Living Up to the Fantasy
The Final Fantasy series changed the way I saw video games forever – specifically Final Fantasy VI. Until I played Sqare Enix’s (then known as Squaresoft) massive RPG, games were just about jumping on the heads of my enemies and saving princesses. Well, that or decapitating my friends in Mortal Kombat. Until Final Fantasy, games were just a past time. They never quite resonated with me, or meant anything.
Final Fantasy introduced me to fantastical worlds full of heroes, villains, legendary monsters, and battles against Gods. Their deep stories full of twist, turns, salvation, and betrayals enraptured, not only me, but American gamers who weren’t used to substance in their games. Final Fantasy was a game changer for us as much as it was for Square. The series forever altered the landscape of gaming.
From its beginning days on NES Final Fantasy has inspired numerous imitators. Unsurprising given how the series is responsible for turning the fate of a floundering production company around. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that pie? But Final Fantasy had something these other games didn’t; Heart.
In the days of limited graphical capabilities, designers had to get much more creative with how the world looked and how its people expressed what was going on in it. Sweeping orchestral arrangements couldn’t be used, but composers like Nobuo Uematsu made magic with the limited sound board available for the consoles back then. It could be argued that these limitations forced deeper creativity.
Creators had to mine the deepest reaches of their minds to make these games. Final Fantasy VII was the beginning of the end as far as limitations go. Now, fully rendered 3D models could be used, live music could be recorded and accompany the game, detailed facial expressions were able convey emotions. Something was starting to disappear from Final Fantasy. Ask any gamer about their opinions of the series after Final Fantasy VII, the last universally praised FF, and you’ll get responses from every end of the spectrum.
The bottom line? In the seven games since the “greatest,” Final Fantasy has been inconsistent. Full of questionable design choices and listless characters, Final Fantasy was floundering. To many, Final Fantasy XV had to be stellar, gaming nirvana. It had to reinvent the wheel and simultaneously lay new track for the series to follow. It had to change everything we know about Final Fantasy while still being the series we grew up with. While it was doing all that, Final Fantasy XV also had another daunting task, bringing first timers into the fold. With the tag-line “A Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers,” Square Enix believed they had created just that.
Final Fantasy XV: No Surprises
Final Fantasy XV’s journey from conception to finally being a game we can all play, is a convoluted, ten year saga. One we’re all familiar with by now. No one knew what to expect, and after such a long time in development, gamers were justifiably concerned the game would be a mess. Recalling games like Duke Nukem Forever, gamers lamented on how long cycles of development could kill a game. Final Fantasy XV faced an uphill battle from the get, and Square Enix climbed that mountain with relentless hype and complete transparency.
If you’ve watched any of the pre-release interviews and gameplay videos, then you have seen the confidence Square Enix had in their baby. Unfortunately, aside from how the story plays out, you’ve also pretty much seen all this game has to offer. This was the one major disappointment I had while playing the game.
I knew how the game was going to start, four guys pushing a car in the desert. Every time I turned an unexplored corner, excited about what was on the other side, I was deflated by the fact that, “Oh, I’ve already seen this in that one video.” I’ll admit that this is all my fault. I felt something for this Final Fantasy that transcended hype. I couldn’t contain myself, and absorbed everything. Keep in mind however, I only watched official videos. I didn’t indulge in spoiler cast or other media.
The marketing blitz Square Enix went on with Final Fantasy XV ultimately destroyed the mystery behind the game. But, according to director Hajime Tabata it wasn’t about what was in the game, but rather how the player experienced it. Kotaku’s Jason Schreier asked Tabata if he thinks there were too many trailers, demos, and previews leading up to the games release. Here is his response:
“The big prerequisite for that is that, regardless of whether we’ve got surprises left in store, it’s that game experience that’s the important thing. Because what we’ve released has just been points throughout the game, you don’t get the feeling, and you don’t get the same idea of what it actually feels like to play the game, the open-world experience and the emotional resonance of that. That’s something that people can’t get unless they play the game. Having said that, we are very much working with all the marketing guys to keep back stuff so that we don’t give people impressions like ‘I’ve seen it all.'”
Final Fantasy XV: The Combat Experience
In some ways Tabata is right; FFXV is definitely something you have to play to understand. On the surface it’s combat looks a lot like that of Kingdom Hearts. Once you get your hands on a controller however, it becomes clear how much it differs.
For starters, and the biggest hurdle for me, was that you don’t have to tap the attack button, you just hold it, and instead flick the left stick in different directions to vary your attacks. For the first few hours, I was getting beat up pretty good because if you tap attack, it starts the combo over and you lose the window to evade enemies. Once I got into the groove, Noctis was zipping from enemy to warp-point and phasing out of danger in a flurry of particle effects.
