Final Fantasy XV (2016)

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“I admire your willingness to put artistic integrity over marketability.”
-Hobbes, Calvin & Hobbes

 

 

It should probably be said that this review contains spoilers for a fairly new game. If that sort of thing bothers you, please be aware that I’ll discuss the minutiae of the storyline in the Narrative section of this post and I’ll only talk about the base premise of the game in other sections, including the body of text below.

Final Fantasy XV is the fifteenth installment in the acclaimed franchise that obviously peaked in its single digits. Anticipation reached an insane pitch for this game. Why not? It was under development for eight years. Everyone was expecting great things, more or less, but after all of the multimedia tie-ins and Platinum Demo, does Final Fantasy XV hold up as the paramount RPG we all wanted?

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Everything you’ve come to love and respect about Final Fantasy is here, like patronizingly easy quick time events, a tiny storyline with missing details, billions of boring fetch quests, unending loading screens, unresponsive NPCs, zero character development, a bloated open-world setting, a stamina bar, a painstakingly linear third act, and stealth mode. I’m being sarcastic, of course. Nobody expects these things from a Final Fantasy game. Nobody asked for these things from a Final Fantasy game. But my apprehension is that this is going to increasingly define this series as it continues on into the future.

Now of course it is true that any work should be judged on its own merits and not on the basis of its peers or its franchise context. That could be argued and I can agree with that to an extent, but this is one of the longest running and most beloved RPG series of all time so it’s easy to see why this fifteenth mainline title would be so often contrasted against the hits of the past.

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The game opens with four friends travelling through the desert. It seems their car, the Regalia, has broken down so they’re forced to get out and push it. There’s a bit of banter between them to give us an idea of their personalities. The screen pans up as a cover of “Stand by Me” plays through the hot air and the title of the game crystallizes the fears in my heart: Final Fantasy XV. I remember saying “Please don’t let slowly pushing a car down the road be characteristic of this entire game!”

Yet I think that’s the perfect way to explain this visually beautiful but cumbersome and disjointed game. How silly is that, anyway? Their home city was still in sight. They could’ve went back for gas. Send Prompto. He runs fast. Or better yet, they have cellphones. Why not call for AAA? Heck the very next outpost has its own resident tow service…

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The angle of its story is focused on a road-trip style adventure with your best buds. However, even though they’re friends, they’v got a job to do. Noctis Lucis Caelum, prince of the Crown City of Insomnia, is betrothed to Lady Lunafreya Nox Fleuret of Tenebrae and he is journeying to wed her at Altissia. Their union is to be a symbol of political unification between the Niflheim Empire and Insomnia.

I’d hesitate to call the four friends a royal procession, as four dudes in black leather listening to rock music in a convertible is pretty low key. Noctis is accompanied by three friends and guardians, Gladiolus Amicitia, Ignis Scientia, and Prompto Argentum. Gladio is a beefy macho man wielding a greatsword. Ignis is a watchful father figure with some bomb cooking skills. Prompto is an energetic youth with an eye for photography.

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Before the four lies a vast Americana world of deserts, mountains, hillsides, and shorelines. It seems absolutely massive right at the beginning. I’d admit that I felt a little disappointed that I was transported to a place right at the beginning of the game which looks exactly like the place where I live. That desert perfectly resembles a few towns nearby my own here in Southern California. Travelling through the game, I was like “well that’s Mojave and that’s Big Bear and that’s Temecula…”.

This huge open-world is filled with outposts where you can rest up, purchase some items, take on sidequests, and eat some food. There are also campsites scattered through the wilderness to cook up a meal and get some sleep. Time passes through the world from night to day so resting will take you to the next morning.

The world is so huge that you’ll need to really rely on riding the Regalia. There are also Chocobos! It’s a Final Fantasy game after all!

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Beyond these safe havens are fields and forests full of monsters. One of the elements in Final Fantasy XV which really shines is the battle system. It is action-packed yet simple to learn. Not everything in it is perfect. Sometimes you can literally just hold down a single button to win a fight and the magic system is lackluster (more on that below) but I played for many hours and the battles didn’t become totally uninteresting. Upon winning a fight you’ll be graded for things like speed and finesse, so there’s that measure of trying to do your best to mix things up.

The leather-clad quartet do not get far on their journey before bad news reaches them. The events of Kingsglaive occur and the city of Insomnia is overthrown by the Empire and Noctis’ father King Regis is killed. This is a turning point in the direction of the game. Or at least it ought to be.

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Yes, there is a general sense of gravity which invades the pampered, self-centered and carefree world of Noctis and his pals after his father’s death. However, what the game does next is indicative of its many problems. Because of the nature of its open-world and quest-heavy gameplay, any narrative tension and drive of the plot is removed as you find yourself irresistibly drawn to exploring, fishing, catching frogs, finding dogtags, gathering herbs, and bounty hunting. So rather than get a real reaction from Noctis over his loss, the game sidelines you into driving around aimlessly.

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One of the things which does maintain a semblance of focus through the game is the hunting for the royal arms. These are ancient weapons used by the kings of the past which Noctis alone can use. He’ll need all the strength he can get to take back his kingdom as the true and righteous heir and take his vengeance against the Empire.

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The premise isn’t bad. It’s the execution of this story (which is surprisingly short) where the problem lies. In a recent interview, director Hajime Tabata had this to say in defense of his game:

“It was for the players to experience the story through Noctis’ eyes.The world and the events that Noctis sees are merely things that are seen through his eyes. We didn’t want to create a comprehensive and perfectly balanced story in this game. Instead, we placed importance on the main characters and for the player and Noctis to share the same experience when we tell the story. It’s not that we decreased the role of the side characters. Focusing on many characters in the game means that the allocation given to the main characters will decrease. Instead of creating a comprehensive and perfectly balanced story, we placed greater importance on the four main characters and strived to depict a world seen from their perspective.

Based on calculations that the development time and cost would double if the latter half of the game was to be an open-world environment as well, we had already planned to make the latter half more of a journey by vehicle. The structure of this title – to create memories while traveling in the open-world environment during the first half of the game, then have the story move forward linearly using the train in the latter half of the game – was designed and intended to be that way.”

With all due respect… that’s a bunch of BS (Bologna Sausage). Not only has Square consistently released games through the decades that did not sacrifice main character development for the inclusion of minor or supporting characters, so that’s a fantasy, but on top of that they had ten years to develop this game. Yeah, FFXV began development for the PS3 as a spin-off called Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Is a decade not long enough to craft a good story and characters, even for open-world?

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Square’s Final Fantasy XV development team.

Fact is, the developers at Square used to know how to make good games. Not ones which were too linear or too open-world, but a balance. They used to make games that had a huge cast that didn’t take away from their main characters. The trouble is here they say they didn’t go for a balanced comprehensive storyline so they could focus on the main characters, but what do we even get for the main characters?

