The Pipeline: At Long Last, We Finally Have Final Fantasy XV | Buzz Blog

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Pipeline: At Long Last, We Finally Have Final Fantasy XV

The longtime Final Fantasy gamer in me falls in love and gets confused equally.

Posted By on December 5, 2016, 8:06 AM

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I've been playing Final Fantasy games longer than many of you reading this have been alive. I've had the privilege of playing all the Famicom and Super Famicom versions with horrible pages of translation at my side. I subscribe to the theory that most of the odd-numbered versions are better than most of the even-numbered ones; Final Fantasy Tactics still remains one of my go-to RPGs when I need to escape the world for an hour. The conversations you and I could have over the series, the genre, the development, the endless toying with our emotions over canceling it twice ... we should go get coffee!

But that's for another day. Today I'm giving you my review of Final Fantasy XV,  a week after release because I wanted to get as much gaming time in as possible before having to pull myself away and type this up, and then go back to exploring more of the game's universe.

click to enlarge Cruisin' in my 64, with all my Lucis' sayin'... - SQUARE ENIX
  • Square Enix
  • Cruisin' in my 64, with all my Lucis' sayin'...

Like all games in the series, FFXV is set on its own Earth-like world with a lot of tweaks, namely magic being real, living and fantastic machines being an everyday occurrence, and everyone seeming to have feathered hair (even the men going bald). The game centers around Prince Noctis and his trio of friends—Gladiolus, Ignis and Prompto—as they make their way to a wedding between Noctis and Lunafreya of Accordo so that their arranged marriage can bring peace. On their way there, one of the major cities has fallen and all are assumed dead, including the King (your dad), Noctis and Lunafreya. You're charged with gaining control of legendary weapons and using them to gain the crystal and fulfill your role as the new King.

click to enlarge Does it look weird that I'm in a leather jacket with no shirt on? - SQUARE ENIX
  • Square Enix
  • Does it look weird that I'm in a leather jacket with no shirt on?

As one might suspect, the game becomes something akin to a Shakespeare play, with several twists and turns that challenge your character and his band of brothers along the way. Having experienced the entire game at this point, I will say that it isn't the most complicated storyline that Square Enix has ever assembled for a Final Fantasy title (depending on who you ask, that distinction belongs to XII or XIII), but it certainly isn't the most cohesive. Many elements to the story involving minor characters introduce erratic twists that make little sense to the overall story. It takes a while for a lot of the elements to come together and show you the full scope of what's been happening, and why reaching the crystal is so important. The ultimate payoff, both in finding out who many of the characters represent and the final culmination of the love story, is amazing and satisfying. Perhaps not quite enough to overlook some of the awkward character developments, but enough to make my hardened gamer heart swell up with feelings.

click to enlarge Somewhere in the afterlife, vixens are awaiting us in lace. - SQUARE ENIX
  • Square Enix
  • Somewhere in the afterlife, vixens are awaiting us in lace.

The biggest thing Final Fantasy XV has going for it is the open world aspect. The last game in the series that wasn't strictly online was Final Fantasy XIII, which was criticized by Kotaku back in 2009 as "The One Where You Walk In A Straight Line For 25 Hours." The game was so linear, it felt acidic. The goal of an RPG is not about the destination, it's about the journey—no two journeys take the same path, and what's inviting about these games is that my experience will totally differ from those of my best friend playing the exact same game. That feeling was lost in XIII, but it has found new motivation in XV.

From the start, you can go do whatever you'd like at your own pace. Wanna go treasure hunting? How about capturing creature hides? Maybe you'd like to explore areas that are totally forbidden, or perhaps just go fishing. You have the ability take your time and complete numerous side quests and challenges before you ever set foot on the regular storyline journey. Some gamers  would say you're going against the grain of the plot by dragging it on longer than it needs to go, but when it comes to an RPG, often those random side-quests could be the key to giving your character needed experience, weapons, tools or information. (Don't believe me? Go look up Knights Of The Realm from Final Fantasy VII.)

click to enlarge You know shit is going down when you're bare-chested and covered in blood. - SQUARE ENIX
  • Square Enix
  • You know shit is going down when you're bare-chested and covered in blood.

The combat system is a major improvement, and makes me wonder why I haven't been using this system before. Rather than your traditional turn-based system, the combat is in real time, with allies and enemies all fighting at once. It seems to borrow elements from Breath of Fire and Kingdom Hearts, while still retaining the leveling system in both experience and magic as previous Final Fantasy games. The best aspect to all this is the multi-attack function, where you can team up multiple allies for a blistering attack on a single target. It allows for a much more diverse system to take out enemies quickly and gain experience faster, but if you really want to, you can still mash away with your sword and daggers to beat everything in sight on your own. In the course of the game, you'll eventually learn new abilities and buy new weapons to help you achieve your combat goals, but the system is so self-explanatory that even kids could pick up on how to balance everything.

click to enlarge NICE DOGGY! DON'T EAT THE GROOM-TO-BE! - SQUARE ENIX
  • Square Enix
  • NICE DOGGY! DON'T EAT THE GROOM-TO-BE!

What remains from here are the added nuances that make the game just a little more special than others. One aspect is a mild choose-your-own-adventure function to many conversations. A good example: At the start, a mechanic named Cindy will ask you if you'd like to do something for extra cash, which will then open a prompt for several choices, which can make her happy, angry or annoyed. He character will inevitably react to you slightly different from that point on—not enough to where it will cost you much in the game, but it does reinforce the idea that your choices have consequences.

Another is the minor skills that you and your party have, which including fishing, climbing, cooking and photography. As you progress as a team and do certain things, those actions will be calculated at rest points and add bonus experience to make those tasks easier. Another fun element is the Chocobos, or for the uninitiated, the big yellow birds you can ride in every game. You have the ability to rent after Chapter 3 starts and you complete a side mission, or capture a wild one and train it. Renting will only do you some good when it comes to traveling, training will help you earn a companion that will get you around places faster and even join in battles if it grows to like you.

click to enlarge Somehow, I feel completely safe in your rage. - SQUARE ENIX
  • Square Enix
  • Somehow, I feel completely safe in your rage.

Anyone who has played Final Fantasy XV  and beaten it knows we're glossing over a lot of major details, and that's because if you truly want to be spoiled, you can get that info elsewhere. I fully believe in the idea that an RPG shouldn't be described, it should be experienced. To give away every little nuance without you having the chance to take it in is only doing you a disservice. Yes, there are major criticisms out there about it; the Conan video alone will leave you laughing about some of the absurd parts. Is it perfect? No. But here's the thing: it doesn't have to be. Even hardcore Final Fantasy fans will tell you they can't agree as to whether VI, VII or IX is the best of the series, because as great as they are, they all come with flaws, too.

After 10 years of waiting for this game to show up on home consoles, I'm satisfied with it and will continue playing it, because I've got Chocobo races to win. Embrace the flaws, enjoy the story and remember: Square Enix hasn't even started work on XVI yet, so it may be another 10 years before we see the next one.

click to enlarge 4_star.jpg

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