Final Fantasy XV released in November 2016 to widespread acclaim, and its fair share of controversy. As a game trapped in development hell for a decade, it swapped directors, release windows, and even names throughout its unreleased lifespan. There was once even a time where Final Fantasy XV seemed like it would never come out. It was an impossible dream.
And now, Final Fantasy XV is seemingly coming out forever. At least judging by its DLC release schedule that will continue into 2019. Final Fantasy XV releases today on PC, its first foray onto the more powerful platform. It brings with it all the game's DLC and multiplayer, plus some bonus features like a first-person mode if you're tired of seeing Noctis' hair or whatever. It's also a good time for us to look back on what makes the divisive JRPG great, and not-so-great.
As you see, we at USgamer remain split on the game. Some of us love the game, some of us just plain loathe it. In honor of this rift and its shiny new PC release, we came together to each say our piece about the game.
I reviewed Final Fantasy XV and gave it what I think is a pretty generous score. In hindsight, I might have cut it down a half point, but I think most of my points stand. The emotional arc works, the open world is often gorgeous, and the campfire loop is just about perfect.
It really does feel like a roadtrip in a lot of ways. You'll be tooling around in the Regalia, the world map theme from Final Fantasy IX playing in the background, Prompto blabbing about wanting to grab a picture of a nearby chocobo. It's charming for as long as it lasts, and it remains my overriding memory of Final Fantasy XV.
I think the main question to ask is, "Do the messier aspects of Final Fantasy XV ultimately overwhelm the experience?" I don't think so. I've seen people complain about Chapter 13 and the relative absence of Lunafreya, among other things, but the core of the coming age story hangs together just fine. In the end, we get closure. The DLC episodes, the added bits in Chapter 13, and the extra scenes in Chapter 14 are just there to fill in the gaps.
I'll admit, I retain a certain fondness for my time with Final Fantasy XV. It's such a weird and fascinating game with an almost bizarre attention to detail. Like, the dev team actually went out and cooked all the meals that are in the game. That's kind of nuts! But it also explains why I was licking my lips every time a meal was served around the campfire.
There's an honesty to that approach that I find refreshing. And maybe that's why I like Final Fantasy XV: It's messy, but it's honest.
I approached Final Fantasy XV with major apprehension in my heart. It didn't take me too long to open up, though. By the time I walked through the tutorial via instructions fed to me by text messages from Noct's guardian Eidolon, Carbuncle, I knew Final Fantasy XV wasn't about to ask me to take it too seriously. Sometimes, that's all I can ask from a modern Final Fantasy game.
Is Final Fantasy XV perfect? Lord, no. It's kind of a mess. I'll never forget stopping en route to Whereversville and noticing the NPC cars are driven by stiff, unblinking mannequins. That was some creepy Twilight Zone shit. But if you don't look too closely at the game's seams (and there are many, given its troubled development), there's a lot to like.
I'm a sucker for open worlds populated early on by gigantic monsters your level-one ass has no business harassing, and Final Fantasy XV introduces you to some of those right away. They're just hanging off the side of the road, like particularly menacing deer. Overall, there's a blend of modern day tech and high fantasy going on in Final Fantasy XV that I find very compelling. Previous Final Fantasy games have tried for it (Final Fantasy VIII comes to mind), but Final Fantasy XV marks the first time I felt myself drawn in by the weird contrast. There's just something incredible about seeing an Adamantoise loom over the horizon as you step out of Final Fantasy XV's equivalent of a greasy Waffle House. Like, "Well, shucks. Would you look at that? I guess traffic's going to be a mess going southbound."
And, Lord help me, I just love the camaraderie between the four boys. Even my beloved retro Final Fantasy games are determined to subject you to a cast of millions (to paraphrase a line former USgamer EiC Jeremy Parish once used about Final Fantasy VI). The "Four and No More" approach offers a perfect balance, and it's more than a little inspired given the game's overarching tribute to Stephen King's Stand By Me.
I'm a bit disappointed there isn't a more significant female presence in the game (not to discount Aranea Highwind), but there's no denying the chemistry between the boys of Final Fantasy XV holds a lot of appeal for female players, e.g. myself. They're not a pack of hard-drinking macho dudes bashing beer cans on their foreheads while cruising for chicks. They talk about their dreams, their feelings, and Lunafreya's wedding dress. Ignis scolds Noctis for not properly sewing a button on his shirt. And then they all go out and kill a Behemoth together.
I don't disagree with many of the criticisms lobbed at Final Fantasy XV. Yes, the "open world" is lacking. Yes, it's small. Yes, you kind of get funneled into a linear pathway about halfway through the game, and that sucks. In my perfect pretend world, the next version of Final Fantasy retains Final Fantasy XV's character and charm plus it has a real open world. But since we're getting Final Fantasy XV DLC clear into 2019, who knows when the next mainline Final Fantasy game is coming.
Well, we wanted Final Fantasy XV. Now we have all the Final Fantasy XV in the world.
Final Fantasy XV is a mess, and I love it for that. There’s an expectation that comes with your first game in a long running series, and if this series is, say, Final Fantasy, you expect your first Final Fantasy game to truly blow your mind (especially after how much everyone goes on about them).
Simply put, I don’t care if Final Fantasy XV isn’t like other Final Fantasy games, because after well over fourteen iterations there’s nothing wrong with trying something new. The combat in particular was hotly contested at release, and for the most part I enjoyed it. Having Gladio, Prompto, and Ignis around you at all times meant you relied on your party because Noctis is by no means a walking tank on the battlefield. Dodging and weaving through attacks in real time felt good, and capping it off with a combo attack with one of your pals felt even better.
