The opening screen of Final Fantasy XV says that this game is made for new and old fans alike. So like any other self respecting video game outlet, we did the right thing. We got the game reviewed twice, once by a Final Fantasy veteran and another a Final Fantasy newbee.
Almost a month after the game was released, Karan (longtime fan) and Ayush (newcomer) have a civilized discussion about the merits and demerits of Square’s latest opus and discuss what it did right and where it missed it’s marks.
Final Fantasy XV
Final Fantasy XV is an open world action role-playing video game developed and published by Square Enix for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The game released worldwide on November 29, 2016, and is the fifteenth main installment in the Final Fantasy series.
Final Fantasy XV takes place on the fictional world of Eos. All the world’s countries—bar the kingdom of Lucis—are under the dominion of the empire of Niflheim. Noctis Lucis Caelum, heir to the Lucian throne, goes on a quest to retake his homeland and its magical crystal after it is seized by Niflheim on the eve of peace negotiations between the two nations.
Now that the generics are out of the way, let’s get down to the specifics.
The Opening Sequence
As a newbie, I was told Final Fantasy is known for epic opening sequences. Final Fantasy XV however starts off with 4 friends pushing a car on a road in the middle of the desert with ‘Stand By Me’ playing in the background. Its subtle, it’s laid back and it sets the tone of the game. These are 4 teenagers, friends going on a road-trip. That’s the point I believe Square Enix wanted to put across and for me they did. As far as the epic opening sequence goes, I think one should watch King’s Glaive. I watched it out of sheer curiosity before I started the game, but the scale of the game can be easily ascertained from it. Which in my opinion makes this opening sequence even more well placed.
Look, there simply isn’t any beating Square Enix on production values. No one can deny that. The intro cutscene looks STUNNING and from there the flash-forward to the boys pushing the regalia on the empty desert with Florence + The Machine’s cover of “Stand by me” establishes that amazing charm that the series is known for from the outset. And to the game’s credit, it remains a visual tour-de-force till the end, even when it disintegrates into incomprehensibility in its latter half. Finishing every FF game always corresponds to what Roy Batty says to Deckard at the end of BLADE RUNNER: “ I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe”.
A reference from a movie you love, for a franchise you love. GOLDEN.
I thought the Wait Mode was a nuisance early in the game, and most of my battles were fought completely in Real Time. However as the game moved on, and the variety of enemies became diverse and so did the scale of the battle, I realized that the Wait meter is important to the battles. Battles can get hectic, and if you are not using the right weapons for each enemies, it is going to be difficult. The Wait meter not only let you analyze your opponents, it also lets you queue up your potions, look at your current condition and decide whether you want to invest in the Royal arms trade-off. I thought it was an interesting way to implement tactics, and still let the people who prefer quick combat follow their instincts.
What I did find wanting was the control over my other party members. Sure I could equip them with potions and equipments, and maybe carry out double team moves with them. But I still felt that I lacked control over them. Plus I honestly believed that Square Enix missed out on making it a true co-op experience. Agreed it would have been a Mario-Luigi relationship but it would have added a completely new aspect to the game.
I never used wait mode. Never once. Didn’t need too. The mostly real time combat (with mild group tactics) is never really actually that difficult ,nor is it too tedious. One nice thing Square Enix did was to introduce new types of enemies (Ronin etc.) and rely less on classic FF archetypes. Hell there is only ONE king Behemoth fight in the entire game during the main story near the end of the game. This keeps things fresh for series fans and encourages them to try out new tactics. And there is always a surplus of healing potions availible for any occasion, so the game never gets too difficult.
With that said, there are plenty of classic FF monsters in the game that can be discovered via hunts and players will be rewarded for putting the time and effort in them.
Plus there are the summons. The summons in this game are SO stunning, SO jaw dropping and SO grand scale, that even gamers jaded by the so called “next gen stagnation” will be amazed. The entire thing is a sight to behold (even though it’s not as diverse as previous FF games). So on that aspect alone, bravo to Square Enix.
As a longtime fan of the series, I can attest that Square Enix never, ever, skimps on world building and even the worst FF game by a large margin (which would be Final Fantasy 10) has an extensive amount of lore and design to it. It’s really quite impressive and speaks volumes to their efforts to ensure that the whole thing looks less like a game and more like an immersive world. And to their credit, they’ve ALWAYS succeeded. Even the polarizing FF 13 (which i love, don’t care about the haters) seems built from the ground up.