While controlling Noctis, the other guys are left to their own devices. I wish I could say Gladio, Prompto, and Ignis were intelligent fighters, but they aren’t. Prompto would inexplicably run right into a cluster of Magitek Assassins and quickly fall to a flurry of blades. You have guns Prompto, and the least amount of health, what are you doing? I couldn’t rely on Ignis to scan every enemy with Libra leaving me to cycle out weapons and elements to find the weaknesses to exploit. Gladio often times just stood around, posing mid-fight, or taking so long to swing his sword he missed.
Despite the patches, and refinement to the game, combat in FFXV was also where I experienced many glitches. There were a number of times I was out in the wilds and enemies would approach. I’d pull out my weapon of choice the other guys would tell me to “Watch out!” or ask me “What’re you doing?!” “Hello,” I’d say, “See that herd of Garulas charging? That’s what I’m doing.” I would proceed to fight the baddies only to have my comrades freak out that I was warp-striking and swinging my massive Masamune. Gladio, Prompto, and Ignis were not only oblivious to the fact that I was fighting, but the monsters didn’t seem to want to hurt anyone but Noctis either.
Another battle glitch, and this happened a few times, was Noctis would just put up his weapon, turn-tail, and run. I wasn’t confused or inflicted with any other ailment, nor was I pressing buttons.One time Noctis didn’t stop for almost a whole half mile when he finally hit a mountain and just ran into it for a minute. If Noctis didn’t run, he would just put his sword up and refuse to pull it back out. Then there were the times when battles would initiate, stop, initiate, stop, then re-initiate before I could do anything.
The party could also use some sort of “Gambit” system like in FFXII. Too often did I find myself having to babysit. Hearing Ignis say “Gladio is looking pallid,” or “I think Prompto is poisoned,” grew very tiresome as I had 99 antidotes, and all someone had to do was pull it out and use it. But no, you’ll have to go into a menu and tell whomever is poisoned to use an antidote. It’s a little silly because Gladio keeps bringing up how Noctis needs them, yet without Noctis, all three of them would be dead because no one told them to cure the poison inflicted on them by a Killer Bee.
Magic in Final Fantasy XV is forgettable. The mixing mechanic appears deep on the surface, but spell variety isn’t there. You’re stuck with three elements, and despite being able to fuse them with any items you find, there are only a small handful of effects that really don’t offer much in the way of variety. I had magic stored in my flasks, but rarely did I use it in a way that seemed important. It was just a pretty explosion that also hurt my party because there is no way to tell them to move out of the way. When Noctis finally receives Regis’ ring, a couple more “spells” are added to your repertoire, but they’re never really needed.
Then there are the summons. During my entire play-through I never summoned anyone other than Rahmu. No matter where I was, or what situation I was in, he was the only one who showed up to aid me. Leviathan, Titan, and Shiva all made appearances when the story told them to, but I never saw any of them in open combat. Just Rahmu. This is after over 60 hours of play.
Ultimately, the combat is fun, when it’s firing on all cylinders that is. When it is working, combat feels fast, looks flashy, and offers a satisfying challenge. Some of the bosses and hunts require an extra layer of preparation such as, eating the right meal, equipping the right weapons and skills, and exploiting link-strikes. I never really dreaded a battle, and a lot of times I was seeking them out.
Final Fantasy XV: The World
Eos is huge. The sprawling map is full of things to do and see. The structure of Eos is coherent. Enemies fit into the environments they’ve been placed in. The buildings and people belong to the regions they represent, and Altissia is one of the most beautiful cities to grace a video game. In short, Eos is a world full of wonder you’ll be eager to explore.
From the desert near Hammerhead, to the forest surrounding Wiz Chocobo Post, and the ashen earth near the Rock of Ravatogh, the lands of Eos are varied and beautiful. Following side-quest and monster hunts will guarantee you’ll see every nook and cranny. Just make sure you unlock the ability to ride a Chocobo in Chapter 3 before you go on any long excursions.
Walking anywhere in Eos takes forever. Sometimes driving is just as bad. While it’s impressive that it takes almost 10 minutes to drive from Galdin Quay to Lestallum, after the second drive, you’ll want to fast travel, and fast traveling brings another flaw to the forefront: Loading times.
From title screen to being in the game, especially if your save is in Lucis, it can take over 3 minutes to actually get into the game. Fast traveling from one side of the map can also take this long. These loading time are difficult to understand given a game like The Witcher loads considerably faster both at the start and especially with fast travel. Then, at the end of every chapter it has to reload everything, this is very puzzling as often times the next chapter starts where the last one ended. It was really annoying in chapters 9-12. These were four short chapters book-ended by ridiculous loading times.
