Final Fantasy XV Travel Diary, Day Three: Authentic Road Trip

The greatest strength of this Japanese RPG just might be how perfectly it captures the experience of trekking through the American hinterlands.

Preview by Jeremy Parish, .

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I didn't expect to like Final Fantasy XV. Imagine my surprise when, about 12 hours into the game, I realized I kind of love it.

That point — 12 hours — was around where I began to make headway into the game's third chapter. I spent about seven hours completing the first chapter, and another three on the second. Both of those portions of the game took place in the same region (the desert-like Liede), which I thought I had explored in its entirety during Chapter One. Surprisingly, though, I had overlooked an entire corner of the map off to the northwest, which served as the primary setting for Chapter Two. I could have gone there at any time and farted around pointlessly the way I did the rest of Liede, but it didn't even occur to me that there was something up there — the rest of the map had been so desolate and empty.

Home sweet Hammerhead.

But no, in its northern reaches, Liede's desert begins to give way to rolling, grassy hills. Unlike the desert, the hilly northern areas contain a great many manmade structures — all abandoned and fallen into disrepair, as with almost everything you come across in the sandy wastelands. But here the ruins provide more context for Liede's general desolation: It was laid to waste years prior by warfare. Rusting hulks of tanks and shattered military structures fade into the scenery, sinking into the earth as moss and other overgrowth creeps up to consume them.

You can stumble across these remnants of simmering conflicts more or less from the outset of the game, but they're isolated at the other end of a boring stretch of desert highway from where the action of FFXV's Chapter One takes place. By the time you're forced to venture into that area, war has erupted and Prince Noctis has been displaced from his home in the Crown City. It's a canny bit of open-world design — context and clues for the story's central conflict sit right there in the open for you to discover at any time, but you're only guaranteed to uncover them once that conflict has emerged. FFXV's world, so far as I've seen, comes off as thoughtfully designed, with many environmental elements that underscore the story... provided you know what to look for.

It wasn't until I entered the third chapter and made my way to the Duscae province — yes, as in the "Episode Duscae" demo — that it all finally fell into place for me. Everything that happens in Liede, it turns out, works more or less like a tutorial, a prologue: A fact that became clear at the very outset of the chapter, when the game finally allowed me to take the wheel of the group's car and drive myself around instead of issuing orders to Ignis. Of course, FFXV still makes you stick to the road as you drive Regalia; there's no Grand Theft Auto-style off-roading in this luxury car. But that's OK, because you can make a beeline directly for a sidequest that will grant you speedy passage across the countryside once you make it to Duscae: Acquiring chocobo rentals.

"Can we get one of those 'pecan logs' I always hear so much about?"

What you won't find in Duscae or, it seems, anywhere else in FFXV? True fast travel. The game only allows the party two options for fast travel shortcuts across the land: You can return instantly to the last place you camped out or rested overnight, and you can warp immediately back to wherever you parked Regalia (assuming those two places aren't one and the same). You can also have Regalia towed instantly to your current location, in order to enable your party to hop in and continue your journey. But you can't simply pick a town from a menu and zap immediately to that location.

I imagine that won't sit well with a lot of players. It flies in the face of open-world game design convention, forcing players to travel manually from point to point. Granted, the highways that Regalia travels along skirt along and cut through each region, so it only takes a few minutes to drive between major points.

FFXV's creators have very consciously and very deliberately chosen not to make instant fast-travel an option for basic transit. It's a bold choice, and one that I honestly appreciate. I always try to hold off on fast traveling in games like Skyrim and Assassin's Creed for as long as possible (ultimately giving in for the sake of convenience), because it destroys immersion and cheapens the world. Here's this vast land to explore, but ultimately you're just bouncing around different names on a menu — so why bother with an open world at all?

