One of the first opening screens for latest installment of Square Enix’s long-running franchise states “A Final Fantasy for fans and newcomers alike.”
The decision to flash that message every time the game boots up seems like an odd marketing ploy; even odder considering anyone who sees it has probably purchased the game already.
But does the game fulfill that promise to satisfy loyal fans as well as invite those who are curious about the storied series?
My verdict is mostly no.
As a person who was a huge fan of Final Fantasy IV and VI on the SNES, as well as VII and VIII once the series jumped to Playstation 1, I’ve always had a soft spot because these games provided an epic scope of story and characterization that was unparalleled in video games at the time.
The following years though, I strayed from the series and gaming in general, so was not quite familiar with how the series has tried to evolve as video games overall became more epic and cinematic.
So, in a way, I felt like I was both a fan and a newcomer. (Well, I did play XIII but no one likes to think about or consider that game at all.)
Back on topic to FF XV, I immediately felt lost and uncomfortable. The game boasts an initially complex and daunting series of systems, from how to fight to how to level up to how to manage magic. I just couldn’t fathom how any casual gamer would be patient enough to learn these mechanics. I think I was at Hour 5 or 6 before I felt like I had a good grasp of everything.
Not only that but nothing in the game felt to me like a “real” Final Fantasy: the American West-esque setting, the cartoonishly overdone Southern accents, driving around in a CAR. The Jap-pop design of the main characters was off-putting but at least it seemed appropriate for a FF game.
I did end up enjoying the game. In fact, I ended up platinuming it on the PS4. The camaraderie between the four protagonists has been universally cited as a strong point and I tend to agree.
However, another hallmark of Final Fantasy games in my opinion is how a rag-tag group of people from completely different backgrounds always manages to come together to save the world. FF XV never really allows for anyone else to join the party, and players only ever control Noctis.
I also realized around the halfway point during a cinematic scene that I had virtually no idea what was going on in the story.
My band of travelers was on a roadtrip to go meet Noctis’ fiance in another city. However there was some sort of strife back in home with the king and some other people but I generally had no idea with whom or why.
I eventually pieced together the plot but none of the motivations ever got illuminated in a meaningful way.
I think that was the most disappointing aspect of playing this latest Final Fantasy. The story didn’t seem epic or worldly like other past installments. It’s hard to feel like there are any stakes to the conflict when you’re allowed to just cruise around in your vehicle with your buddies.
Which was another issue I had with the game. I got to the point where I’d set my destination and then walk off to grab a drink or check my phone. Huge swaths of time were devoted to just sitting there waiting for the auto-pilot to get to the next place. There is a fast travel option but the loading screen seemed to take just as long and didn’t provide any AP bonus points.
The more I write, the more clarity I get on how disappointed I actually was in the game. It’s by no means the disaster that XIII was. But this game was in development hell for ten years. The fact that it got released at all is probably an achievement.
The end result makes me want to boot up FFVI Advanced on my old Nintendo DS, but it makes me a bit nervous about the likelihood that Square Enix will bungle the FFVII Remake.