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Final Fantasy XV PlayStation 4 Review: End of the Road

It's finally here, but is it good?

Review by Kat Bailey, .

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It was a decade ago that Square Enix first revealed the game that would ultimately become Final Fantasy XV—a Kingdom Hearts-inspired spinoff called Final Fantasy Versus XIII.

Nobody could have imagined that Final Fantasy Versus XIII would fall into development hell, going through multiple iterations before finally being saved as a numbered entry for the PlayStation 4. Nor could they have imagined the changes the series, the genre, and indeed the medium itself would undergo in the ensuing decade. Final Fantasy XV, like Final Fantasy XIII before it, wound up sucking the entire franchise into a decade-long black hole, and pretty much everyone is ready for Square Enix to finally, finally, put the last vestiges of the cursed Fabula Nova Crystallis series behind them once and for all.

It's a roadtrip!

Amid all this drama, it's sometimes easy to forget that there's an actual game in there somewhere. But now that it's here, we can finally judge it on its own merits and ask whether if in some small measure it was all worth it. At a guess, it will prove as controversial after release as it was before it, with some loving it and others loathing it. This has always been the case with Final Fantasy, but it feels especially true with this version. To be honest, I'm still not sure what to make of it, even after playing it for 35 hours and watching the credits roll.

But I will say this: I kind of like it.

On the road to destiny

In mulling my feelings for Final Fantasy XV, the one aspect that I keep going back to is its open world. It's a world that manages to feel dense and interesting but also empty, mixing rural American landscapes with MMORPG-like gathering and dungeon-diving. Everytime I look at this world, I think, "There's not actually much here, is there?" And yet, I never seem to want for something to do.

The first half of Final Fantasy XV's story is set here, opening with Noxis, Prompto, Gladio, and Ignis—a prince and his three bodyguards—pushing their fancy car into a gas station, and continuing through multiple dungeons and as many fetchquests as you can stomach. Oh yes, there are definitely fetchquests in Final Fantasy XV. You think Dragon Age: Inquisition had a lot of fetchquests? Wait til you start exploring Lucis. Most of the sidequests involve finding some item and returning it to the quest giver, giving it an old-school open-world RPG feel. They feel a lot like the randomly-generated quests from Skyrim, which isn't really a compliment. Square Enix would have done well to borrow from the rather elaborate sidestories and quest chains found in the likes of the Witcher 3, which encourage you to explore far and wide.

Hunts are the main source of interesting sidequests in Final Fantasy XV's world.

By conventional open-world RPG standards, Lucis is also pretty small, featuring only one major landmass dotted with gas stations and cafes. These outposts serve as the jumping-off point for your forays into the wilderness, which will typically find you gathering ingredients, hunting treasure, or battling monsters. If you're looking for a change of pace, you can rent and race chocobos, your reward being treasure and increased customization options for your birds. A little later, you can take on high-level hunts and optional dungeons, which you can uncover by talking to local proprietors. Final Fantasy XV's world is open pretty much from the start, and you can easily waste 20 hours or more just tooling around taking on sidequests and exploring.

Your best friend in all this is the Regalia—the crew's royal sports car, which you can repaint and load up with decals if you so desire. The Regalia is your primary mode of transportation, carrying you from one town to another and generally giving you the sense that you're on a long roadtrip. It's possible to drive the Regalia, but I mostly left that to Ignis, preferring instead to put a classic Final Fantasy soundtrack on the car radio and just enjoy the scenery. Other times, I used it to fast-travel across the map. However you choose to use it, you'll never be far from the Regalia, making it the unofficial fifth member of your party. My personal favorite memories of Final Fantasy XV are riding around in the Regalia, taking on hunts, and just enjoying the world, which is gorgeous. Driving around in the car has the interesting effect of making Lucis feel bigger than it actually is, particularly with the story focusing on a few set areas to start. Distance is a bit wonky in Final Fantasy XV—it takes forever just to drive three miles in the Regalia—but it's nevertheless an effective illusion.