Noctis shows one of two emotions the whole game: angry or sad. Oh, there’s whiny, too. Is that an emotion? He barely reacts to his father’s death because of the demands of the gameplay structure. I’ve heard it said that Final Fantasy XV is about friendship, but what do we even get from running around with this group of friends? One liners, puns and snarky remarks with a tiny Trump-sized handful of scenes where they have any meaningful interaction with each other.

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Noctis admission of affection for his friends is, get this, a post-credits scene. Someone could say Noct has suffered so much he puts up this facade or whatever it is you want to do to excuse his blandness, but he’s just a flat character and he came off to me as a spoiled brat the entire game until the last two minutes.

Also, Gladio disappears from the party for no explicable reason. Do I search the DLC or the multimedia to find out what happened? And Ignis is such a Mary Sue they had to blind him to give him a fault, unless we’re to think of him as a three-dimensional character because he nags and babies Noctis all the time. Prompto is just there for what, comedic relief? It’s not like things were ever terribly heavy in this game, anyway. There is one scene early on where Prompto has a heart to heart with Noctis but it’s painfully worded and interrupted by Noct’s player-selected responses, and is ultimately forgettable because Prompto never acts like he’s grown any closer to Noctis than he was before their “get this off my chest” chat.

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100+ hours in this game and I can’t even name all these characters.

With the emphasis (supposedly) on these main characters, we’re left with a huge game that feels empty for lack of personalities. There’s Gladio’s kawaii sister, the hardened soldier from Insomnia, the rugged old Cid, a set of southern-drawling NPCs, a few high-ranking baddies in the Empire you never see more than once or twice (Seriously, Ravus? Why is he even in this game?), and of course… Cindy, a walking stereotype, scantily-clad sex object, anti-empowering, girl-mechanic cliché. Ugh.

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“Mah eyes are up here, partner… ah nevermind. I mean, I didn’t put this on accidentally…”

Please don’t say: “Ooh, she’s useful because she fixes cars. That makes her a good character.” Yeah, I’m sure that’s the most memorable thing about her, right? She does absolutely nothing to combat the slander that all females in gaming are terribly over-sexualized. There aren’t enough feminists in the world to denounce Cindy. She currently bears the title of “The Well-Red Mage’s least favorite character in all of Final Fantasy”.

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I guess they figured with all these loading screens they could at least get some world building in.

So with flat main characters and sparse supporting ones, I would like this question answered: how were these four characters any more developed or any better fleshed out than previous FF characters, considering the developers apparently sacrificed any solid supporting cast and a linear, unsatisfying conclusion just for them, for chit-chatty, one-liners and clichés?

And my goodness are these four friends chatty. They’re constantly jabbing but never having conversations. It’s bizarre. I mean, at one point one of them even says, “Well I’m all talked out.” That made for a good laugh but the storytelling in FFXV actually undermines the central theme of friendship that’s supposed to resonate with you. This is a road trip? The most enjoyable things about a road trip are spending time with your friends and learning more about them, and having new experiences such as not looking for dogtags the entire time.

This was the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip I was reminded of after completing Final Fantasy XV:

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I won’t pretend to know what all goes into gaming development, but I have played a lot of games and I know what works and what doesn’t at the very least for me. I think what happened with FFXV was it was fed to the monster of marketability. Because of how popular some of its predecessors were (you’d be hard pressed to find a gamer who didn’t know who Sephiroth or Cloud are), I believe that FFXV gave itself to the most popular trends of our day, to cash in on multimedia tie-ins, resulting in a DLC “fill in the blanks”, quest-heavy open-world game with “cool factor” characters. Rather than tell the story for the sake of telling a good story, the story serves the marketability.

Calvin said “soulless banality” and that’s a little extreme but not too far from the truth of FFXV. Were we asking for “the torment of existence weighed against the horror of nonbeing”? Well, no. But nobody wanted banality, either.

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Now I get that this was an (over)reaction and (over)compensation to FFXIII’s fan backlash. Many like myself thought that FFXIII was too linear yet in retrospect it had a lot better character development than FFXV does. There, you got to see a range of emotions and a story arch that took the characters through those emotional hardships. In this fifteenth game, moments like that were few and far between.

Another comparison could be made between the richness of these worlds. FFXIII had a world I could understand with its mythos of the Fal’Cie and all that, but in FFXV I could barely understand where everything was and who everybody is and what the local legends were. That’s undoubtedly because there are next to zero NPCs that you can interact with and learn info from. Strangely the massive open-world of FFXV seems small and empty because all of the world building occurs either in the multimedia tie ins or from listening to scattered radio broadcasts and reading pamphlets and magazines in the game.

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What Final Fantasy XV does well, it does really well. The scenery is gorgeous and the high-pace battles are fun (if a little uninteresting). The gameplay in these terms is fun and I even warmed up to having to drive the Regalia around the world, though being able to teleport to it felt like cheating to me. Oh yeah, and they ruined the airship. How do you ruin one of the most wonderful classic elements of Final Fantasy, the airship? Save before flying it, that’s all I can say.

So while FFXV‘s strengths are excellent, it’s failures are glaring, even blinding. It is, in my estimation a less enchanting, less captivating, and less majestic Final Fantasy than many of its predecessors (beyond merely visually). I’m sorry but it’s almost impossible to make that comparison. Will this latest entry in the acclaimed RPG franchise hold up with the test of time? Can all the DLC in the world finally flesh out a hollow universe? Only time will tell but this writer is dubious of such a claim.

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Doesn’t this moment look awesome? It’s not in the game.

 

 

The 8-bit Review
visual Visuals:
 10/10
Should we expect any less? The day the newest numerical Final Fantasy installment fails to visually mesmerize is the day that Meteor comes down and smashes our hurtling ball of space rock to bits. So no worries. Doomsday has been averted. Final Fantasy XV is every bit as glorious to the eye as the trailers, the demo, and the movie made it out to be.

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We have not yet reached the event horizon where cutscene graphics and in-game graphics are identical, but FFXV takes us pretty close. Where this distinction is almost indistinguishable is in the backgrounds. They were one of the things prior to the release of the final game which won me over, ever since I first watched that environment trailer. I’d be picking nits to point out that some of the tiled textures are fairly obvious because everything else about the backgrounds are phenomenally presented. There’s a great degree of variation in the landscape as well with ruins, cities, chasms, forests, mountains, volcanoes. Pretty much any natural formation you can think of you can probably seek out somewhere in this lush and detailed world.

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This game is a screenshooting paradise. Prompto’s photography (though sometimes awkward) plays right into this. You can tell that the developers were really pushing for this open-world to be a major feature in this game and Prompto is constantly snapping pics of everything, which you can then view when resting for the night. The constant shift of the natural lightning is pretty great, too. It almost makes up for Prompto sounding like Chuck E. Cheese when he says “Love the lighting!”

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Milquetoast characters may be the only lacking visual in the game. Noctis and his friends may look cool dressed in black but it’s somewhat boring. Many scenes feature some great lip-syncing with the dialogue but there are scenes interspersed which are terrible in this department and the contrast is jarring.

