The year was 2006.
I had begun working at Gamestop. I was dating a woman different than my wife today. I had hair down to my shoulders (definitely not the case now.) But the biggest thing that occurred that year, that you will care about, is the announcement of Final Fantasy Versus 13. (As I write this, I’m actually watching the first trailer.) I will never forget watching that trailer, before the Playstation 3 had even come out, and thinking, “that game is going to change gaming forever.”
I mean, how could you not? The trailer is all CGI, but it shows Noctis (still in all black leather) decimating legions of guys while teleporting all over the place and stabbing, thrashing, and thrusting with each of his different magical weapons. It looked amazing, and it easily seemed like a potentially amazing product. Heck, it got nerds all over the world excited beyond measure for this mysterious character with the sexy haircut. The biggest question though: when is this game coming out? Next year? Two years? Three years? Stop me when you know where this is going.
Try 10 years…
Yes, 10 years have passed since that glorious day in 2006. Final Fantasy Versus 13 is no more. After a constant swirling dervish of delays and possible cancellations (I believe there was a cancellation in there somewhere), the game lives today and is played in homes under the moniker of Final Fantasy 15. The game has been out for a couple of weeks now, and I’ve finally been able to sit down and beat it. The biggest question that many have asked me is, “Was it worth the wait?” Unfortunately, that isn’t an easy answer because I don’t know if any game could be worth a 10 year wait, unless it’s going to change my life. (insert Metal Gear Solid joke here)
Final Fantasy XV is an ambitious game that tries to do a lot of things in one tight package. Emphasis on “tries.” It’s a complex story, with engaging characters, in an Ubisoft-esque open world game, mixed with a deep, sometimes chaotic button mashing, combat system, wrapped in an innovative RPG leveling system. I know that’s a mouthful, but this is what they are trying to complete in one game, and I have to give them credit for trying to go for it. Let me be clear: I adore this game, but there are some glaring issues with the game that need to be discussed. I’ll give you your veggies first, so the bad.
I said it this past week on the podcast, but I have a fundamental issue with the only way to fully grasp the story, in its best form, you have to watch three hours of additional content outside of the actual game. Kingsglaive, the CGI film, and Brotherhood, the anime, are both quite good, and I’m glad that I watched them. But, it’s absurd that those story elements weren’t in the game. Now, I have spoken to a couple of people that felt that they didn’t need the supplemental material, and they have enjoyed the game, which is great. But again, the ideal version of play through involves additional material, and that’s a problem that I hope doesn’t become a trend.
The other big issue I have is the content, story wise, that is missing from the game. I will stay spoiler-free, but there are certain character’s actions that are just not explained why they do them. Like, at all. Specifically, Chapter 13, there are glaring plot holes as well as the game completely changing the gameplay to the point that it’s not fun to play. I understand bad level designs. It happens, so I won’t condemn them for that. However, I can’t accept story elements missing from a game that has been in development for this long.
Now for the good part
Final Fantasy is a fantastic game. It really is, almost enspite of its missing pieces. I know that I stressed the issue of missing plot points, and those are there. However, the game’s major story plot isn’t about the political moves of the kingdoms surrounding Lucis; It’s about four best friends going on an adventure together. And, that story is nothing short of great. Noctis, Gladiolus, Ignis (Iggy), and Prompto are deep characters that truly grow on you in their own personal ways.
Whether it was Iggy wanting to show me how to cook (like my mom used to do), or Prompto annoying me about pictures (which is a real life struggle because my wife is a photographer, and anything that has color should be pictured immediately), or Gladio challenging me to be a better leader (like my brothers do), I felt a strong bond with each of these characters that made me want to keep them alive, level them up, and interact with them more. This car ride to a wedding turned grand adventure was such a heartfelt experience for me because I actually cared about these characters, and they cared about me.
This game also gives us some of the most fun that I’ve had this year in its combat. Phasing side to side to dodge attacks is a blast, and the warp mechanic is so creative in how it’s handled. You are also challenged to chain combos together, in order to fill up your meter to do link attacks with your posse. Honestly, by the end of the game, I felt that I had a great grasp of the combat, and it made me feel like Batman in the Arkham games. The variety of weapons also adds another dynamic because you have to find the right weapon sometimes to attack each enemy.
That leads me to one of the hidden treasures of the game: wait mode. This is a mechanic that will stop time, for a few moments, when you stop moving in battle, so you can analyze your opponent. The game doesn’t tell you about this at all, so you have to find it in your pause menu, not your inventory menu. Now, I found some people who call the gameplay mechanic easy and tedious, but I found it fun, engaging, and thought provoking because I wanted to have the best way to attack my enemies, and I wanted to use my full arsenal to do so. Not to mention, you have magic to use as well, that essentially turns into you creating vials of elemental magic to throw at your enemy. It’s cool how you can mix the elements (fire and electricity works really well), and it may be the best visual piece to see them in action because it’s so gorgeous.
The game offers the player quite a bit of options as well. You can play sidequests galore, and catch all the fish in the world for that annoying cat, while leveling up and spending tons of hours doing so. Or, you can easily just focus on the story and finishing it as soon as you can. I found myself in the middle of those two paradigms. I spent some time doing hunts and main character side quests, like getting Gladio some Cup of Noodles, but for the story hooked me once I got to a certain chapter. The good part about all of this is that the game offers you a way to go back into the open world to level up or make money once you get late into the game. So, in a way, it never stops being open world, if you don’t want it to be. Umbra, the cute dog, ends up being a very resourceful tool when you are about to face a boss that you are not ready for. (just a tip)
The visuals in the game are stunning, and the landscapes are breathtaking. So, that’s nothing new from what we expect of the franchise. The character designs are really nice and give a certain aesthetic to the game. The only other negative I can find is the voice work/mouth movement. Sometimes, I felt like I was watching the old Godzilla films because the English didn’t match up with their mouths moving, but I know that has come to be expected as well.
Overall, Final Fantasy XV is a very good game; some may say a great game. But, there are some issues that can either be accepted or used to condemn the game. I’d like to go with the former. This game gave me a fun time with it, and it made me appreciate the trips and fun times that I’ve had with my closest friends. So, if you go back to the question of “was it worth the 10 years of waiting?” The immediate answer is no. However, that doesn’t mean that this game is absent of greatness because it has quite a bit of that. Whether it was riding in a car, riding a Chocobo, or fighting giant daemons, FFXV gave me one of the best personal experiences of the year. Now, we can just sit back and hope that we don’t have to wait another decade for the new one.
Scott, co-host of The Gaming Outsider had this to say about the game: “Final Fantasy XV is an anomaly to me. I’ve never played a game that I’ve enjoyed so much that has just as more issues than it does strengths. It’s one of my favorite games of 2016, but it’s a hard one to recommend to people who don’t share my affinity more mindless grinding and collecting. I still can’t decide if some of the decisions made are a stroke of genius or a colossal waste of time. Regardless, nothing has stopped me from playing, enjoying, and eventually finishing this game.”