Final Fantasy is a name that’s become synonymous with the JRPG genre; over the decades there have been dozens of mainline releases and spinoffs that iterate on the tried-and-true formula in unique ways. The latest entry in the numbered franchise—Final Fantasy XV—was a bit of a departure for the series, marking the first notable effort towards providing a true open world setting and mixing up the combat as a result. However, alongside the release of Final Fantasy XV came a smaller-scale game that aimed to celebrate the long lineage of the series in a more pure and back-to-basics approach, and now that game is being released on the Switch as World of Final Fantasy Maxima. Although it doesn’t necessarily wow in many aspects, World of Final Fantasy Maxima proves that Square Enix still understands the elements necessary for producing a captivating RPG.
The story follows Lann and Reynn, an amnesiac brother and sister who are told that they were once Mirage Keepers, fearsome warriors that are capable of commanding legions of Pokémon-like Mirages. After being brought to the land of Grymoire by a mysterious figure, the duo set out on a journey of self-rediscovery as they work to uncover their past and become involved in the conflicts between the inhabitants of Grymoire. As far as JRPG stories go, it’s a fairly cookie cutter and trope-laden journey that feels a little too safe in many places, yet it also does contain some legitimately thrilling surprises for those of you that can get past the often cringe-worthy writing. Things like a mirage named Tama that inserts a “the” into sentences at random or a very tired gag about Lann always being an idiot tend to wear on you as the hours drag on, but the world is well fleshed-out and earnest in its depiction.
World of Final Fantasy Maxima adapts the classic Final Fantasy ATB combat system, but at the centre of it lies a party management system that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Pokémon series. Each random encounter pits you against cutesy monsters called Mirages that must be weakened in some fashion so that you can ‘imprism’ them. This often requires you to simply lower their health to a sufficient degree but some Mirages have more interesting catch requirements attached to them, like requiring that you heal them or that you knock out all other Mirages on the field first.
Once you catch a Mirage, it can be equipped on either Lann or Reynn like a weapon, and each of them can have two load-outs depending on whether they’re in Lillikin or Jiant form. You can toggle between these forms at will; their Jiant forms are the pseudo-realistic ‘normal’ look and their Lillikin forms give them a squat, Funko Pop-like chibi look. Two mirages can be equipped on either form, and they stack either above or below your character in an adorable little tower depending on their size. This stacking mechanic goes further than simple aesthetic, as each unit in a stack shares from a pool that combines all skills, attacks, and stats.
This system adds in a surprising amount of strategy to something that initially seems to be quite simple, which helps to eliminate the feeling of grind that naturally sets in with randomized, turn-based battles. You can choose to fight unstacked and have more units acting overall, but they’ll be weaker and easier to knock out, while if you fight stacked, there’s a chance that you could be toppled by an enemy attack and have all affected units stunned for the next turn. Different enemies demand different strategies, which ensures that you not only explore everything that the stacking system has to offer, but that you also regularly mix up what Mirages you equip.
Every Mirage has an elemental attunement, which dictates the kinds of skills, magic and attacks that they have access to. Some are more prone towards offensive tactics while others are better used in a support role, and how you pair them up can have a huge impact on their overall effectiveness. For example, if you stack two Mirages that both have access to fire magic, you also get the option of casting the much more powerful Fira spell. As you level up a Mirage, you’re given points that can be spent on a skill grid to unlock new stat buffs and actions, and you can even evolve them into more powerful forms after hitting certain milestones.
Summons make a return as well, and this is where most of the fan service comes into play. Various characters from across the series’ lineage are made available throughout the course of the narrative as Champion Medals, of which you can equip three at a time. Usage of these medals is governed by a gauge that fills as you give and take damage, and once you’ve acquired the necessary stars to use a medal, that character is called into battle in an extremely flashy cutscene in which they use a massive attack or action. This honestly feels a bit like a bit of an afterthought, but having series luminaries like Squall, Tifa, Sephiroth or Lightning make a cameo appearance is still a cool addition.
