“Final Fantasy XV”: for fans and first-timers


“Final Fantasy” is unnecessary. It’s an anthology of Japanese games, books, and even movies held together by an unfortunate title. When “Final Fantasy I” was released in 1987, no one expected it to be followed with 14 sequels and nearly 80 spin-offs. It was a role-playing game created on a dying company’s last budget before they went bankrupt. It was plagued with issues and glitches, but still managed to acquire a massive fanbase. But now after nearly 100 installments later, the series it has become has certainly lost its touch. Most installments are just banal and receive lukewarm reception from critics. After “Final Fantasy XIII” came out seven years ago to critical and fan backlash, we haven’t had a true main installment in the series. Though I personally loved “Final Fantasy XIII” it’s easy to see why fans were expecting, and in some case wishing for, the series to die off.

I make it sound like the series has no merit, no reason to be. But that’s not true. Each game is riddled with issues, but every installment has brought something new and creative into the series. It’s had sword and sorcery fantasy settings, but also some of the most creative worlds in fiction. “Final Fantasy” has visited everything from Steampunk to dystopian sci-fi. From high-tech societies turned agrarian to artificial planets built in the sky, we’ve had in-game past-times from magic trading cards to underwater Rugby, known as BlitzBall. From floating academies and airships to lunar bases, “Final Fantasy”‘s settings and stories always bring something new to the table. They bring experiences not found in any other game, and “Final Fantasy XV” is no exception. Though “Final Fantasy XV” has been in development for over a decade and faced many redesigns and scraped ideas, it continues the trend of providing a unique and unparalleled experience.

One of the newest features brought to “Final Fantasy XV” is the world itself. There’s a very particular reason why the first gameplay segment is limited to slowly pushing a broken-down car down a highway. The land of “Final Fantasy XV”, Eos, is meant to be taken in. Throughout the journey, there will be plenty of vistas and landmarks to visit and even take photos at. Eos is full of deserts, lush forests, and even meteor crater sights. “Final Fantasy XV” also takes a new direction when it comes to worldbuilding. The setting is not completely fictional, it’s heavily inspired by contemporary America. There’s large, bustling cities modeled after modern-day metropoles, rustic rest stops, sports cars, and smartphones. These coexist in a universe where magic, airships, demons, and kings are present, and it blends beautiful. “Final Fantasy XIII”‘s Eos is the true protagonist of the game.

Even though the world itself is cleverly designed, the characters themselves aren’t. Sure, they have a lot of charm and wit, but they could not look more out of place. Sure, “Final Fantasy” games have always had anime-inspired, over the top characters. They fit the low-fidelity and setting of the game. Their poorly rendered, spiky hair blends well with all other characters. However, in a high-fidelity age, the characters could not look worse. Yes, objectively they look great. Each hair is rendered individually, each blemish visible. Each stitch of fabric is noticeable. And their over-the-top, pretty boy looks wouldn’t look bad if every other character didn’t look normal. Anyone who isn’t a main character looks completely average, and the contrast between the main characters and side characters just becomes distracting.

On the bright side, the main characters aren’t the edgy, cold, brooding soldiers we’ve seen in the other games. The game stars four friends, Noctis, Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus. While the names themselves are pretty bad and make me long for the days when “Final Fantasy” characters were just named after weather phenoman. The story itself revolves around Noctis, Prince of Lucis. Noctis was arranged to wed Lady Lunafreya of Niflheim, a woman who Noctis does actually love, despite the war, in an effort to end a war that has spanned ages. However, within the first several hours of the game, it was revealed that the wedding was just a ploy to get Noctis out of Insomnia, the capital of Lucis.The King and Lady Lunefreya were pronounced dead, and Noctis and his friends go on a quest for vengeance. The story is somewhat simple, and that isn’t a bad thing. The story is put on the backburner, and the game is driven by the interaction between the characters themselves.

The bond between the four friends is what drives the story. The number of times the party pulls over to go fishing, grab a bite to eat, or take a photo together vastly outweighs the number of times the party pulls over to fight Magitek troops or advance the main plot. There are missions where all the characters will do is just walk around town and chat with other characters. The real marvel is that somehow the game manages to make these sections interesting.

It won’t be long until the characters are constantly chatting, each conversation revealing insights on each other and their history. Their hobbies and interests present themselves in the form of main game mechanics. Noctis Lucis Caelum, the player-controlled character, is a quiet, humbled heir to the throne. He enjoys fishing, so there will be several docks that allow Noctis to enter a fishing minigame. It’s actually quite fun, and provides a nice break from combat. Ignis Scienta, the slightly-more-than-arrogant bookworm of the group can use these fish and other resources to prepare meals, items that allow for status buffs in combat. Ignis himself is actually from Niflheim, a technology-advanced state that’s been at war with the state of Lucis for some time. Prompto Argentum is a starry-eyed, energetic friend of Noctis’ from a lower socioeconomic class. His hobby is photography, and will provide photos and screenshots at the end of each day that are able to be saved to the hard drive. It’s actually pretty impressive, even though most of the photos are staged, and not screenshots. The last member of the party is the long-haired, short tempered bodyguard, Gladiolus Amicitia. He’s certainly the most quiet of the group, but will show forms of endearment to his friends from time to time.

Almost all the gameplay systems of the previous “Final Fantasy” games have been reworked. The large overworld map has been replaced with highways and a sports car. Combat is no longer time or turn based, but is instead fought in real-time, and it’s much more difficult than the rest of the series. I’d almost compare it to a more difficult version of Kingdom Hearts, but it feels a lot less accurate. While the idea is the same, the sense of precision is gone. It may just be that I am bad or not used to the new system, but I still find myself receiving attacks out of nowhere, and missing parries when I know I hit the button. However, it is nothing that a few patches can’t fix.

“Final Fantasy XV” represents the changes that the series should have made last generation. It’s hard to determine what ideas and mechanics were introduced during conceptualization, or are the result of XV’s decade-long, tumultuous history. I’ll never know what this game was truly meant to be, but I do know it’s a beautiful mess of a game right now. It continue’s “Final Fantasy”‘s history of trying something new and outside of genre-conventions. Even though some of these changes never paid off, they still gave the game an endearing warmth. And if that isn’t what “Final Fantasy” is all about, then I don’t know what is.