FFXV takes away that option, limiting you to a quick shortcut back to your base camp or the occasional change to skip backtracking through a completed dungeon, and it really underscores the central "four guys on a road trip" conceit of the game. When you go trekking by road across the middle section of America, there's no "fast travel" to skip you past Nebraska or Indiana. There's a lot of empty space and wide horizons, and that's all part of the experience. And FFXV fills its stretches of wandering with amusing exchanges between your party members: Varied banter after battles, complaints about the weather (one morning too chilly, the next too warm), and even fussing about Noctis's well-being.

Not even on the road yet and Prompto suddenly says we need to stop so he can pee. Frickin' Prompto.

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Comments 26

  • Avatar for Jeremiah-Jones #1 Jeremiah-Jones A year ago
    In reading this, I have a question:

    Is there an option to just go into a 1st person viewpoint, and just screen capture the heck out of the environment. It sounds like it could be a video game photographer's paradise.
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  • Avatar for kusabi4 #2 kusabi4 A year ago
    I'm from Illinois, and had just recently taken a road trip to Vermont. Going through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York was a great and experience, and reading about your own travels on the road (plus the fact you seem to really be loving this game) has gotten me genuinely excited about Final Fantasy for the first time since???
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #3 cldmstrsn A year ago
    Just sounds better and better! One more month people!!!
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #4 Vonlenska A year ago
    One of the most intriguing things about this to me is how it seems to break with the series tradition of exciting in media res openings and dumps you off in the middle of nowhere instead, which in an odd way feels more in keeping with series tradition than anything emulating FF7's bombing mission.

    There are still some things that won't quite sit well with me and I still have no idea what to think of the combat, but it looks unique and comfortable in its own skin, which is what I really want from Final Fantasy.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #5 jeremy.parish A year ago
    @Jeremiah-Jones All the screens here were taken in-game by Prompto, who shoots snapshots at random. If there's a way to control the camera yourself, I haven't figured it out.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #6 jeremy.parish A year ago
    Deleted October 2016 by jeremy.parish
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  • Avatar for pdubb #7 pdubb A year ago
    Crap, we all know that when you fall for a game hard, the game tanks commercially and nothing is ever released again.

    So let's hope that the way you make this game sound amazing is not as it usually is Mr. Parish. Otherwise, outstanding preview.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #8 jeremy.parish A year ago
    @pdubb I liked a popular game once!
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #9 jeffcorry A year ago
    Ugh. I haven't had this much anticipation for a game since...
    It's been a really long time...
    Final Fantasy VII? XIII?
    Skyward Sword?
    Strangely hearing all this about the world makes me want to fire up Final Fantasy XII...
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #10 cldmstrsn A year ago
    @jeffcorry I have been keeping my excitement in check cause of that old adage a watched pot never cooks. The wait would be to unbearable. Luckily I have a crap load of games to play between now and then. Also the last time I was this excited about FF was almost exactly 10 years ago when FF XII was releasing. It released on October 31st and me and a friend got off work early to pick up our copies and we had the next 4 days off! While everyone was out partying and celebrating Halloween I was holed up at home playing which is now my favorite FF of all time. After FF XV I will be looking forward to hearing the release date and possible Collectors Edition for Zodiac Age. Damn didnt mean to ramble!Edited October 2016 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #11 jeffcorry A year ago
    @cldmstrsn I'd probably choose Final Fantasy over Halloween any day! ESPECIALLY XII!
    I definitely have a big enough backlog (and growing...) to keep me more than busy...but I'm still pretty pumped for this game. Why?
    No logic. Just Final Fantasy.Edited October 2016 by jeffcorry
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  • Avatar for jayzii #12 jayzii A year ago
    I'm very excited to finally get my hands on this game. I'm also glad it seems to be previewing so well, even with people who are skeptical of the series in general, or this game in particular. Hopefully they stick the landing.