All in all, though, no one could complain about the graphics of FFXV.

audio Audio: 6/10

Music was one area where I didn’t have high hopes, certainly not as high as I did for the graphics. After Nobuo Uematsu’s departure from the series, I’ve watched the quality and memorability of the franchise’s music slowly decline, in my opinion. Things took a turn for the noise-y and atmospheric in Final Fantasy XII, then cut a sharp left toward J-rock and punk riffs in Final Fantasy XIII, so that by the time we get to FFXV we’ve got an unfortunate tradition of uncharacteristic music established.

When I first heard the title screen music, “Somnus”, I thought I might be in for something special. It’s somewhat meandering and certainly less melodic than past Final Fantasy themes, but it would work, so far as I was concerned. It was emotional, moody, and classical influenced so it won my heart.

They even managed to arrange a few of the traditional melodies like “Prelude”, which has been around since the very first game. It’s not in your face but it’s a nice homage none the less, played over the main menu screen.

So imagine my… well I was going to say “horror” but that’s too strong of a word. “Disappointment” is probably better. The very first outpost you reach is a trucker’s gas station slash American diner slash seven-eleven slash slut garage, and this warbling organ music strikes you as immediately different. Yet, this track grew on me. I could actually recall its melody to mind. I was like “Okay, what else you got, XV?” The answer was: “Not much else.”

To be clear, I think this track “Valse di Fantastica” is beautiful. It feels like a Final Fantasy song. Unfortunately, you’ll hear it so often because in this game where you could easily spend over a hundred hours running around the wilderness, there are only a few tracks that play in that wilderness and this is one of them. So while it’s beautiful and memorable, its brief tune will get really repetitive. Note that that track is only one minute and some change. That’s little more than a jangle. I would’ve loved to see this “Valse” theme develop and mature as the game goes on, rather than become an enchanting bore.

And then there’s the bossa nova elevator music. You know, the kind you hear stuck on repeat at your favorite internet café. This and the gravelly rock music dominate the rest of this game’s musical atmosphere. That’s unfortunate because it is really very forgettable, placing style over content. Camp is meant to be relaxing so here’s a style of music that’s relaxing, rather than here’s a song which evokes relaxation which just so happens to play during camping. They got it backward.

This last track I’m sharing with you is probably the best example of a non-melodic noise that’s simply meant to fill up space rather than… do anything else? I mean it sounds like it never ends. It never reaches a crescendo or builds toward anything. It’s like it is just meant to be heard indefinitely, which it is since as soon as you leave the area it morphs into the next ambient track. For such a massive game there isn’t really much variety musically, either.

If music like this is the direction this series is taking, then I’m just about checked out.

 

gameplay Gameplay: 9/10
A couple things I want to touch on here to flesh out what makes Final Fantasy XV tick. Battles play out like a simplified version of the action-RPG sensibilities of Final Fantasy XII. You control Noctis and only Noctis. Your three friends are AI-controlled and will constantly get themselves killed or get in the way. There’s no means of commanding them such as with gambits other than issuing them direct orders for a special attack. Occasionally they will execute a link-strike with Noctis for additional damage.

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You do have a slight bit of customization available to you in the form of the Ascension grid, which is very much like the Sphere Grid from FFX and the License Board from FFXIIYou can spend AP, which is earned through various means, to purchase new combat, teamwork, and environmental abilities as well as statistical upgrades and character enhancements. Purchasing these is crucial to keeping the game from boiling down into a slugfest. Customize your friends’ special attacks for better strategy and fuel some of Noctis’ maneuverability and his armiger (think omnislash but longer and interactive).

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Each party member has their own unique skill: fishing, survival, cooking, and photography.

Noctis can equip up to four weapons (including spells) at once and there are a variety to choose from. Not only are there greatswords, guns, spears, swords, and machinery you can equip but there are also the royal arms, unique armaments gathered from the royal Lucian tombs across the world. These are often the most powerful weapons you can find but they drain Noctis’ health when connecting with an enemy.

Noctis also has his characteristic warp strike, giving you a lot of agility to play around with. Personally, I think the warp strike is something which makes these battles feel unique and fast paced.

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Fighting gigantic monsters may seem like fun but a lot of the enemy hit boxes are so out of place, they might as well not exist. That’s hyperbole, by the way.

The magic system is clumsy, at best. I hated the idea of lobbing spells like grenades in the Platinum Demo and I still hate it here. It slows down the whole flow of the battle to have to stand still and aim where you want to throw your spell. You could just press the button to toss it quickly but its a risk you could accidentally hurl it at an enemy you didn’t exactly wish to target.

Then there’s the way in which you gain your spells. You have to absorb the magical energy from nodes on the world map, usually surrounding campsites. You can also gather some of the same energy from slaying enemies with your absorption-specific weaponry. Then, once you’ve got enough energy, you have to manually combine it, with the option of mixing in items, to craft a set of spells that you can then equip to your characters. Seeing as there are only three elemental nodes in the game, you have to use some rare items to unlock things like Healcast or Stopcast, or even Flare, otherwise you’re just stuck with the variations of Fire, Ice, and Lightning. Where’s Protect and Wall? Where’s Meteo, Ultima, Water, Aero, Quake, Demi, Haste, Slow, not to mention Blue Magic? The system is tedious at best and limited at worst, like several other things in the game, boring. At least you can craft some overpowered AOE spells quite early on.

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This game is heavy on the quests. Sidequests occupy, what? Like 80% of what this game has to offer. Of the sidequests, monster hunting is my favorite. Most everything else is “go to this farm and get me my beans” or “go take a picture of this rock” or “go high five some dude on the other side of the world map, even though you were just there”. The sheer wealth of sidequests is alone impressive. If you’re looking for a game with tons of stuff to do, look no further, but I could wish that most of the sidequests weren’t such mundane errands.

Anyway, monster hunting. You sign up for these hunts at outposts and then venture off into the wild to find these destructive creatures. They provide some real challenge. Heck, a handful of them are definitely harder than the last boss! Also, what a fun opportunity to sneak in some classic Final Fantasy baddies like Cactuar, Tonberry and Behemoth, here rendered in all of their classic glory.

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Oh and we can’t forget about the summons! Encountering the Astrals, the Six, occupies the middle of the story for some reason until the narrative decides to forget about them. However, once you face these colossal deities you can summon them in battle. All four of them. Yay. Summoning looks a lot like it did in the early games in the franchise, where the thing comes out and does its magic then splits, only now there are certain criteria which must be met before you can perform the summon. This just makes it unreliable. But man, those attack animations are sick!

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story Narrative: 4/10
The time has come, the red mage said, to talk of other things: of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of spoilers and Lucian kings! Yep, that’s all you get. Take it as a SPOILER warning. If you want to avoid them, Ctrl+F Accessibility, because I plan to dig deep here, bro.