This battle system has a considerable amount of potential, which is why it’s such a shame that the World of Final Fantasy Maxima seldom challenges you enough to push the limits of what’s possible with Mirages. Standard encounters can be defeated with just about whatever you’d care to equip, and though there are some notable difficulty spikes in boss encounters, there’s still very little in the way of challenge to be found in most of the forty-hour campaign. Not all will see this as a negative, and it's worth remembering this is a game that was specifically designed for younger audiences, but those of you looking for a dense and challenging RPG will find plenty of density, but not much challenge.
With that being said, World of Final Fantasy Maxima still offers up some side content that will push you a little more in building a well-optimized team. For example, the Coliseum is a side area unlocked a few hours into the campaign that allows you to engage in battles against pre-set teams of powerful Mirages, offering up the chance to catch some exclusive ones not found elsewhere and to acquire rare items and treasure. Being able to pick your battles from a list and build teams for specific fights adds some much-needed stakes and motivation to the otherwise breezy experience, and while it doesn’t entirely make up for the often mindless main story, it certainly takes the edge off. In addition to this, there’s also rare Mirage encounters to be found in special portals dotted around the world; not only do these often contain powerful boss fights against special Mirages that you can’t easily find, but they’re usually quite a few levels above where your current team.
Overall progression is nothing you haven’t seen before in classic Final Fantasy games, you spend the hours going to towns where you can meet NPCs, buy loot and pick up side quests and then move on to the next dungeon area, which contains several new Mirage encounters, a handful of environmental puzzles and a few treasures for those of you that like to go off the beaten path. So far, so similar, and though there’s nothing inherently wrong with this design, it does feel like a bit of a missed opportunity that Mirages aren’t integrated more into the world design. You can ride on the larger ones for faster travel and use them in isolated instances where progress is gated—like having a fire-attuned Mirage melt an ice block in your way—but these additions feel a bit surface-level for what could’ve been a much more dynamic experience.
Even so, the environments that you’ll find yourself traversing look utterly gorgeous in motion, even if the resolution hides this a bit behind blurriness. It’s clear Square went to great pains to make each area and dungeon visually distinct, and moments like crossing a vast, snow-laden valley beneath a bright sun or exploring a serene spring that glows with ethereal blue light are as memorable as they are beautiful to behold. However, it seems like World of Final Fantasy Maxima is being displayed in 720p (or perhaps even lower) when being played in either docked or handheld, which results in an image that tends to look blurry, like the whole game is being viewed through an unfocused lens. This is far more noticeable when playing docked, and though you do eventually come to get used to it, this low resolution has a notable effect on the otherwise beautiful visuals.
This being a celebratory game, the soundtrack features close to a hundred songs, with a good chunk of those being remixed tracks from previous games. In general, the music of World of Final Fantasy Maxima keeps to a much more lighthearted and cheery tone compared to some of the darker entries in the series, and though there isn’t anything particularly memorable about the soundtrack, longtime fans will no doubt be pleased at the number of masterful remixes that pop up frequently throughout the adventure.
As the ‘Maxima’ version of the game, there’s a little bit of extra content included to sweeten the deal and perhaps entice fans who already gave this a go on other platforms. The biggest feature is that Lann and Reynn can now transform into various heroes from past games after passing a certain point, which not only changes their looks, but their stats, skills, and background music as well; it effectively means that you can now play as characters like Noctis and Lightning. Aside from that, a handful of new Mirages have been thrown in, along with a neat fishing mini-game with Noctis. Though all these goodies are a welcome inclusion, these new features hardly justify the price of admission on their own if you’ve played the game before on other platforms; we’d recommend you pay a much smaller fee to download this content as DLC on whichever platform you currently own the game instead of paying full price to play the same thing on Switch.
World of Final Fantasy Maxima acts as a wonderful celebration of the Final Fantasy series that will surely appeal to fans both new and old. Though the difficulty is a little on the easy side, the story is uninspired and the visuals are disappointingly blurry, the Mirage-catching mechanics and well-crafted RPG systems make this one a good recommendation. If you loved the Final Fantasy games of days past, you’re sure to love this one, and if you’re new to the series or the JRPG genre in general, this is a great place to jump in; just don't expect anything too demanding.