The opening of Final Fantasy 15 is quite unsettling. Immersion is important in a role-playing game. So, when you see a boy band led by royalty pushing a broken-down car in the middle of nowhere, it’s pretty difficult to trust the setting from the outset. Especially when soon after, you have the ability to simply call in a tow truck. The Regalia is your primary means of conveyance while exploring the world of Eos. If just now you’re experiencing déjà vu, it’s because the ability to drive a car around the world map was also featured in Final Fantasy 8. Now you live in an era where the technical limitations of the PS1 are but a faded memory. But you still enjoy games that can barely do 30 FPS, so doubtless this turn of events represents your childhood dream come true. As Squall, driving a car around was a side option; but as Noctis, the Regalia is more than just a ride. It’s a constant companion throughout your journey, integrated with the intention of building a bond between man and motor just like any other pal escorting you.
It hasn’t always been obvious in a Final Fantasy title to have the entire party on screen at all times. It definitely feels like a slap to have a real-time, action-based battle system in which a specific tutorial appears in between pressing start and playing the game. If you were surprised by Final Fantasy 12, be ready. There are no transitions between entering and leaving battle. In a fight, you can just hold down a single button and swing the joystick wildly to perform physical attacks; and you can also warp around the field, allowing for some steadfast routines that will help propel you well into the game. Airdancing is an addition you’ll find extremely effective. As a general rule, the game offers plenty of tools and mechanics for a range of play styles. By studying these, you’ll find many enjoyable techniques and strategies that enable spectacular combos and smart ways of overcoming enemies. And study you must, since the game doesn’t provide many details on how to take advantage of certain abilities. Still, given the nature of a typical JRPG, you can just complete side quests and over-level your character to keep on moving. There are some tough challenges left around for end-gamers, as well as eight categories of weapons, each with a dozen options. If you have the patience to farm that rare drop you’re after, you can bring materials to Cid and upgrade your default sword into Ultima Blades, or Zwill Crossblades, if you’re more into daggers. The combat system doesn’t incentivize player experimentation as it’s easy to find something effective; performing magic causes party damage, a consequence of not being able to control spells. And the camera angle is another problem, with vegetation or crowded surroundings obscuring your view. Finicky, context-sensitive actions mapped to the jump button cause frustration as you interact with your environment. Yes, interacting and jumping are bound to the same button. When you want to pick up an item, open a door, or climb into the car, Noctis will jump instead. You have to halt everything and patiently wait for the prompt (…no, “prompt.” Not Prompto.) to appear on screen before trying. And still, chances are Noctis will bunny hop.
Character Swap was not available at launch. Regardless of whether its absence was part of the original vision and it was added due to community feedback or it was just too late for launch, the ability to switch to other team members has been introduced with a subsequent patch.
If you avoid using magic, you’re gonna miss some very good graphic effects: Magic in Final Fantasy has never looked so good. Just what you’d expect from the latest Final Fantasy (well, assuming you’re watching this before anything else has been released). And it’s one of the visual elements that will drag you through to the end of the game.
Fire is a prime example of how the graphics are intended to impress, and you’ll notice it immediately in-game, as it tries – and succeeds – to kill your framerate. Just an added bonus alongside the game’s other finely detailed aspects, such as the bestiary, main characters’ outfits, and even fur. The internal problems of this Final Fantasy are not borne out by the flat textures commonly seen in vegetation. Instead, the game’s open world needs to be loaded with content. And it is clear that the franchise is still working to find comfort with an open map. Through various patches, developers have added features like Wait Mode, New Game+, and minor tweaks. Still, they were forced to fight technical issues from day one.
Final Fantasy 15 came to market as an incomplete game, and it will always be, being anything but lean from a technical point of view. There are many points of entry for criticism, but let’s start by saying that if you’re from the camp that complained about the “corridor” that was Final Fantasy 13, then rest assured, this installment is definitely not that. It is an open world, though it has maybe two relevant towns and an immense amount of useless space in between, with buried content that goes unutilized. The game’s open world, used for dungeons and hunting a la Final Fantasy 12, renders the city of Altissia an impressive waste of opportunity. Altissia is, of course, one of the many replicas of Venice found in video games, but never has such an attempt been so “baroque.” As a tourist, walking around this city at times feels disgraceful. There’s no real purpose in its architecture or design. It is stunning and towering just because it can be. Altissia is fitted with realistic Italian signage, reinforcing the sense that it exists in its own separate slice of the world. Unfortunately, as with the game itself, the city is a mess of ideas and premises carelessly thrown together.
A waste, just like the game’s climatic events, which lose their impact for a lack of proper build-up; or its sections of gameplay that look fun until you realize how they’ve been implemented; or like Ardyn, a character doomed to underappreciation even though he had everything he needed to be as iconic as Batman’s Joker. And that’s something you don’t expect at all in a Final Fantasy game. You don’t expect to be so passive, let alone in the midst of situations and events too distant from your point of view to feel part of your life. There’s just too much happening off screen. The plot is so detached that minor events had to be added post release, while bigger ones were included in the form of cutscenes. And some of these were even taken from other media sources, because Square Enix expected you to consume other content like movies or anime in order to understand your mission and the world of Final Fantasy 15. Being a multimedia franchise (more so than a consistent, self-contained videogame) took priority. DLCs have the purpose of filling in the odd gap where the main content should have done so by default, but that still leaves the question: Why should you even consider trying it out if the publisher, itself, cancelled the game’s scheduled, supplementary content and then just gave up?
Unfortunately, there’s a lot to talk about in terms of development when it comes to understanding this product – so much more than the events in-game. It goes beyond repeating the same tired anecdotes or looking like an insider by saying that we have to go back to the origins of a project called Final Fantasy Versus 13 and the whole Fabula Nova Crystallis affair. Works began in 2006; a rebrand occurred in 2012; then when Tabata took the lead in 2014, there was a hardware target change, a switch of engines. The team still lacked vision and purpose. The idea of noir glasses within modern cities and a game breathing dark and grim tones vanished.
As yet more evidence of how overrated the PS3 era was, especially for Square Enix, during those problematic years, Tabata inherited something that didn’t exist. He had creative freedom, for sure, but he also had to deal with players’ haywire expectations due to the marketing content and trailers already floating around. And, with the movie in full production, the story had to be partially rewritten. This is why it makes no sense to discuss the pros and cons of the battle system or the summons – when characters are plagued by inconsistencies or are introduced without any noticeable development: everything feels – and probably was – shoehorned into something that was supposed to be well underway. Official statements on the Ignis DLC suggest that it was meant to be the game’s finale. Interestingly enough, the logo is one thing that managed to survive. It’s always curious to discover what certain symbols represent and where they’ll appear amid gameplay. In this case, the placement is an enjoyable sign of quality from Business Division 2, especially considering the backstory on development. Major props should be given to Tabata for bringing something home. Still, what has been delivered is a fragment of what a role-playing game should be.
Final Fantasy 15 is easily resonant with the story of friends on a road trip. While the hero’s journey is a staple of the genre, we are far removed in quality from Yuna’s renowned pilgrimage. Final Fantasy 10 introduced you to a mystical journey; this chapter is indeed a different, ambitious but off-the-target journey.
Tetsuya Nomura’s vision was an opera; that’s what we were meant to be given. Although, a “fantasy based on reality” perhaps more aptly defines the intention behind it. But when this vision devolves into blatant product placement, to the point where a side mission doubles as an advertisement, what you’re really being sold is sacrilege in place of a much-beloved and sacred franchise.
It’s been many years now – long enough to have been forgotten if you don’t know to search for it – but the first trailers weren’t shy to use Italian sentences alluding to the tragédie en musique, the Italian Opera Seria, and the dramatic story-telling of works by Verdi and Puccini. But eventually, any such devices entirely disappeared from the promotional content and the game itself, and the conclusion of this journey is a tragedy: a development tragedy; a burden on Noctis’ shoulders; a heritage that doesn’t have to be forgotten and needs to be passed on to others, because Noctis didn’t deserve this treatment.
Final Fantasy 15 is a game you’d recommend if it ever came out, but it never did and never will.
To await Final Fantasy 15 has, itself, been the final fantasy.