All in all, once it loads up, Eos is a fascinating place and I couldn’t wait to unravel all its secrets.
Final Fantasy XV: A Tale of Kings
The most important part of any RPG, one could argue, is its story. In this regard, Final Fantasy XV stumbles. Crucial back story and character development happen either off screen or in other media. Going into the game, Square Enix said it is possible to enjoy FFXV without watching Kingsglaive or Brotherhood. While this is certainly true, you will miss out on what makes the bond between these guys so strong which is highlighted in Brotherhood. You’ll also be stuck watching the battle for Insomnia and the death of Regis from the sidelines. I would highly reccommend these two gaidens as essential viewing prior to playing the game.
The story also consist of many plot holes. At some point characters leave for a long period of time and are completly different people when you see them again. Aranea Highwind is a good example of this. In one chapter you’re fighting to the death, then she is gone. A couple chapters later, she makes a vague reference to not liking how the empire is doing things and switches sides.
The biggest plot hole is Gladio’s. He leaves for a whole chapter to “take care of something,” and when he comes back he has new scars but doesn’t offer the slightest explanation as to where he’s been. This is supposed to be covered in the DLC, but it’s a bit jarring in the game when we’re told to just accept it.
The through-line of Final Fantasy XV is par for the course when it comes to JRPG story telling. Square Enix isn’t breaking new ground here in the least bit. A young boy is tasked with a world saving quest, he has no idea how deep it all goes, but when he embarks on a globe-trotting journey and finds himself, his perspective changes and he becomes the hero Eos needs him to be. Cookie cutter.
Square Enix had a real opportunity here to get into inter-kingdom warfare and politics, instead they rested on the laurels of standard JRPG story lines. Granted they work, but after so long in development one would imagine a very nuanced and deep story.
Even the bonds between the characters don’t come across all that well in the game. You’re just meant to take them for their words about how strong their friendship is.
When Lunafreya is killed in Altissia by Ardyn, I shrugged. You hardly see her at all throughout the game. According to the story it’s been over 10 years since her and Noctis have seen each other. They hadn’t actually shown her helping the people in anyway, save for one speech before she awakens Leviathan. When Ardyn stabs her and Noctis gets angry and begins to cry I found it hard to believe that’s how he really felt. They never expressed or showed the love they had for each other. The marriage also keeps bouncing back and forth from arranged for peace, to one of true love. Again, it’s a love that is never expressed in the game with more than empty words. Sure they knew each other when they were kids, but people change. There is no way they still, or really ever did, love each other on that level.
A good chunk of the story is saved for the last few chapters of the game. This leads to a deluge of information full of plot twist and revelations. Two things that would have also benefited from more back story. Prompto ends up being a “MT,” that’s what they call the Magitek soldiers. Ardyn ends up being the original King who absorbed all the daemons to save the world of Eos the first time. Noctis, it is discovered, will have to sacrifice himself to restore light to the world, but only after he spends a decade imprisoned in the Crystal. All this info is spilled out before you have time to digest the previous big reveal.
All these beats would have landed better if more story was present in the middle parts of the game. It feels like Square Enix just assumes all players have fully immersed themselves in every factoid about the lore of Final Fantasy XV. As someone who has religiously followed this games development for the whole time, I can tell you that even if you did watch and listen to everything, a lot of the plot still seems absent.
And now it seems Square Enix has realized this too. In recent post to their blog, Director Hajime Tabata as outlined some free updates coming to the game. Here is what he said:
Our early plans are to enrich certain aspects of the game, adding gameplay enhancements for Chapter 13, buffing ring magic, etc. We’ll have the specifics of what and when for you at a later date.
After that, we’re hoping to delve deeper into the story, adding scenes that will give you new insight into character motivations…
Does this mean that I’ll have to replay the entire game to see these added scenes that fill in the plot holes mentioned above? Hopefully not as the blog post also makes mention of a possible New Game+ mode.
The Final Verdict
Final Fantasy XV most certainly changes the mold when it comes to Final Fantasy. Genuinely fun combat, eye-widening graphics, and a fully realized world make it a game worth playing. New comers and long time fans will find a lot to like here. Ultimately the game is fun to play and will hold your attention for around the 20 plus hours it will take to do just the main story line.
However, I cannot say this game is perfect. While it is certainly the best Final Fantasy in a long while, there are too many flaws to ignore. Glitch-y combat, glaring plot holes, and underdeveloped characters detract from this otherwise well put together game. Hopefully the DLC, both free and paid, make up for this.
7.5/10 (Just Above Average)
Any of you geeks playing Final Fantasy XV? What do you think about it? Let us know what you love, or hate, about FFXV in the comments below.
*All images provided by Prompto*