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Here’s what worked for me and here’s what didn’t. Unfortunately the former is seriously outnumbered by the latter.

Clearly one of the big themes of the game is friendship and there are some moments where they pulled off a real sense of camaraderie. Ignis losing his sight, Prompto being lost, Gladio chewing Noctis out… these were all dramatic moments that made the characters feel real. They all happen pretty much at the end of the game, but they’re there nonetheless.

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However they really dropped the ball when Noctis has this emotional resurrection after being absent for ten years (at least the music and setting made it feel emotional) and all he can say is “Hey”. Yeah, there’s a powerful after credits scene and right there I get he’s that kind of a character who doesn’t express their feelings all the time and comes off as muted and emotionless like Cloud or Squall, but there’s no emotional reunion at all after ten years? Dropped ball.

If you wanted to show me the bond between these dudes, then show it to me. Don’t just force me to watch them whittle snarky comments at each other and waste time.

An element which worked for me was Ardyn Izunia, the main antagonist of the story. It’s obvious he’s the main villain as the game consistently throws away all of the tough-looking imperial characters, one after another.

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As it turns out, Ardyn’s immortal and has a long history with the kings of Lucis. He explains his entire background in a single paragraph late-game. He orchestrates pretty much everything in the game, which is totally and delectably contradicted by his aloof and sleazy demeanor. He’s easy to dismiss early in the story until it becomes clear that he’s playing Noctis the whole time. However, his act of revenge would’ve been much more potent if there had been more time to take in his whole master plan to power up Noct to crush a true king and everything he had done to throw the world into ruin. As it stands, the ending came abruptly rather than steadily and the joy of victory isn’t fully earned. There’s no gravity.

I can sum this up in a single scene when Noctis and friends confront Ardyn in the Insomnian throne room, right at the end. The sicko has got the bodies of Noctis’ father, of Luna and Ravus her brother hung up around the throne by chains. How gruesome to see your own father and your betrothed’s corpses so mistreated, and yet there isn’t any acknowledgement from anyone about it. Not from the good guys or the bad guy. They’re just there and then they disappear.

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In short, Ardyn was a cool concept for a FF villain. An immortal, vindictive, charming, smooth sin-eater who fell from grace and was ostracized but he could’ve stood to be much more fleshed out like everybody else in this game. It would have been great to discover more about his backstory through exploring this world rather than just being told his tale in 30-seconds out of the mouth of the man himself. He had enough charisma to be a special and unique FF villain but he was thrown away. Even his final duel with Noctis was a let down. It amounted to me just holding down the attack button and watching the two men fly around the city. Why not just make the final fight a cutscene and save me the energy of holding the controller?

And no final form? What is this, Square?!

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Speaking of fleshing things out, it was not a good idea to trust the storyline, more specifically the world-building, to so much multimedia tie-ins beyond the game itself. I’ll go further than that and say it was a mistake to set up the game this way. I happened to see Kingsglaive but I didn’t see, and don’t plan to see, the anime, the trading cards, the blog entry, the press conference, or where ever else Square Enix tucked narrative away beyond the scope of the game.

Playing Final Fantasy XV felt like the season finale for a TV series I’d only seen a few minutes of.

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Here are two moments in the story which I think demonstrate how the tie-ins philosophy is catastrophically detrimental. King Regis’ and Luna’s deaths are two moments where the story hits an emotional pressure point but neither the king nor the lady are in the game much at all. Regis is there at the very beginning of the game in the opening cutscenes, and then Lady Lunafreya is seen throughout flashbacks and cutscenes as the story progresses. However it was only because I saw Kingsglaive that King Regis’ death was meaningful and tragic to me. It struck Noctis and his friends hard and it made for a sober moment. If I hadn’t seen the movie tie-in, I would’ve only known Regis from a single conversation with his son. He would’ve been nothing more than an inciting incident.

With Lunafreya, the opposite seemed the case: her death was meaningless and not tragic at all. Through the whole game, I had only seen Noctis and Luna interact in a handful of flashbacks, as children nonetheless, and then they shared an understanding nod across the distance of a crowd in Altissia. No confession of love. No kiss. No embrace. No poetry. No conversation between the two. Luna was in Kingsglaive, yeah, but she was the equivalent of a plot device. She was the object everyone was protecting. Here, the same thing seemed to be the case.

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After summoning Leviathan, she gets stabbed by Ardyn specifically to enrage Noctis. I couldn’t exactly mourn for her character because I barely knew anything about her. I had no idea how to empathize with Noctis’ tears over her death because I had no idea what they would’ve been like as characters interacting in the present. I didn’t know if they even loved each other, I remember thinking. How then was I supposed to be sad over her death? How then could I empathize with Noctis’ “cutscene of grief”?

Or here’s an even more horrible way to phrase it: I know more about that garage skank Cindy than I do about Lunafreya the Oracle. It wasn’t even clear to me what the Oracle does or why she was even in this game. At least Cindy had a definable job: fixing cars. When Luna died, I was just in disbelief. I thought she’d just come back. Should’ve used a phoenix down.

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Now I assume that the multimedia tie-ins flesh out the world and the events and the characters and cultures much more, when taken all together, but I’m not made of money Square. You really can’t expect me to hunt down a handful of movies and crap just so I get the full story for a game I already paid $60 for. That’s sloppy storytelling but I think it stems from the modern mentality and obsession with DLC. Can a narrative take on the form of downloadable content, where so-called “extras” fill in gaps and plot holes and characters? I guess that FFXV is what that would look like.

In the past, world-building took place when talking with NPCs. Towns and cities were veritable hubs of local information. Not so here. Here, you can’t talk with hardly any NPCs that aren’t vendors. You can listen in to some canned conversation and that’s about it. This makes the few actual, non-truck stop cities in FFXV seem empty even though they’re filled with people.

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So unfortunately, this approach infected a lot of the game’s narrative for me. I heard myself asking: why do I need to build a boat to sail across the sea? Why are we headed into the Empire’s territory? Why does Gladio excuse himself from protecting the prince and then come back with scars? Why is Ignis blinded, like specifically? Why not show that scene? What’s with the night-themed names like Lunafreya, Noctis, Somnus and Insomia? Did they just think the names sounded cool or is there a nighttime theme in the game somewhere? Why build up Ravus as this antagonist when I don’t even get to fight him until after he’s been executed and turned into a mindless demon? Why even have the Emperor Iodelas as a character if there’s no ultimate confrontation with him, again beyond a forgettable skirmish in the tower? Iodelas could’ve been portrayed as a false antagonist right up until the very end before Ardyn reveals his true intentions. At least then there could’ve been some use for him.

