A shark tried to eat me over the weekend. Not a literal shark, but a digital one within the virtual reality game Final Fantasy XV: Monster of the Deep.
Monster of the Deep is a new VR game from Square Enix, plopping players as their own personally-designed avatar in the world of Eos from Final Fantasy XV, meeting Noctis and others along the way. In VR, you're not stuck literally experiencing all that Final Fantasy XV has to offer in a first-person view. Instead, you're resigned to its most beautiful fishing areas with just your lure, your pole, and a handy camera by your side (for selfies, of course). Like Noctis and company in Final Fantasy XV, you're sort of a makeshift bounty hunter. Except your bounties are big ol' fish, not monsters in meadows and caves.
That's where this giant shark daemon fish thing entered my life. Fin ejecting out of the water, razor sharp teeth grinning, high speeds as the shark swirled around me. Out of all the horror games I've played in VR, somehow, this experience ranks as one of the scariest. Because when I'd miss shooting the shark with my crossbow (or lose track of where they went), they'd lunge at me, face to face. And you don't know fear until a shark jumps straight towards you.
Aside from that action though, Monster of the Deep is a relaxing experience. You visit many fishing holes across Final Fantasy XV's world. You'll recognize the areas too, or at least the general vistas of them. Of course, you end up meeting old friends from your past life in Final Fantasy XV proper there too: Noctis, Cindy, Gladiolus, Prompto, Ignis, and so on. The gang's all here for Monster of the Deep, ready to do some fishing. Or at least Noctis is, and everyone else reluctantly follows suit. All of them are continuously wowed by my skills, because I'm seemingly the God of Fishing.
When Monster of the Deep was first announced at E3 2017, my first thought was, "Why???" But that quickly turned into "I mean, why not???" After being a VR-focused reporter in my past life, the experiments I played that were rooted in mundanity were always the most interesting. What if you had a casual dinner party in VR, or hung out with friends in VR? Monster of the Deep operates on a similar principle: what if instead of being a cross-country bounty hunger for monsters with a tortured narrative arc, what if you were just really into reeling in a big catch or two?
And I caught a lot of fish across my time with Monster of the Deep. Despite the ever-finicky PlayStation Move controllers considerably hindering some of the experience, Monster of the Deep works well for what it is. You cast fishing lines, sit and wait for a bit, and reel fish in. It's not a magnetic sort of fishing either—it requires at least some skill, like real fishing. Or at least, knowing a good strategy of attracting nearby fish, whether it's in using another lure or moving to another vantage point. Monster of the Deep is pleasant, without pressuring the player too much.
Of course, there's that pressure should you desire it too. In the Story mode, I chased after big monster-fish across Final Fantasy XV. Essentially, I fished as always to lure the big guy out; then I'd whip out my crossbow, and get to shooting the daemon. One was the shark, yes. The other was a fish that mirrored itself into dozens, and I had to shoot the "correct" one when they'd pop up again, and so on. These sequences are more action oriented, and honestly, I tended to prefer the quieter fishing. Nonetheless, it diversifies the experience a little bit, even if I always preferred just angling in semi-solitude.
Overall, there's not a whole lot to Monster of the Deep. If anything, it dares to be boring like real life fishing, which is almost endearing. Around what felt like the millionth time of catching a giant salmon, it reminded me of fishing with my family when we used to go camping while I was growing up, and how I always found more pleasure in reading a book in the early mornings by the lake than actually fishing myself. At the very least, Monster of the Deep lets you toggle in some music to add some background tunes when resting by the water.
Monster of the Deep may come off as fan service—especially when the traditionally scantily-clad Cindy leans close to you in VR, cleavage clear as day; or you hang around a campfire in solitude with your new faux-boyfriend Noctis—but buried beneath it is an actually decent VR fishing game. Coupled with its Free Fishing mode for no-pressure fishing, an assortment of lures and clothes for your custom character to unlock (including a Moogle suit… because why not), Monster of the Deep is the sort of experience designed around chilling out in VR. And in an era where games (especially VR games) are banking on being the most exciting thing ever, sometimes kicking back with no worries is all you need.
So go ahead and reel in that fish bud. It looks like a big one.