However, all the criticism this game is getting of being obtuse and incomprehensible in it’s second half is in my opinion valid. I’m not sure exactly what went wrong but after such careful and subtle world building during it’s open world sections, the game just completely breaks down when it goes linear in the second half (which is absurd, because it seems like the easier thing to pull off). The fact that Square itself is admitting to the fact by giving more story based DLC is kind of shocking as well. Clearly this game had an extremely troubled development and the cracks do show.
With that said, the story still delivers some classic FF powerful emotional moments. And the tale of Noctis and his 3 companions achieves a sense of poignancy towards the end. But other characters like Lunafreya and Ravus (amongst others) are given the complete shaft and it’s shocking. Some setups in the first half are NEVER payed off in the third. It was all kind of baffling. I pray all that story content pans out and delivers.
And I hope Square takes extra time to ensure the story of FF7 Remake does not miss it’s mark. They can’t afford to screw that one up as it’s one of the greatest stories ever told.
What I enjoy the most in Final Fantasy XV, is the juxtaposition. Of the serious with the corny. Of the funny with the dark. Of the fantastic with technology. The world of Final Fantasy XV is a world where magic and technology exists in tandem. One kingdom harnesses the power of a magical crystal while another has androids war machines. People drive cars from the Audi brand, and yet they use potions to buff themselves up.
I mean they know that there is a giant human being under that meteor and yet all of them including the news caster is completely OK with it.
The fact that none of this clashes with each other makes this world unique and allows for crazy antiques interspersed with intense battle sequences and cut scenes.
What I would like to say right off the bat is that Final Fantasy succeeds in world building where most others fail. Let’s take the car for example. The car needs absolutely minimal input from you, and in the beginning it can feel gimmicky. But soon, you start earning AP for long drives in the car (AP is used to improve your skills) and you are hence encouraged to drive from point A to B. What that allows the devs to do is put in dialogues which focus on the lore, develop the friendship between the 4 of the characters, and show off some of the world that they have created. You can obviously fast travel, but there is an incentive for immersing yourself into the lore, which I believe is clever game design.
Then there is the sharing aspect. Screenshot shot sharing has become an integral part of today’s video game culture, but Final Fantasy makes it a part of the gameplay. There are quests which need you to take photos of some of the important landmarks in the game. Prompto takes photos each day of the adventure, and each of these photos is ready to be shared across social media, earning APs and XP for you in the meantime. Again clever game design.
I love the car. It adds XP and gives the world a sense of scale. It’s hilarious every time Prompto asks for pictures during long rides , where I happily play FF9 and 13 music in the car. The camping mechanic for leveling up is extremely well realised (TAKE NOTE BETHEDSA) and makes traversing the open world less tedious and the selfies are charming and heartwarming. It genuinely IS a game that pushes open world mechanics forwards and tries to do something new with it, instead of just ripping of GTA’s structure. That Square makes it so seamless and effortless is a credit to their design team.
As I mentioned, the game never puts a foot wrong in it’s open world section. It’s when it goes linear that it loses a lot of it’s identity. Which is inexplicable. SO MUCH of it seemed chopped down, either due to design constraints or corporate interference (only time will tell) that it’s kind of jarring. For example : You obtain the Shiva summon without a boss battle or a setpiece. Bizarre.
There’s a lot of greatness in FFXV that there isn’t in many other RPG’s that I will give it points for. It’s so weird, expansive and awe inspiring, filled with so many great touches and never feels like a hackneyed AAA product (even the absurd Vivienne Westwood and Cup Noodles product placements are done in a tongue in cheek way)
I believe Final Fantasy XV got a lot of things right, especially in the first half. I was invested in the game, the fate of the world and the characters, which hasn’t been the case since the Witcher 3. The second half is a problem for sure, but production wise I think the game deserves a honest 4.
I just want to see Square’s full vision intact. Square got SO much right in the gameplay and world building department , that for the first time in years, I feel confident about the fact that they know what they’re doing. Let’s hope they get enough time and resources to realise their complete visions. The fact that I’m willing to wait for all the DLC to come out without feeling jaded or cynical says volumes about the wonderful time I had with the game.
I want to give it a 5 or a 4.5 as I had more fun with it than any other game this year. But it’s not complete, and I have to own up to that if I’m ever to have credibility, so a 3.5 it is.