And why bring in this sudden concept of the world turning dark and people turning into demons right at the final stretch of the main story? This is something that should’ve been building the entire time. When there’s no build up, no suspense and no foresight to the story, you can really feel it. At first I thought the game was about reaching Luna to marry her. Inciting incident occurs and yeah we have to save Insomnia, or something. After that it’s about hunting down the royal arms. Then it’s about talking to the first of the Six. Then it’s about finding the Six. Then it’s about building a boat, and so on. I spent the majority of the first three quarters of the story hunting down people to talk to (the journalist, Noctis’ sister, the Archaean) for reasons that were unclear to me or conversely for reasons that weren’t significant beyond a character’s mere whim. Gladio says that we should go check on his sister but I’m wondering why.

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If they’d focused the whole main story on three things: gaining the weapons of the dead kings, earning the powers of the Six gods, and ultimately confronting the Empire with an actual plan then things might have been a lot more straightforward and driven. As it was, there was no drive in the story at all. Things just seemed to happen until you find yourself climbing some tower aimlessly only to loose ten years of Noctis’ life.

I mean, imagine if this approach was used in a novel. Take your favorite novel, or for example, take one of mine: The Tale of Two Cities. How coherent would that story be if the whole subplot of the French Revolution only showed itself in the last two chapters? Or what if Sydney Carton just appeared at the end to take Charles Darnay’s place at the guillotine, but the author reassured us “Oh you can learn more about Mr. Carton by purchasing this other book, Kingsguillotine“? The final emotional pay off of watching a scoundrel make the highest self-sacrifice would be meaningless since we would hardly know he was a scoundrel, and I fear that’s exactly what is wrong with Final Fantasy XV.

And I am sorry. I’m really sorry to have to savage this game’s story like this but it is the least inspiring and least impressive I’ve encountered in Final Fantasy a while. Too much sidequesting and a weird bottleneck narrative structure sucked all of the suspense and emotion right out of the game.

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accessibility Accessibility: 10/10
Though things look complex, this is a very easy game of its kind to pick up. Everything from the battles to crafting to sidequesting is fairly simple to understand. There are nuances and secrets that reward those who master these features and explore them, just as there are many hidden treasures in the dungeons and dells scattered around the world. I think that’s a mark of great accessibility when something is easy to learn but hard to master.

diff Challenge: 6/10
Speaking of “hard”, was this game at all difficult? If we’re talking about the main story quests, the answer is absolutely not. The last boss battle is essentially an interactive cutscene and the battle against the aquatic member of the Six is along those lines, as well. There are some really great fights in the game, but they aren’t truly hard.

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This is almost entirely because it’s almost impossible to die in this game. Seriously. Whenever you run out of HP (run out, mind you), you can simply open your quick-menu and use a healing item to restore Noctis back to life. When out of HP, his maximum HP slowly depletes and when that reaches zero then you’ll get a game over. Provided you keep an eye on that and avoid the few enemy attacks that can reduce max HP to zero, you’ll be fine. You can stock up on tons of curatives because there’s nothing else to spend your gil on and thus beat any boss you encounter by outlasting them with potions and elixirs.

Now the hunts and post-game dungeons on the other hand… whew!

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Hardest boss in the game…

unique Uniqueness: 7/10
Final Fantasy XV introduced several innovations to the series. Many of there are welcome additions: sprawling open world, the Regalia, using four weapons at once. Some of them are not so welcome like regressing to a terrible airship, to name just one example. I’m not sure that FFXV should be used as the launching pad and inspiration for future games in this franchise. It took us in a direction I’m loath to go.

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pgrade My Personal Grade: 7/10
I got the platinum because I had to finish this game. Like it or not, it’s still a Final Fantasy game by name. However, now that I’ve finished off the trophy list, I doubt very much that I’ll peel off the last few “go out into the woods and get me an onion” type quests, or that I’ll ever visit the empty halls of Altissia a second time, or even care very much about the secret dungeon or the future downloadable content. I am very glad I got to play this game but I’m glad that I didn’t buy the season pass.

When I first booted up this game, I read the words explaining that this was a Final Fantasy for fans and newcomers alike. I think it takes more than a few Cactuar and Firaga references to please fans looking for that old-time substance, though newcomers may be delighted by the action-RPG elements and open-world gameplay. I’m a dedicated fan of the Final Fantasy franchise, obviously, but I think that’s why I may be harder than most on FFXV. I liked this game but God forbid I ignore a game’s flaws because I’m a fan. It killed me when I saw all the big publications and critics giving it a perfect 100/100, 4.5 out of 5, or 9 out of 10. Did they even play the game, or arethey just intoxicated by the hype surrounding triple A titles in general?

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What is this entire game about? Cup Noodles.

I would have loved for the themes of spending time with friends to leapt out at me since that’s what I miss about being younger. In that respect, FFXV is the ultimate male fantasy: cruising around in an expensive car with your best buds and avoiding responsibility. Unfortunately, so much of this game just fell flat, and almost everything that didn’t was simply boring. There are a handful of memorable scenes and much fun to be had exploring, hunting and chilling in Final Fantasy XV, but if you’re looking for the definitive Final Fantasy experience, you’d be better off looking back to the past.

Is it the worst Final Fantasy ever in my estimation? No. But with ten years in the works, it might have lived up to the hype just a little more.

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Aggregated Score: 7.4

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50 thoughts on “Final Fantasy XV (2016)

  1. I only read the preliminary since I do still want to play it, but I’m giggling like a dork at the the fact that Noctis is the Crown Prince of Insomnia to be married to the lady of Tenebrae to unify the Nifleheim empire. So…the prince of a “sleepless” kingdom is supposed to marry the lady of the “land of always winter,” and both their names conjure up “night” and “darkness” respectively. I love the little references Squeenix always puts int, and I’m sure I’ll find more random things when I play it. That beings said, I didn’t miss your statements about what the game lacks, and that is disappointing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, it would’ve been nice if they DID something with their names. But Lunafreya isn’t even in here enough to be considered a MINOR character. If you read the comments, which I don’t recommend since you haven’t played it yet, you’ll find that there were quite a few people who were disappointed indeed.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s such a shame. Well I still can’t wait to play so I can have a take on it. Whenever something garners a strong response, I try to avoid a lot of the opinions about it so I don’t taint my own. It’s funny though because people have complained about games like XIII being too linear and XV seems to be completely open world. Squeenix needs to find a happy medium. I personally don’t have an issue with linear storytelling (I’m not a huge fan of open world), but I like having some leeway later on, which is what most Final Fantasies do. I guess a little guidance in the beginning never seemed like a bad thing to me.

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  2. Not long ago, I read someone else’s review on FFXV. They said, “the game feels as if the developers never really traveled to America and only threw in what they believed it was.” That truly matched my feeling on FFXV’s portrayal of it’s world. In honesty, it could’ve done without the western accents and bad references to Southwest America.

