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After the Review: Let's Talk About the Second Half of Final Fantasy XV

The open world is great, but what about the second half?

Article by Kat Bailey, .

"After the Review" follows up on games shortly after their release. Did they make the right decisions? How are the fans reacting? We examine those questions and more. You can read our full review of Final Fantasy XV here, and make sure to check out our guides.

Minor spoilers follow.

One of the most common criticisms of Final Fantasy XV, outside of the problematic camera, is that it breaks with the format established in the first half game.

After spending roughly 20 hours tromping around Lucis, the gang hop on a boat and head to Altissia: a fanciful city that resembles the real-world city of Venice. It's here that the game's scope narrows considerably from the open-world of the first half to something much more constrained. You can still go on hunts and travel the city's waterways, but the Regalia remains firmly in storage.

After a major setpiece battle, the story's scope narrows still further. Though it offers the illusion of continuity due to the fact that you're on a train traveling the countryside, you're actually just moving from one story beat to the next with no chance to explore or strike out on your own. Thankfully, it's here that you regain access to the open-world with the help of a magical dog named Umbra. You can even gain experience and new gear despite it ostensibly taking place in the past.

But in the meantime, the game rumbles steadily toward its inevitable conclusion, mixing in a couple dungeons and a quick town stop along the way. Some have likened it to an inversion of Final Fantasy XIII, which opens with an extremely linear quest before opening up a bit later, but it's not a perfect comparison. For one thing, Final Fantasy XV's open-world is magnitudes more interesting than the equivalent in Final Fantasy XIII, which is much smaller and mostly empty. For another, FFXV's more linear segments are ultimately more interesting than anything FFXIII has to offer because FFXV's dungeons are much stronger, and the setpieces help to add a bit of pop.

So does the second half of Final Fantasy XV actually hurt the overall game? Well, yes and no.

In addressing this in my original review, I wondered if the move toward a more linear approach wasn't actually to the benefit of the story, writing, "Much as I would have liked for the roadtrips to continue through the entirety of the story, I wonder if it would have been a good idea to sacrifice the nostalgic element that emerges when they're taken away, as it proves to be a surprisingly powerful bit of storytelling. If nothing else, it turns what might have otherwise been a weakness into something positive."

I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that Final Fantasy XV's story takes kind of a dark turn past the midpoint. As the joyous sense of comraderie fell away, I found myself longing for the comparatively brighter moments spent hunting monsters, racing chocobos, and camping out under the stars. The shift in tone was mirrored in-game, as the protagonists became wistful about their time in Lucis.

As I noted above, such moments can prove particularly powerful in a videogame, as you are experiencing it rather than just passively watching it. You are right there with the main characters as they long for the brightness of Lucis amid the gathering gloom. I don't think that should be discounted in the overall story arc.

Ah, happy memories.

I think where a lot of people, myself included, part ways a bit with the linear portion of the game is that it happens a bit sooner than it should. As soon as you hit Altissia, the game mostly closes up, with even hunts and the odd sidequest eventually giving way to pure story. This is not uncommon for an RPG—the last disc used to be where PlayStation RPGs would dispense with the overworld for the final dungeon—but it's strange to see it hit so early in the game.

Then again, would another open-world section actually add that much to Final Fantasy XV? Our guides editor Jeremy Signor spent some 70 hours in just the first five chapters alone. There are a huge amount of optional dungeons, hunts, and sidequests to complete, as well as one very nasty postgame boss to fight. Yes, more is usually better, but Final Fantasy XV isn't exactly lacking for content.

What's more, outside of a strange stealth-focused dungeon that breaks with the main battle system and is generally way too long, the second half is actually pretty good from a storytelling perspective. It's dark, it has some really good battles, and it pushes the brotherhood between the main foursome to its breaking point. Outside of the aforementioned dungeon, there was never a point where I thought to myself, "I want this to end." One of the dungeons in the second half is one of the best and most wrenching of the entire game in the way that it drives home the enmity among the group.

