It feels like only a few weeks ago the Everybody Plays team were knee-deep in frankfurters, saurkraut and an unusual number of people dressed in lederhosen for Germany's annual game-playing super show, Gamescom. Boasting hundreds of thousands of attendees each year, the more prepared journalists tend to make a hit list of games they absolutely "must see" - and World of Final Fantasy was right at the top of ours.
Ever since it was revealed at last year's E3 we've been looking forward to Square Enix's cutsey role-playing game a lot. A decidedly chibi spin-off on a more serious franchise, World of Final Fantasy mixes the best bits of Final Fantasy with the monster catching/battling/raising of Pokemon, to form an incredibly interesting mix. And it lets you put Chocobos on your head, too.
To fill you in on the story so far, World of Final Fantasy follows the tale of two twins who find themselves trapped in the world of Grymoire with a bout of role-playing game staple amnesia. With no idea where they've come from, or what they're doing there, the twins decide to do what any sane pair of kids would do, and lob a couple of chickens on their heads before venturing out into the big bad world, hoping to recover their memories along the way. By joining forces with the land's chibi monsters, and collecting, stacking and battling with them throughout the game, they hope to eventually uncover the truth about their past.
Our demo took place in a lush, pastel-coloured forest, likely a pretty early part of the game, based on our low starting level. Intended as a kind of "introductory" experience to get people into Final Fantasy proper, World of Final Fantasy is as cute, colourful, and accessible from the off as you'd hope. It also seems to be packed with neat - and often weird - touches.
While exploring, you can switch between the twins' leggier human forms and their bobble-headed 'chibi' forms at the touch of a button, while pressing up on the d-pad will let you ride around on the back of a cutesy Chocobo - something we made full use of exploring the winding dirt tracks.
Of course, this being a Final Fantasy game, we didn't have too long to spend wandering round until we were plonked straight into a battle. Promising to keep things simple, World of Final Fantasy sticks to the tried-and-tested Active Time Battle system that's been used in almost every Final Fantasy game so far (bar the upcoming FFXV, which uses hack spit real time battles instead). In practice, this means that each character takes it in turns to make their moves, attack, defend or cast spells, with the order determined by the speed at which their 'bar' fills up. Pausing each time your go comes around to give you plenty of time to work out your strategies, it all seems pretty easy to get your head round, all things considered - although we'll reserve full judgement until we've played a few more boss fights.
The crux of World of Final Fantasy's battle system, however, is what attracted us to the game in the first place - the ability to stack cutesy bobble-headed versions of the characters on top of each other. More than just a swish hat, the mixture of characters you stack actually affects each battle, as it determines which moves you'll have available (particularly in the case of elementally-charged spells), and the order of moves.
When stacked, your characters act as one single unit, taking advantage of their combined health and attack stats to deal greater damage - but while unstacked, you can take advantage of extra, faster charging turns to get in a crucial move. As your lonesome units have less health, there's a bit of a trade-off here, as should the enemy retaliate, you'll be for it, but it's undoubtedly something you'll need to experiment with for your first few hours with the game. While it does add an extra layer of strategy to the proceedings, we were mostly into the fact we could put a Chocobo on our head and look a bit daft.
Interesting though the battle system may be, it's just one part of what makes World of Final Fantasy so very exciting. The other, equally appealing part, is the fact you can catch, train, and battle with almost every monster you come across in game. Known as Mirages, there are oodles of beasties to be found, and by weakening the enemy Mirages in battle, you can throw the World of Final Fantasy equivalent of a Pokeball at it, and capture the Cactuar, Tonberry or whatever you're facing off against, adding it to your team for summoning or stacking at a later date. You can also give them nicknames too.
During our time with the demo, we'd recruited a baby Chocobo called Hans, and a Tonberry (essentially a green mole in a burlap sack) called Gunter, in keeping with the whole German Gamescom theme, adding them to our team to deliver some much needed firepower. We also spotted that these Mirages can go through a process called 'Metamorphosis', basically evolving into better and stronger allies, some of which appear to branch out into different forms, depending on the options you choose. Similar to that which we saw in Studio Ghibli-inspired role-playing game Ni No Kuni, we imagine these different metamorphoses will have different skills, stats and specialities, letting you tailor your team even further.
In fact, it was just as well we'd caught little Gunter, as we soon found our winding forest path blocked by a shadowy figure - a "powerful foe" the game warned us, before checking we were sure we were ready to take him on. "Heck yes" we said, and soon found ourselves face to face with a large, fiery guyette and her pet - a disgruntled looking owl thing and a Chocobo. Stacked on top of each other, the longer length of the boss fight introduced us to another of World of Final Fantasy's mechanics - that of unbalancing.
By repeatedly attacking enemies, you can make their stack of monsters increasingly unstable, before it eventually falls down, forcing your opponent to play with unstacked pieces for a few turns. On the surface, giving them three turns instead of one may seem like it puts you at a disadvantage, but au contraire - monsters are weaker when on their lonesome, so it let us pick off the fire dudette's minions one by one, reducing both the power of their subsequent stacked attacks and maximum health.
But what about Gunter, we hear you cry? Well, our newly-adopted Tonberry really came into his own in this battle, especially when we accidentally got our other mini-monster, the flying rabbity thing Tama, killed because 'healing potion' wasn't the kind of thing GCSE German taught you. When added to our stack, the Tonberry gave us access to a nifty water spell, which was just the thing to make short work of the fire boss we were facing. Dealing extra damage, and seemingly speeding up the toppling process, it let us get through the boss fight fairly unscathed, finishing up our time with the demo a little while before our Tonberry-less editor Ian, who'd been ahead up to that point because we'd taken the chest-filled scenic route through the level.
World of Final Fantasy is shaping up to be one heck of a cutesy role-playing adventure, and we can't wait to get our hands on it proper when it his the Playstation 4 and PS Vita next week, on the 28th October. But until then, why not get your chibi fix from the latest trailer below: