Until stated in the review, this is a spoiler friendly overview. Look out for the warning to stay spoiler free!
To preface this review you should know that I have wanted to play this game since it was FF13 Versus. Even more than Final Fantasy 13 I thought this game looked amazing and beyond that, it was all I really wanted. At the time there was even a really cool hinted female antagonistic protagonist love interest: Stella. For the longest time I felt anxiety and dread that they had changed all I was excited for in order to make it a road trip adventure but as always whenever I sit down to play Final Fantasy things change. Until the credits roll on a Final Fantasy game I am uniquely oblivious to all faults it has lest it is just beyond saving. Final Fantasy has a unique brand of nostalgia that fills me to the brim with excitement and eagerness. It was not until I recently let the credits fall that I could do more but smile widely at each new adventure, bite my lip at each moment of anxiety, and cry at each moment of sadness.
Final Fantasy 15 is roughly the shortest Final Fantasy I have ever played. In the time one has to struggle to reach the end of Final Fantasy IX in order to achieve the ultimate weapon for a character, you can easily beat the newest addition to the series. I heard remarks of pacing and storytelling and opted to make a conscious decision: I would play the games numerous sidequests until I simply did not enjoy the game anymore. I clocked out at 90 hours, with very minimal amounts of quests left and almost everything I could think of being done. By the end of it, I was actually double checking the internet to make sure there wasn’t something I missed. (There was, the game is huge.) I even enjoyed all the fishing. Seriously, I fished the crap out of this game.
So here is the issue: this game is huge, but it is the shortest Final Fantasy in my memory. The pacing of this game is almost unanimously agreed to be its biggest issue. So what is the pacing? In the first chapter you are sent off to go get married. This is essentially destroyed by chapter 3, and the story missions themselves take no time at all. In fact, if you choose to do any of the optional side quests you become over leveled. I consciously put an effort into doing everything, so every chapter was a joke. Even if you would normally over level to the point of ludicrousness, every other Final Fantasy will put a check in place to at least make it worthwhile. I can’t name a Final Fantasy I don’t breeze through now, but the first time playing them? I usually had to stop, regroup, and figure out a plan. Not so in Final Fantasy 15, where the entire game lacks in dungeons unless you seek them out. The only memorable dungeon in the storyline quest is the worst one in the entire game (Okay, except the sewers. That dungeon can eat it.) There are some without a doubt but they aren’t the same as you might typically find in a Final Fantasy (especially in amount).
One of the biggest factors to making this is an issue is the system of leveling. It is very easy to game the system and level so quickly by means of EXP multipliers that you go from struggling to kill things to dominating even the most daunting of dungeons. I don’t think this is the worst idea in the world as otherwise leveling could easily be seen as a chore, but that’s only given the games mechanics. It is just a part of Final Fantasy to level grind – and while they have each adapted skill learning and the idea of leveling differently, I would say this one stands out the most awkwardly. To have such an easily manipulated system, and nay to even encourage the manipulation by allowing multiplied places to exist in higher value, there needs to be a counter to it. Final Fantasy 8 had monsters scale to your level, which could be an easier fix and require actively using the system. Final Fantasy 10 had an emphasis on sphere levels instead of actual levels, making the utilization of the grid important. I count myself as a gamer who is terrible at everything: but I excel at Final Fantasy XV with little to no effort. That alone makes me skeptical, but I guess I’ll give the ‘super boss’ a try before I count myself out.
The music is beautiful and sets the tone, while the means of travel are fun. As much as I didn’t want to embarrass the oh so manly men in their car, I gave in to my desires and made the Regalia lilac purple. On top of it, I actually cared more about the quest givers in 15 than I have cared about them in a long time. It’s really weird and oddly fun to hunt down frogs for an immense amount of points, but it’s also cool to help track down lost dog tags for quest takers who didn’t make it. Those are only a few and none of them were terribly bad, some of them even interesting! But now I must talk about the plot and characters, and in doing so now I will discuss SPOILERS. If you do not want to be spoiled then stop reading here!
The advantage I had by doing all the quests before finishing the game meant that I genuinely cared. All the problems in Final Fantasy XV makes it teeter dangerously on allowing the player not to care. If you choose not to spend extra nights in camp, go fishing with Gladiolus, get a picture with a catoblepas, listen to discussions in the car, or save extra zaney pictures as you go fight necromancers in the night then you absolutely miss out on something in the game. Without those extra hours of learning to care about the characters then you miss the beauty of all their friendships and care. It’s harder to forgive Gladiolus for blowing up at Noctis later in the game when you don’t see the two of them fishing up the best fish in the Vesperpool. I genuinely loved the main characters and felt they all had interesting personalities and cool things going on. On top of that, seeing them for who they were helped me see their supporting cast mates better:
Cindy, for one, and how she cares for everyone in the Regalia and is hoping to spare people suffering from the demons in the night by making your car extra safe. Cid, and how he fell apart from Noctis’ father and their friendship suffered. Iris, and seeing how much she cared for Noctis as well as Gladiolus’ perspective of her. These characters were real to me but there is no denying how easy it is to ignore their existence. Cindy can end up just the hot Regalia lady and Iris just a red herring love interest who likes Noctis. Not much ever comes out of the characters after you dig deep unless they are in the main cast, and that’s unfortunate. Some really cool characters get left out in the cold and that is infuriating.
Luna and her brother are two people that get a weird treatment. Luna is just the Oracle for the longest time and at first you can choose how to respond to her messages, giving the impression that Noctis might not even hold deep feelings for her. It isn’t until the two reunite from afar in person that we see true affirmation of Noctis’ feelings for Luna. On top of it it isn’t until we see her brother’s fury that we really see how painful her life and choices are: she’s basically dying as the Oracle and her entire life is suffering. She has to be prodded on to live and her brother betrays everything he has done with his life in order to help Noctis. . .but we don’t get enough time with him at all to see how that matters. It’s infuriating because if I care seeing just a little bit, I know I’d be way more moved if I got the time with all the characters I deserve.
I know I would because we have seen a lot of this before: In Final Fantasy X. X features essentially the same thing, summoner/oracle who is sacrificing themselves for the greater good, love interest who is destined to fulfill that. One or more of them dying. Even then there were issues: it was ham fisted how secretive everyone was about a character dying, and now it’s almost as if they think we’re expecting that so they just go, well, here’s obvious hints and suffering. I’m frustrated that the story is so intent on keeping the main characters as the only ones in the party that they never let Luna at least co exist with everyone: which could have fixed a bunch of problems. What’s even worse is that right when the story finally picks up and Luna shows up, she is killed by the bid bad. Why does Aranea have more time in the party than Luna? It really hurt for her to die because it felt like we got so little pay off for trying to find her.
Then there is Ardyn. Oh. . .Ardyn. Ardyn is both the best villain in the recent Final Fantasy’s and one of the worst one’s in Final Fantasy. Ardyn has hints of Seymour Guado combined with Kefka while not quite being either. He succeeds in his goals for the longest of any villain while also being his own downfall. There seems to be a lot of conflict both from myself and from others about his nature. Is he trying to be killed, is he just trying to beat Noctis at his strongest? Well jokes on you Ardyn, I was high enough level to beat you BEFORE the Master Sword time skip. Ardyn accomplishes the most but the story is supposed to be so clever like ooooopOOOOOOOOoooo he’s always got the upper hand!!!1111!! That it stops being reasonable. No, Ardyn cannot have control of everything all the time forever. Even with Noctis’ phasing abilities and control of the Empire, it’s just contrived to throw him into everything that way. If he really had that kind of power then he would just win completely, even if Noctis had 10 years to become the wielder of the Master Sword.
Still, Ardyn has way more personality than anyone we’ve seen in a long time. He’s even slightly better than Seymour, who was really just annoying by the end of it. His demon face? Freaking terrifying. Yet if I compare Ardyn to any other Final Fantasy villain he makes no sense. Even Kuja only let Zidane live once, and it was to further prove his own superiority. I must defeat him at his best ! Or, or here’s a thought. Here’s a thought. Like kill him cause he is the last ray of hope in the world of light?
Is Final Fantasy 15 perfect? No, sadly. I enjoyed the run but there are a lot of issues. Still, I feel that this game has so much in it that I love. Despite that I wish Stella had been the female protagonist, I loved the ending and felt seeing them at all after their ‘fates’ meant something. Still, the scene where Noctis died was not as powerful as I felt it could have been. In fact it was seeing the ghost of him that made me finally cry, not the actual death. A main character dying can and has been done in a way that works but I feel 15 falls short of that meaningful gripping ending. When Leviathan happened I thought, yeah now the plot is starting! Well, the plot was about 60% over and I was meant to care about everyone already. Luckily, I spent 90 hours on the game so I at least loved the main characters by then.
If you like Final Fantasy this is a much more solid game than it has been for the past few years.
So let’s go over what makes a good game:
Characters: When we talk about the main 4, I can honestly say the game shines because of the way you love everyone by the end. I wanted every character to be happy and cried whenever they weren’t. As for everyone else? It’s really a matter of first impression. I thought Lunafreya’s death was sad so I liked her by the end. I thought Aranea was really cool so I liked her. I don’t think anyone got the justice they were due unless they were one of the four main characters. Iris came close but her development got cut short.
Story: The story on paper is much better than the execution. There’s so much little else to say! Jesus allegory but no 3 day Resurrection.
Combat: This is the best take on the live action battles that I feel they’ve done. There is definitely a lot of work to be done- If I dodge a catoblepas, for instance, so should my allies. It makes no sense that they’re dying so hard when I’m easily still in the game; and honestly the scanning system is super flawed and not ever helpful, the list goes on and on – but I felt more engaged and loved the feeling of beating enemies when I actively earned it. Then sometimes it was nice to rain the power of the heavens upon all my enemies soooo. . ..
Graphics: Holy fucking shit now all the pre teen girls will start to be attracted to real men, the pretty guys are all so realistic now! Also, I am hungry everytime I camp. Thanks Ignis, my cup noodles don’t look that good.
Music: Woah. Just…good work man.
I don’t think you’ll regret playing this, but you won’t feel like you’re playing the classics.
3.5/5 – 7/10
Now excuse me. . . I’m going to. . .keep playing it anyway. . .