This review was written using a Day One release of the disc copy of the game for PlayStation 4. A majority of the gameplay was experienced before any post-release patches were released.
It’s easy enough to avoid the hype train. It’s easy enough to not build expectations. It’s easy enough to avoid conversation you don’t want to have. When a game like Final Fantasy XV has been dangled in front of your face like a carrot over the course of nearly ten years, though, things change. This game went from “another high quality Final Fantasy release” to “this is going to be the next big thing in Final Fantasy.” The problem with my feelings about this game is that I feel that this game is beautiful, wonderful, and amazing, but it didn’t completely fulfill that implication that this game was going to be the next big thing.
|Developer:||Square Enix Business Division 2|
There is literally so much that is good about this game that it’s incredibly hard to know where to start: the game looks beautiful, the main characters are written wonderfully, battles are intense and exciting, the voice acting is done very competently and there’s very little beyond petty nitpicking that would qualify any of the game’s qualities as bad.
One of the best ways you can measure an open world game is by the quality of the world it actually takes place in and the world of Eos is a breathtaking place. Everything from the geology of the world, to the elements, right down to the denizens and machinations of Eos are extremely detailed and awe-inspiring. Unlike most open world games, though, this one feels distinctly comfortable to house a Final Fantasy game: the landscapes, locations, and set pieces are all just as dramatic as the tale the game sets out to tell. There’s been several occasions where I’ll just idly roam the land on foot, go on a small road trip, or even just stay idle for a while and take in the scenery and enjoy some tunes, often while I’ll be doing something else. It’s really easy to want to get lost in a place like Eos and that’s one of the best indicators of a great open world. There’s something for everyone and if you want to focus on a single thing, there’s usually no punishment for doing so. If you want to spend your entire session fishing or driving around, you can, and there’s rewards for nearly everything.
Another incredibly high point is the fact that Final Fantasy XV doesn’t feel like a response to something, which is probably why it’s taken so long to make: ever since Final Fantasy IX, it feels that each game was a response to a criticism, outcry, or industry standard. Trying to take a brand new approach, though, meant the game likely struggled to find its identity throughout development; however, at the end of the day, that philosophy seems to have paid off as this game feels more like a game that – while it initially struggles to find itself – has its own identity while still feeling like it belongs in the franchise.
While this game is wonderful, there are still quite a few things that keep it from being perfect; while some are quite obvious and can literally break immersion and enjoyment immediately, most are just mild annoyances that don’t really detract from a generally enjoyable experience. Like just about any open-world game out there, it’s really difficult to catch every little annoyance, bug, or glitch that can come up but Square-Enix did a pretty good job of catching… most of them.
How they missed the problem with controlling and using the camera, though, is beyond me; there’s no real way to justify the fact that it gets covered up so easily, doesn’t know how to handle tight quarters, and flips out at nearly every opportunity in the way that it does. Considering Square-Enix, in their combined talent, has endless amounts of money, time, and play testing dropped on this game in its development, it’s a little hard to believe that something this fundamental was not given the kind of importance that it needs. Sure, it works, but if you’re in a wooded area and you like to know what’s going on in combat against multiple enemies? Good luck. If you’re locked onto a large enemy in tight quarters and it moves quickly? Forget about it. You’re almost better off not locking on at all and hoping for the best. That’s just inexcusable considering how long this game has been in development for.
Another thing I find incredibly annoying is the context for activating dialogue and opening doors is somehow crazily sensitive. I have to be in the right exact spot facing the right exact direction in order to activate a door or talk to someone. Otherwise, Noctis takes little hop like someone just told him the best news ever. Given, this isn’t game breaking, but it’s frustrating. This is another one of those things that would have been excusable about ten years ago when this game was first announced but just seems rather ridiculous that I have to put up with now that the game is released and has as much polish as it does in other areas, especially considering context is done well in combat, for example.
Perhaps the worst part of the game, though, is when the game simply grinds down to a halt and says “we know you were here for the action role playing game elements but I think you should really play some stealth mechanics right now.” There’s only a couple instances where the game forces you to do this – once to introduce you to the base missions, whose purpose is to introduce you to that type of side mission; and one of the last chapters, where, unlike those side missions, you have to go through it completely helpless and constantly stalked. At least, with the base missions, after you complete the first one, there’s some forgiveness; if you don’t succeed at stealth, you can just break out your weapons and just start kicking ass. However, with that near end-game chapter, you don’t have a choice but to plod through this section with only the Ring of the Lucii equipped. Given, this isn’t very difficult in most parts of that chapter but it completely fucks with the pacing of the game that could be slow to get going in the first place. By the time you get to that part of the game, things are speeding up, getting linear, and the plot is beginning to wrap up… and then you’re ground to a halt. That’s just not cool. I hear they’ve fixed it but I’m yet to give that a shot at this point.
One of my biggest qualms with this game that just amounts to me nitpicking is the story. While the game’s focus on the main four protagonists and their relationship with one another is ultimately very well done, it almost feels as if it’s a trade off at the expense of all other characters and the story as a whole. What you get feels more like a fantasy version of Lethal Weapon as opposed to anything that feels like a sweeping Final Fantasy epic. While that’s nice for a change, I think there should have been at least some kind of transition and it almost seems like Square-Enix kind of tried, there, for a while. There were signs of its links to Fabula Nova Crystalis but those were almost entirely removed and replaced with a story about four guys going to crush a Kefka wannabe.
The worst part about how I feel about the story is that I can’t say that it’s bad. It’s almost like telling a child of yours that you’re not angry with them but that you’re disappointed. To me, that’s almost worse. It’s the feeling that it should have been so much more and it could have been so much more and instead you have a journey of the development of four men and their relationship together and a backdrop that serves as the reason for their development and… really… that’s about it. Story-wise, you’re looking at the equivalent of about 3/4 of the way through Final Fantasy IX where everyone starts finding themselves and that’s about all you get. Is that bad? No. There just should have been more.
Another thing that I found particularly ugly about this game is the fact that difficulty spikes in spots. There’s particular enemy and boss types that are extremely difficult to tackle compared to just about every other one and it’s rather ridiculous that it’s like this. I don’t know if it’s that the other enemies are too easy or the ones that stand out are too difficult but either way, the gap between them is astounding and really forces you to change up how you’re playing, entirely, specifically for a particular set of battles. I don’t mind difficult but this doesn’t feel like it’s a natural progression of fairly easy to start and very difficult to end but rather fairly easy all the way through with extremely difficult spots during the particularly cathartic or dramatic story beats.
Honestly, if I could say anything, finding negative things to say about this game was more of a pain in the ass than just about anything in the game ever was. It’s really that good. I kind of wish there was more meat to the game’s story and characters but it is what it is, I guess. A lot of the things that I’m sore about, in this game, are really minor annoyances that don’t really take away from the game itself, thankfully.
Don’t expect your typical Final Fantasy, though: this entry in the series is quite the deviation and I know a lot of people who won’t like that about this game. However, if you can give something new a chance, like you should, you’ll appreciate this game. It’s pretty awesome.