Monday, January 9, 2017

Final Fantasy XV Great, But Not Perfect

I just finished Final Fantasy XV and I had so many thoughts about it, that I needed a little time to process everything before I wrote this. I came to the conclusion that with everything I want to discuss about the game that this will have spoilers in it. I do my best not to do that, but with some games I just feel the need to talk about some of the things with spoilers because they're a big deal to me. All that being said, this is the spoiler warning. If you have not completed the game yet and don't want it spoiled for you, don't read this until you have. Now that we've gotten out of the way, let's begin.

When I started the game, I chose to go through the tutorial. This is a smart move for anyone just starting the game because it gives you a good idea about how the battle system works and what the controls are. It also explains how Noctis' warp strike works and gives tips on how to plan out strategy while using it. It's quite helpful before starting your adventure.

Learning the ropes in the tutorial.

The beginning of Final Fantasy XV doesn't really give you an explanation about what's going on. You get an opening with Prince Noctis and his friends already on their road trip. There is a cutscene with Prince Noctis talking to his father before the trip about his upcoming wedding to Lunafreya. You don't really get a clear explanation for why this is happening other than it's to secure peace between their two kingdoms. This really doesn't do a very good job of easing you into the story and letting you know who's who. You can watch the Kingsglaive movie to give you a better idea about the opening and the five anime episodes of Brotherhood to understand more about Noctis and his friends before playing the game. It does help a lot with knowing what exactly is happening. I really don't understand why they didn't include those in the game (Kingsglaive is included with the deluxe edition) because it would leave you feeling less confused about what is happening. It doesn't really make sense to not have something that is pretty crucial to the main story not be there. Once the initial introduction is done, you get to start exploring the world in Final Fantasy XV with Noctis and his friends/bodyguards Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus in their car known as the Regalia. If you did the special quests through Amazon pre-order (I did) you get a pretty spiffy gold Chocobo skin for the car. You can also customize the car any way you want which is pretty neat.

The Regalia with a gold Chocobo skin.

The open world and scenery are beautiful. I found myself stopping to admire the view quite often. The musical soundtrack is good as well, complementing the mood of each scene perfectly. You can pick up side quests in the various towns and you should as these help a great deal with level grinding. There are special quests too known as bounty hunts which you can pick up from the local diner in the area. These quests are a bit more difficult, but they are worth it because you get some great items from them as well as money for your expedition.

Taking a moment to enjoy the view.

Each of the guys has their own skill set too. For Noctis it's fishing, Ignis can cook, Prompto takes photos of everyone and everything along the way, and Gladiolus is good at foraging. You don't level up in the conventional way. You rest at an inn or camp outside and rest and all the experience you've earned battling monsters racks up the points there in order for you to level up and this is also how you level up the skills for everyone. When you rest you can choose what recipe Ignis makes and take a moment to look at all the photos Prompto has taken and choose which ones you want to save and share with your friends. It's rather nice looking at all the photos seeing battles or seeing the guys just hanging out together in the different places they travel through. 

Prompto using his photo skills.

The camping thing brought up something I wasn't too thrilled with in the game. The main reason you have to rest at night is because you can not travel at night at all since there are demons everywhere and they are insanely powerful and will kill you. On the one hand, it does add to the atmosphere of how dangerous traveling at night is and that taking a break for the night is a good idea. On the other hand, it kind of takes you out of the immersion of the story because it limits your exploration a bit and that's frustrating. It's not a big deal, but it's noticeable. 

Driving everywhere in the Regalia is interesting. You get to have little conversations and you can listen to music on the radio. You also have moments here and there where Prompto will ask if you can stop and take a picture together. I did try driving manually and the controls are just okay. I found myself choosing the auto function frequently. I know it's a game, but it bothered me that no one in the car is wearing seat belts. Factor in the weird showboating of Noctis sitting up on the back of the car and I found myself wondering why no one thought of safety at all. I know that's weird worrying about their safety in a video game, but you know they would have had a terrible accident in the real world. You can fast travel after the introductory chapters are done which is convenient if you just want to get there. Driving in the Regalia can sometimes feel tedious. I think it's impractical that you have to shell out 10 gil every time you fast travel however. While I understand that is to pay for the gas in the car, I still feel it's rather stupid. At one point in the story you can travel to the past because of a dog named Umbra. This is his ability and you can do that to go back and continue doing various quests.

NO. Don't do this kids. Safety first!

The story for the most part is pretty good. As I traveled with Noctis and his friends, I came to like each of them because of how they interacted with each other. A lot of people said that Noctis is sullen, but I don't think that's the case. I think that it was more about Noctis having a heavy responsibility on his shoulders and he's fairly young. That's a lot of pressure to handle and it seemed that he was more of an introvert and isn't really open with anyone who doesn't know him really well the way his friends do and even then he's still a bit reserved. That is not necessarily a bad thing. I actually liked Noctis and I felt sad for him when I realized some aspects of the story involving him.

I did love visiting the Chocobo farm. Two of my favorite things in the Final Fantasy series are Moogles and Chocobos so I was excited to visit the Chocobo farm. I smiled at how delighted Prompto was about seeing Chocobos and it was cool seeing everyone just hang out with all the sweet Chocobos. Once you do an initial quest there, you can rent Chocobos for a specified amount of time and ride them all over the place exploring to your heart's content. You can also customize the Chocobos for your party by changing their colors which is tons of fun in itself. There is a Chocobo racetrack nearby and you can race everyone on your Chocobo. I spent a lot of time there and time fishing. Maybe too much time, but I had fun! 

Whee, Chocobos!

The combat system is okay, but there are issues. Sometimes you can get overwhelmed by enemies and running away for a minute is the only option. This does make you plan out varying strategies to figure out what works and what doesn't, but sometimes that can be irritating when you're trying to win a fight. When it comes to magic spells, you have to craft them in the user menu and then equip the spell. I actually thought that part was great because it was a different take on magic. The user menu is pretty easy to navigate and you can change the outfits for the guys fairly easily. Each outfit has different stats depending on what you want for battle. I just wish there was a little more variety other than hey we're a boy band, but at least they're well designed.

I didn't mind a lot that there weren't women in the party. I knew it wasn't that kind of story. We had an all female game with Final Fantasy X-2 and that was great, so it didn't really bug me that all the main characters in the game are guys.  However, I did mind some things they did to the women in the story. I noticed that Cindy the mechanic is there for basically fan service and Prompto to talk about how hot she is. Before anyone gets all up in my business or rudely comments on here (don't do that, if you can't be polite I'll ban you), I'm not against sexuality at all. Cindy is the main mechanic for the Regalia. Without her, their journey would be impossible. She keeps the Regalia running. Her outfit does not scream mechanic. Think about it, she's working in a garage and she's going to wear this odd outfit that does nothing to protect her from all the oil and chemicals that come from fixing cars. How does that make sense? I liked Cindy. I thought it was fantastic they had a woman that loves tinkering and loves fixing cars; that is smart. I did not love that they decided she would be blatant fan service. 

Lunafreya is barely in the story. You get some flashbacks with her and Noctis explaining their childhood friendship and yes it's very sweet, but you only get glimpses of her once in a while to push the story forward. Look, I get it. She's not the main focus or character of the story, but I wish there had been a little more with her because it feels like she was just there for the ride until her imminent death. Granted she was already dying because of being in constant contact with the astrals, but her death didn't have that much of an impact because the story didn't really allow you to get to know her fully. 

That brings up another thing that drove me crazy about the game, the summoning of the astrals. I don't know who designed it this way, but a few times I felt the urge to shake them. Yes, I know the astrals are pretty much gods and gods can be fickle so that means that sometimes when you try to summon them they don't show up. The system is flawed when it comes to the summons. You have to have certain conditions for them to show up such as the battle has gone on too long, you're almost dying, or the terrain. It's infuriating when the conditions are right and you are trying to summon an astral only to have it not show up at all. When they do show up, they are pretty incredible. I HATED the summoning system. I still do. It's awful. I longed for a simpler time when I could summon astrals on command.

Pretty epic fight with Leviathan.

I actually took a small break from Final Fantasy XV mainly due to the Christmas holiday and honestly, I found myself getting a little bored in the second half. The first half of the game is fantastic with lots of exploration, quests, and mini games. The second half felt a bit tedious because every few minutes I would get attacked by Empire soldiers which started to feel like a chore when I was trying to do other things. There were also some excruciatingly slow load times when going into a new area which tried my patience a bit. Then there's the obvious Gilgamesh fight they cut when Gladiolus disappears for a while with no explanation. That is now going to be a DLC. That's great and everything, but why did they cut it from the game? Again, another thing that makes no sense.

The main villain Ardyn for me was not that great. I couldn't even really hate him. Sure he was a jerk, but when you find out his back story I just felt sorry for him and understood why he was so filled with vengeance and hate. The thing is, you don't really learn his back story until almost the end of the game which does not make sense to me. This seemed like a pretty important plot point that needed to be in the game. I'm throwing in the fact that Prompto is a person made from a demon also because that is a huge plot reveal that they should have gone into here in the game. It's rather noticeable in places where they clearly cut things from the game's story, but I don't understand why because a lot of the things they cut seem pivotal to the story.

Ardyn the villain. Meh.

I felt a little disappointed in the second half because it seems that the game started out strong and they knew what they wanted to do and by the time it was winding down to the end it felt like a different game almost. It also felt like they weren't sure what they wanted to do or how they wanted to finish the story. We have the Empire hunting down Noctis and his friends and towards the end of the story they're wiped out. Who knows when it happened because you never get to actually see it which brings a strong disconnect to the story. There's a lot of loose ends that they just didn't bother dealing with and they seemed to have rushed the story to the end. 

I didn't like Noctis alone in Chapter 13 because it took forever to navigate that dungeon. There was a lot of annoying backtracking and the ring of the Lucii Noctis is gifted with is pretty useless. It has a drain spell that kind of works, but I was relieved when he finally got a sword to fight with. There's a pretty massive time skip of 10 years with Noctis being trapped in the crystal and then we get to hear Ardyn's sad story. While I understand the main theme of the story is sacrifice for the greater good, it's a little depressing to realize that there will be no wedding and he's basically been lead to his death so everyone can live. It is sad and it's meant to be. I did like Noctis and his buddies so when they had their final goodbyes I did get teary eyed especially when Noctis asked Prompto if he could choose a photo to take with him. It was an emotional moment done beautifully. I just wish there had been more moments like that throughout the game. 

The boy band grew up.

The final fight is fairly epic and the music for it is amazing. It was sad saying goodbye to Noctis as he defeated Ardyn and breathed his last, but he managed to help save the world and bring light to it once again. After the credits of the game there are two cutscenes which are quite touching with Noctis and his friends and Noctis with Lunafreya happily married in the afterlife. It was a nice note to end on and I'm glad they did it. It softened the blow of all the deaths. I needed a soft touch after all the emotions. 

Once you beat the game, you can go back to your last save and play through any quests you missed and you can check out several in game events that have unlocked such as battling a giant tortoise. You get bragging rights and tons of spiffy stuff!

Final Fantasy XV is great, but it's not perfect. It's worth playing through at least once because the one thing that kept me going was the fact that I liked the main characters and the story wasn't completely terrible. For what it is, it is fun to play overall and I did enjoy myself especially when it came to exploring and playing all the mini games. The end game stuff is challenging, but fun as well. There is DLC coming too so that may be worth checking out, but the main game itself is the big thing worth playing. 

Farewell, Noctis and friends.

*Final Fantasy XV is available to play on the following platforms: Playstaion 4 and Xbox One

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