As an entity, Final Fantasy XV is a maelstrom of bewildering juxtaposition. The entirety of the experience is one of blindingly stark contrasts, and as such I find it difficult to truly quantify a resolute opinion upon the game. At times, the game radiates with a beauty of untold magnificence, drawing me unquestionably into its rich and layered world. However, in other instances, it abhorrently disgusts me with its painfully flawed design choices, leading me to question whether my feelings of blissful elation are unfounded. It is a peculiar situation indeed, but despite the plethora of problems that hound it, Final Fantasy XV has that unmistakable spark of magic that just captivates your entire being.
Final Fantasy XV chronicles the adventures of Noctis Lucis Caelum, the crown prince of the kingdom of Lucis, and his best friends: Ignis Scientia, Gladiolus Amicitia, and Prompto Argentum; as they road-trip their way across the length and breadth of Lucis in an effort to save their kingdom from the devilish clutches of the totalitarian Niflheim empire. It’s a plot that is about as cliché as they come, doing little to alleviate the continued lack of narrative complexity and advancement which encompasses nearly the entirety of the JRPG genre. The twists are, generally, predictable, and the way the narrative threads are haphazardly interwoven into the open-world structure (a first for the series) results in a storytelling experience that feels ultimately spread too thin.
Whenever the game decides it’s time to divulge a precious piece of plot information, it, for the most part, decides to discard the open-world structure in favour of a more liner style, an approach it adopts exclusively during the latter half of the game. Now, in principle I actually don’t mind the switch from an open-world to a more linear, narrative driven experience. In fact, I applaud Square Enix for taking such a risk in an attempt to ensure a competent and engaging conclusion, something the majority of RPGs, be they Western or Japanese, struggle with. Unfortunately, the implementation is grizzly to say the least. The latter chapters function as little more than a convenient plot-dump as the game struggles to try and contextualise what you have been doing since the very start of the game. Having the actual plot details explained to you barely two hours before the game’s conclusion is horrendous to the say the least, and it results in the rest of the game becoming nothing more than a paper-thin jaunt through the countryside. It’s so in-your-face, utterly disregarding any sense of subtlety or narrative pacing, and ultimately feels tacked on like a convenient after-thought.
What’s worse is that many of the game’s major plot elements are locked away in supplementary media, such as the Kingsclave feature film and the Brotherhood anime. Both relay crucial information that helps contextualise the story as a whole, and the fact that they aren’t in the game at all further fragments the narrative structure of the game. Kingsclave in particular helps establish the growing conflict that is emerging between the two warring kingdoms, in addition to providing an all-important snapshot of the story’s most poignant players. I highly recommend watching both of the accompanying works, as without them you’ll undoubtedly be left puzzled as to just who these characters are and what is going on around you. Final Fantasy XV’s introductory moments do little to establish the relationships between the characters, and it’s glaringly obvious that the developers are expecting you to have watched Brotherhood in an effort to gain an understanding of just who Noctis and his merry band of handsome miscreants are. The whole story is a sprawling mass of entangled threads that is utterly convoluted, yet at the same time incredibly thin to a degree I’ve never seen the likes of.
That said however, despite the deplorable narrative, Final Fantasy XV still enthralls me in a way unlike almost anything else in the gaming landscape right now. Much of this comes from the fact that the four primary protagonists are perhaps the most well-rounded and believable group I’ve had the pleasure to come across in a very long time. The writing and characterisation for each of them may be a tad simplistic when compared alongside the likes of Naughty Dog’s Ellie and Joel, but in terms of making Noctis and the gang feel like real, living human beings, the team over at Square have done a simply stupendous job. As you wander the world on your glorious bro-trip, you and your pals trade quips and anecdotes back and forth in a way that felt resoundingly real to me. The dialogue is, of course, as cheesy as an American fast-food menu, but it remined me of how me and my friends joke, tease and interact with one another. That’s what makes Final Fantasy XV’s characters so profound and engaging – they are insanely relatable. By the end of the journey, I felt like an honorary fifth member of the group, and I possessed a genuine sense of companionship to these pixelated peoples.
Each one of your crew has an interest which you can level up as you go. Noctis loves to fish. Ignis lives to cook delightfully delicious meals. Gladiolus gets a kick out of collecting things in the wild, and Prompto can’t help but take pictures of everything he sets his pale blue eyes upon. Noctis’s fishing mini-game is insanely addictive, making me wonder if Square will release a spin-off in the vein of Sega Bass Fishing in the near-future, and discovering new recipes for Ignis is a rewarding and enjoyable challenge that is seamlessly integrated with the open-world structure – more so than the narrative it has to be said. Yet it is Prompto’s photographic tendencies that truly enliven the vast, sprawling world in Final Fantasy.
Final Fantasy XV marks the esteemed JRPG franchise’s first foray into the realms of open-world gaming. The map is truly vast, covering a variety of regions of topographical environments, ranging from desert plains and sandy beach resorts to towering, misty pine forests and desolate volcanic highlands. In fact, the distances are so vast that the game provides you with a vehicle – named the Regalia – in an effort to navigate around the world quickly and efficiently, you part-way through the game, you can acquire a familiar steed to aid you in your exploits. Exploring the lands of Lucis is a highly enjoyable experience, and Sqaure have done an outstanding job in forging a strong connection between your own gameplay actions and the world around you. That said however, unlike other open-world games – notably The Witcher 3 or even Watch Dogs 2 – the map lacks those little details that really bring a fantasy world to life. Things can appear very desolate in comparison, and even though the sweeping musical score helps sell the experience of a magical and enthralling landscape, Final Fantasy lacks that ethereal ambience that defines the very best fantasy RPGs.
The game provides plenty of opportunities – aside from the aforementioned side-activities – by which to level up and explore the world of Lucis. Chiefs among these is the combat, which has also undergone a rather significant makeover from previous titles. Gone is the turn-based battle system in favour of a real-time driven system. The result is a set of mechanics that, overall, lack the strategic complexity of old. However, that’s not to say the real-time system is a rock-bashing simpleton in comparison. While it starts out basic, the system is full of intricacies. You have the four available weapon slots that can be switched between on the fly. These include polearms, swords, guns and, of course, magic. There are also special magical weapons that you can unlock by exploring the world and completing quests, as well as the all-important summons, the latter of which are things of pure, destructive magnificence. My only real qualm is that the game is far too easy. Never once did I fail, with even the toughest enemies proving to be little more an annoyance. You can escape encounters at any time, and while it allows you to get out of unintended trouble easily, it makes the overall experience far too nonchalant and easy. It’s just as juxtaposing as the rest of the game.
As an unabridged experience, Final Fantasy XV is riddled with issues that would make even the most open-minded gamers blush in embracement. However, almost all of these problems drift away and become nothing more than niggling annoyances due to the game’s overwhelming feeling of camaraderie and friendship. Exploring hidden caves and glorious locations, camping out under the stars, and taking selfies with my buddies filed me with joy at every moment of my journey, and I can honestly say that there is nothing quite like it. At its core, Final Fantasy XV is glorious road-trip through a beautiful and evocative world full of untold things to see and do. There are a few road-blocks along the way, but as a whole, Final Fantasy XV is a thing of chaotic exquisiteness that ushers forth a bright future for the series.