Final Fantasy XV also does a good job of keeping your quest log filled without feeling overwhelming, leaving you with the sense that there's always something to do. Most of the time, I would roll into a local outpost, check on the gathering points and hunts, then wander until dark. Once the sun goes down, you can either stay in a lodge or put up camp to refresh your hitpoints and tally up experience. If you decide to camp, Ignis will use the ingredients you find to cook a meal, which offers temporary stat buffs over the course of the following day. The overall flow ends up feeling very natural, and it's one of the things that I like best about Final Fantasy XV.

Chocobos will totally chill at your campsite if you happen to be renting them. I love touches like these.

But alas, it doesn't last. The open world fades away around the story's midpoint, gradually narrowing until all you have are cutscenes, dungeons, and setpiece battles. Happily, you can eventually return to the open world with the help of your fiancé's dog, who will send you back into the past so that you can explore to your heart's content. I wouldn't call it a perfect solution—it's a bit weird that you can bring back gear and experience from your "memories"—but it's better than nothing, I guess.

These forays eventually become a welcome respite from the weight of the story, with various party members longingly recalling all the fun times tooling around the countryside. I too came to miss that aspect of that story, and felt relieved whenever I went back. 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.

So let's talk some more about the story. Final Fantasy's stories are always controversial, and Final Fantasy XV is unlikely to be any different, focusing as it does on four boys with a penchant for tromping around the wilderness in leather.

It has been billed as a story about brotherhood, and for what it's worth, it does manage to do the necessary legwork to establish a plausible bond between the prince and his retinue. Their personalities are evident from the start: the first shot of Noctis has him leaning wordlessly against the broken-down Regalia as the rest of the group figures out what to do, establishing him as a bit of a brat. Gladio is the father figure, constantly chastising Noctis for his immaturity and trying to get him to be more of a leader. Ignis is the uber-competent cook and driver who is initially boring but who later in the story takes a rather interesting turn. And Prompto... Prompto is the little brother, constantly yapping around the group like a little blonde chihuahua.

Prompto takes pictures, Ignis cooks, and Noctis... likes to fish.

They are sent out into the wilderness by the ruler of Crown City, who knows that his kingdom is about to be invaded by the neighboring Empire and wants to protect his heir, Noctis. Thrust into the role of king, Noctis has to grow up fast and lead the effort to recover the kingdom's crystal from the Empire, which holds the key to the fate of the world. I found that I liked Noctis's guardsmen despite myself, their sometimes inane conversations on the road and around the campfire making them seem far more real than the overwrought cardboard cutouts populating Final Fantasy XIII. Together with a handful of side characters, they form the core of a decent little coming-of-age arc centering on Noctis. Admittedly, these tropes are old as time, and god knows we have enough examinations of male friendship in the media; but in the end, there's enough in the way of interesting conflict and character development for it to work.

Of course, it's best if you don't think too much about the fact that Noctis's kingdom seems to consist of about 10 people, or the fact that the newly-anointed king and his royal retinue is tromping around the wilderness while an entire military is trying to hunt them down. It's even better if you don't think about the fact that the group takes on an entire military base at one point to rescue their car, ostensibly because it has sentimental value.

What's important is that the emotional core is there, that the story hums along at a reasonable pace, and that the villains are actually somewhat interesting this time around. Final Fantasy XV peppers its story with a number of antagonists, most of whom work for the Empire. Not all are as they seem, and interestingly, the story goes out of its way to subvert at least one of the franchise's more common villainous tropes (you'll know what I mean when you see it). Of the more ambiguous characters that you meet, the most interesting is Ardyn, a fedora-wearing stranger who is friendly and helpful at the outset but clearly has his own agenda. He ends up playing a pretty big role in the story that unfolds, and while his motives aren't altogether surprising, his sly delivery and unique fashion sense makes him memorable

I'll admit: I liked Final Fantasy XV's story. It's fantasy pulp, but one with enough of an emotional arc that it kept me invested. If it has a weakness, outside of being kind of ridiculous at times, it's Noctis himself, who is sullen, taciturn, and well, kind of boring. He's the archetypal teen who has to put aside his childish things, start getting up early in the morning, and embrace his duty—always a popular theme in Japanese media. His friends basically have to drag him around by the scruff of the neck, which explains why Gladio gets so impatient with him. His strongest relationship is with his fiancé Lunafreya—a character he mostly interacts with through a book delivered by a magical dog. It's not until the latter part of the story that he begins to grow in any meaningful way.

