Those of you that know me well enough will know that I love myself some Final Fantasy. So much so that my Gamertag is fashioned on one of its characters. When Square Enix announced that a bundle of legacy Final Fantasy games, as well as World of Final Fantasy Maxima, were coming to Xbox One, I could hardly contain my excitement. Maxima leads the charge of these releases, with it being readily available as of last week. Though, unlike any of the mainline entries in the series, Maxima sets itself apart via its theme and its concept.
First and foremost, World of Final Fantasy Maxima is a fresh version of the PlayStation 4’s 2016 version. For the uninitiated, players take on the role of sibling protagonists Reynn and Lann, set within a fantastical backdrop that sees beloved characters from the series’ lore uniting under one adventure-heavy umbrella. The end result, although at times convoluted as far as its mechanics are concerned, makes for a pretty compelling and entertaining experience. I, as a long term fan of the franchise, can wholeheartedly say that I’m impressed.
The premise is relatively straightforward. Both Reynn and Lann have forgot who, and to a degree what, they once were. In a very Matrix-esque sort of fashion, both of these individuals have been living a normal life, unbeknownst to them that they were once a pair of almighty, powerful beings. Operating a coffee shop, the game opens up with a city that’s clearly devoid of life. In fact, it’s only Reynn and Lann that appear to occupy it. That is, until a mysterious wanderer turns up and fills them both in on exactly what they’re capable of.
Here, and throughout the first hour of two of play, the game does a good job at feeding you into the basics; combat, stacking, lore and so on. More on that shortly. Nevertheless, with the plot point firmly set, Reynn, Lann and their newfound companions set off on a magical journey to reclaim their powers and their understanding. This takes them to a world known as the fittingly titled Grymoire; a place that inhabits a dizzying amount of creatures and characters from past Final Fantasy games, all portrayed in a cutesy, Chibi-like design.
Admittedly, it can oftentimes be a bit too cute for its own good, chasing many of the more serious tones away, but it’s a design choice that I’ve come to love. There’s a Pokemon-esque vibe to Maxima, which took me aback to begin with. Reynn and Lann house the ability to capture the aforementioned creatures – known here as Mirages. This feeds into the previously alluded to battle and stacking system, which for the most part of play, is every bit as robust as it is intriguing. It helps that it’s very easy to understand, if tough-ish to tame.
Forgotten memories aside, Reynn and Lann are what’s known as Mirage Keepers, champions who capture and command creatures to keep order and peace. This feeds the core aspects of the game’s story and its gameplay, serving as the pillar of your adventure within. Despite the fact that it does become predictable and can come off as heavy fan service, I cant say that there was a moment in which I wasn’t having a heap of fun. That said, I would love nothing more than to feed sidekick Tama to a hungry Ochu, the annoying fiend.
Players meet Tama early on, a fox that for reasons unknown, sees it fit to slap the word “the” awkwardly into places it doesn’t fit. I cant understand why someone would think that this was in any way endearing, because if anything, it’s just irritating and annoying. That, alongside some of the game’s writing, pulls the dialogue down a fair bit. Nevertheless, Maxima’s meat rests entirely upon its novelty and its mechanics. There’s something understandably alluring about seeking out new Mirages and adding them to your roster.
That push to capture and train as many creatures as you can, to then cherry picking your own squad of varying elements and abilities, is as rewarding as it is unique. Thanks to how many Mirages have been stuffed into the game, it’s a concept that never seems to wear thin. With that in mind, you can only carry a select number of Mirages with you at any given time. Furthermore, you’re restricted to even fewer when in battle, so getting the balance of your team is an important factor as far as each Mirage’s capability and output is concerned.
The difficulty curve is quite lenient, and although there’s some encounters that can truly put your skills to the test, Maxima never feels too taxing nor too punishing. Understanding what each Mirage is able to achieve is key to your success. You’ll also need to know your enemy, and how exactly you can exploit their weaknesses to turn the tides of any given battle. Running alongside all of this is the level-up system and the advancing of your Mirage’s skills. Though, the general rule of thumb is, if you keep on top of these factors, you’ll go far, fast.
What’s particularly great about Maxima is that it’s very open and accessible, making it a worthy addition for newcomers and returning fans alike. Its systems are never difficult to understand, giving you plenty of breathing room as a result. I’ll say the same about the game’s combat, being that everything is well laid out and easy to follow. Stacking, for instance, is exactly that. You’ll need to stack your Mirages on top of one another; with the protagonists riding the larger creatures, or allowing smaller creatures to sit on their heads.