As scrappy and hectic as the combat of Final Fantasy XV feels, your comrades match this feeling step for step, and I love them each for different reasons. Gladio is the walking JRPG stereotype of the “heavy” in your party with a heart of gold, Ignis is the chef supreme, and Prompto is the childhood friend that has your back no matter what. They all appear painfully obnoxious at first, but as per basically every JRPG ever created, dedicate proper time to them and you’ll see the finer details of their character.
The story on the other hand, is not so great. Final Fantasy XV was well over a decade in development by the time it came out, and although it might have had one of the largest dev teams in history working on it at Square Enix, it’s still a miracle that it even saw the light of day, let alone had a coherent story. The first, open world half of Final Fantasy XV is laid back and relaxed, while the second half feels like it took a speedball and tried to cram in all the details it could in as little time as possible.
Consequently, the story is a complete mess. I won’t remember Final Fantasy XV for its story, as much as the Royal Edition tries to hammer it into shape with additional cutscenes and cinematics, but I will remember it for its loveable band of rogues and extravagant combat.
Final Fantasy XV is a mess, and I loathe it for that. In the year 2018, it may be less of a mess than it was when it launched in late November 2016. Nonetheless: it's a mess of ridiculous proportions, made even more disappointing by the promising elements at its center.
Playing Final Fantasy XV feels like a constant trade-off, where for every positive, are a heap of negatives. For instance, the automated camera from Prompto is a neat idea for game screenshots; taking the control directly out of the player's hands, but giving them something to remember the journey by regardless. On the other hand, a lot of the photos are horrible, which adds charm sometimes—like an overexposed selfie—but other times just reminded me that Prompto is just a bundle of AI, not my IRL road tripping buddie. In another detail, a road tripping JRPG in an open world is a fantastic set-up, complete with gas stations, bad diner food, and Coleman-branded camping. But the actual act of driving is a nuisance—which has since been sorta-patched in an update—where driving is slow with your vehicle stuck strictly to paved roads and nothing else. Eventually though, the car can fly, because this is a Final Fantasy game.
The aspect that bummed me out most, as a long-time Final Fantasy fan (yes, even of Final Fantasy XIII, which has an incredibly underrated battle system okay), is that Final Fantasy XV's story is nonsensical. While the core group of road tripping buddies are all sweet natured and endearing, the story propelling the game forward is, well, boring and sometimes even feels nonexistent. Final Fantasy games of the past have been great because of their stories and characters. Final Fantasy XV only offers the latter, and a lone gal heroine that isn't even part of your party, doomed to be fridged.
The combat, too, isn't great. During its best moments, it's fluid as Noctis zips across a battlefield, slicing monsters and soldiers with his sword. At its worst moments, which is most of the time, battles feel inconsequential. If you fall in battle, another companion is likely to tap you back into the fight. Failure and consequence aren't really options, because no matter what, your boys have your back. The combat itself ends up feeling like a bother, to the point where I found myself avoiding battles altogether so that I wouldn't have to deal with it.
I could go on and on about why Final Fantasy XV failed to click with me; but the fact is that its worst offense is that it frankly doesn't feel like a Final Fantasy game. It feels like a dart board of ideas for a Final Fantasy game's potential innovations, all crammed into one casserole. And it's a bad casserole, not a good one.
My primary problem with Final Fantasy XV largely comes down to the feeling of the overall game. The combat system is somewhat similar to Kingdom Hearts in basic composition, but it's slow. Why would I want to play slow Kingdom Hearts? It's a very weird and unique combat system, but I think one of its strengths is the relative speed at which battles happen. Final Fantasy XV tries to aim for something slower and more tactical, but it never quite crosses over into strategic combat.
It's a damned good-looking game and the world itself is intriguing in composition (I love the modern fantasy mix), but I had problems with the open-world at launch. The Regalia was stuck driving on roads instead of being able to go where you pleased. Despite having seaside and ocean-bound towns, there was no way to explore those depths. The cities that were there looked great, but feel incomplete compared to other open-world titles. Much of this has been fixed in later iterations of the game, so I know that Square Enix noticed it was a problem as well.
While the theme of brotherhood and the relationship between Noctis and his crew worked, I found myself missing the larger casts of previous Final Fantasy titles. When you're given a slate of 6-7 well fleshed out characters, it becomes enjoyable to settle on the three or four characters you enjoy as your crew. I think that experience is part of why I enjoy JRPGs, so the loss of it in Final Fantasy XV is felt. And I won't go into how messy the story is outside of Noctis' close knit circle. Again, Square Enix has acknowledged this in subsequent additions and patches.
I honestly think Final Fantasy XV is one of those games that relies on the name for some measure of trust and understanding. Every single entry before mine directly says the game is a mess, but messes generally don't get the kind of pass given to Final Fantasy XV. After a decade in development and a salvaged project, we don't want Final Fantasy XV to not be good. We're unable to test this, but if you take away the "Final Fantasy" name, are people as kind to this game? I don't think so.
If anything, I applaud Square Enix for its commitment to the game. The publisher and the team working on the game continue to improve upon the base they established at launch. The game that is out there now is not the game they originally released. The ability and drive to knuckle down, ask "Where did we falter?", and fix things is great. Maybe if I played Final Fantasy XV today, I'd feel differently about the game. As it stands, that launch state was not great.
Footage not found. (He hasn't played it.)