Cup Noodles? Cup Noodles.

Your mileage will, as always, vary depending upon how down you are with Final Fantasy's very particular mix of advanced technology, overwrought fantasy, and high fashion, which is apt to strike some as silly. But in an era where publishers are more inclined than ever to play it safe, Final Fantasy XV's goofiness pops, and so does its surprisingly touching story of four dudes on the road to destiny.

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Comments 36

  • Avatar for VotesForCows #1 VotesForCows 6 months ago
    Only 32 hours left until I can play it!
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #2 Kuni-Nino 6 months ago
    I see the score. I see the nice words. But why do I feel like the game isn't very good? I feel like there's a lot of caveats being thrown around to justify that score.

    Hopefully I end up liking it. I think it sounds pretty good. I also think I'm in for some very long debates in the next few years.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #3 brionfoulke91 6 months ago
    Well it looks excellent to me. I'm really looking forward to trying it!

    Finally I can have more than one game for my PS4!Edited November 2016 by brionfoulke91
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #4 cldmstrsn 6 months ago
    From what i have heard about the next FF is that it also has been in development for awhile and by none other than my favorite director Hiroyuki Ito. Cant wait to see what he dreams up for XVI.
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  • Avatar for Vanderdulpp #5 Vanderdulpp 6 months ago
    Glad to hear that it's worth playing! I've never played a FF game, but when I saw footage of this one, it struck me that it's basically how I imagined all games of the future would look as a kid. Was curious if the combat or controls have improved since the initial demo that was open to the American public? I wasn't too hot on them, then.
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  • Avatar for Gamer-Law #6 Gamer-Law 6 months ago
    @Kuni-Nino - Well said. Every review that I read seems to downplay its praise by infusing heavy doses of caution. Kat's review highlights what I believe will be the game's most glaring flaw--the combat system. I suspect this will end up being among the most controversial FF installments.Edited November 2016 by Gamer-Law
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #7 cldmstrsn 6 months ago
    Having played the japanese demo judgement disc I can say that at least for me that the combat system is very good. Flows very well and has surprising depth. Everyone will of course have a different opinion but thats my 2 cents.Edited November 2016 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #8 cldmstrsn 6 months ago
    @Vanderdulpp yes the combat has improved miles ahead of the duscae demo in fact you could say its almost entirely different.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #9 Kat.Bailey 6 months ago
    @Gamer-Law The core of the game is very good, and that's why it works, in my opinion. But yes, it does have its flaws. I spent 3000 words on the review because I came away thinking, "I loved it! ... Why did I love it?"

    Suffice it to say that there's a lot going on with this one.
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  • Avatar for TheWildCard #10 TheWildCard 6 months ago
    Looks like reception is fairly mixed, but pretty positive overall. I'm especially surprised most reviewers are saying the game does have an emotional core that works, which I wasn't expecting SE to deliver. So kudos to them. Hopefully it doesn't take another decade to get XVI.
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  • Avatar for SIGGYZtar #11 SIGGYZtar 6 months ago
    "Sound: Final Fantasy's famously high-quality soundtrack is back in full force. When those latin vocals get going in the big battles, you will almost certainly start getting goosebumps. But here's a protip: Stick with the Japanese voice track."

    Does it get quite creepy with the English dub due to horror movies? Or is the Japanese voice track better for the music due to the contrasts?
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #12 cldmstrsn 6 months ago
    @TheWildCard I think the days of square taking forever to release games is over. I think they have really learned their lesson and im sure the first part of VII remake will be out next year and I bet you we will see XVI by 2018.Edited November 2016 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for Jeremiah-Jones #13 Jeremiah-Jones 6 months ago
    It seems like a lot better than I would have expected.

    Two questions: In regards to chocobo customization, what can we expect here? Different armors and or feather looks, or spoilers, neon-lights, and hydraulics? Either way, I'm excited for this game in a way that I haven't been since XII.

    How is dodging, and evasion? I remember a pet peeve in XII for me was that when I ran from a monster, he'd be able to hit me with a physical attack several feet away from where the animation took place.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #14 Kat.Bailey 6 months ago
    @Jeremiah-Jones You can name it and choose different feathers.

