Final Fantasy XV – Road To Release #1 – Just Why Do I Like This Game?

I can hardly believe Final Fantasy XV launches in a matter of weeks, the game has always had a special meaning to me after growing fond of its world and characters about 10 years ago. The road towards Final Fantasy XV has been an unforgettable and sometimes painful journey and I’ve been fortunate enough to spend that time around great fans on social media. I’d like to write several thoughts down, because it’s been so pivotal to my teenage years, and it made me think about who I am, what I want to achieve, and what the state of the Japanese video game industry is today. I wanted something tangible to look back on later on, maybe even shortly after I’ve played the game. I wanted to outline some thoughts and opinions for myself that would otherwise go lost in social media such as Twitter and Facebook. All thoughts are my own, there’s no good or bad, only perspective and opinion.

I’ve been running a Final Fantasy XV fan account on Twitter for the last 6 years (@MoogleKupoCake), following the game with eagle eyes and sharing news with fans. I’ll talk more in-depth about that in a later blog post. I thought it was a good idea to kick things off by talking about what gets me excited for this game. Just why do I like what Square Enix is doing with Final Fantasy XV so much?

Stand By Me

I’m in love with the blend of openworld and roadtrip themes. During the day, you’ll travel the vast world on foot, Chocobo or by car. Party members will point out side activities to do, make you laugh with banter. You might see a lake or cave in the distance and decide to alter your route and explore, go fishing or stumble upon a quest. Maps aren’t too crowded, but there’s plenty of places which might catch your interest, as well as a ton of banter and random animations to keep you invested. You might even be distracted by the many minigames like Chocobo racing or playing arcade games in a diner. That’s fine. The game doesn’t pressure you to move on but also never makes you feel like you’re out of control or alone on your journey doing the same thing over and over again.

No matter how though, at the end of your day you might see some glowing rocks in the distance. A safe haven to make camp. Ignis will cook food for you, party members will level up, view pictures Prompto took during the day with his really messy camera skills (damn Prompto!), engage in randomized minigames (helping to cook, going for a jog…) and get a stat boost for the next day depending on which dish you chose. Camping (and seeing the gorgeous food!) is something which really clicks for me, because it’s a great way to build a custom rhythm and adds to the whole roadtrip/friendship theme the game is going for.

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Breathing room is really important to me when playing video games. Some games get my blood pumping because the map or user interface is just so crowded with stuff demanding your interest. Some games just have so many features and things to do which need to be manually activated and which I forget are even there because the game rarely reminds me that they exist. (I’m looking at you Final Fantasy 14). Discoverability is such an important thing for me in games, more on that later.

Maps are purposefully less crowded and more open, to me evoking that classic Final Fantasy feel. The game draws from original monster design and is in many way a reflection of how a NES/SNES-era Final Fantasy would look with today’s technology.  I also feel like dungeons, small outposts and side activities stick out more on its open map, making me more inclined to branch out from my current objective to do something else. I like how everything seems to blend well and how many of these things remain discoverable. It’s the Skyrim effect at work but also evokes a sense of nostalgia to older Final Fantasy games and their quiet yet well-designed overworlds.

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Final Fantasy IX versus Final Fantasy XV

Different from Skyrim is that FFXV does a much better job at making the world feel alive. I’m really drawn to the visual style and how towns and fields look and feel and how they blended everything with modern elements. I think having no fast travel early on in the game was a good choice, as players will be forced to sit in the car, listen to banter and explore the world alongside these characters.  Unlike Skyrim, the screen won’t just go black when you go to sleep or when you (fast) travel to a new location. You really feel like you’re part of this journey, seeing the world with your own eyes.

Final Fantasy XV’s art direction is a big draw for me. Put in broad terms, I equally love and hate both Western and Japanese design tropes. Western games are dark, gray and uninspiring to me. I don’t like the raw medieval themes and washed out color pallets. Japanese RPGs on the other hand are sometimes I little bit… too much and absurd in their design that I can’t take some games seriously anymore. I love fantasy, but it needs to be grounded and realistic. A though challenge, but I feel like Final Fantasy XV blends those two worlds and manages to do just that. Okay admittedly I question the sanity of FFXV’s character clothing designers sometimes. The world of Final Fantasy XV is beautiful and to me feels like it blends 2 of my favorite Final Fantasy aesthethics (FF8 and FF10) together into something magical.

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FFXV’s party members (Gladiolus, Prompto, Ignis), while not controllable, show a lot of personality in how they behave and their countless lines of banter. Not everyone likes banter, but I love it. There’s a heck of a lot of it though it beats my mom AND THEY ARE DUDES but okay. It really drives home the sense of adventure and friendship that I miss in a lot of games. And I think it’s funny? I actually laugh a lot when hearing them chat. I don’t like it when RPGs only have one party member. I feel lonely when playing them. RPGs to me are about traversing through a world and experiencing a journey together with friends.

I really love Square’s Skyrim-esque take on open-world games. Everything just clicks for me, from the characters to the whole art direction to the lore. In many ways it’s an open-world kind of game I’ve always wanted to play. They borrow a lot of elemetns from other games, and play it safe, but with some Final Fantasy magic mixed into it. Final Fantasy XV managed to immersive me into its world, even before playing. This immersion comes in part thanks to a fun short anime and a pretty awful movie. I know these characters and right from the start I feel like I’m part of the crew. I don’t feel like I’m an avatar being able to manipulate features to get a satisfying result, I feel like I’m going on an adventure with friends in a fleshed-out world, escaping my daily life and drawing me into a world that reduces my heart beat to a stable pace which makes me feel at ease and just happy to be experiencing this world. It’s been a long time since a video game has made me feel that.

Those Who Fight Further

I think the beauty of good games is that they are approachable for a wide audience, simple on the outside, but allowing fans and hardcore gamers to go deep into the game’s features. FFXV’s battle system feels designed to be like this too. The core of combat is a straightforward attack and block system, but you won’t die immediately when your health hits zero (that’s a big thing for people who suck!) and the animation system will frequently unleash cool moves, contextual banter and high-fives with party members so even players who suck at action games can still enjoy it while also feeling that they’ve achieved something. But behind this facade lies a complex battle system with a lot of depth that still manages to be satisfactory.

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I love RPGs without level scaling. I love the thrill of exploring, getting better equipment and skills and killing an enemy with ease. I also love the opposite, delaying character progression and tackling enemies at a low level for an additional challenge. (Come at me, Catoblepas!) FFXV has both an item to cap your level, as well as an optional “Wait” mode where enemies freeze when you’re not moving around giving you more breathing room to strategize during battles.

It’s too early to give my judgement of the battle system, but I hope that it allows for some interesting boss fights and won’t bore me when I’m 50 hours in the game. It seems promising, and easy enough to use for a broad range of gamers. It just doesn’t seem to interesting to me during long and extended or aerial fight at this point. Let’s hope they make the best of that. At its core the battle system is nothing new or exceptional, but the animation system does a great job at making you feel stylish and engaged.

A Bright Outlook and a Final Fantasy for a new age

Final Fantasy XV has so many little features and random moments which most people don’t even know about unless you watch all those previews. I love it. There’s an unwavering amount of polish. It seems to be such a deep game, and that’s a good thing because it’s a long RPG and I don’t want to mindlessly do the same thing over and over again. It inherently doesn’t do anything new from other games, but it does a lot of new things for Final Fantasy. It’s fresh, risky and ambitious, but most important everything seems to blend well. I just love how this game is reaching out towards a bigger audience by challenging its own conventions. I love seeing people online who’ve never played other Final Fantasy games before get hyped about this game and others even be in awe by some of its moments.

Now that Final Fantasy XV is so close and it seems to be more of a real game, people are getting really excited. In part thanks to some positive previews as well as a really cool CG trailer.

A large portion of gamers nowadays are busy with their jobs and children, and might not finish a game in one go. They don’t have the time to invest deeply in games and sometimes just want something fun to play. To me well designed games, such as Skyrim, allow any kind of person to hop into it at any time and have fun, without any friction. Final Fantasy XV does this, simple on the outset but much like Skyrim, complex for hardcore gamers. Pleasing fans yet making it approachable and fun for newcomers.

Personally I’m super pumped when I compare Final Fantasy XV with previous Final Fantasies. Final Fantasy XV does so much new things, things which are borrowed from other games but which are such a big step forward for single-player Final Fantasies. I’m just impressed with how much stuff you can do in the game, how much lines of banter there are, how much crazy contextual combat animations this game has to offer and how everything seems to come together well. It’s a big change, a total reboot even, but it’s one that’s necessary in order for the franchise to reach a wider audience and so far it seems to work out well. Many people forget that pleasing fans isn’t everything, game developers aren’t charity organizations.

I also appreciate how Square made all this with their own engine, how they’ve kept fans informed, how they organized some really expensive events and a live concert, and how this game is releasing simultaneously worldwide with a multitude of localizations (everyone takes this for granted and will never know the suffering of waiting for a game when it’s out in other regions for months yes I am looking at you Final Fantasy XII). Them delaying the game for one month before the original release was a brave decision too, and the improvements they’ve made in the last months have been nothing short of exceptional. A lot of areas of the game (framerate, graphics, controls, features, camera) got countless small improvements which all by all make for a much better game which feels good and is seemingly a blast to play.

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(August versus October)

What are you going to do when you hold the game in your hands, Nick?

Putting it in my PS4? Also dying.

I’m not exactly sold on Final Fantasy XV’s story, so I think a big chunk of my time and enjoyment with FFXV will be devoted to hiding the HUD and driving through the world, maybe even flying, and taking tons of pictures with party members, enemies and Chocobos. With such a vast world, dynamic weather and Prompto just bobbling around there seems to be a lot of great views and picture opportunities.

I also really like the core RPG loop, defeating enemies, getting experience and items, exploring new areas, getting better gear, upgrading abilities and growing stronger to tackle enemies easier.

Excuse me for a moment my Chocobo started attacking me

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Okay I’m back. In regards to leveling up only when you spend the night in a tent or caravan…

Only leveling up at camps means you can also delay leveling up by not camping, roam the nights battling more powerful enemies and one day when they get the better of you, level up and suddenly become much more powerful and breezing through battles. It’s something Final Fantasy X with the Sphere Grid allowed me to do too, and I loved that approach.

I like normal all-rounded RPGs best. A good party traveling along you. Interesting art direction. A diverse and grounded world. Fun combat. Intuitive but deep gameplay. Worthwhile exploration. A good soundtrack and an attention to detail and not just the same thing over and over again. A combination of lore, story, gameplay and details that keep me invested for 40 or more hours. Final Fantasy XV hopefully checks all those boxes. If Final Fantasy XV has a solid story to underscore these things, as well as some surprising “Wow” moments then I’m sure this might be one of my all time favorite games.

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Did you really read everything I wrote and not scroll to here? Thanks! I would give you a brownie but 3D printers haven’t quite come that far. Almost there!

Final Fantasy XV is an ambitious game doing a lot of things I love, and missed in other open-world games. It borrows a lot from other games but manages to have its own footprint, while trying to win back old-time fans and gain new ones. The stakes are high, the excitement for this game is high, and I still have my issues with the game, but I’m cautiously excited and can’t wait for November 29.  With a game bringing so much changes to the table, I’m also excited to see how it will impact Final Fantasy’s brand and (potentially dark) future. Personally, this game can’t go wrong for me based on what I’ve seen in the first few chapters, but aside of my opinion I wonder how Final Fantasy XV is received by others, both newcomers and fans. Final Fantasy XV is an ambitious new entry, challenging its own conventions and not afraid to break new ground. It’s a giant step forward for the Final Fantasy brand, and it might just breathe some new life in a stale franchise.

Thanks for reading! Final Fantasy XV is kinda a big part of my life, so I wanted to have something tangible to look back on later that didn’t go lost on social media. I’ll post more later this month as we lead up to Final Fantasy XV’s release, including just how important it might be for Square Enix and about the worries I have for this game. I hope you enjoyed and can respect my opinion. Are you excited or worried about Final Fantasy XV? Let me know! 

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