Chops' Thoughts On: Final Fantasy XV
Being an avid RPG lover I of course needed to play the latest installment in the Final Fantasy series. While an in-depth review would be great and enlightening to those still on the fence of playing this game, you'll only get my briefest of thoughts here. If you'd like more discussion on this game, please comment on this thread or send us a message and I'd be happy to oblige. For now though, enjoy my thoughts on Final Fantasy XV (FFXV).
While I've played many RPGs in my life, I've always had a particular pull towards Square/SquarEnix Final Fantasy games. I find the ability to play as a character in a story and be able to impact their abilities, gear, and interactions with other characters as enjoyable as reading a well-written book. And while many Final Fantasy games have tickled this story telling itch, some have not, and I'm sad to say that for this latest installment I was not as tickled as I had hoped to be. For me to get my thoughts across properly I've compiled some distinct things that I feel every Final Fantasy game should have. Now these are my criteria and not something I base on anyone else's ideas or thoughts. If you disagree then I'd love to hear your points and have an interesting conversation but for now you'll just have to deal ;)
I base Final Fantasy games on, but not limited to, the follow categories:
RPG aspects (in relation to game play)
I can probably knock a few of these together for the sake of your attention, so let's start with things that play into each other: Storytelling, Characters and Locations.
A man who lost his memory, a youth searching for their identity, a woman fighting for her sister and the world. These are just some basic examples of beginning plots of a few Final Fantasy games. For the latest one we have a kingdom at war with another, recently torn asunder by mistrust and deception. A new and young king must find his way to rid the world of the evil kingdom and the daemons that it brings with it. By banding together with his closest guards/friends he can bring light to the world and free the people from fear. As a story it has everything I need. Wars, unique characters, that Final Fantasy old but new technology feel to keep your mind in awe of the magic in the world. The ingredients are there for a sound and compelling story but it falls flat. While you have these grand scenes and history built between the characters and their environment, you never get to fully immerse yourself in the lore. A lot of the action of the world has taken place already and you're just reacting to the impact of it. Now, there are moments of great change in the story and don't worry I won't spoil it here but it felt like it was experienced from a distance. The whole game is about keeping hope alive and keeping the main character from failing at his ultimate goal, but in doing so the story felt at arms reach to them, which I felt as I experienced the game.
Along with this storytelling you have locations and people you see along the way. Typically in a Final Fantasy game your group grows as you travel and each place you visit is unique to that character or may have a significance to them. For FFXV you have the same group of 4 people and while they are unique and interesting, the appeal of picking your characters to take on your journey and being able to meet different and compelling people just isn't in this game. The characters become stale and repetitive with their actions because of the lack of variety. And because we are contained to so few locations that even the idea of being thrown into a world with wonderful and magical lands doesn't happen. The locations you visit feel large and real compared to our world but don't feel like a fantasy which is something I hold dear when I'm playing a game built around story.
One thing that fills the air around the world and characters though is music and I have to say that I was not disappointed. The dramatic effect that the composer can have on the situations in the game were great. When the action rose so did the music, when you were in a lull or transition the music filled the background and let the scenes take over. The majesty of the orchestral music and the mix with the typical Final Fantasy sounds was something I thoroughly enjoyed.
Before I get to mechanics of the game I want to hit on the lack of cut-scenes, or lack of quality cut-scenes. For Final Fantasy games this is their moment of storytelling. Square likes to take these moments between missions or action to indulge you in the world that you are playing. Cut-scenes or FMVs (Full Motion Video) can have a great impact on how you value the game and characters or destroy your interest in the game completely. In the past I've experienced both moments from classic Final Fantasy games, such as FFVII and FFIX. During these scenes the developer has a moment (or moments depending on length) to sell this game. Not to you but to who you are going to tell. If the makers can get you to buy into this game during these scenes then they've created something that sells itself. In FFXV these moments were few and far between. So much so that if you wanted to get this feel you had to watch the movie that was based on what happened just before the game starts. Now I don't know about you, but are you more likely to watch a full-length movie to buy into a game before or after you play it? The answer is probably after you've played the game because that's what you really want to experience. Not something on the side that they should have given you in the game. To top it all off, the characters in the movie don't really impact the game too much. Now there are a few exceptions of characters in the movie but for the most part it's just a side piece to the real action. And when you get into the game you're left hanging on these moments with pieces that feel thrown in for the sake of clarity and not storytelling.
To finish my thoughts on this game I'm going to hit on my biggest disappointment: RPG aspects and the Fighting System. I'm a man of structure and variety and you can find this in the many RPG games that are out there. Whether it's turn-based or action-RPG fighting, if you've got a solid system that allows for variety and a compelling battle structure then I'll be drawn in very quickly. With FFXV we have a system that is different from the norm of Final Fantasy and simple, yet confusing and boring. I would say that the game takes hack and slash action but flares it up by making everything feel like open world. That may not make sense to you and I don't think it makes a lot of sense to me unless you play it but it doesn't feel like Final Fantasy. I want strategy in my system and the ability to mix and match my team so that I can approach a situation in multiple ways. With this you beat the shit out of the guys with your different weapons and heal your teammates as they die frequently. At no point did I feel that my character was that much more unique or different in battle than the other 3 guys. To add to this feeling the lack of gear combinations, magic use, and weapon variety only made the fighting seem stale and uninteresting. While some battles seemed different and exciting, the bread and butter of the fights is dodging, counter-attacking, and having a ton of healing items. In classic Final Fantasy games you have your dedicated healers, magic users, buff/debuff person, and your physical fighter. Not in this game. My last thought I want to leave you with on this aspect is the summoning for Final Fantasy. While the effect of the summons is exciting, the introduction and use of them is ridiculous. I'm sorry, but if I want to summon a giant old man that casts lightning bolts or a Titan that can hold a meteor on his shoulders, then I better damn well get the chance to do it when I like. Unfortunately here it almost seems random at the times you're able to cast summons and they just kill everything...where's the fun in total domination? Give me a challenge when it comes to my strongest attacks!
Now if you've read these thoughts all the way through then you probably think I hated the game and that I wouldn't recommend it. You'd be wrong. These are my thoughts basing the game on the Final Fantasy games before it. And while it may not live up to or reflect that which I enjoyed most about those games, I still had a good time and feel that you would too. SquareEnix made a business move with this game. They knew the genre was failing in interest and that their games became too caught up in their own identity so they made something with the title of Final Fantasy but created a game that anyone would want to play. It's not for hardcore RPG fans and it's not for your dedicated Final Fantasy players. It's for those who've wanted to play a game with a good story and for those who want to play a Final Fantasy game. The interest of the gaming world shaped this game into what it is and I'm not upset about it. Tastes and trends change and this game is going to be more of what we will see in the gaming world to come for RPGs. Thank you for your time and I hope to converse with you on your thoughts on this game!