In that sense, while I think the open-world sections are definitely more compelling than the linear sections, I don't think the back half of the game is altogether poor. Mostly, it serves to pick up the story's pace and drive it to a satisfying conclusion. More importantly, the contrast with the brightness of the first half is used to good effect to highlight the story's rising stakes. But most important of all is the fact that you can go back to the open-world pretty much anytime you want after a certain point, offering a respite from the story and letting you resume the quests that you originally picked up. That more than anything saves the second half from being a frustrating and limiting run to the end. As awkward as the framing device for the transition back to the open world is, it's essential.

Like everything else in Final Fantasy XV, the linear portions are interesting in their own way, and the reasoning behind their inclusion isn't as easy to dismiss as it first appears. Happily, if you don't like them, you can always delve back into your memories and explore the fields of Lucis for as long as you want. But if you, you'll be missing out on one of the better Final Fantasy stories in a while.

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Comments 12

  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #1 Kuni-Nino 11 months ago
    I wish I could read this. But I'm like a dozen hours in and still in chapter 3. I'm having too much fun wandering around, getting stronger to push the story further.
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  • Avatar for Dreamboum #2 Dreamboum 11 months ago
    The insistence of USgamer to heckle Final Fantasy XIII to gloss over Final Fantasy XV's shortcomings is becoming a little tiresome. The exact same article was made with the same arguments a month ago.
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  • Avatar for docexe #3 docexe 11 months ago
    Mmmm... I’ll admit some of what is discussed here alleviates some of the concerns I have regarding the second half of the game. Although it remains to be seen if it really works as well.
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  • Avatar for lanmao #4 lanmao 11 months ago
    I enjoyed the open world to an extent, but what you actually do there isn't all that interesting. I had all of the sidequests done by the time I headed off to Altissa and found the vast majority of them to be pretty shallow. Fetch quests and the like. As for the second half of the story, it felt like one of those forced walk while someone talks to you over the radio sections that some games use.

    After completion I had pretty mixed feelings, but with a little more time to reflect, I don't think that I enjoyed my time with FFXV overall. There are definitely some high points but most of my time was spent being bored and that's not what I want out of my videogames.

    I'm glad that people seem to be enjoying FFXV, it's been a long time coming and the fans deserve it.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #5 cldmstrsn 11 months ago
    @lanmao I really loved the game but Im finding what I enjoy the most is the post/end game content. The really high level hunts/super bosses and the dungeons and the dungeons within dungeons are all a lot of fun for me. It kind of reminds me of FF XIV but instead of looking for a party I already have one and get to run cool dungeons.

    Im always happy to see people at least try a game and give it a fair shot even if they ended up not liking it for the most part.Edited 2 times. Last edited December 2016 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #6 jeffcorry 11 months ago
    I enjoyed the game. Even Chapter XIII was useful for providing context. But I can't honestly say that I thought the story was better than Final Fantasy XIII...at least in the way it was told. With Final Fantasy XIII, I feel that the story (you can disagree if it was good or not) was told better. There are way too many "all of a sudden" ________ shows up and voila!
    Too many questions. Too many..."Hey...where did that character go? What they're _____!?!
    Emperor. Ravus. Even Ardyn. It was rushed. It felt rushed. I can see Tenebrae in the distance...but sorry, it's only window dressing. The entire continent the Empire was located on was empty...and locked off. Who the heck is this evil empire anyway? We know hardly anything of their motivations. Yes, we know Ardyn...sort of.
    Part of me thinks that wasn't really the original vision and that the train ride was slapped together so they could get the game released. I would have gladly waited another year or two for a finished product. Especially after all it promised.
    As much as people like to give Final Fantasy XIII a bad time, at least it took the time to explain things in its own glossary. Even Kingdom Hearts is trashed for its convoluted story...but at least each and every character is more than just window dressing...or a silly plot device.
    Who the heck is the Empire?
    I really enjoyed the game, but I feel it is one of the most deeply flawed and empty video game stories I have experienced - at least when compared to how much was promised through media and trailers. The world and main characters are great, inasmuch as we get to know them, but I just kept having the feeling that there was a lot of cutting room floor material.
    I'd love to have access to it.
    ...and what the heck was that astronaut suit random pull it out of a hat level...?Edited 2 times. Last edited December 2016 by jeffcorry
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #7 Kuni-Nino 11 months ago
    @jeffcorry An empty story is a good way to put it. I watched Kingsglaive before playing the game and that movie got me interested in a resolution for the conflict that movie started. It's disappointing that the game never really follows up on any of its mysteries and handles plot twists and important events off screen. Chapter 11 is a full on info dump for Christ sakes.

