I decided to set up camp at the uppermost corner of the map as night had set and there wasn’t enough time for me to finish my quest. Before I could finish the day, Gladiolus stopped me to ask if I wanted to go fishing in the early morning and try to catch a rare fish. These one on one character opportunities (called “Tours”) don’t come up very often and offer good in-game bonuses, so I decided I would join him even though I’m not particularly fond of the fishing mini game. We ran down to the river in the early morning and the game announced that if I did not catch the fish in question that I would fail the tour and be sent back to camp. I spent almost an hour of game time fishing attempting to catch this mystical fish. I literally drained the entire lake of fish (something that wildlife conservationist would not be too pleased with) without catching the goal of this mission. After slowly realizing that the game had set me with a mission with no way to successfully complete it, I quit fishing and was given a failed screen.
This bug with the fishing tour is a good summation of my time so far with Final Fantasy XV: I have encountered a number of things that feel unfinished or unpolished that can be downright infuriating but yet I continue to find immense enjoyment in it. I seem to swivel on my position on the game every other day from being enamored to attempting to write it completely off. I decided on Thursday that it would be ok if I didn’t finish the game and give up, on Friday I sunk three hours in it and left hungry for more. As I pass the 20-hour mark of time played, I find the game hard to recommend but a joy to play.
My problems with the game started at the very beginning of the game with the first female character, Cid’s (in case you were wondering if this is a Final Fantasy game) Cindy. This plucky female repairwoman has a positive attitude and is more than capable of earning her keep in the garage. She also wears very little (read: tiny scraps of) clothing. She wears a tiny button up (for maximum cleavage) and Daisy Duke style jean shorts that look like they shrunk in the wash. Apart from her character design, the game seems intent on making her an object. Every time you fill up your car at her gas station, she gives your car a full strip tease car wash (for every other gas station, Noctus is just shown leaning against the car). The characters in game all talk about her looks further cementing her role. This is made all the more irksome by the surprisingly large role she plays in the game, so her questionable character design is thrown at the player often.
Cindy also is one of only five female characters that I have met so far on my journey. Gender diversity is lacking with only one really strong female character having been introduced. I am also not completely convinced that one of the main four characters couldn’t have been a woman. The game has made no case for why the main cast had to be all be male. They don’t all even begin the story as really close friends, with only Prompto being Noctus’ buddy before their trip (Ignis serves as council and Gladiolus as guardian). Final Fantasy has a tradition of strong female characters so this aspect seems especially overlooked.
Final Fantasy XV also struggles with larger scale game design issues. After the introductory chapter, the player is set loose in an open world that is full of optional side quests to complete. A lot of this side content ends up being incredibly dull. Most quests have you running to fetch certain items for NPCs only for you to return these to them and be given another identical mission with a different location on the map. Very few end up with tangible rewards that make your time spent feel worth it. Hunts, side missions where you are tasked with defeating tougher monsters, are much more exciting in comparison and lets you delve into the surprisingly engaging active battle system. The game here too creates another irksome issue by only allowing you to take on one hunt. So you’ll have to keep going back to restaurant owners once you have completed one hunt to receive your next one.
The main quest’s in comparison vary wildly. While they are usually the most engaging missions (and the most traditional in terms of Final Fantasy design), they also serve to show Final Fantasy’s general lack of polish and cohesive game design. Main quests have you doing everything from completing dungeons to infiltrating bases. The variations in gameplay can be refreshing, but they don’t always work out. Dungeon crawling is much more in Final Fantasy’s wheelhouse and the sneak mechanics feel janky and cumbersome in comparison. Especially in a year where games have played with gameplay variations to great effect (Titanfall 2’s campaign), these tweaks fall especially flat. The main story is equally flawed as well. Your campaign to free your home from invading forces changes greatly over the course of the game’s chapters. Story’s points that were the main mission of chapter 2 are moved to the side quests by chapter 7 as new goals are set often with little in game explanation. Usually the loading screen in between chapters is used to explain the new goals rather than having the characters organically move the plot along. Major points in the plot often feel irrelevant by the next chapter. One point in particular has the empire cutting down on the open world only to have the next chapter lift this completely with little explanation. Cut scenes, where previous modern Final Fantasies showed impressively rendered story points, are used as flavor text and are usually kept to small snippets. They are also jarring as they seem much more like cuts removed from the Kingsglaive movie rather than actual scenes designed for the game.
I could continue on for several more paragraphs documenting continued faults (some quick hits: the camera enjoys shooting bushes in combat rather the characters, the main quartet of characters are not incredibly interesting, and a special shout out to Dino for his atrocious Boston accent) but yet I am still incredibly drawn to the game. Riding around the open world on chocobos makes for a great compliment to traversing and questing in the game to the more static (but faster) travel in the car. The day/night cycle keeps things fast paced as you race to finish your quests before camping by nightfall. The combat is fast paced and is a genuine joy to play especially when you’re facing tougher and larger enemies. It is a testament to how incredibly positive these aspects of Final Fantasy are that they can outweigh the many weak points of this product.
Having waited 10 years (!) for this game to finish production, I could still be running on my long awaited anticipation to play the game. It seems mind boggling that this game feels very rough and unfinished for such a long production time. These rough edges lend it a certain charm however, as you often don’t see this level of design variation and lack of polish on big AAA releases. I couldn’t give this game a complete recommendation (especially as I approach what I hear is the more linear part of the game) but I am nonetheless having an incredibly good time playing Final Fantasy XV.