    Ultimately, I’ve come to terms with games that remain in development hell. They either FAIL MISERABLY or SUCCEED, only to please the loyal masses still waiting for it’s release. Here, we didn’t have that. It’s almost as if, each project the staff IS NOT taking notes on what works great and what was missing! Like you said, FFXV has what FFXIII didn’t; yet it took that titles strengths and made it FFXV’s weaknesses. Excellent review my man!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think if I were a more sensitive person I’d be offended by the off-hand stereotypes of America they included in this game but the biggest thing that bothered me about them is how out of place they seemed. Only the Chocobo Ranch seemed appropriate for the yokely voices and such. Talking with Evil Wizard in the comments, he made a great point about their being no real consistency to this world.

      Also, you should check out the Timely Mage’s comments too. He really takes a stab at some of what probably went into FFXV, what the developers had to do to ensure they didn’t operate at a loss (including the Cup Noodles commercial, for example, and appealing to the widest audience possible). I just think this one won’t be nearly as memorable as the Final Fantasy games we all love.

      Thanks so much for reading, Rac-Dad!

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  3. Another superb high quality review! (which is what I expect from this awesome website) I appreciated the spoiler warnings since I haven’t had a chance to play this yet. I heard just knowing who big bad is can ruin the plot so I skipped your narrative section. I do own a copy of this game so I likely play this after I’m done with Zelda BoTW (SWITCH next week!! Sorry, I’m excited haha). Oh and I enjoyed the relatively nice things you wrote about FFXIII 🙂

    When I do get around to this, I fear all the side activities will make me forget about the plot. My biggest problem with Fallout 4 (a game I’m still trying to find the motivation to finish) is that I get side tracked a lot. Thankfully, Fallout 4’s plot is pretty simple so I can remember the overall mission. The story is the most important factor in me enjoying a Final Fantasy game, so I’m not sure how I’ll feel about this one yet. I can’t wait to give it a spin. Most open world games these days feel so empty to me, and I’d much rather experience a story I feel a special connection with in a more “linear” fashion. 😉

    OMG, Cindy looks like a truly awful character. I’ll reserve my judgments until I see her in game, but I have a feeling I will share your opinion, haha.

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    • Woohoo! Switch next week! It’ll be nice to play something new from Nintendo again. I don’t have a Wii U so the last time I bought a new Nintendo game was on the Wii. So looking forward to Zelda. It’ll be especially interesting to me to play two open-world games from two different developers and mindsets back to back and note any differences.

      Honestly, I enjoyed most of FFXV right up until it gets stupid toward the end. A lot of self-serving the open-world gameplay over really anything else and the story suffers the most. If you really want some good insight on what may have happened, check out the Timely Mage’s comments on this post. I think that the ridiculous sidequesting ruined everything about the drive and momentum of the story. They could’ve peeled those back and saved a lot of them for post-game. I’ll give any game its due and FFXIII has many things over XV, though the opposite is true to an extent. XV’s a wreck with some genuinely fun open-world gameplay but that’s not what we want from a Final Fantasy. I am really interested to hear your thoughts particularly once you finish it.

      And also please hate Cindy with me.

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  4. I’ve only just started, but so far I agree. I’m liking it a lot, but I’m not feeling the Final Fantasy vibe. I just wonder if FF is going to try to be more realistic instead of fantastical. Maybe I do want to go into stranger’s houses or find items in random boxes placed around the world. I don’t need everything to use real-world logic.

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    • This is real world but it’s silly like I pointed out with everyone having cellphones but having to push their car through the desert at the beginning. It’s just dumb. I had a lengthy conversation with another commenter here on the inconsistency of this FFXV world. I enjoyed it getting into the game, about 30 or so hours in, but it petered off for me at the end. I’d be glad to hear what you think of it once you complete it.

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  5. Really nice work on this well detailed review. I agree with most points you’ve made here – I liked a lot about this game, namely the combat, that kept me playing some 50 hours. However, it’s a FF game, so I think I’ve come to expect a lot more especially story wise. I still think it was a good game, but was it a good Final Fantasy? It’s still weird to me (and as I point out in my review) that I can see these glaring issues yet be happy to continue playing. Probably will not be getting to new DLC though.

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    • Yes so I agree in that playing this was downright addicting right up to the journey to Altissia. After that it became a chore to me though the battles remained fun. Tidying up end game dungeons and quests were like a chore and the world building and plot never coalesced into something wonderful to my mind. I saw your review when I was still writing my own and didn’t read it because I didn’t want my own opinion to be someone else’s voice, but I’m glad I can read yours now!

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  6. Excellent job tackling this one! I felt that this game was hard to evaluate. On the one hand, the story is poorly told despite attempting to tell something that I thought was truly interesting, and the game is not as finished or polished as one would hope after ten years. Yet, I loved the game. The gameplay is indeed excellent and felt fresh to me. And for some reason, I fell in love with the concept of four guys on a road trip. I enjoyed the bromance between the guys and thought that each character was likable. It’s actually rare for me to like every playable character in a Final Fantasy game, but Square Enix subverted that problem by only having the best boy band characters out there. So while it makes no sense that they’d be aimlessly driving around and fishing after five seconds of Kingsglaive flash before their eyes, I loved the open-world gameplay. Although the last fourth of the game reeks of Bologna Sausage, I still appreciated the ending. At the end of the day, I had fun. Great job capturing so many of these points in your review!

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    • It was really hard to review this one, so you’re right in that assessment. It’s the longest review here at more than 7,000 words and it took me forever to write it. I think that speaks to how tough it is to talk about everything, all the highs and lows. And it is a game of highs and lows. I’d agree that the story was poor but the gameplay was great. I enjoyed the battles but everytime there was more than 10 seconds of dialogue I rolled my eyes. I liked Ignis, so your opinion and mine cross over there but I had little affection for Prompto and Noctis. It’s not like I hated them. I just had no reaction toward them. If the gameplay was isolated from the story, yeah that could’ve been better, because as it was the open world gameplay destroyed the pacing of the story. It’s trying too hard to be a carefree laidback road trip sim and an epic end of the world fantasy as well and the two ideas do not gel.
      I wish the ending was longer but it was sweet at least. But Arydn’s fight? What the…? At the end of the day, I had fun, too. It’s a 7 and a half in my estimation.

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  7. Here’s how I sum up my overall opinion of XV – it should have been an original IP, not a FF game. If I ignore the fact that it is the 15th main entry in one of the biggest RPG series of all time, it is a solid, even excellent game in some aspects that does a number of things extremely well, and also has some flaws that could be improved upon in later entries. But…I can’t ignore that it is a FF game, and being a FF game comes with certain additional expectations, and those were not met for me.

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    • Agreed. With such a long and rich heritage to honor, it’s even worse of an outlook for FFXV. Where I would say it’d still fall flat most, original IP or not, is in terms of its storytelling. Gameplay is fine as is (even with the magic system) but that story is brief, forgettable, and other adjectives. What are your opinions on the story here? Favorite characters? Least favorite characters? From one FF fan to another.

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      • That’s one of my primary issues with this game is that the characters don’t particularly stand out to me AT ALL, either good or bad. They’re just…there. They are flat, tropey rubber stamps that don’t do anything to make themselves memorable. Honestly, I cared more about the characters in Kingsglaive than I did about any of the characters in the game itself. Your take on the story echoes my own. I’m not naive and I understand we live in a world of DLC and multimedia tie-ins now, but FF was always at its best when it told an epic, grand, SELF-CONTAINED story, from beginning to end. This feels like they are doling it out, and intend to continue to do so, in bits and pieces – except I don’t even get the sense that they have the entire narrative set and fleshed out, more that they’re making it up as they go along in response to, as you point out, market reaction. And that’s sad because the underlying premise is a good one, and the core components are there, but they just fail to utilize them in a way that tells a truly great, or even good, story.

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        • I liked Iggy… and that’s about it. It’s especially aggravating considering what the director said about sacrificing other things like a supporting cast for the sake of focusing on the main characters. Focusing on the main characters for WHAT? Let the anger flow! It got to the point where I was shouting “shut up, you stereotype” at almost every character in the game.

          It is paradoxical, isn’t it, that a Final Fantasy game is now NOT a self-contained story. Yeah I get sequels and all but this fill-in-the-blanks approach to storytelling is crap. I guess I should’ve waited a year for them to flesh it out with DLC before buying it… but then, wouldn’t I just kick myself for blowing tons of money on this thing?

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          • For me, that tagline about being a FF for fans and newcomers alike is garbage. The only thing here for fans is token appearances of moogles, cactuars, etc. Those are nice, but they don’t even begin to make up for what the game is missing. And for newcomers…is this a good RPG? In many ways, yes. Is it a good intro to the FF series. Not even maybe. Go play IX, or VI, or XII, or X – those are what FF games are. The tag should read “A FF that had been carefully focus-tested to offer some thin layer of appeal to as wide a market as possible.” That’s what they wanted, and that’s what they got. Sacrificing plot and side character development to “focus” on the main four? You had the full resources of SE over a ten year development cycle – absolutely nothing should have required sacrifice. Look at Skyrim – not a ten year development cycle, but that open world and its many characters is ALIVE. And in the end that was the problem – SE saw the success of Skyrim and similar massive, open-world single player RPGs and said “how do we cram FF into that template?” And this was the result. It’s a fundamental shift in a series formula that simply didn’t need to happen. Nobody playing Skyrim or Witcher 3 only was saying “boy I hope FF XV is JUST LIKE THIS” and no FF fan was asking for that either.

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            • It goes to show that nobody STILL understands the industry. I think that many developers think that sly references and appeals to nostalgia are strong enough and valid enough to win over old school fans. But the fact is we liked those old games because they had integrity in terms of gameplay and story. It’s wide market appeal, again, like you said. They butchered artistic integrity that the franchise stood for to appeal to all the sheeple they could. And yes, that’s a bunch of bologna to say they were focusing on the main characters. It’s a struggle to be innovative by making it a personal experience when in fact a good storyline would’ve helped us empathize and see through Noctis eyes in the first place.

              This series used to be one that defined the general consciousness. Look at the first FF with its job system and magic. Look at FFIV with its ATB. Look at FFVI with its heavy philosophy. Of course there’s FFVII for its embrace of epic storytelling. I hope I don’t have to wait another ten years for FFXVI, which is likely considering they’re going to milk this gaunt cash cow for all its worth, but I hope when XVI DOES arrive that it really is a story worth telling. Because as far as I’m concerned this was not.

              Cast Meteo on three. One.. Two…

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              • The “through Noctis’ eyes” line particularly irks me. It isn’t true, and the concept isn’t novel or innovative. The entirety of the World of Ruin in FFVI was through Celes’ eyes – and yet that didn’t stop the plot and all of the other characters from developing and resolving in fantastic fashion. As you said before – SE knew how to do this. I don’t know if the people that did have moved on, or if they’ve lost sight of what made them the household name that they’ve become…but it’s an amazing dichotomy between their two flagship franchises. Dragon Quest may tinker here and here SLIGHTLY with elements, but the core formula of the series is treated with reverence and it shows in the consistent quality of each entry in the series. This USED to be the case with FF, but since X, they’ve been all over the board with the series’ identity, and it shows in the mixed results they’ve had. XII was a bold move that, for me, was ultimately successful. XIII less so. And that’s not even getting into the two online MMO entries in there. I think SE needs to take a long look at whether they want to remain true to the pedigree and history of the FF franchise…because as ridiculous as this may sound, we aren’t that far off at this point from getting an FF kart racing game or party game compilation. If that’s what they want for this franchise, it isn’t something I can say I’ll support as a fan.

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                • It’s like an old and experienced person man suddenly trying to find himself again. You gave me an epiphany there when you mentioned the series’ identity. Ugh… the day we get a Final Fantasy kart is the day I… don’t play it. #makeFinalFantasygreatagain

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                • Agreed. The thought occurred to me because I’ve been playing DQVII and VIII on 3DS as I’m also playing through FFXV on PS4, and the differences are striking. DQ knows exactly what it is, what it is expected to be, and it is comfortable in that place – and that shows in the quality of the experience. FF over the last few entries has struggled to maintain a consistent identity – it can’t figure out what it wants to be. Is it turn based? ATB? An Action-RPG? An action game? Is there a magic system? Magitek? Magic flasks as consumables? Is it Fantasy? Reality? Sci-fi? Steampunk? It just can’t seem to pinpoint what it wants to be, and that internal confusion is manifest in the haphazard elements of the entries – sure it’s going to have a Cid and some airships but those are window dressing – the core of the game itself is wildly inconsistent title to title.

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                • Yes so I think you’ve touched on some good points there. Now personally, and you may disagree with me on this point, I would consider the setting to be window dressing, as it were, as well. The single digits proved that a FF could successfully be high fantasy or scifi or cyberpunk but these were secondary visions to the gameplay and story at the forefront. They served the core of the game, not the other way around. In FFXV it seems like the setting is primary but the story is secondary. It’s a big wide world to run around in but you can’t apparently have a carefree road trip sim at the same time as a fantastical end of the world drama. It wanted to be both and I think unless FF gets the consideration right that everything is secondary to gameplay and story and the genre as an RPG (action elements present or no), then we’ll be stuck in this immortal time loop of marketability over artistic integrity.

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                • I don’t disagree exactly – my point is more that in earlier entries in the series, the setting in each game had a…consistency to it within the world itself. XV’s world just lacks that consistent feel for me, as XIII’s world did as well. The disparate elements just didn’t feel like they had been blended into one coherent world – rather they were just haphazardly thrown together as the developers thought of them. The world building in the later entries just doesn’t feel as polished and carefully done as it was in prior entries. In those earlier entries, the world itself was a character in the strong narratives. Here, as with the weak narrative, the world itself just seems like it didn’t get the attention that a ten year development cycle would lead one to anticipate.