    It's so half assed. The ending tho...that felt pretty special.

    Ultimately I think FFXV is a good game. It's just flawed in its second half. I actually think FFXIII is a better game too.
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  • Avatar for FFguy #8 FFguy 11 months ago
    @Kuni-Nino I'm close to finishing FF15, so I don't have the absolute full picture yet, but I have to say I agree with you. Since a few hours of playtime I'm more and more thinking about FF13 and the comparison between both. Personally FF12 is my favorite (so hyped for the remaster), but I was surprised how much I actually liked FF13, which is like the complete opposite. So much that after my time with FF15 I'm on the edge of playing 13 again just for the more established story and characters.

    FF15 IS a really good game, but I agree it feels very rushed and almost like the real thing was put together in the last year only.
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #9 jeffcorry 11 months ago
    @Kuni-Nino The ending was great! I just felt so...betrayed (?) by so much leading up to it. Big story beats were left to a paragraph of information on a loading screen (This was pointed out by a comment on Kotaku). It was just crazy how rushed it felt. Again, I enjoyed the game, but I am hoping for some better story telling in the future. Honestly, if there was a way for the second half to be redeemed...even rewritten...I'd be okay with it. Not to change the beats that happened, but to flesh it out more. Hopefully the announced DLC will help. While they're at it...maybe we could get to explore the continent the Empire is based on...only 2-3 more years...right? ;)
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  • Avatar for NotCarolKaye #10 NotCarolKaye 11 months ago
    FFXIII and FFXV both took advantage of linearity in a way that I never see anyone acknowledge. In locations that were tied directly to a specific part of the story, they used visual design to accent/emphasize/reinforce the emotional tone of the events that play out there or to symbolically reflect the internal circumstances of character.

    Like Palumpolum in FFXIII. It looks like a really nice, comfortable and peaceful place to live. Or it looks like it normally would be that. But when Lightning and Hope show up at the edge of town, an external conflict has encroached and thrown the place into a state of chaos, uncertainty and fear. What had happened to Hope's life could be seen playing out in his hometown.

    And at the end of that part, the sun is beginning to set, the sky has a dusky tone, the darkness of night is approaching. Hope is getting close to home at that point. He has to tell his dad that his mom died. Hope is approaching darkness.

    Lestallum is cool and beautifully made, but I just can't see how it could've been designed to serve a part of FFXV's story like that. And even if it had, there's meaning in leaving a place behind and never turning back.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that the linearity and characters that people like to complain about were at the core of what made FFXIII great.

    The real problem with that game was it's atrocious equipment upgrade system and nobody seems to complain about that.
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #11 jeffcorry 11 months ago
    @NotCarolKaye You make some great points about Final Fantasy XIII. The setting worked pretty well. Yes, an open world would have been nice, but narratively it worked. Final Fantasy XV DID do some of that with the train ride. It was pretty effective for what it was.
    Sadly...now that we can compare XIII to XV...we can see what Final Fantasy XIII did right. Both are interesting beasts. I love things about both and wonder about other things...
    Such is life.
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  • Avatar for tjharris39 #12 tjharris39 10 months ago
    I am 30-35 hours in on chapter 6 and wondering how you are spending 70 hours on just chapter 1-5 lol. I am almost done with all the side quests and have half the hunts done, doubt it would take me doubling my time to finish game content up to this point lol.
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