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June 26, 2017

The Final Final Fantasy (15) -- Part 2

I’m sure I made this pretty obvious via the last post, but it’s worth saying plainly here right off the bat: no, I haven’t finished Final Fantasy 15.  All things considered, you could argue that I’ve basically dropped it.  I only made it through the first 15 hours, and haven’t looked back since.  And the sad thing is that for the most part, I don’t feel bad about not having it in my life.  It says a lot about the situation when I’d rather put a sum of 177 hours into other JRPGs -- Tales of Berseria and Persona 5 -- than see Squeenix’s latest through to the end.

So with the advent of modern gaming, that puts me in a weird spot.  News has broken that the devs are planning to add in extra content -- DLC, patches, updates, and the like over the months to come.  Presumably, it’s all in service of making the game into a service to continuously suck up money come as close to the creative vision as possible; it’s a way to iron out past mistakes, tackle fan complaints, and add in features that were missing on release day.  Let’s go ahead and sidestep the debate on whether or not that content should’ve been there in the first place for a game in development for a decade.  The question then becomes one of archiving, future-proofing, and integrity.  What happens to someone who wants to see the game as it was originally released?  What if I want to see the game in a state where the devs thought an off-roading Regalia was a pipe dream?

I don’t know.  But I guess it doesn’t matter, because right now I can’t bring myself to care.

From what I can gather, FF15’s plot revolves around Noct and the other members of Boyz II Men going on a quest through the world of Eos.  As a prince from a newly-ravaged kingdom, he’s the only one with the divine right of kings -- that is, he has to find the royal arms littered across the land to increase his powers and…uh…I don’t know, I guess beat The Empire.  Because of course there’s an evil Empire; there was one in FF Type-0 after all (and every third JRPG ever created).  Also, of course Noct’s kingdom is ravaged, because that’s how stories must go.  Like Type-0’s.

I honestly don’t know much more about the plot besides that.  Obviously that’s because I gave up on the game, but it doesn’t change the fact that I put 15 hours into it and the most I can do is shrug and go “Iunno.”  Maybe it’s because my brain has started eating itself and left me with an addled mind.  That’s entirely possible.  On the other hand, maybe it’s just because there’s so little to fill those initial 15 hours that it feels like it’s bereft of substance (besides busywork).  That’s also possible.

As you know, the true proof of gaming’s evolution is the ability to do menial real-world tasks in a virtual space.


Squeenix has tried to sell gamers on One Direction for ages now, and to be fair that’s not a bad approach.  I don’t trust the company to tell a deep, complex, overarching story; hell, I don’t even trust them to make a decent, straightforward story anymore.  If you must have a narrative, then take the easy road by downplaying all of the important stuff like world-building, conflict, and thematic heft and focus solely on the misadventures of a core cast.  It’s worked like crazy before; the anime industry these days has made a killing on the slice of life genre.

But because Squeenix can’t make anything decent and straightforward anymore, they botched what should’ve been a slam dunk.  True, there are instances where that brotherhood aspect shines through; there are some conversations sprinkled in that add flavor, and I like the idea that Noct and Ignis will have a chat during a cooking lesson.  Despite that, “sprinkled in” is the operative phrase here -- events that are too few and far between, left nigh invisible in the wake of all of the nothing that happens.  Nothing during transit; nothing during long walks; no events along the way that breathe life into Eos or O-Town.  The fact that there’s so little of substance over 15 hours is an absolute failure -- especially when there are so many other games out there that do so much better.

I know that I shouldn’t keep making this comparison, but I have to: FF15 is basically just a really, really shitty Tales game.  Consider this:

That’s an optional skit you can trigger in Tales of Berseria, and one of several in the “do comedy” sidequest.  By extension, that’s one of literally hundreds of skits in the game.  Hundreds of those skits can be triggered at the press of a button once the prompt shows up.  This isn’t some anomaly introduced in Berseria or made possible by the PS4 hardware; one Tales game after another has featured hundreds of skits along the way -- optional dialogues that develop characters, contextualize the world, establish relationships, or just offer some guttural laughs.  If you want to ignore them, you can (save for some mandatory ones that trigger automatically, but you can skip them with a button press).  It’s all in service of making sure that the player and the game alike can get the most out of the cast.

In FF15’s first 15 hours, I got none of that.  Or at least, I didn’t get enough of it.  I can live without there being skits (because to be fair, Tales games can drown you in them), but there has to be more in the way of proving that the Jonas Brothers are a cohesive, bonded, familial unit.  15 does, to its credit, take a page from Xenoblade -- original or X, take your pick -- and has them converse during battle or provide the occasional assist.  And that’s cool.  I like that.  But it’s too sporadic to appear reliably, much less become a potent gameplay feature.  Even then, it’s offset by the sheer amount of nothing that happens -- or doesn’t happen -- in its stead.  After the opening hour or two, I got the feeling that the brotherhood well ran dry.  I’ve yet to be convinced otherwise.

The fatal flaw here is that FF15 has a problem with its focus -- which isn’t a surprise given earlier modern FF games, but they had ten years to sort stuff out and they didn’t.  Question: is this game focused on the journey of its four friends across a fantastic (albeit modernized) world?  If so, then why are we bothering with kingdoms and empires and “epic” quests and destiny and thrones and ancient magic?  If not, then why do all of those concepts feel nebulous and insubstantial?  If so, then why is it that I don’t know a damn thing about these guys despite spending more than a collective half-day with them?  If not, then why is it that the world itself comes off as a bunch of art assets that exist to show off graphics first and act as a credible, characterized environment second?

Maybe I wouldn’t have so many problems with the game -- chief among them, sheer apathy that drives me from continuing my run -- if I knew or actually cared about its characters.  Right now the only one I have a passing interest in is Prompto, partly because he’s the chief bringer of fun into the game (inasmuch as he can inject fun into a bland series of meaningless sidequests), and partly because he’s voiced by Robbie Daymond, who I’m convinced can slaughter it in whatever role he’s given.  But even Robbie Daymond can only do so much; if his script makes it so that he’s a one-note archetype for 15 hours -- someone there to hyper-compensate for the blandness of the others -- then he’ll be a one-note archetype for 15 hours.

I mean, it’ll still be a hell of a note, but you get the idea.

The real weak link here, of course, is Noctis.  Execs up and down the Squeenix ladder have tried to assuage fears of hungry gamers -- telling them again and again that he isn’t emo.  That’s what FF and JRPGs as a whole have been stereotyped into having, and given that he looked like a dead ringer for Sasuke Uchiha, it was only natural that people jumped to conclusions.  By the looks of things, Squeenix wasn’t lying.  The good news is that for the most part, Noctis isn’t emo.  The bad news is that for the most part, he isn’t much of anything else.  Except maybe an audience surrogate, given that -- despite being engaged -- he still goes out on a date with a cute girl.

I couldn’t tell you what his character’s supposed to be, even if you plopped the full script and a briefcase full of money onto a desk in front of me.  So I guess he’s a guy that likes sleeping and fishing?  Okay, fine, but those are hobbies, not personality traits (and the former one isn’t even a hobby).  I guess the implication is that he’s really lazy, but that doesn’t stop him from gleefully taking on sidequests for strangers.  He can dish out some sarcastic quips from time to time, but name a hero these days that can’t.  He loves his father and his fiancé (I think?), but I can’t think of a good reason why he wouldn’t -- unless the former abused him, and the latter came about via arranged marriage.  And sure, maybe at some point I’ll get more insight into the game’s leading man.  But I’m 15 hours in and I have no idea who I am.  That’s a problem.

I don’t know who Noctis is.  I don’t know who Ignis is besides a posh, quipping chef with a flair for the dramatic.  I don’t know who Prompto is besides a sugar-addled youth who, again, has to go into overdrive to mask his pals’ lack of energy (and personality) and becomes four times more annoying for it.  I don’t know who Gladio is besides a gruff, sarcastic warrior -- except for one instance where he uncharacteristically chews Noctis out for complaining about the bad situation they’re in.   Side note: why is it that ever since FF13 and Birth by Sleep (at a bare minimum) Squeenix characters haven’t been able to have an even-tempered, plot-relevant discussion and instead choose to chew each other out for no raisin?  Is that just their idea of drama?  (I guess it is, especially when some of these conversations could instantly resolve the plot.)

Normally there would be some sort of cohesive chain -- a string of events that would challenge and ultimately change the cast as they’re forced to overcome various conflicts.  If my understanding of rocket science is true, then it’s a little something they call “the plot”.  But there’s barely a plot for a huge chunk of the game.  Oh, sure, Nocty Noct and the Funky Bunch originally set out so they can get our hero to his fiancé, and it’s only a matter of time before DA EMPYARR starts mucking everything up, but other than that?  What relevant events happen?  What major story events shape and reshape our heroes?  There’s the initial run back home in the face of an enemy infestation; there’s a struggle to start collecting the royal arms; there’s Noctis’ mission to quell Titan.  That’s basically it.

Honestly, I think the biggest struggle the crew has faced so far is that they have to push their luxury car when it quits on them.  Because when you’re on the run and trying to avoid drawing attention to yourself, the smart thing to do is cruise in a goddamn luxury car in the middle of bumfuck nowhere.

I can pinpoint pretty much the exact moment when I gave up on the game.  See, after a certain point in their journey Noctis starts to get headaches and hear voices.  It’s reasoned that the source of it has to do with one of the game’s summons, which they’ve moved within range of; in this case, it’s the heavy-hitting giant, Titan.  In order to stop those headaches, Hansen decides to engage Titan directly -- even though I thought he was powering a nearby city, but whatever. 

What should’ve been a simple and straightforward mission ends up becoming anything but.  Noct and Gladio get separated from the others, and forced to traverse a heated canyon.  Worse yet, DUH IMPYRRR launches an attack to try and shut the prince down.  And worse still, Titan shows no signs of being willing to cooperate with our hero; he even goes on the attack to slaughter Noctis before they can even have a decent conversation.  Only by taking on Titan in a fight does Noctis overcome the situation, and make the mountainous creature his own.

And that taking is done via a boss battle that, honestly, made me as miserable as it did frustrated.

The game’s pretty much broken after that.  Like, seriously -- the crux of the story, near as I can tell, is that Noctis needs to travel across Eos to gain access to ancient magical weapons and (by extension) summon-ready beings like Titan.  If he does, then he’ll have secured his birthright as a king and increased his power dramatically.  So answer this question for me, reader: if Noctis is on a quest to gain more power, then how much more could he possibly need when he’s able to deflect the blows of a kaiju-sized golem single-handedly?  Isn’t he already the strongest being in the entire universe if he can tank a haymaker from Titan and not turn into a puddle of red paste?

It’s a level of spectacle that completely shatters the game.  Nothing else matters at that point, because Noctis has been demonstrably proven to not need to bother with ancient arms or summons.  Plus, that spectacle hasn’t been earned; I still don’t know who Noctis is, I don’t know what his personal end goal might be, I can’t take his struggles seriously because of how high the ante has been raised, and it’s worth noting that this guy -- gameplay-wise -- would struggle against crab monsters mere hours ago in real-world time, and struggle against woodland creatures mere hours later.  But despite that, he now has access to an ancient being whose phenomenal power lets him flatten entire city blocks if he so wishes.  So he’s a walking WMD, but also more than capable of getting wrecked by trash mobs.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, an oracle named Gentiana shows up out of nowhere and tells O-Town to go on a hunt for magic orbs so Noctis can learn how to summon Ramuh.  Because if she hadn’t appeared, then the plot would’ve come to a screeching halt…as if it hadn’t already.  Also, the fact that I was told to embark on a middling fetch quest made me instantly flash back to 13-2.  “Oh my God, this is just the Graviton Core sidequest all over again,” I thought.

So I turned the game off.  And I haven’t played it since.

Guys?  I don’t know.  I don’t know if I have it in me to go back.  I mean, yeah, it’s been a good long while since I’ve had to suffer through a game.  And in terms of maintaining a consistent pattern?  I wrote about 13-2 in 2013.  I wrote about Type-0 in 2015.  By that logic, I should finish the fight with 15 for 2017.  But I legitimately don’t know if I ever will.  I don’t know if I can summon the energy for it.  Not when there are dramatically better games out there waiting for me.  Not when there are just plain more games waiting for me, even if they aren’t top-notch works.

And you know what’s really sad?  Maybe I would’ve plowed through FF15 by now if it was actually, truly awful.  If it was a travesty on the scale of The Lightning Saga or a slow-but-certain trainwreck like Type-0, then maybe this would be Part 7 of a 16-part miniseries.  But it’s not.  I’ll contend that 15 is a bad game, yet paradoxically, it’s bad at being bad.  It’s not really bad enough to be fascinating -- a 5/10 production (at best) that sands away any potential talking points for the sake of mediocrity.  And sure, maybe things will get better later in the game.  Maybe they’ll get worse.  Maybe in the end I’ll go back for real.  Right now, though?  Even though I haven’t officially dropped it, I’m a hair away from making that declaration -- and losing no sleep over it.

But before I do, there are still two more things that I have to say. 

So stick around.  It’s about to get real raw, real soon.

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