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World of Final Fantasy’s Weird, Conflicting Harmony

With so many elements at odds with one another, this game still managed to stick with me after four years

Peter Cacek
Oct 17 · 6 min read

I rarely ever preorder a game. I’ve been burned before, having fallen prey in my younger years to the Gamestop clerk warnings that if I didn’t pre-order right then and there, I probably wouldn’t get a copy on release day. I have boxes of sub-par, mediocre, and downright awful games that I was swayed into pre-ordering based on a fancy screenshot or by being tied to a recognizable franchise.

I did, however, make one exception a few years back. Square Enix was making a spin-off from the original series that incorporated elements of having the player wandering an expansive world, capturing iconic monsters from the series, and fighting alongside them. Looking back, I believe it was the art style that swayed me. These cute, doll-like characters bouncing around in a brightly colored world, forcing hulking behemoths of destruction to do their bidding looked so out of place that I just had to see what this game was about. It would either be a fun, light-hearted romp or an incredibly weird experience. Either way, I was going to be there for it.

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Don’t ask, just accept it. Source: Square Enix.

The game sits in an odd spot with me. It’s been almost four years since I last played it, and I still can’t decide if I enjoyed it or not. There must have been some good there, based on how much I think about it. At the same time, the amount of times I rolled my eyes at the characters and dialogue threatened permanent optical damage. Yet, it still picks away at me. Since then, I’ve played glorious games that can be considered masterful works of art, games that have pulled at my heartstrings in marvelous ways, and hands down some of my favorite games of all time. But still, not even these gnaw at the back of my mind the same way does, with its baffling juxtaposition of art style, gameplay, and storyline.

From the outset, the game refuses to hold back with its weirdness. It starts by introducing its two main characters Reynn and Lann — the latter of which goes about thirty minutes without realizing that there’s a foxlike creature sitting on his head. They are told by a random stranger that their whole lives have been a lie and that their parents are dead, but none of that should matter because After that, they’re whisked away from their neo-French gothic hometown and are dropped in the middle of a beautiful field that looks like it was made out of paper before being told to just go have fun and wander the world.

During my first playthrough, the transition was so stark that I had to take a few minutes to adjust to the change in tone and setting. From there, the game just continued to throw out new concepts and just assumed I was going to keep up. My characters could grow and shrink at will. Every monster I captured had its own skill tree. They could evolve, de-evolve, and transform into unique variants whenever I wanted them to.

But the moment that asked the most from me was when I had to put a bird on my head.

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To be fair, the bird is actually pretty useful. Source: Square Enix.

That first scene with the fox-thing wasn’t just an opening gag, but rather a hint at one of the core mechanics of the game. Taking my monsters, I could create a group of six with which to go into battle. However, instead of controlling all six individually, I was supposed to create two groups of three, stacking them on top of each other from largest to smallest. While this might sound ridiculous in theory, in practice it gave the game’s combat an immense level of depth and control. This was the moment everything clicked. The game unfurled itself before me, and I began to understand the full scope of what I was playing.

But the moment that World of Final Fantasy asked the most from me was when I had to put a bird on my head.

knows exactly what it is, and refuses to take itself seriously. It has a lot of smart and interesting ideas, but decides to showcase those in increasingly weird and crazy ways. Groups are created by stacking monsters on each other, balancing the weaknesses of one with the strengths of another. It’s perfectly viable to face down an ancient demon of destruction with a team of baby animals, and win. The world is made up of a variety of unique areas to explore, but every person in the game comes up to the main character’s knees, and they lumber around tiny towns as giants. Meanwhile, the game just leans back and revels in the spectacle it has created.

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Baby Cloud shares his feelings in a dramatic scene. Source: Square Enix.

All the trappings of a game are there, but everything is dialed up to eleven. Every aspect of the game works to showcase all the iconic moments the series has to offer, but in weird and disjointed ways. Well known characters show up as tiny, distilled caricatures of themselves for a few minutes, before being shoved to the side for the next cameo. Some will join the group, though as special summons in a tongue-and-cheek turnabout from other games in the series. Memorable areas are shrunk down into bite-size morsels, offering a chance to relive cliff note versions of past games.

While this is happening, the story meanders all over the place, introducing new elements on a whim, adding villains out of nowhere, and switching beats between heartfelt drama and comedic pratfalls without so much as a warning. The emotional whiplash of the game is completely jarring, moving one way before changing direction completely, eventually leaving the player alone in a beautiful vista to collect themselves, explore the area, and build up their team. The story then picks back up in a new area, and the cycle begins all over again.

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Each area looks fantastic. Source: Square Enix.

And yet, it all just works. identity is based around not making sense, but asking the player to roll with it anyway. It was built on a solid foundation of ideas, and with such a strong pedigree behind it, the game was able to take some big leaps in seeing what it could get away with.

I was compelled to continue playing because I wanted to see what it would throw at me next. While it felt like the story drug on after a while, and the combat only ever got so interesting, there was always the promise of some new thing around the corner that was certain to leave me flabbergasted. That was enough to keep me engaged, and see it through to the end.

While I’ve played better games before and since, I can hardly say I’ve played anything quite like it. I might not play it again for a while, but I know that it will continue to stick with me, and how its weird story, design, and mechanics coalesced into something truly unique.

And if that isn’t the definition of art, I don’t know what is.


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