You don’t have to stack, and you’re free to utilize each character individually, but you’ll be missing out on combined traits and characteristics when not stacked. Sometimes this does come in useful, but for the most part, you’ll want to enjoy the benefits of your Mirages’ collective force. Like I said, finding the perfect team is a journey in itself, and something that very rarely grows tiresome. I especially enjoyed furthering the capabilities and skills of my Mirages, affording me more powers and abilities in the long-run, as well as their evolution.
Yes. You read that correctly, you can evolve your Mirages. Once you have put enough time and effort into leveling up and meeting the demands of a Mirage, you can evolve it. This can be a blessing and a curse, being that it alters the size of the Mirage and throws your stack out of whack, but affords you more power and skills. That said, you’re free to swap between forms on the fly, so again, it’s all a case of getting the right balance and using the most of your Mirages’ traits to aid you on your long and lengthy journey throughout.
Although both Reynn and Lann serve as a conduit to all of this power, they still have access to a growing pool of skills that they can tap into for added benefits. The bottom line in all of this is that Maxima has depth, but not at the sacrifice of fluidity and accessibility. It’s fair to assess Maxima as a game that’s fit for a wider target audience than that of its canon counterpart. Everything from the battle, capture and stacking systems, right up to the way in which you explore the game’s world and interact with its many characters, is top-notch.
It’s slick, it’s clever and it’s stylish. It doesn’t alienate any player, and on that merit, it makes it far too easy for me to recommend it. The crux of play sees you making your way across a wide range of locations, fulfilling quests, and dungeon diving. The dungeons here are well designed and well varied, oftentimes offering multiple pathways that will regularly lead to secrets and new areas. The Final Fantasy characters have a habit of popping up quite regularly, for reasons of their own and with distinct intentions that are not always clear cut.
I’m purposely being vague here, because much of this is content that fans would love to witness firsthand and indeed, unspoiled. The game’s puzzle elements feed well into the game’s stack and ability mechanics, as do they with the fact that Reynn and Lann can freely swap between their normal sizes and their Chibi-like sizes at the drop of a hat. I’m not going to say that the puzzles are all that hard to overcome, but they do indeed break up the pace and flow of combat. I can say the same about hero quests, adding more diversity throughout.
Whatever the case, you can rest safely knowing that, although not as bulky as a canon entry, Maxima is deep, endearing and engaging. You’ll embark on the adventure and will be constantly subject to new and exciting beats, meeting, battling and capturing Mirages every step of the way in a catch ’em all sort of vibe to get that perfect team and stack. There’s no shortage of side quests and popular Final Fantasy faces within, and although some of them are cameo-only, it’s exciting in a way that I can compare to the likes of Kingdom Hearts.
That’s not to mention the game’s Coliseum area, a place in which you can battle against a growing range of Mirages, all at varying levels of difficulty, for unique rewards. Rewards that will typically aid you elsewhere in obtaining more additions to your adventure, such as the ability to purchase more Champions to summon in battle. Outside of those unique rewards, you’ll also be gifted with general items that can otherwise be obtained from the game’s shop; a place that you can exchange hard earned Gil for those all important necessities.
It helps, of course, that the game is vibrant and stunning from the get-go. Each and every town, dungeon and location in between, although tight and linear, is well rendered with gorgeous animation that really pops the screen with color. I also have to commend the game for its well set soundtrack and, Tama aside, its decent voice acting. I doubt this game will be winning any awards any time soon, but if you’re in the market for a new kind of Final Fantasy, you really need to consider giving Maxima some thought and consideration.
I’ve plugged countless hours so far and I’m nowhere near finished. There’s a robust serving of content here (and end-game) that will see you entertained for a lengthy amount of time. It would nice to see Square Enix releasing more games in the “World of” series, because this is clearly a winning formula that could go to great distances, if realized correctly. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but in the meantime, Maxima is all that I (and you) need. Do yourselves a solid and be sure to treat yourselves to an early Christmas present. I insist.
Maxima is an accessible, welcome spin-off from the main series. The story is finely paced, the combat system is engaging, and the dungeon diving remains diverse and fun, but it’s its compelling Pokémon-esque structure that truly maintains its allure. There’s a few issues with its writing, specifically with a character that you cant avoid throughout the entirety of play, but that alone isn’t nearly enough to hold the game back from greatness.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.