    Dodging and evasion generally works well. It's not quite up the level of a conventional action game, of course, but still pretty natural
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  • Avatar for jayzii #15 jayzii 6 months ago
    I look forward to spending some time with this one and digging into the combat systems. I've seen some people make it look like a lot of fun (I've also seen some people make it look terrible). It's disappointing that nobody seems too hot on the overall story, but I'm looking forward to the road trip atmosphere.

    Most of all, I'm ready for the series to move on, and I'm excited for what is new and next. I think a decade is long enough to wallow in the universe of FFXIII and its spin-offs.
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  • Avatar for Jeremiah-Jones #16 Jeremiah-Jones 6 months ago
    @Kat.Bailey That's good to hear.
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #17 Vonlenska 6 months ago
    "Too forgiving" sounds good to me. My biggest problem with XII* was finding it wwwwaaaay too grindy, and the weird micromanagement didn't help. I can't tell if XV is too different in that regard, but its combat is at least more entertaining to watch.

    * I, um, skipped XIII. Maybe someday I'll give it a shot, just to see what it's like.
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #18 chaoticBeat 6 months ago
    I'm possibly alone here but I prefer 35 hours for completion to 70. I can't really tell if this game is for me yet.
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  • Avatar for Gamer-Law #19 Gamer-Law 6 months ago
    @Kat.Bailey Your review was both fair and insightful. I appreciated learning what you enjoyed about the game as well as where you believe it to have fallen short. I am going into the game with an open mind and hope to enjoy it as much as you did. Thanks again for the great work.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #20 cldmstrsn 6 months ago
    Does this FF have new game +?
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #21 VotesForCows 6 months ago
    @cldmstrsn I'm glad to hear you think the combat system is good! You always seem to have good taste in that area.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #22 link6616 6 months ago
    @Kat.Bailey the "why did I love it" sounds a lot like a gestalt experience to me.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #23 touchofkiel 6 months ago
    Iffy combat, wonky narrative, good character development, and a thoughtful, polished take on open-world RPG design... exactly what I was expecting, actually! In a good way.

    But if it's not your cup of tea, and you're still itching for some FF goodness, I have to be the guy to recommend FFXIV. Don't be scared of MMOs, guys! It's such an awesome FF game. We have a Gold Saucer! And Ultros! And Triple Triad! My FC (clan) turned our house into a chocobo. A chocobo!
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #24 cldmstrsn 6 months ago
    @VotesForCows Thanks! Thats very nice and appreciated but I have to say there isnt a FF battle system I dont like so maybe im a little biased haha.
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  • Avatar for TerryTrowbridge #25 TerryTrowbridge 6 months ago
    I'm excited to give it a whirl. I've been wanting a high budget JRPG for a while.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #26 VotesForCows 5 months ago
    @cldmstrsn I missed most of them from about 6 through to 13, but have loved the ones I did play. Enjoying FF14 a lot right now, and absolutely adored the combat in Lightning Returns! Anyway, not long til I get to try FF15 now...
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  • Avatar for himuradrew #27 himuradrew 5 months ago
    A friend of mine forwarded me photos from a local game shop where she was in line to buy FFXV. And holy crap the line was long. People, especially who did not reserve copies where whining to the high heavens.

    To put this in context, I live here in Asia where you very rarely see lines for games. The last time we had lines like these was for the launch of the N3DSXL where quantity was in short supply. Goes to show how much power the Final Fantasy brand name still has here in my country.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #28 VotesForCows 5 months ago
    @touchofkiel I have to back you up on this. I'm clearly not as big a FF fan as a lot of others in the comments, but I adore FF14. I mean, the combat and quests are great, but who'd have thought collecting flowers could be so much fun too?
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #29 cldmstrsn 5 months ago
    @VotesForCows hey what server do you play on FF XIV? my old guild disbanded and im looking to start up again when the new expansion drops.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #30 VotesForCows 5 months ago
    @cldmstrsn Siva, I think. It's one of the European ones. I'm guessing you're on a North American one?The new expansion looks cool, though I'm still a long way off finishing even the vanilla main quest!
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  • Avatar for mischiefmaker #31 mischiefmaker 5 months ago
    Sorry but this, along with other reviews, have been far too damn charitable. The game basically plays itself, and is literally a different genre now. Every single review talks about how the core competent of the series, strategic turn based combat is essentially better. That the combat here is thin, and generally plays itself.

