Game Days – FFXV

This post is a long, long time coming, but I do want to still keep up with the games I play to some degree. I picked up FFXV after some posts and recommendations by a few friends. How did I like it? lets take a look. 

It’s been a long time since I picked up a group-based, traditional RPG video game. The modern age of single-character based games just don’t really hit that same note for me, and I’d not seen a single one in many years that really piqued my interest.  Honestly, the Legend of Dragoon was the last time that I’d been interested in that style of game – and it might kill me that I’ll never beat it – and the only Final Fantasy games I’d actually played were the original and FFVII. Taking on XV was a leap of faith for me that the game was going to return to what I desired in an RPG, and that I would enjoy the gameplay, characters, and story.

  • THERE WILL BE SPOILERS, just letting you know. 

Also, If you think you know the ending here, feel free to skip to there whenever you want. I might just surprise you. 

Story

Lets start with the yarn beings spun, here. I’m not, in any way, a fan of coming of age stories. I don’t find anything about them to be compelling, and I don’t relate with teenagers and children. Their struggles, while real, aren’t the stories I seek out, and don’t resonate at all. FFXV is, in many ways, a really stock-standard coming of age story, and that made the overarching story fairly weak. The hero wines, cries complains and grunts his way through may of his problems until the end of the game, where he finally decides to grow up, and doesn’t reap much reward for it. 

Additionally, I’m going to add reluctant hero to the pile of tropes I dislike, and this one is the most reluctant. He does what he needs to do, but everything he decides to do feels like its being foisted on him as some sort of unwelcome burden. I don’t need my hero’s to be be crusading paladins, but I really don’t like them being reluctant teenagers foisted unwillingly into a situation where they have to grow up or perish. It is literally the worst story you can attempt to tell me. 

All of that being said, I think the story in the game is actually well told, and its not bad. I don’t need a lot of story in my Video games, the mechanics, challenges and puzzles in the game are really where I get my joy, but I do like it to be fairly reasonable. My standards are not particularly high, and this one rides its way into a solid B. 

I really wish they would have chased you out of the first area a little bit sooner, however, to get the story going in a more urgent manner. Instead, they let you, if you want, kinda romp around a bit and do whatever you want. Its fine, but it makes the rest of the story, wherein dire things are happening and sacrifice abounds, feel less meaningful because you were lollygagging for ages. 

Characters

Bear with me, here. I am going to say two contradictory things here, but I’ll come around to a point. 

Sadly, there isn’t a single character I really liked in the game. Noctic whines and grunts his way through all his problems, Prompto is overexcited and preposterous, Gladiolus is a bullying tough guy, and Ignis is a combat librarian mother hen. Highwind is a preposterous, tacked on addition, Ardyn is irritatingly cheeky and mustache-twirly. Well, I shouldn’t say any character. I loved Lady Lunafreya. She was an actual character. More of her, please? 

Beyond their characters written flaws, many also had horrifically irritating vocal tendencies that evoked two dimensional concepts more than they did a well rounded character. Nocits, in particular, had this sigh-grunt that I find impossible to describe. Its not your typical caveman grunt, exertion grunt, or … lemme just put a video here. This sound, he does it all the time, for everything everywhere. Its so stupid. 

I do enjoy the characters, though. For all their flaws (except Noctis’ moaning) they really do nail the character interactions. Gladio is a bully, but he’s quiet, has a good heart and clearly wants what is best for Noctis and is out to protect his king from perishing at the blade or bullet of the foe. Prompto grows on you, not as a peppy and needy guy, but as someone who wears his emotions on his sleeves and feels completely comfortable with himself around his friends. Ignis is a prude, but he’s smarter and better equipped to deal with the real world problems that they face throughout the story. He might be irritating, but its often because he’s right. Noctis is a moaning idiot teenager who comes of age through trial and tribulation. I do respect that his tribulations, though are freaking powerful and many. They don’t pull punches on the poor dude, and he just takes a huge emotional beating. no wonder he’s a whiny punk. 

Throughout it all, the characters grow closer, suffer misfortune, and unite into a single unit. Its great to watch their fraternity with each other create memorable moments and strong bonds that last even through death and destruction. While they might not get along all the time, they are clearly and unabashedly friends who care deeply about each other, and often without competing, which is refreshing.  These characters, while I don’t like them, are endearing and real. I would never, in a million years, spend time or befriend any of them, but they clearly have found in each other a strong and memorable friendship. 

Gameplay

Oh man, this is the juicy bit for me, because there is so much here to talk about. Not all of it, though, is a shining beacon of light. Like most of the game, I do think ill of a lot of the decisions. Lets get into it. 

First, the mechanics of the game are pretty simple, but also fairly obtuse. Magic doesn’t really make sense, weapons and armor seem to be, for all intents and purposes, needless. There are a lot of mechanics in the game, and I could go into each fairly specifically. Instead, I am just going to jump to the end, because that is where they all end up anyway. 

The mechanics are simple, base and not particularly interesting. Many of the decisions that are made seem very trivial, and general flow of the game is the same, regardless of the mechanical game play decisions made. Furthermore, the game has no difficulty to it. Its very cinematic and pretty, and tells a strong story, but the challenge just isn’t there. It could be me, though. I’ve been coming in to games blind and playing them on hard for so long, its hard for me not to feel that a challenge should exist. the latest one to have little challenge was Fallout 4, but that is because that game is build to be about exploration. 

Final Fantasy always has been a game about the story, about what happens to people when put into certain situation, and about telling a tale that resonates. Difficulty isn’t something that should be figured into a game like that, and I can see that its not in the main story, and it was very disappointing for me. I love the challenge that a video game gives me, and I really enjoy figuring out how the game cheats, what its puzzle is, and then beating it. There is accomplishment there that I simply never get from wandering through the game. I approached this game like it was going to be a challenge, instead of reading a novel, and that is something that clouds my vision of the game and how much fun it was, but I try to remove those bias when I talk about the game as a whole, I don’t know that I’m good at that. 

While I did jump ahead to the end, I do want to go over a couple of the mechanics that stood out. 

Combat

I found both the mechanics of combat : Holding down B and pushing a stick in some direction, to be comically boring and perpetually simple. That isn’t to say that the animations weren’t entertaining and visually enjoyable, they were.  The specials and the armiger weren’t anything particularly stunning either. Once I got used to their refresh rate, I used the specials – I think they were called techniques, as often as they popped up, and that was pretty often, but I got tired of there being no variation in the animations. I would loved to have seen any form of change in them between iterations. The Character that the specials brought, were solid, though, and I liked 

Gear

There isn’t much to say here. Picking the correct weapon for the fight felt more like a chore when you hit the wrong monster, and something you didn’t notice otherwise, and often didn’t overshadow simply using the best Relic Weapon, or whatever its called, that you’d found to that point. Its really disappointing to find, buy and equip all these weapons to just use the same one (for me it was polearms) through the whole game. 

Honestly, that’s something that bothers me too. I really dislike the current trend in games for weapons having different and distinct animations and move sets. Its fun to learn your first one, but man do I hate learning any more than that. Spending time swinging at enemies in a forced -learning environment is grating. I get nothing from it. I understand that they are trying to reward players who take the time to learn something new and different in the game, but I often find its simply a painful situation. You’ve got a weapon that is clearly better than the one your using, and you have two shitty options. You can use the weapon your familiar with and be, literally worse, or you can go out in the wilderness and beat on skull-dogs and Horn-cats to get familiar with the new weapon. Not my cup of tea. I get the appeal, it simply doesn’t appeal to me. 

