime as they go. You see, in Grymoire, the locals think nothing of heading into battle with a tiny Chocobo on their head, or sitting atop an angry fire-beast, and this 'stacking' of you and your monster-y allies is key to victory. To celebrate the launch, we managed to sit down with the Director of World of Final Fantasy, Hiroki Chiba, to chat about the upcoming title, and get the low-down on this more unusual way of battling.
Can you tell us a little bit about how World of Final Fantasy came into being; where the idea came from?
It all began when producer Mr Hashimoto, who's also the producer of this game [World of Final Fantasy], came to Mr Chiba and mentioned to him that Final Fantasy is reaching it's 30th Anniversary soon. Our players have sort of grown up with the franchise, and people are beginning to become older. And we wanted to sort of introduce - or reintroduce - Final Fantasy to a younger audience, or to our children, to show them that there is such a franchise. So that's why we wanted to come up with a new IP - to introduce this realm to a younger audience. With that in mind, the designer of the smaller characters, the 'littlekin' characters, Mr Izumisawa, showed the team a couple of drawings he had done of these smaller 'chibi' characters, and Mr Chiba, as well as Mr Hashimoto and Mr Nomura, felt that we could make some sort of new Final Fantasy out of these characters. So that's how it came about. Despite the cute appearance, in terms of the gameplay, the story as well as the play experience we feel is comparable to a numbered Final Fantasy title.
It's interesting that this is designed to get a younger audience into Final Fantasy, with FFXV on the horizon. In the past, children may have grown up playing Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX, rather than a special Final Fantasy game designed just for them - what is it about today that means they may not be into Final Fantasy XV?
With any Final Fantasy title, we do strive for something that's constantly new, constantly being the latest in the forefront, and Final Fantasy XV is a representation of the pursuit of the latest and newest. It's one of the best ways we can depict the current generation of Final Fantasy.
But at the same time we also wanted to make sure that people knew about the traditional Final Fantasy days, the interesting elements of the older Final Fantasy games, as well as the ways we depicted the older titles to the people who have never touched a Final Fantasy franchise. We wanted to introduce them to the franchise and enjoy the gameplay, but taking a different direction to Final Fantasy XV.
Can you talk about the battle system at all? Was it important to go back to the more traditional turn-based battles as opposed to Final Fantasy XV's real-time? And can you talk a bit about the importance of stacking, which seems to be quite an important battle mechanic?
So, in terms of the battle system, yes - we are definitely trying to follow suit with the more traditional Final Fantasies. [World of Final Fantasy is] based on the Active Time Battle system (as found in Final Fantasy VII-X). But we did add that new mechanic, the stacking element, where you have the different monsters that you've been collecting in the game. These monsters are your allies and will fight with you in battle, and the different combinations of the monsters you stack gives you access to different moves depending on the monsters you include, as well as affecting your parameters and stats. So the players can go out and collect the different monsters and strategise, and make the different combinations their own - we think it's very interesting, and something people will enjoy delving into.
Going back to the whole ATB-based system, which players of the old Final Fantasy games might be familiar with, we do have two different modes available for the battles - the 'Wait' system and the 'Active' system. For 'Wait', when you have a command menu open, everything pauses and you get to take your time in selecting your next move, whereas 'Active' is where everything happens in real time, and the enemy might attack you before you've finished making your selection, giving it a much more action-oriented feel. You can actually toggle between the Wait and the Active modes with a simple press of a button, so it's totally up to the player how they want to play.
Is there an advantage at all to unstacking the characters?
When the characters are stacked together, they're considered as one, and so their actions are combined into one move. When you unstack, say you had three monsters in your hand, you can have them separated and then each of them can make their own attack - essentially, it allows for more moves in one turn. But at the same time, when everything is stacked, you are dealing one powerful blow at one time; it all depends on the situation, and the player would need to think strategically about whether or not to stack.
One particular advantage of unstacking is that, when you're all stacked, you're considered as one, so if your enemy casts a sudden death spell, everybody in the group dies at once. But if you're unstacked, it only affects the one monster, so you'll need to think carefully about the situation - do I want stacked, or unstacked?
One of the interesting bits about World of Final Fantasy is that you can summon characters from earlier Final Fantasy games to help you in battle. Could you talk a little bit about how it all works?
There are several different types of Summons in this game. First there's the little monsters, which we call Mirages, which can be collected and made into your allies. There's also some especially large ones you might have seen in the trailer - the Iron Giant, the Cerberus - those larger Mirages are called Mega Mirages, and they require both twins, Lann and Reynn, to be in their littlekin form in order to summon them at the same time.
Then there are the Final Fantasy Legend characters, from the previous Final Fantasy titles, who are summoned through a system where, as with the Limit Guage in Final Fantasy VII, a bar fills up, and once if reaches a certain point you're ready to summon a Final Fantasy character. It's interesting because in the previous Final Fantasy games, your characters - the heroes - would summon monsters, but in World of Final Fantasy it's the opposite, summoning the Final Fantasy characters as if they are your summon monsters.
Can you talk a little bit more about the Mirages? How many are there going to be, and are they all old Final Fantasy monsters, or are there some new ones too?
In terms of the numbers of Mirages, we have over two hundred for players to collect, and you will see many recognisable Final Fantasy monsters, Summons and even Magitek armour and machine type Mirages as well. Many familiar faces, and maybe some that people may have forgotten. And we also have many new Mirages that were created for World of Final Fantasy, so it's a good blend between old and new. Mr Izumisawa has redesigned all of the monsters so that they are appropriate to the world of World of Final Fantasy, so you have a blend of new surprises and a fresh feel, but at the same time, some nostalgia and things that remind you of the good old days.
Certain Mirages will help you in the field, too, so sometimes there will be an obstacle that requires a certain Mirage to help clear it. As you've seen in the trailer, maybe you need the thunder magic to activate some kind of electrical device. There are various gimmicks spread throughout the different dungeons in the game, and as you mentioned, there are certain areas where you may not have been able to pass the first time, but when you return with a certain Mirage, you'll be able to get through.
Is it fair to say that World of Final Fantasy is going to be something of a love letter to the previous Final Fantasy games, and can we expect there to be plenty of references to them in the game?
I think it's pretty safe to assume that. Mr Chiba, and the other development staff, all love Final Fantasy, and they have that sort of passion to relay that love for not only the franchise, but the characters, the stories and all the different games that have come out as well. We would love for the long time fans to enjoy the game, but we would also love for new players to come in; we'd love to introduce Final Fantasy to people who are not familiar with the series. We even have the original Final Fantasy I character, the Warrior of Light making his appearance! And so hopefully this serves as a sort of catalyst for our new players to wonder what Final Fantasy was like, and visit the older games as well.
Just to give you an idea of quite how much the development staff love Final Fantasy, one of the most popular characters is Yuna [from Final Fantasy X]. Everybody had their own vision of Yuna, and they would debate and discuss her - Yuna's supposed to be this way! No, Yuna's supposed to be that way! And that's the kind of environment World of Final Fantasy was created in.
World of Final Fantasy hits the Playstation 4 and Playstation Vita today. Why not check out the latest trailer below: