On the Road:
The Japanese Role Playing Game often doesn’t feel like it has a place in modern gaming. Turn based battles feel outdated, we aren’t as willing to stomach the nonsensical plots – and tropes – they often throw at us, and few still have the requisite forty to eighty hours these games often demand. Square Enix have, for the last decade or so, been trying to evolve the genre, with varying degrees of success, and through my reviews of games such as Final Fantasy Type 0, I Am Setsuna and Bravely Default, I have charted this progress.
So it’s a great relief to say that with Final Fantasy XV – the latest massive title in their mothership series – Square Enix have finally achieved what they’ve been attempting since the early noughties – They’ve evolved.
Final Fantasy XV is the story of Prince Noctis, a young, wacky-haired youth who is about to set out on a road trip with his four best buds (who are also his retainers) to go get hitched. They’re taking King Dad’s car across country to get Noct to the wedding, but obviously things quickly turn south and – in his absence – Noct’s kingdom is invaded by their sneaky neighbours and everyone he ever loved is killed.
The game then changes gear and turns to a good old revenge story, where Noct is determined to reclaim his throne and kick the butts of anyone who was involved with the murder of his Dad. To do so he must visit the tombs of his ancestors and absorb their ethereal weapons, and if he can convince some Godly summons to help him out too then even better. Needless to say FFXV starts off as the weirdest bachelor party ever.
And I would have liked the story, a lot, if it had remained as simple as that. I was hoping that Final Fantasy could, just this once, remain grounded and comprehendible. But this is a Japanese RPG, and for all the good decisions and smart improvements it makes in other areas, the story soon falls prey to the same weird tropes we’re all overly used to. I couldn’t really tell you what happens in the last twenty hours of the game – and that’s a shame! Honestly it all feels a bit rushed, and cosidering Final Fantasy XV was one of modern day gaming’s most elusive vaporware titles, having been in production for nearly a decade, that’s unforgiveable. I have to wonder why something as fundamental as the story wasn’t locked in years ago.
Luckily, the titles excellent characters help carry Final Fantasy XV through its most awkward narrative moments. Despite not understanding a lot of what was happening cutscene to cutscene in the game’s dying hours, I was invested thanks to the brilliantly realized buddies that had accompanied me through it all. Gladio, Prompto and Ignis, your travelling companions, ground the game with believable, wonderful friendships that I genuinely cared about. It’s thanks in no small part to the tireless work of the voice actors and script writers, for all the work the game does outside of cutscenes, that I grew to love the group as much as I did, and for that FFXV really needs to be applauded.
Remember in every Final Fantasy ever, where you’d briefly trek across an overworld as a comparative giant, making short work of entire fields and mountain ranges as you travelled from town to dungeon and back again? Final Fantasy XV is ALL overworld. The massive open world is unlocked to you almost immediately, and once you’ve gone through the introduction you’re pretty much free to explore it at will.
That freedom extends to almost every element of Final Fantasy XV. Some of my friends and colleagues have yet to get past the second or third chapter but their party has way higher levels than mine, simply because they’ve gotten caught up in the side quests and exploration the world of Eos offers. It’s a map filled with secrets, optional dungeons and massive bosses you can completely miss if you simply follow the story. It’s a world that is begging to be explored, full to bursting with little secrets – or giant ones – that many will never stumble upon. The monster hunts are a great way to start exploring, missions that send you across the plains to slay a giant beastie or a group of rampaging mini-beasties.
What grounds every element of play in this, Final Fantasy’s biggest playground, is the car. The Regalia is a beast of an automobile that you’ll spend plenty of time becoming familiar with. Whenever you’re travelling to a new destination, or simply hitting the road to hunt down the next big mark, you’ll all pile in the car and cruise along the open roads for long stretches of time. Initially I was worried about this – that the game was literally asking me to sit and wait as we travelled to new destinations – but this mechanic is as important as any cutscene when it comes to making you care about FFXV, its world and its characters. Your friends will all banter on the way to your destination, you’ll engage in conversations, you’ll stop to take commemorative photos at landmarks, and you’ll be able to take in the massive world Square Enix have crafted here.