Final Fantasy XV: First Impressions

So here we are. One of gaming’s most celebrated franchises in history is finally getting an original, bonafide installment to its massively expansive set of rule-defining RPG action video games. I of course refer to, Final Fantasy and its new, fifteenth iteration.

It’s been a long wait. And lately, waiting for the sequel has been a common thread in AAA games over the past few years.  Names like: Destiny, Dishonored, Nier, Half Life 3 Metal Gear and The Last Guardian come to mind but I’m sure there are plenty others that I am forgetting to mention because if I spend all my time agonizing over the wait, the hype will become impossible to live up to. Because of this, I tried to go in as blind as possible with Final Fantasy XV’s case. Admittedly, I did play the demo that came with Final Fantasy: Type 0 HD when that came out last year but that was only because it was the first thing I had heard about the game since since Final Fantasy XIII: Versus was announced…which was at E3 2006.

10 years ago.

So yes–the hype is real. I understand that we’ve had Final Fantasy games in between those years, but the change in game-play ideologies, especially those presented in the Final Fantasy XIII series, were very divisive to its fanbase–to the point that many people dropped the series altogether. Coming from someone who played Final Fantasy XIII I can definitely attest that it is a “love it or hate it” kind of game and can see where those people are coming from. I don’t aim to say that it is the worst in the series by any means, however, the outcry was bad enough to demand a massive overhaul systematically, and thematically. And that is what Final Fantasy XV is. An overhaul to the ideas presented in Final Fantasy XIII. People complained about the lack of free-roam exploration, so now there is so much free-roam you don’t know what to do with it all. People complained about combat being a lot of the same thing over and over again so now combat has moved into a dynamic, action packed experience which is never quite the same at any time It really feels like Square Enix listened to feedback and have delivered us the god-send of Final Fantasy games and after a six hour play session, I can tell you from experience–its a very fun and addicting experience.

So with all the backstory out of the way, how is the game? Critics are saying its the best game of the year, but they’ve said the same thing about every game that’s come out…basically ever. People want to know, what does Final Fantasy XV offer to the every day gamer, and more importantly, is this the game that will bring back the people that were lost from the XIII crisis? Honestly? I don’t think so.

Being a hero isn’t as simple as picking up a sword.

We all give Final Fantasy XIII a hard time about its ridiculous characters and story, but at least XIII and even Type 0 felt like they were trying to start something epic. Pressing new game was like opening the pages of a forgotten tome as its music and cut-scenes slowly brought you into their fantasy world. You met characters that you didn’t really understand at the beginning, but you were given small pieces of information every few battles to piece together what they were about. Then when those characters met other characters it created a web of relations that not only progressed the narrative but added drama, and substance. That scene? Where Lightning punches Snow in the face? It was so awesome to see! You realized that Lightning really was a badass soldier like she claimed to be and Snow got punished for his constant and ignorant ramblings about how he’ll be a hero of justice. You can’t just punch all your problems Snow, you have to be realistic in this fantasy world. This atmosphere was all set up mind you, in the first 30 minutes of the game.

Meanwhile, when I boot up Final Fantasy XV and hit new game, camera fades in to a house I know nothing about, playing as Noctis who I know nothing about and are expected to read walls of text to get a gist of the lore. They make sure to tell me HOW to play the game, but not why. Then it fades in to a shot of Daddy dearest telling Noctis to go on his grand adventure, believe in your friends and I definitely don’t die.Then it fades out AGAIN and n0w we are all suddenly in this desert place I know nothing about or its relation to anything else in the world and the gang is, pushing the car because it broke down??? Why did it break down? There was no monsters or anything, did he just push the car all the way from his house to this point without getting it fixed? That literally makes zero sense. But hey the game sure is pretty!

Though, once you do a few little opening quests and get your feet wet, a pretty massive sand-box is open for you to explore entirely at your pace–and it grows the longer you are in it. Also taking on the hunting quests the game offers to you right at the start is a great way to immerse the player in the game because suddenly your journey feels like the coolest road-trip you’ve ever been on. All the characters have unique quirks and diverse personalities that keep the experience feeling light-hearted, but believable. Is it perfect? No. But if you can manage to suspend your disbelief for a moment it will honestly feel like you are adventuring in the world with these guys. The combat is fun to experiment with, especially when you get the link up attacks with your bros to deal additional damage to enemies. I feel like I could easily place my friends in the place of these people and experience the thrill of fighting monsters alongside them.

So where does that leave Final Fantasy XV as a whole? I do plan to do a review later when I complete the experience but for now all I can say is that I’m left in this gray zone where the game is both really great and really not great. Its got Final Fantasy’s name and its clothes, but it doesn’t feel like Final Fantasy to me. If anything, it feels more like Kingdom Hearts, which is great, but I come to Final Fantasy games for great gameplay AND story, whereas with Kingdom Hearts I just play it for the combat and to try and put that part of my childhood to rest. The developers claim this game to be great for both veterans of the series and people playing Final Fantasy for the first time, and I agree that, though we may not get the Final Fantasy XIII deserters back, we will absolutely see a surge in popularity for Final Fantasy in the media. And out of everything Square Enix wanted for this game, this new fan base was their ultimate goal in my view. I don’t believe the game is inherently bad, but I think that its over-exposure in the media and its pretense that everyone has meta-knowledge of the game prior to playing it has made the game lose what made Final Fantasy so great as a series.

If you aren’t aware, way back when Final Fantasy first started, Square Enix (At the time just Square) was on the verge of bankruptcy as a game development company. With one shot left at staying afloat, Square bet everything on one final game, their “Final Fantasy.” They didn’t just try to make the game as great as they can (A lot of the spells are actually non-functional in the original game) They did everything they physically could because they were literally coding like they were running out of time as imminent doom was right on their tails. Heart and soul is what makes a great Final Fantasy  game, not mechanics or characters. I still do not believe that this is a trend of gaming that is spelling the doom for Final Fantasy, but rather, a way to get revenue and fans to make that ultimate 3D Final Fantasy we have all been looking for since Final Fantasy X.

There was no way XV could live up to the ten year span of hype that it hails from. But I feel that the game devs sat down and knew what they wanted their game to do and made sure it fulfilled all of those objectives. They’ve made strides to break the formula that kept people from playing Final Fantasy but are now at an interesting crossroads where they really can’t commit one way or the other in terms of where Final Fantasy games go from here. To be clear though, the game is  a solid experience that will keep me entertained for hours on end, its just that, at the end of the day, it will always keep me dreaming for something more.

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