    I'm dying to see where the series goes from here. With this game's release, we'll finally be free of the decade-long Fabula Nova Crystallis constipation. I think everyone, SE most of all, is ready to move on.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #13 VotesForCows A year ago

    I can't wait either - making the wait bearable by playing Final Fantasy 14 for the next month!
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #14 touchofkiel A year ago
    The open-world-as-road-trip sounds like a great idea, especially from devs who usually show a lot of polish and attention to detail (surface level, anyway). I'm just worried that, like any road trip, it's all a matter of the company you keep... these characters just look and sound so insipid. Probably won't stop me from playing it, after all...
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  • Avatar for Jeremiah-Jones #15 Jeremiah-Jones A year ago
    @jeremy.parish Thanks for the heads up. You might have sold me on this game. It wasn't even on my radar before.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #16 cldmstrsn A year ago
    @touchofkiel You should really check out the anime series thats for free on youtube. You watch that and I guarantee you will like the characters a lot more. Especially Prompto! you'll see why in the second episode.
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  • Avatar for pdubb #17 pdubb A year ago
    @jeremy.parish and that game was Mass Effect and look what happened to Mass Effect 3. It was all your fault!

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  • Avatar for moochan #18 moochan A year ago
    I'm still on the fence on whether I want to actually play it or not. Really sad how far FF fallen over the past 10 years. I mean there's lots of great things but man did SE really drop the ball. At least I'm having a blast with World of Final Fantasy (which I would have been ok with them calling FF15 and this something else).
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #19 cldmstrsn A year ago
    @moochan Ya it kind of sucks that most people feel Square has lost their way this past decade. Personally for me I never stopped. I very much enjoyed all the XIII games and the last few years around 2012 they have come out with some real quality stuff and it just is getting better. I feel like ever since Wada left the new president has shaken things up. He has gotten outside help so they could get projects done a lot quicker and we are seeing it just in this generation. Its fantastic to see.Edited October 2016 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for docexe #20 docexe A year ago
    Reading your impressions about FFXV give me some confidence, even if I’m still a bit cautious about the game. But after the past few years, it would be great to see Final Fantasy recover its previous cachet. We’ll know for sure in another month.
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  • Avatar for moochan #21 moochan A year ago
    @cldmstrsn Yeah I feel a lot of the issue came from Wada. At least if you read some interviews with people willing to talk they talk about Wada's handling of the company and how insane he did things. Nobuo Uematsu talks about Wada took a physic advice on moving the company which lead Nobuo to quit. The new guy seem to really want to bring back the glory of the older Square which I wish him well. Also seem like we are getting DQ games again right now (mostly because of Nintendo's help) which makes me happy to. I honestly hope FF15 is good and hope Square can somehow capture what made them great in the first place. But that's someone that really hated the FF13 games (and have really big issue with FF12).
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  • Avatar for jjmahoney3 #22 jjmahoney3 A year ago
    I didn't think I could be more excited. But these 3 articles have pushed me over the edge.

    I wonder though, having played through most of the Duscae demo, do you play through that exactly as it was in the demo, or did they mix it up a bit? It's a minor pet peeve when I have to replay demo content in the final game. I appreciate when the developer remixes it a bit.Edited October 2016 by jjmahoney3
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #23 jeremy.parish A year ago
    @jjmahoney3 Episode Duscae had you fight a Behemoth to earn cash to repair your car. Now you repair your car in Liede in chapter 1 and fight the Behemoth in Duscae in chapter 3... so no, not the same.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #24 brionfoulke91 A year ago
    I really like the limited fast travel you describe. Good game design is about limiting the player. Usually most open world games throw in fast travel as a crutch to hide the fact that the world is sloppily designed and not coherent. So the fact that FFXV limits fast travel is great, because it sounds like they designed the world with that in mind, and I love that. It's also certainly a great choice for making you feel more involved in the world your exploring.

    This seems like a choice that could work out really well. Hopefully future open world games will learn from this.
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  • Avatar for The-Challenger #25 The-Challenger A year ago
    But will one of the main cast members die? I wish they brought back that FF tradition as well.
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  • Avatar for pdubb #26 pdubb A year ago
    @The-Challenger but only if it's dying in the Yang way.
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