    This is really a betrayal of the genre and the fans to appeal to the casuals who don't want depth and turn based combat. But because the game is pretty, as it should be after 10 years, it gets 8's from all the sites? Ridiculous. The fact so many people are ok with this series literally switching genre's is insulting and perplexing. The apathy is amazing.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #32 cldmstrsn 5 months ago
    @mischiefmaker jeez man. Havent you read any of the interviews or anything surrounding this game? The series hasnt "switched" genres. This one FF has a different combat system and multiple people from Square have said just because this game is like this doesnt mean other ones will follow suit. Its getting good reviews because its its own game and is judged on that so to me that says wow its actually a really fun game and it really is! Having played some already im in love with it just like all the other FF's I have played for 30 years.

    You know how many people I know who said the exact same thing about FF VII back when it released? They were pissed that it had future tech and were yelling to the skies that it wasnt FF. So we have been here before and there will always be people saying "this isnt FF!! argghhh"Edited 4 times. Last edited November 2016 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for mischiefmaker #33 mischiefmaker 5 months ago
    @cldmstrsn Yes I have, and I was happy with this game remaining a spin off, which is what it was supposed to be. As soon as they unveiled the action combat, I knew it was over. And sure enough the reviews show exactly that. But I guess people want flash over substance. Just hold down a button and the game plays itself! 4 lousy summons, that show up when they fell like it? How can long time fans think this is anything but a slap in the face? Unreal.

    I was around for FF7, it was not that big a deal, even FF6 had advanced tech. It was accepted because it was a classic turn based RPG still. This is a *different genre*. It is literally an action game. I am deeply amazed how many people accept this as being perfectly ok when there is such a lack of AAA turn based RPG's anymore. The issue is the mechanics, not the damn characters or technology. It's not even the same genre anymore!

    Please believe that they are going to switch back to complex turn based mechanics if they can get most of the fans to enjoy a superficial, thin, action game which is vastly easier to make with these visuals, and then just go back and make the next game the genre it is supposed to be which isn't currently in vogue. They did this to appeal to casuals and because modern gaming tastes require big AAA titles to all basically be action games.

    They aren't going back. They are already ruining FF7 with similar action combat.Edited 2 times. Last edited November 2016 by mischiefmaker
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #34 chaoticBeat 5 months ago
    Deleted November 2016 by chaoticBeat
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  • Avatar for docexe #35 docexe 5 months ago
    Reading this one and a couple of other reviews, it seems to me that FFXV is destined to become one of the most polarizing games of the entire franchise (which then again, might have been inevitable given its tumultuous development).

    For me the major concern isn’t the battle system or the open world first half (which on the whole seem to have been warmly received), but the more linear second half of the main storyline. Given what I have read, it sounds like that part is... well, kind of a mess.

    Some reviewers have pointed out that it feels like a completely different game that was tacked on. There is even a reviewer (I think it was at Polygon) who commented that it looks like Tabata’s development team had bigger plans for the second half of the storyline but they finally run out of time and had to rush it (which, again, wouldn’t be surprising considering the development cycle). Then again, many are also praising the ending of the story, so I suppose it’s not all bad.

    In any case, despite that trepidation I’m still willing to play it (that is, if I ever get a PS4). The open world part do sounds very enticing and big budget games that have what you could call “the classic Japanese flair and charm of old” are pretty rare these days.
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  • Avatar for The-Challenger #36 The-Challenger 5 months ago
    At least that annoying Break meter is finally gone. May it burn in hell.
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  • Avatar for Zenbojay #37 Zenbojay 5 months ago
    If Square/Enix had named this game anything other than Final Fantasy I would have been OK with it but instead i'm playing Grand Theft Auto or Assassin Creed or Dragon Age or any other sandbox search everywhere and everything game in a Final Fantasy style motif. I feel like the developers have forgotten what makes a great FF and basically made a cookie cutter game in hopes to satisfy everyone instead of their core audience.

    Don't get me wrong because I'm really enjoying everything about the game .... It's fun it's just not Final Fantasy
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