Final Fantasy XV
Sony PlayStation 4 & Microsoft X Box One|Square-Enix|November 29th 2016
How did everybody find their trip around Eos?
Right off the bat, what I found interesting is that outside of a 30 second snippit, it doesn't start out like a FF game. Usually Square likes to throw you into the thick of the action and then catch you up on the story. In Final Fantasy XV, after a brief flash forward to the showdown against Ifrit, you're thrown into a basic tutorial where you undergo a hunt and learn all about the essential combat mechanics. It's something of a slow-ish start by FF standards, but the game compensates by giving you a couple of side-quests early on. Instead of being on a linear path for the opening couple of hours, you're free to go hunting within the opening couple of minutes.
Sticking with the main campaign, and it takes a couple of hours until you're ready for your first boss fight in the Tombs against Arachne. That was one issue I had with the game, the main story boss fights were just too few and far between and the only fights that stick out to me are towards the end of the game. It seems as if Square decided to leave those encounters for side missions and while a lot of those hunter missions work a bit of context would have made those fights even more memorable.
That's the theme of this game and why so many players are having a difficult time wrapping their heads around it. The main storyline is comparatively shorter than most mainline FF games and has a real unfamiliar pace to it. Going in, I thought it would go something like: collect the royal arms, fight and earn the trust of each summon, face off against the forces of Niffleheim before taking on Ardyn's worst creations.
If Square had have adopted a traditional approach, that's how it would have gone down. Instead the main quest is sloppy with those quests being intertwined in an inconsistent manner.
To give an example, when you find out the capital of Lucis was invaded while you were gallivanting at the docks of Galdin Quay, the crew decides to return and investigate. Unfortunately they're kept at an arm's length and it's only a phone call from Cor which could have been taken anywhere in Eos that provides you with vital information.
If Square had have had their time again, I would have liked to have seen them do this...
Since the storyline is being told from Noctis' vantage point, I would have enjoyed it more if they kept Luna's fate up in the air. Since you're presumed dead, Ignis decides to capitilise on this confusion by taking the Regalia back to Hammerhead in exchange for a more low key vehicle. As you arrive, you find the outpost is swamped by Niff guards who are investigating an earlier sighting. Since they're low level mugs and your cover has already been blown, Noctis and the boys deliver a cathartic beat-down. It seems to be going well until the Niffs call in more back-ups, which brings Cor into the mix and through a cut-scene you see him just wipe out the imperials with magic. Cor then informs you of everything, you learn that Luna could still be alive and how you must enter the Royal Tombs much earlier than anticipated.
That would have given the main quest more immediacy and focus. Having party members like Cor join you for portions of the game would have varied the gameplay as well, serving a similar role to Kingdom Hearts where portions of the game stuck out because you had exclusive characters for that section.
In saying that, I still enjoyed the main quest for what it was. Even Chapter 13 which is often regarded as the low-point of the game was a refreshing change of pace. Where as I rarely felt affected by the gameplay in previous chapters, 13 made me feel alone and hopeless. It was also eerily like playing a Resident Evil where you come across a massacre and have to piece together the clues for yourself. While this pissed a lot of people off since a lot of integral characters in the story were killed off screen, I appreciated the change in narrative style. Too often JRPGs are too expository and have to fill you in on every single facet of the story, whether you care as the player or not. Learning these things from Noctis' perspective was refreshing.
I also thought the final chapter was brilliant and despite being aware that the ending was a tear-jerker, I still wasn't prepared for it. There's a scene just after the credits which maybe one of the most emotional in FF history. Also on a side-note, I love the meme that's starting to pop up surrounding the final photo you've chosen. I've seen some amazing gifs and I'm sure there will be a ton more in the not too distant future.
While the main quest lacks polish, I did enjoy the rest of the game. It's standard open world fare in a lot of ways, but the FF coat of paint and the little details make up for it. It was during these side missions where I felt myself caring about the rest of the party as we hunted monsters, mastered new recipes, raced chocobos, ate cups of noodles and tried to fill the day with as much adventure possible to ensure there were some good pictures taken.
Ranking this in the series is going to be tough.
In a lot of ways, playing through XV reminded me of VIII where I could see the ambition and really admired certain qualities, even if it didn't come together as a cohesive whole.
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