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Will Final Fantasy XV's Big Twist Ruin The Game?

Early details about about FFXV's endgame have emerged, to much consternation.

Preview by Jeremy Parish, .

Like several other games writers, I've spent a huge chunk of time with a sizable percentage of Final Fantasy XV. Like many other writers, I came away impressed with what the FFXV team has accomplished, especially in light of the game's troubled and protracted development. And, like many other writers, I recognize that things could still go terribly awry in the back half of the game.

Those fears have been fueled in part by director Hajime Tabata's own admission that the game becomes much more linear toward the end than the wide-open sandbox seen in the early going. But surely he just means the plot becomes more focused, some fans insisted, hopefully. Surely the game doesn't become truly a linear, Final Fantasy XIII-like experience toward the end!

Now, a more extensive hands-on preview has emerged from EDGE magazine; being a long-lead publication, they were granted access to a more complete build of the game than online press has seen so far. And the word from EDGE is... well, minor spoilers for the latter portions of FFXV ahead. Turn back now if such things alarm you.

Take heed and go no further!

Alright then. According to EDGE, Final Fantasy XV actually does become almost entirely linear in its final chapters. The story evidently undergoes a time jump — a development depicted in the opening cinema of the game, so not that big a surprise — and from that point, players are more or less locked into a corridor-based journey to the finale. While it's possible to return to the open portions of the game to complete quests and the like, doing so requires the use of a narrative device that keeps the story's past hermetically sealed from its future.

Oh no! It's Final Fantasy XIII all over again! Or not.

This has caused no end of hand-wringing among the FFXV faithful, a sense of despair or resentment that the whole thing is a lie and that the extensive media previews about the open-world portions are just a smokescreen to hide that fact that, deep down, it really is just FFXIII all over again. I can certainly understand where they're coming from, but having spent so much time with the opening chapters of the game, I have trouble sharing their sense of doom.

For starters, there's a pretty significant difference between FFXV and its partner in Fabula Nova Crystallis crime. FFXIII was entirely linear; so many Final Fantasy fans hate it because it never gave them anything to do but walk straight ahead and fight bad guys. Aside from a single "open" portion of the game that consisted of a large empty space where you could fight monsters ad nauseum, FFXIII more or less gave you a long, gorgeous tube full of random encounters and constant cut scenes to walk down, and that was it. There was little room for deviation, little opportunity for customization, little need for player agency.

FFXV, on the other hand, features plenty of all that in its first five chapters — and possibly beyond. Based on my own experience, the open-world portions of the game could easily fill 40 hours of play time at the least; I explored less than half of the world map in nearly 16 hours of wandering. I probably could have used more of the game's limited fast travel option, which forces you to stick to the main roads and way points, but half the pleasure for me came in venturing away from the major traffic arteries to see what else lay in the lands of Liede and Duscae. And even within the regions I explored, I stepped away from the preview with a great many hunts and side quests incomplete — I probably only managed to conquer a third of the hunts I saw listed, as most were grossly over-leveled for my team and usually required a higher hunter ranking (meaning I hadn't completed enough prerequisites to accept those hunts in the first place). I don't know precisely how much more the remainder of the world has to offer, but assuming you really get into the free-roaming aspect of things, it's not hard to imagine 60-80 of open-world wandering. In that light, I don't think I could bring myself to feel too put out about 10-15 hours (or however much) of more linear design.

Tidus and Yuna laugh at the notion that linear design is inherently bad. HA HA HA! HA HA HA! HA HA HA! HA HA HA!

Besides, linear game design isn't some inherently terrible thing. Final Fantasy has seen plenty of linear design through the years. Final Fantasy IV, the first properly story-based game in the series, features almost entirely linear progression. That's not a coincidence; freedom of play and focused narrative design exist largely in competition with one another, and while they can live in the same space, that's a tall order. It's a whole lot easier for game developers to lock down the player's movements when they need to tell their story, and indeed the sandbox portions of FFXV tend to be extremely thin on narrative.

Fan favorite Final Fantasy X was nearly as much a journey down beautiful corridors as FFXIII. And it was a great game. The real question is, how much does this linear journey allow players to do? FFX featured richly designed villages, sports mini games, puzzle-block temples to solve, and more. FFXIII didn't offer much besides watching a story unfold. People like FFX a whole lot more than they do FFXIII. Will FFXV's linear portions be like FFX, or like FFXIII? And even if they do end up working more like FFXIII's, will that outweigh and negate the dozens of hours of free-form play that come before it? At worst, I feel like the portions of the game could sit at odds with one another.

And even then, that's not really some new scenario for Final Fantasy. On the contrary, the franchise has a long and storied history of radically changing up the flow of a game in its second half. This is probably best embodied by Final Fantasy VI, in which the first half of the adventure consists of an almost entirely linear, narrative-driven journey; once the apocalypse hits, however, the remainder of the game is almost entirely open and (aside from a handful of mandatory requirements for advancement) plays out entirely at the player's discretion. Of course, going from closed to open like this would seem to be the exact opposite of what FFXV does, but even that's not alien to Final Fantasy. Consider Final Fantasy VIII on PlayStation, whose fourth and final disc of the game locks players into a single location and forces them to rebuild their capabilities from the ground up.

The structure of Final Fantasy VI changed radically in its second half. FFXV simply appears to invert that, putting all the weird, freeform stuff up front.

In other words, nothing of this early report about FFXV sounds particularly out of step with the concept of Final Fantasy. While there's certainly no guarantee the game will be able to pull off such a radical transition with grace, neither is it by any means a guaranteed disaster. I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out myself once the game arrives at the end of the month, and I won't lie — I'm hoping for the best. I think most of us could use an improbable success these days.

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Comments 18

  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #1 cldmstrsn 10 months ago
    As a person who loved FF XIII and has gone through it multiple times this doesnt worry me at all and having watched the anime and Kingsglaive the story has me so intrigued that im looking forward to this supposedly linear back half.
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  • Avatar for NateDizzy #2 NateDizzy 10 months ago
    Is this aversion to linearity a generational thing? My nephew has a similar reaction when he hears a game limits his "freedom". Frankly, as an old dood, I'm glad to hear FFXV tightens up at the end. One issue I have with open world RPGs is that they have a hard time keeping players focused on the main story. Even the Witcher 3, a game I consider one the greatest RPGs of all time, suffered from that lack of focus.

    But like you said Jeremy, it all comes down to execution. The choice to limit the players could turn out to be awesome because the story is always front and center, or it could turn out to be terrible because you're just running down a long hallway. Guess we'll have to wait and see.
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  • Avatar for Lonecow #3 Lonecow 10 months ago
    This is one of those things where my view has done a 180 as I've gotten older (within just a couple of years actually).

    I don't have time to play console games that are open world anymore. So this game that I was going to put off for a while, probably just got a Preorder for me.

    Same reason I thank the goddesses of Hyrule that the Switch is portable. Gaming during my lunch break and about an hour at most at the end of the day is about all the time I have to dedicate to gaming, and long open world games that only exist on my home console means it will take me months to get though, if I don't just give up halfway.
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  • Avatar for Dreamboum #4 Dreamboum 10 months ago
    Iit has a high chance of being a "story over gameplay" pitfall for the last stretch, this is the big issue. I think we're sour enough about open-worlds that some linear tracks aren't as offensive as it was before. But here lies the big difference with 6. The shift in 6 is part of its character-driven story, tt gives itself 15 to 20 hours to make us care about the characters we play as and the world you live in. After that, it gives a pretty easy question : do you want to get all of them back ? Do you want to discover what happened to them ? Are you engaged enough ?

    It's fantastic, it's well thought-out and why it's one of the finest piece of videogaming. FF15 doesn't have that as the show is reversed. It's a matter of "are you going to go through this whole linear slog for the sake of the story" ? If the story is as messy as the transmedia content were, what will make people want to go through it, and why would they be happy that freedom will be taken from them ?

    Back then, we could trust the developers to know how to balance things out. Considering the rocky development of FF15, there's a big chance that this last stretch betrays the studio's inability to reconcile freedom and linearity and that we'll only have in front of us a final stretch duct-taped to fit a story they couldn't tell inside the limits of their own system. If this happens, this will truly be unprecedented in the series.
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  • Avatar for moochan #5 moochan 10 months ago
    My issue wasn't that FF13 was linear but how linear it was. Every FF game had linearity but there still was a sort of feeling of wondering even if it was just a minor thing. You had to walk around a bit in the desert after you rescued Rydia in FF4, FF9 had a the chocobo forest where you can get plates to find really early on, DQ8 had a house above the opening to the first cave where you can do minor side quests. All of those games are linear but had some feeling on wondering and finding you way around it. While I agree that FF10 was great I was sad over how linear it was (taking out the airship to wondering around was really missed on my part). FF12 however was too open and I felt was too open for my own good (at least as someone that wanted to enjoy a JRPG at the time). I do hope for the best for FF15 and glad you been enjoying it.
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  • Avatar for jjmahoney3 #6 jjmahoney3 10 months ago
    The "it's too linear!" argument falls flat on these ears. People seem to forget how their beloved old FF games were really NOT open world at all (or weren't until very late when you got a ship or airship). Most games started you in a town, and dumped you into an "open world" with a single cave. Sure you wander around an "open world" for hours, but the only way to progress forward was a single cave. Then once through the cave and the first boss, MORE OPEN WORLD! Buy usually with one town and another cave (which sometimes you couldn't even enter).

    I've loved FF since 4 (2) & 6 (3) on the SNES. I loved nearly every one since. Even FF13, which we all know was super linear, I loved. I needed that focus at that time (I had just become a new father).

