The day has come! Let's go Plus Ultra and start discussing My Hero Academia!

January 16, 2017

Final Fantasy XV (AKA the 5-Year Anniversary Post)

Hello and welcome to Cross-Up, home of various posts on Final Fantasy!  I’ve been at this since 2012, and it’s so nice to know that even one person out there has read and enjoyed my posts on all sorts of subjects, like Final Fantasy!  I know I’m not the most popular guy out there that talks about Final Fantasy, but it’s been an honor to discuss in-depth what I think about games that have Final Fantasy in the title.  I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon because there are more Final Fantasy games on the way, and I hope that I can continue to grow the blog as I talk about Final Fantasy.

After all, it is my Final Fantasy to become more than just a Final Fantasy.  And as a Final Fantasy, this Final Fantasy has helped me realize that it’s a long road to evolve as a Final Fantasy.  So with the help of Final Fantasy, I’ll Final Fantasy my way to the Final Fantasy and treat the world to the Final Fantasy it deserves, because Final Fantasy is a Final Fantasy that Final Fantasy has in every Final Fantasy to Final Fantasy our Final Fantasy.

So Final Fantasy your Final Fantasy, because Final Fantasy is Final Fantasy, and Final Fantasy in Final Fantasy to Final Fantasy a Final FantasyFinal Fantasy, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy.

…This is a post on Final Fantasy 15, so let’s talk about it.

Final Fantasy.

What a long and strange road it’s been with the lead-up to Final Fantasy 15.  I remember way back in the day when vanilla 13 was revealed for the then-unreleased PS3.  And I thought to myself, “Well, that’s it.  It’s over.  Sony’s won the console wars -- permanently.”  It seemed like nothing would ever top that.  At least, that’s what it seemed like to me.  Granted back then I was still in my embarrassing “EVERYTHING THAT COMES OUT OF JAPAN IS PERFECT AND FLAWLESS” phase, but it still seemed as if the mic had been more than just dropped.  Squeenix had body-slammed the mic straight through the stage.

And then the announcement/trailer for Versus 13 dropped.  And I was basically like “Wait, what?  No, wait.  Hold the phone.  What is this?  What is this now?”  There were no brakes on the Fabula Nova Crystallis hype train; if vanilla 13 body-slammed the mic, then Versus 13 strapped it to a giant drill and bored six miles into the earth.  It looked as if Squeenix was on track to blow away the gaming world with the greatest set of games the world had ever known. 

That didn’t happen.  FF13 went down in history as one of the least popular installments in a franchise already on the ropes -- and Squeenix, in its infinite wisdom (and likely to recoup costs for the failures of vanilla FF14) doubled down by pumping out two sequels.  Agito ended up getting rebranded as Type-0 and only just released in the US via HD port in 2015…and even if it wasn’t just an easily-forgotten way to ship out a special demo, it would’ve still been a complete disaster from top to bottom. 

And that brings us to the present.

This is it.  This is the game we’ve been waiting for -- the game we were all promised a decade ago.  It started off as Versus 13; disappeared from the limelight; plunged into development hell; became a point of concern and ridicule for gamers all over; got rebranded as FF15; had multiple demos released to show how far it had come; finally, finally, finally released at the tail end of 2016 (albeit after another surprise delay).  Like I said, it’s been a long and strange road.  The world has changed dramatically.  People have changed demonstrably; hell, people have grown up in the time between the initial announcement and the actual release date. 

And now here we are.  After years of waiting, and after years of suffering through subpar entries in one of the most recognizable, most bankable, most lovable franchises in the history of gaming, Final Fantasy 15 is here in playable form.  Anyone with the means (and will) to play it can play it.  It’s the end of an era, and a brand new beginning.  Now there’s only one question that remains: is it any good?


I’m trying to choose my words carefully here.  I haven’t finished the game yet; I hope I can (and quickly), partly because I want to avoid doing what I did last time.  It’s true that when I did posts for FF13-2 and Type-0, I was in the middle of those playthroughs and thus let people see my transforming opinion over the course of each miniseries.  But I think that this time (unless there’s something that really gets to me), I’ll wait until I finish the whole game before I go too in-depth.  Part of the reason for that is because, if I had to guess, I have a reputation for hating Final Fantasy.  That’s certainly the case over on Destructoid.  One commenter thought that I let the hate flow freely when I posted on Beyond: Two Souls, but another commenter was quick to mention that I showed true hatred when discussing FF13 and its ilk. 

I don’t want to hate Final Fantasy.  I’d love nothing more than to be the same dope from 10 years ago who bought into the hype -- who watched the 13 debut trailer again and again to hear “Blinded by Light”.  I want to be the kind of person that can look to Squeenix -- the company that has yet to deliver unto me my precious Kingdom Hearts III -- and feel like the franchise and I alike are in good hands.  I want to believe.  I want to love.  And I want to convince others that their faith isn’t misplaced just because of the rough spots FF has had over the years. 

But…fucking hell!  Squeenix isn’t making it easy -- because as it stands, I’m seriously starting to get pissed off by FF15.

There have been times when I’ve felt like a limbered-up contortionist, because I’m bending over backwards to try and find ways to defend 15, or make excuses for 15, or give chances to 15.  “It’s not the game, it’s me,” I thought.  “I’m so used to hating on FF that it’s my default state now.”  “I’m too biased.”  “I’m not in the right mindset.”  “I’m going in ready to hate.”  But arguably, none of that is true.  First off, I’d like to think that I’m going in with a clear head -- a neutral state, since this is a fresh start free from the baggage of earlier games.  (Unless they bring back the fucking l’Cie/fal’Cie bullshit again.)  Second, I owe it to myself to report as honestly as I can on my experiences; I’m not helping anyone, least of all myself, by handling the game with kid gloves.

Third?  I’m not even going to play pretend here, or cater to the expectation of “Oh boy, Voltech’s writing about FF again!  Time to break out the popcorn!”  Even though it’s still early in the game, I can say with some confidence that FF15 is NOT the worst game in the franchise yet.  It’s certainly not the worst game ever.  There are some positive qualities about it, and the fact that I could play through the first 30 minutes without needing a trip to the emergency room puts it miles above 13-2.  I have an easier time agreeing with people who like the adventures of Noctis and crew than those who like the adventures of Lightning and crew -- and I’d validate their opinions as needed.

But this is my blog, and I have to speak personally.  So let me say this to start: I’ve been thinking about what I’d title the FF15 miniseries when I got to that point.  The 13-2 stuff ended up being called “Good Morning, Kupo!” because of an annoying line in the early goings as well as a winking nod to the vastly-superior time travel story Chrono Trigger.  The Type-0 stuff ended up being called “Kill ‘em All, Kupo!” because I needed the Anarchy Reigns OST to offset the badness (unaware that “Kill ‘em All” would become VERY appropriate by game’s end).  What will the FF15 series be called?  I can’t say for sure, but I’m leaning towards “Is it Fun Yet?”

Or, I don’t know.  “Is it Fun Yet, Kupo?”  I might as well be consistent.

So yeah, I’m not having fun with this game right now.  Admittedly I was at the start; there’s content in there that put a smile on my face, without question -- which is to be expected when you’re dealing with Road Trip: The Game.  But in the hours since, I’ve gotten used to what 15 is selling.  The novelty’s worn off, and because I’ve put some noteworthy time into it, the cracks are starting to show.  I’m assuming that my issues stem from the fact that I’m progressing too slowly through the game -- i.e. bloating the play time because I’ve got the style of the average tortoise -- but the amount of dissatisfaction grows with each new session.  It’s reaching a point where I’m doing the same thing I did with the Uncharted games: sighing deeply with disdain as the game tries to push its “bits”.

So in the interest of time, let’s go over two points I’ve put together.  Or, alternatively, questions.

1) Is there enough of a game here to justify the scale?
If you’re reading this, then you probably know that vanilla 13 has taken a ton of heat for its freakishly-linear world.  The entirety of the game is nothing but a string of hallways and tubes, with their contents linked without any respect to climate, geography, or general world-building.  (If somebody can draw me a map of the world of vanilla 13, I’d hail him or her as my new personal savior.)  The exception, of course, was Gran Pulse -- a wide open area that had the party thrust into the wilderness by virtue of a key turn in the plot (such as it was).

But the Gran Pulse experience wasn’t enough to save the game.  Nor was it any good just because it was “open-world”. The visuals may have been top-notch, but it was for the sake of showing a bland environment with no creative vision.  The scope of the game may have increased, but only so that players could whittle away hours on plane Jane monster hunts.  The freedom was as superficial as it was fleeting, because it was only a matter of time before you had to head back into the hallway -- and even then, Gran Pulse was basically just a hallway with much more distant walls.

Did Squeenix learn their lesson (and plenty of others) with 15?  Time will tell.  But for now, I’m not wholly convinced that anything has been learned.

The world in this game is massive.  You start off with a luxury car (albeit one that breaks down) which is a godsend; you’ll need it.  Going everywhere on foot is ridiculously impractical, because it can take you minutes upon minutes to go from a humble gas station on the road to a haunt for the monsters you’re hunting.  But even with your car, it still takes a healthy amount of time to get anything accomplished -- minutes-long rides with your primary solace being the music from older FF games you can unlock.  So if you want to do some sidequests, you can; the problem is that you basically have to commit an inordinate amount of time to it.

Monster hunts are the most common I’ve found (though there are incidental quests/events strewn throughout).  You get the bounty from a tipster in a diner, and take off.  Depending on the mission, you’ll either be able to hoof it, or you’ll need to take your car out there.  The former option will still take a chunk of time, even if you do what I do and spam jump => Warp-Strike to try and speed things along; the latter is arguably the better option, but as far as I know you can’t go off-road (and aren’t even allowed to manually drive in the opening hours), so there’s still a bit of a walk involved.  Also, don’t think you can rely on fast travel (i.e. using the “return to car” option) to speed things up.  Load times are not great.

So you travel there, meet the monsters, and beat the monsters.  But whereas a game like Xenoblade Chronicles X will often let you remotely and automatically turn in quests for a reward, FF15 makes you go all the way back to the tipster to get credit for your service.  Compounding matters is the simple-yet-baffling fact that you can only take on one hunt at a time.  Why?  Hell if I know, but it does its part to artificially extend the run time.

I’m fully aware of the possibility -- if not expecting -- that future quests will be more engaging.  But then again, that just exposes the bigger problem.  It’s The Sidequest Trap all over again; I can’t even begin to make progress, because I’m too busy doing menial tasks because…well, because they’re there.  (And because I’m an EXP junkie out to gain infinite power.)  Saying no to sidequests is almost like saying no to the game at large.  Besides, more completed quests = more EXP = more abilities and options in battle = more fun.  How could I leave potentially-good content on the table?

But the problem is that, paradoxically, I feel like there’s both too much and too little content.  If you talk to a tipster, then a bunch of icons will pop up on your map -- places to set up camp, places to extract magic energy, places to harvest cooking materials, places to find treasure, places to park, and so on.  It leads to its fair share of clutter, but my guess is that in my playthrough, a lot of maps will stay that way.  I’m not going to go out of my way to collect every potato or every metal shard just because there’s a blip on the map -- especially if it means moving at the snail’s pace used by Nocty Noct and the Funky Bunch.

What I’m getting at here is that FF15 has a different game flow from the good usual FF installments, or even JRPGs in general.  You can shred away the hours doing as much or as little as you want without even touching the main plot, but it leads to a situation where the story’s pacing is taken out to the back shed.  More importantly, I’m concerned about the quality of the content, as well as how it’s delivered.  I want to be able to engage with the game at a steady clip, but I can’t do that when A) I’m slow as molasses, B) I’m frittering away the hours, and C) I can’t even reliably count on monsters to show up to break the tedium.

But the bigger issue I have is one I just mentioned.  And that is…   

2) Where’s the plot?
It’s not impossible for a FF game -- or any game -- to have a good story.  That much should be obvious.  Even though The Lightning Saga (HRRRGKH) and Type-0 pretty much withered on the vine, 15 was and still is a fresh start -- a chance for the devs to show that they’ve still got it.  I’m still waiting for any confirmation about whether or not the new story is good or bad.  And waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.  And because I have to keep waiting, I’m starting to suspect that “open world”, “good story”, and “Final Fantasy” are all mutually exclusive.

Here’s the thing: if you’re like me and want to strike a good balance between exploring what the game has to offer and experiencing the plot, you’re going to lose.  The balance is heavily skewed toward the former, so that even when you’re doing story quests, it comes off as insubstantial.  I’ve put in 8-10 hours; so far I’ve only seen one real boss fight, and it was such a cakewalk that I didn’t even have the camera aimed at it when it died (which to be fair was because at the time you’ve got a guest party member with ten times the HP you do).

Off the top of my head, this is the list of relevant, plot-progressing events I’ve seen so far.
1) Noctis and crew get sent off by his dad, King Regis, to go and get married to Lunafreya.
2) Noctis’ kingdom falls prey to an enemy attack (mostly offscreen, save for clips ripped from Kingsglaive), so the group rushes back to see the damage for themselves.
3) The gang learns that King Regis has been KIA (well, so they say), and Noct is presumed dead.
4) Noct is basically flung into the role of king, and now his task is to gather up the magic weapons of his ancestors to…boost his powers, I guess?

That’s basically all I’ve got so far.  It’s a jarring transition for me, since I’m hot off the heels of a Tales of Zestiria playthrough -- and I can’t help but compare the two games.  Yes, they’re trying to do completely different things, but I have a stronger grasp of one game than I do the other.  I know the basics of Sorey’s world, who he and his cast are, what challenges they’re bound to face, what complications arise, and (by virtue of going a decent distance in) I know what sort of themes and messages are packed in.  Comparatively, I don’t really know anything about what’s going on in 15.  My biggest gripe: I have no clue who or what the Niflheim Empire is supposed to be, what they represent, or why they’re doing what they’re doing. The one thing I know for sure is that Noct and others call its people “Niffs”, which would come across as a racial slur if it didn’t sound so stupid.  It’s as if we’re just supposed to take “They’re called The Empire, so they’re evil” at face value and leave it at that.

