As part of a presumed few who have just only finished Final Fantasy XV post patch 1.08 , I wish to offer my condolences to my predecessors. My brain is unable to wrap around the idea that the version of FF I have just completed over the span of 40 or so odd hours was supposed to be an improved version over the launch version. What improvement?
But sweet baby Jesus, post Chapter 8? A PTSD trigger to Final Hallway XIII.
Now, to make things clear, I do not hate the game. As a matter a fact, I adored it up ‘till Chapter 8, especially the open-world element of the game.
But sweet baby Jesus, post Chapter 8? A PTSD trigger to Final Hallway XIII. For all the shortcomings of FF XV, I do still love the game, albeit with a bit more salt than I care to ingest.
With that out of the way, I’d like to take a crack at breaking down the game to a few basic components; namely its Gameplay and Storytelling. I wouldn’t go as far as calling this a technical breakdown of the game; I am no Will Wright or Hideo Kojima, but I would like to approach my reviews from a perspective of a game developer, however short my tenure might be.
That said, let’s get cracking.
The live-action battle system is a joy to behold; being able to warp-strike an enemy from a distance and chain my attacks with the techniques of my comrades provided a combat pacing that I have not experienced from a Final Fantasy game since FF Crisis Core. The combat kept me engaged every step of the way; ensuring that I knew where I could warp-out and replenish my MP, be wary of potential sneak attacks, and to read the telegraph of my enemies and dodge or counter at the right moment. Speaking of which, I have always found dodging and chain attacks in today’s games a tad too convenient. Sure, it’s cool the first few times you counter and proceed to eviscerate templar knights in Assassin’s Creed, but that shit can get boring faster than pressing ◻. Don’t treat the player like an idiot, and that FF XV certainly did not. I appreciate how not every attack can be blocked and parried by our main protagonist, Noctis, and to know that my finger is not as fast as an Imperial Trooper’s hail of bullets.
Sure, it’s cool the first few times you counter and proceed to eviscerate templar knights in Assassin’s Creed, but that shit can get boring faster than pressing ◻
But same way biting into a Star Anise while eating biryani rice scrunches your face up, so will the camera of FF XV during intense battles. Having the camera being blocked by foliage is a bigger cock-block than being Rick-Rolled in the middle of a porno. While games such as Dragon Age, and even the now 17 year old Diablo 2 have workarounds to character being occluded by a foreground object like a fucking bush via highlighting the outline of the character, it seems this engineering hurdle has eluded Square’s engineering division. Who then, thought it’d be a good idea to place monsters in areas with dense foliage? Surely somebody would have highlighted this problem during the Beta testing phase or even the Alpha phases for that matter.
To be fair, the camera works as intended for the most part in the rest of the game, and it doesn’t cheapen the thrill of taking on a Behemoth or a Griffon. Wiggling the right analogue stick to adjust the camera is a pretty fair trade off to acquire ingredients for #instaworthy #foodporn.
While we are in the topic of the party, the exploration skills of each of the party members is an example of making the most seemingly mundane aspect of real life become a welcomed respite in a world filled with daemons and unrealistic hairstyles. Noctis with his fishing, Ignis with his cooking in camp, and Prompto with his photography humanises the world of Eos, and the characters as well (sorry Gladio, picking up random, yet useful items doesn’t really count).
I cannot find fault with any of the exploration skills’ mechanism; fishing is a perfect way to gain AP (after adopting the necessary Ascension skill), cooking provides a slew of free stats boost that is otherwise only available from restaurants, and the photography mechanism ties in well with the ending of the game to elicit a genuine emotional response from players (more of this in the Storytelling section of this review). However, I am unsure what to feel about the need to differentiate camping and living in hotels.
This becomes a problem because more often than not, I found myself agonising whether to enjoy an experience multiplier boost from staying in a hotel, or the aforementioned stats benefits from eating Ignis’s cooking at camp. I understand that I can pay at the local diner to get my stats boost come morning, but I still think it’d have been nice to provide the option to cook our own meals at certain rest points, like say, the camper van or motels (surely they have cooking facilities there). Call me a miser, but I’d rather spend my hard-earned Gils somewhere else. There is irony in sacrificing one’s food budget just to afford a game in which you get to cook seemingly realistic food, but Noctis would also agree that having responsibilities is just a pain in the ass.
Food isn’t only the visual highlight of the game, so are the vistas of the world of Eos. Breathtaking and sweeping landscapes surrounds our merry boy band as they roll, or trot, their way from one pit stop to the next, with the accompaniment of OSTs from FF games of the past and present. The two primary mode of transportation, via car or Chocobo, complements one another quite well, with the latter handling off-road situations, and the former allowing you to kick back and just enjoy the road trip. It’s just a shame that we can’t take photos while the Regalia is on the road, but we’d have to make do with the occasional banter from the members of One Direction, because from here on out, we are only moving in one direction; down.
