It’s been 10 long years in development, but “Final Fantasy XV” has now finally been released to the raving masses. Or at least they might have been raving at some point in the last decade — it’s hard to keep a good foaming-at-the-mouth froth going for anything longer than eight years.
Games like “Final Fantasy VII” and “Final Fantasy X” set the benchmark for Japanese RPGs in the late ’90s and early 2000s, but recent years have seen the main single-player stories sidelined in favor of online multiplayer entries (XI and XIV) and innumerable offshoots and semi-sequels that sometimes branch into other genres. In the meantime, audiences have in large part moved on from the conventions that the series popularized (like turn-based combat and ridiculous hair), instead favoring more Western RPGs with an emphasis on exploration and character customization.
XV addresses this change in taste with a massive and beautiful overworld to explore and an active combat system driving the game forward (but definitely continues with the ridiculous hair standard-bearing — no escaping that). The game wastes no time in plopping you down and setting you free to wander off and slay a variety of beasts or run errands that the denizens of the world have for you, including catching and cooking a fish for a whiny cat and delivering vegetables to the owner of a local diner — excitingly time-consuming stuff. There’s a pretty clear influence of the “Monster Hunter” series, immensely popular in Japan, with the open-world combat and the game’s cooking system to power up party members before setting off on the next task.
The story centers around the player-controlled Prince Noctis and his three buddies as they set off on a road trip to meet with Noctis’ bride-to-be. Calamity strikes, as it is wont to do, and the cruising bros are sidelined in search of answers and princely birthrights claimed. It’s just as weirdly overblown, muddled and melodramatic as anything else to come out of the series, and that’s not a bad thing. A little flamboyance every once in a while never hurt anyone.
What is a bad thing is how the makers of the game expect players to absorb this story. The mega-elongated development time of the game apparently meant there was also time to develop a cross-platform marketing blitz that has resulted in the game’s story spilling over into a movie, “Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV,” and an anime series. Rather than being supplemental pieces to a larger universe, these extras are key to attaining anything more than the most cursory understanding of what the hell is going on with the plot in the early parts of the game.
Twists in the story are literally delivered to your character after reading an in-game newspaper headline, accompanied by a wordless montage of clips from the movie featuring characters the player probably doesn’t know and certainly doesn’t care about. From a consumer perspective, it’s a pretty slimy way of selling extra crap, and it’s hard not to resent a product so obviously piecemealed for its strong franchise power.
The core gameplay is fun and the overworld exploration is undoubtedly impressive, but the poor storytelling decisions and unignorable marketing influences make it hard to swallow. Rewarding the game would be cementing a precedent that this kind of bullshit is OK, but it’s not. It’s bullshit.
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