    So bring it on. I need a new FF.Edited November 2016 by jjmahoney3
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #7 SargeSmash 10 months ago
    I would like to remind folks that most JRPGs, even if they have some degree of open-world to them, narrow up considerably at the end. How many times have we talked about the "point of no return"? I'm guessing things will be just fine.
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  • Avatar for nickpowell07 #8 nickpowell07 10 months ago
    It's not the same as FF13, because the problem with that game was that its linearity prevented you from feeling involved in its world. That game made me realize how important a 'town' is, because it paces the action by just allowing you to 'interact' with its universe. FF13 fundamentally misunderstood how RPGs should work.

    FF15, at the very least, gives you the first chunk of the game to melt into its world. And that's a vast improvement ... but the time jump thing is very concerning. If players actions in the 'past' don't affect the future then this is going to be another example of the plot-makers being so ambitious that they stop respecting how the player's investment in the game's interactivity should be MARRIED to the story's progression, not divorced from it.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #9 MetManMas 10 months ago
    I can't help but be a little skeptical about how the back half will play out. But I think the thing that'll make all the difference in Final Fantasy XV's on-rails bits is that the battle system requires much more active participation from the player.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #10 MetManMas 10 months ago
    @jjmahoney3 It's true, most jRPGs are linear. But some are a lot better at disguising that linearity than others. They didn't block off places with lame Agnès style "We have no reason to be here" spiels*, but instead with guards or closed gates or deadly enemies or just being a place with nothing worth doing yet.

    Sure, you're "on the rails" and all, but little things like the Vector continent having three other towns you can visit before hitting up the Magitek lab or Final Fantasy VII having a Fort Condor here or random house there or a number of optional places opening up when you get a new ride make all the difference.

    * I'm aware that Bravely Default prioritizes story over exploration, but way to kill dead all the fun of having a world map in the first place.
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #11 Vonlenska 10 months ago
    This does nothing to diminish my interest, and I have a graceful solution to any pain this may cause: just imagine the linear bit is a really extensive endgame dungeon.

    Besides, I remember when open-world design was considered confusing and bad (the 00s). There are pros and cons to each approach, and a mixture of both sounds best.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #12 touchofkiel 10 months ago
    Presumably this is done in the interest of narrative; the real question is whether the narrative can sustain it. I don't mind linearity, but I suspect the whole thing will devolve into Kingdom Hearts-style nonsense.
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  • Avatar for docexe #13 docexe 10 months ago
    Honestly, if they were planning on pulling off the typical bombastic and “epic” endings of the series, the last section of FFXV was obviously going to be very linear in nature. Whether or not this breaks the game remains to be seen, although I hope they manage to pull it off. For all we know, things can go completely off the rails in the last half of the game, something that I admit I’m concerned about given the protracted development period. We will know for sure in a couple of weeks in any case.

    Also, it has to be said: The problem with Final Fantasy XIII wasn’t so much linearity but poor design and pacing in its opening half. The first four or so chapters of the game are just incredibly repetitive and tedious. The game improves massively by its last third.
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  • Avatar for Eyyoman #14 Eyyoman 10 months ago
    Honestly I'm not worried. The tapering into a linear presentation is kinda built into the story cause...
    *spoilers*
    The whole story is about how Noctis is going on a road trip to marry some chick and he's deciding whether or not to do so. Political reasons, I think they were friends as kids and a bunch of other drama/reasons but yeah.
    *end of spoiler*
    For that reason imo it only makes sense that the end would be more linear and guides the player to the intended ending/pacing. Unlike Just Cause 3 where the whole game doesnt really feel like it had much direction as a player, once again imo.
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  • Avatar for Eyyoman #15 Eyyoman 10 months ago
    @Eyyoman Like if 70%-80% of the game is fairly open world and the last 20%-30% of the game is linear, then I'm cool. 50-50 split would be a little disappointing but not game ruining.
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #16 donkeyintheforest 10 months ago
    For me the problem with ffXIII wasn't it's linearity, but the battle system itself. I thought ffX had a great turn based system while ffXIII took the granular control away and made you more of a coach. While I liked it in 4 Heroes of Light, I never really enjoyed it with ffXIII and so I never finished it. I think it's going to be more about the battle system for me than the structure of the game world.
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  • Avatar for The-Challenger #17 The-Challenger 10 months ago
    I also look forward to a cliff hanger ending that will be further expounded via DLC at a later date.
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  • Avatar for jayzii #18 jayzii 10 months ago
    I find the open world fetishization in video games pretty odd. People online act as if being open world is inherently better than something linear. It's all about the execution of the concept. I'm glad Jeremy brought up FFX, because so many people who like that game a lot poo poo all over XIII because of its linearity. Turns out what makes games good or enjoyable is more complicated and nuanced than broad, overarching design decisions such as linear vs open world.

    A big open world that focuses into a something much more linear and narrative-driven in the second half sounds like a promising design decision for an rpg to me. Doubly so, considering it seems you can go back to the past open world if you really want to. It appears that as the characters in the game's objective gets more focused, the player's does as well. It also seems like it would address that weird cognitive dissonance of the older games where Meteor is about to destroy the planet at any moment, but you're off bird breeding. We'll see if they can pull it off or not, but the constant back and forth that the FFXV fandom engages in so much is pretty tiresome.Edited November 2016 by jayzii
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