I was on the sub-reddit for FF XV just after I completed Chapter 15, and I couldn’t help but to laugh out loud at one of the comment, that when loosely paraphrased sounds something like this:
It’s funny how the rest of the game was foreshadowed by the train ride in Chapter 10; an absolute train-wreck.
I couldn’t help but nod along.
What the fuck went wrong? The difference between the first and second half of the game is so glaring that it almost made me cry due to pure frustration. Now let’s be fair, Final Fantasy has a long history of having convoluted plot lines, but they have always, more or less, managed to execute them in a manner that gave our protagonists some honor and dignity. This was thrown out the proverbial window the minute Chapter 9 ended.
There were a few things I had a problem with with regards to the writing of FF XV, and they are:
- Character Development
The issues related to the development of the various characters reared its head at the start of the Altissia arc. The introduction of Weskham as a side-character had its potential to inject more emotional gravity to the death of King Regis, being an old travelling acquaintance of the old King. Instead, his role was reduced to that of a negligible NPC just there to tell Noctis what to do, and where to go. What a missed opportunity to further develop Noctis’s character, of whom has been acting like a spoiled child towards a seemingly loving father from the very beginning of the game (aren’t you supposed to be 20 Noctis? Why the angst?).
But Weskham isn’t the only weak link, so was Lunafreya, Noctis’s love interest. It has come to be that Final Fantasy is synonymous to love tragedies and drama, but the death of Lunafreya was severely cheapen by seemingly forceful emotional scores and cinematic to elicit my grief towards a shallow character. As a character, Lunafreya didn’t have as much emotional weight for me because she does not seem involed enough, I only ever saw her as a plot tool needed by Noctis to move forward. The game didn’t give me a compelling enough reason to care for her the same way I did for Aeris in FF VII, or Yuna in FF X.
The road to the finale is littered with minor characters, with the likes of the emperor of Niflheim and Aranea Highwind either never to be heard of again, or having references randomly strewn in verbal or textual form
The road to the finale is littered with minor characters, with the likes of the emperor of Niflheim and Aranea Highwind either never to be heard of again, or having references randomly strewn in verbal or textual form. Other characters such as Ravus is depicted to have a complete about-face with regards to their characterisation, with no prior context of what triggered the sudden change in behaviour. One minute he was hostile to Noctis and Lunafreya, and the next he acknowledges Noctis as the one true king. Square Enix really expects us to do our homework before starting with this game.
And speaking of homework, can I just quickly bring up how early 2000s the quests are? “gather these stuffs from this specific place”, “kill these enemies at this time”, “take photos of this inaccessible place” . B-oring. Save a few memorable hunts, the quality of quests are highly unimaginative and harken back to MMORPGs of days gone past. It is not that difficult to make a quest or hunt be more enjoyable, just look at what Witcher 3 did.
Last but not least, the pacing. It has been widely argued as to why the story took such a nose-dive after chapter 9. The linearity that ensued was not the reason why the game spiralled out of control, rather, it was the lack of any form of reprieve that gave a bitter aftertaste to the whole experience. We were shove from one location to the next and unloaded with a load of bad juju and pointless expositions (I’m looking at you old granny at Tenebrae, your existence is meaningless) that further muddle the plot up. Locations such as Tenebrae and the Niflheim Empire were discarded as side-shows and further plot device to keep the story moving, despite being so heavily referenced in the early stages of the game. It’s almost like having your dad telling you how great Disneyland is, and driving to it just to take a steaming pile of shit and head down to the ball pit at the nearby MacDonalds afterwards.
It was such a sharp turn not only for the direction of the story, but our characters as well. Prompto revealed that he was a “Niff” towards the end of Chapter 13, just so he could have opened a locked door. Talk about a deus ex machina moment. Storytelling cannot be rushed, and clearly whoever directed and edited the scenes leading up to the final chapter didn’t get the memo.
A King Returns
For all the crap the final half of FF XV have given me, I am still fond of the game, and with that, the ending. I am fond of the ending the same reason I am fond of the early parts of the game; because of the memories made.
Before proceeding with the final battle, Noctis requested to view the pictures that Prompto took. Scrolling past the pictures I took along with the rest of the party elicited a genuine emotional response on my part, despite how stupid some of them might be. I enjoyed discovering new outposts and hunting for new ingredients to bring back for camp, and I glee over the discovery of a new fishing spot, and none of these were cheapen by the messy pacing, nor the seemingly tacky final cutscene. Because all in all, I had a pretty amazing road-trip with my Crownsguard.
You guys are the best.