Magic

This system was bulky, confusing and unintuitive, somehow all at the same time, as both finding magic and creating magic is a strange little mini game all in and of itself. Sometimes you have enough, and sometimes you run out of patience when you walk up to a node and absorb 25% of the available energy and are told your stock is full. You’ve then got to go in and create the magic my combining anything you’ve randomly picked up on the road with magic – essence to find the perfect formula of how many times you can get this thing to cast. Combining the random ingredients – anything from Noodle Soup to the Whiskers of a Horn-Cat – is the most vital part, but it comes at the cost of having to roam through the list of items you own, that you’re afraid to sell because you don’t remember what they do and the sell menu doesn’t tell you, and trying to find that one you know will cast your spell “up to” four times and put it in the bottle. 

Irritatingly, magic is subject to friendly fire, which makes it just brutally hard to use effectively. Either you get used to it damaging, and sometimes completely wrecking, your team, or you stop using it. Me, I just cast it anyway, because Fire with a chance of Instant Death is too hard to pass up. 

Summons

Finally, we get to summons, those awkward and nearly useless triggers that the game vomits out at you from time to time, often when fighting the most insignificant things. Need help fighting those massive basiliks that are killing your whole party? The gods watch from on high and laugh. You start beating the hell out of Unicorn Giraphas to help learn the new weapon you just picked up and Rhamah is all “LEMME LIGHTNING THAT THING TO DEATH, YOU KNOW YOU NEED MY HELP!!” You can’t even bank the summon up for later because its got a timer on it, so you go ahead and tap the button to summon the lightning god, but that’s not good enough. You’ve got to hold that button down for more than a few seconds. Damnit, Rhamah. If I can stand in the back of a fight and do nothing, I can probably do this on my own. If I’m getting my ass beat, its probably not a good time to get indignant over the length of my button-holding skills. 

Conclusion

I likely know what your thinking. This game is a bunch of half-assed mechanics tossed together that make a pretty lackluster game that wasn’t worth the time or the experience. I’d like to say that you’d be right, but it is with great difficulty and with a curious mind that I actually feel the exact opposite. The game seems to fail in many, many places. Almost every single portion has something going against it in a pretty significant way. I played until the end, though, and when I picked it up, I had an extremely hard time putting the game down. I would get sucked into the crappy storylines, I would get caught up trying to figure out a magic combination that stuck with me, and I would be balancing the pros and cons of Carbon Bangles and Bullet Proof vests. I took, and loved, a ton of pictures, and the one I brought with me to the end was a picture of the whole group, together, over an amazing landscape that captures the feel of XV. It wasn’t the game I wanted, it wasn’t a game I was looking for, but it was a game that resonated in a way that makes me genuinely happy to have played it. 

 

  • Moondog

    Happy to hear you enjoyed it overall. I had pretty much the same experience. FFXV is kind of a mess but it somehow overall works. Ended up being one of my favorites out of the series which is not something I ever thought I’d have said.

    • Tionas

      One thing I didn’t get around to talking about is how little I think the Guns, Cars and Robots added to the story. It just didn’t make the game more compelling in any manner, which pulled me out of the game at points. I’m fighting this animal with a spear and magic, and then we hop into the car, drive over to the flying ship, and then make our way to some other land. It was distracting.

      • Moondog

        I agree. I think it was a callback to the magitech stuff from earlier games, but they went past that and just made it sorta hi-tech fantasy.

        For me part of what didn’t work with the way they did it goes back to something I read back in my D&D days: if you have a setting with fantastic/magical stuff, that would shape the way technology develops. FFXV sort of has that because it has magical tech but it feels more like it was a neat idea and could just be any ‘ol sci-fi idea. So the game feels more sci-fi with FF stuff in it.

        Not necessarily bad, but definitely some dissonance there for me. Like with so much stuff I chalk that up to the game being in development for forever and being re-envisioned like 5 times. I definitely enjoyed the game the most when I was running around in the wild, whacking things with swords (give or take a Prompto).