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                • Ah I perfectly understand you now. I agree. A world with Texas accents, American diners, dragons and cathedrals and cellphones and audis is a strange place. That’s another epiphany from you to my mind, thank you.

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  8. Great review, Red. I felt it was very fair and thought out. I can imagine it might have been a struggle to keep the rage mage from trashing the game and setting it on fire but I’m glad to see there was a recognition of its strengths despite its many letdowns.

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    • Thanks, Timely! Honestly for a minute there I considered feeding this one to the Rage Mage but I’m glad I didn’t. I would rather reasonably point out what was wrong with it so that (in some distant dream) the industry can get beyond flaws like this, rather than just tease it (which it kind of also deserves). 101 hours, though, and I’m pretty much done. Do you plan to purchase any of the DLC?

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      • I don’t mind the question. Answering it is a little difficult.

        On the one hand, I feel the DLC strategy they chose is regrettable and therefore I’m not totally satisfied. I can understand why some would feel the need to avoid it out of protest and I certainly don’t want my purchase to be misunderstood as approval.

        On the other hand, I do want to see how the DLC fills in the story and I’m glad I’ll be able to get the full experience at the end of the day.

        Perhaps I’m too understanding as I tend to try to reason out others’ behavior before I understand my reaction. Throughout the whole game and afterward as I pondered it’s design choices I was like “That’s definitely unfortunate or unexpected but I can see why they did that.” While the justifications may be understandable and perhaps in some cases unavoidable, it’s nonetheless regrettable.

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        • I think I personally wouldn’t avoid it out of protest since I don’t outright hate the game, but at the same time I can’t see myself purchasing any DLC at this point since the core game itself didn’t really win my heart. Curiosity is really the only thing that would tempt me to get DLC for FFXV. What specifically would you say is something in the design of the game that’s unfortunate/unexpected but which you can understand? I look at FFXV and there’s a lot I don’t understand, a lot I’m confused about as far as the whys, why they chose to do the ending the way they did, for example. I think Hajime’s excuse is malignant. I also think they put themselves in a corner by making the open-world setting primary and everything else secondary to it.

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      • Well, for example, I can understand in a way why the pacing of the story felt so unnatural. The game was originally designed to be released in episodes like the FFVII remake but plans changed so they had to rearrange the whole story and even replaced an entire main character (Stella) to accommodate the new format. Unfortunately if you’re like me you may have also experienced the same pitfall of trying to salvage an idea that you know doesn’t fit the new direction.

        A broader example is the practicality of keeping this project afloat. Due to its troubled development certain compromises needed to be made and one revolves around minimizing risks. I believe this may be partially the reason for the main part of the game being open world. It’s a popular and successful genre so making the case for it would’ve been easy.

        However I’m actually going to counter my argument by proposing a different theory of the origin of this design choice. As you may remember, XV was once Versus XIII and was meant to counter XIII in both themes and style. I may be completely wrong but I suspect that XV’s game design structure being the complete opposite of XIII’s (open to linear vs. linear to open) might not be a total coincidence.

        Another result of addressing business needs is the painfully present product placement. With the development cycle being so long without any return in investment, the business probably decided to try partnering with other businesses via product placement to soften the blow and pacify the investors. Was it the right decision? It’s easy for us to dismiss it as a cop out (that’s me, I really don’t like product placement) but then again I don’t have to justify a multimillion dollar decade long investment to a bunch of executives.

        Of course another way we see additional revenue streams being opened is the DLC and movie. It may seem distasteful but at the end of the day they need to recoup the cost of this expensive game and one obvious way to do that is to capitalize on the existing model of incorporating DLC. Diversification and creating synergy around a brand via cinema, mobile games, anime, etc is a valid and more secure strategy with the potential for stable returns.

        While there’s much more to talk about, in the end I believe a lot of the issues with the game are a symptom of the woes that come with making a AAA game in today’s market. They are high risk investments which is why they tend to become more formulaic and homogenized, to mitigate some of that risk. While the rapport that comes with such an established brand like Final Fantasy would typically allow more creative freedoms, most of those were stripped due to the troubled development of Versus XIII and going multiplatform. It’s possible the creative team is crying just as much as we are at all the stories that will go untold and potential that will go unrealized. They may have been handicapped but I still see signs of effort put into trying to salvage what could’ve been an otherwise stellar game.

        Like I said, I might be too understanding but I like to hope that in the end, even though the finished product hardly resembles your initial vision, there might still be some redeeming value that came from the experience.

        Liked by 1 person

        • See I didn’t even know about Stella or that things had been rearranged in that way. I went completely dark after the Platinum Demo and I did little research into FFXV’s development before writing this review. And I would absolutely agree with you that I think the best explanatory theory for FFXV is that it was an overreaction and overcompensation to FFXIII, which Square had to realize wasn’t as positively received as the series had generally been in the past. They’ve just got to remember that they can make a game that takes the best of both linear and open without having to sacrifice anything about their main characters. I can’t remember but I think I recall reading an interview where they said the same thing of FFXIII, that it was linear intentionally to focus on the main characters and “see the world through their eyes”. They tried the exact opposite and still didn’t learn their lesson.

          Dude and Cup Noodles. What a hackneyed commercial. I think your reasons are very well thought out and very likely true, but I think we’ve still got to ask the question of why it took so long to make this game in the first place? I mean, I think I read it changed directors. So there’s that. But ten years? Yeah that’ll explain why they needed to cut corners and advertise instant noodles, but why take so long at all?

          And you’ve perfectly described a lot of my complaints when you said “While there’s much more to talk about, in the end I believe a lot of the issues with the game are a symptom of the woes that come with making a AAA game in today’s market. They are high risk investments which is why they tend to become more formulaic and homogenized, to mitigate some of that risk.”

          Like I said, I think the game was fun but it fell short, and apparently for good reason.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yeah, and I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, just because I understand why things are the way things are doesn’t mean I find it acceptable, I just want to make that clear. In business, the signs of death are stagnation and becoming out of touch with the customer. You can justify each step of the way to its completion but end up with a completely unacceptable result.

            Liked by 1 person

  9. I loved it for 30 hours or so 🙂 I really thought it was going to be my GOTY. But about halfway through, the story really goes awry in an odd way. I love the main characters (except Gladio, who is a butch macho douche head), but the story just felt so undercooked. As long as this game took to make, I still think the story needed a couple more years in the oven.

    Story is paramount for me in an FF game. I’d rather have an FF with an amazing story and flawed gameplay mechanics, than an FF game with great gameplay mechanics but a flawed story. That’s just me though 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • No, I think you’re right on the money. You’re absolutely correct. In the past, most FF games have been perfect fusions of gameplay and story, innovative and beautiful. Sometimes the gameplay was strange or the story was somewhat out of left field, but not to this extent. This was a fun game to play but that story was awful. The story could’ve used much more development and it’s a missed opportunity, especially with Ardyn in my opinion. 101 hours in and I’d done just about everything I wanted to do and was heh… “Fed” up. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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