Shit, this is turning into Type-0 all over again.  I mean, Hajime Tabata DID spearhead both games…well, this one eventually, but you get the idea.

Okay, sure.  Zestiria didn’t lay out all of its cards within the first ten hours; it’s a good while before you find out who the main baddie is, for example.  But there are still tangible threats posted throughout -- the corruptive “malevolence” well among them.  Zestiria has its open world moments as well (to a MUCH lesser degree), but there’s still a sense of progression and a steady pace towards the next event.  And because of that steady progression, I’m left with a stronger understanding -- and thus investment -- of the world.  Even if it is 100% fictional.

In 15, it feels like I have to struggle to find the plot, or any number of story elements.  I don’t know why the Empire invaded.  I don’t know what the Empire stands for.  I don’t know Noct’s bond with his dad, or with his fiancé Lunafreya.  I don’t know what Luna’s stake in this game is, or why she matters, or what her personality even is.  I don’t know what makes Noct’s kingdom so valuable to his enemies, or even what sort of character it had as a setting.  I don’t know what the “Crownsguard” the Noctstreet Boys entails, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around why they have to wear all black outfits, but the dress code isn’t so strict that they’re given uniforms.

It puts me in a rough situation.  Do I slam the game for not introducing or explaining its elements earlier?  Or do I slam myself for not being fast enough to reach the actual story content sooner?  How much time should I give to the game to move me out of the introduction, and into the actual meat of the game?  Like, okay, sure, I get it -- JRPGs in general are notorious slow-starters, and it’s probably a good idea to ease into this brand new universe instead of doubling down with world-building.  But at some point, I have to know what’s going on, what I’m doing, where I’m going, and who I am.  Right now, I don’t.  I have broad strokes and assumptions to rely on, but that’s not even close to substantial. 

I don’t know.  Right now it feels like there was a misstep along the way -- a design philosophy full of flaws, but a philosophy that Squeenix never caught onto.  They’re pushing the boyband angle as hard as they possibly can, with the focus on the road trip between a crew of handsome men.  (Not those Handsome Men, unfortunately.)  But maybe they didn’t focus hard enough.  There’s a part of me that wishes that there wasn’t some bigger, overarching plot -- because so far, what’s been shown off has been as generic as a field of sand.

An evil empire, a prince forced to ascend to the throne, a quest to gain hidden power, a great destiny, and (most likely) a pair of star-crossed lovers -- it doesn’t have much in the way of pizazz right now, and the fact that more time has perceptibly gone toward dicking around in the wilderness makes me think that priorities were screwed up.  I’m not opposed to a game that jettisons all pretenses of grandeur; after all, you can tell a pretty good story just by reducing the scale to something more personal.  As it stands, FF15 is in this weird space where it’s about a road trip, but not about a road trip -- so that would make it about a prince’s rise to power, but it’s clearly not about a prince’s rise to power. 

I don’t know what it is, but the in-between nature is hurting both.  I’m travelling with Noct’Sync, but sometimes it feels so superficial that it’s like I’m dealing with the broad-strokes characterizations of the Ninja Turtles than a fully-realized multimillion-dollar game.  And even if I’m following the plot like a trail of breadcrumbs, I don’t feel like I’m being invited into this world and this tale.  It’s almost as if there’s no tale to begin with.

Then again, if this really is Type-0 2: Tabata’s Revenge, then it’s going to be a whole lot of nothing for 20 hours, then some dumb bullshit at the halfway point, a downward spiral from then on, sheer WTF absurdity, and even dumber bullshit in the ending that makes me want to elbow-drop a goat.

There’s more that I can say about FF15, and I will at some point.  But this post is already over 4000 words, so I think it’d be for the best if I cut it short.  I know it sounds like I’m being really negative, and it’s as if I think that this is another FF game to throw onto the fire.  And…yeah, I have to be negative, because right now the game makes me feel negative.  There is good stuff in there, but right now my mindshare is being occupied by the bad.

I’m not filled with searing anger or hatred when I play this game like I was with 13-2.  That’s not exactly the strongest compliment, I know.  Even so, I’m not writing this game off yet.  I want to see more.  I want to explore its story, its systems, its gameplay, its world, and everything in between.  Does that mean I have to adjust my mindset?  Maybe.  But I’m not opposed to that.  I want to be able to say “This is a good FF game” when all’s said and done.  To that end, I’ll keep playing.  I’ll see what’s at the end of the road.

And I hope you’ll come along with me for the ride.

Thanks for reading.  For those of you who come here regularly: thanks for thinking of me and my dumb little blog in a corner of the internet.  And here’s to 2017.

Now to go back to obsessively discussing JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.  Such is my ninja way.

No comments:

Post a Comment