There are few things more daunting in the gaming world, than plunging head-first into a long-running franchise’s latest entry, having had no experience of any of the iterations that came before it. Especially when that franchise is Final Fantasy, and even moreso when your entry point is the 15th instalment in the series!
I’ll start by saying that I have never paid much attention to Final Fantasy. As a gaming franchise I’ve always been aware of it to some extent, mainly due to the fact that there’s at least one person in every group of friends who loses their social life to it for a few months each time there’s a new sequel released, and also because people still hark on to this day about how Final Fantasy 7 is arguably one of the best RPG’s ever created. I was never really one for RPG’s back in the day and had no time for anything with turn-based combat unless there were Pokemon involved, so pretty much wrote FF off as some very way-off Japanese niche series which I would probably never explore further.
Fast forward to my thirty year-old self looking to try something new over the Christmas break, and seeing FF XV as one of the few new releases in the build up to the holidays, I figured “what the hell, why not…”
I had no idea what I was letting myself in for…
The game opens with pre-title which says “A Final Fantasy for fans and newcomers”, pretty reassuring given my status as a total FF newbie. Having now sunk close to thirty hours into the main campaign I’m pretty confident that the aforementioned quote is in reference to the depth of the in game combat and gameplay systems alone, which are both pretty light in terms of most JRPG’s, and not in terms of the batshit crazy story and characters.
The opening was not what I expected, with protagonist Noctis (a Prince apparently) helping his three supposedly hetero (more on that later) companions push their broken down soft-top down a dusty desert road as they chat shit to eachother, whilst a soft cover of Ben E King’s Stand By Me plays. It’s pretty cool as far as intros go, and way more cinematic than I would have expected any of the playable sequences in a game of this type to be.
From there, you get to explore a relatively open world, choosing which quests you want to go for and which characters you want to help out. The quests vary from simple acquisitions, to monster hunts, to the more linear main story missions. Basically all of which involve cutting up fools using the games combat system, which I was pleased to discover is all realtime hack/slash/dodge/counter based, a first for the series which I would imagine infuriated long-time FF purists, but for ignorant newbies like myself (that love a good action game like God of War or Ninja Gaiden) seemed like a step in the right direction (feel free to destroy me in the comments section for that).
So, the gameplay and combat are fun, great, how are the characters? Umm… peculiar I guess is the best way of describing them. Noctis is a moody emo-looking twentysomething who just mopes about and occasionally gets really emosh about stuff, his bodyguard Gladio is a brick-shit-house with a mullet who ranges from uncharacteristically jovial to unreasonably aggressive, their driver Ignis is the most British-sounding Japanese character I’ve ever seen but is probably the most emotionally balanced of the group, and then there’s Prompto who is… their photographer? Yeah I don’t know why either. Prompto is by far the most unnecessary character in the game, not in the sense that I wish he wasn’t in there, but more that he has literally no reason to be, although I’m not quite done with the main campaign yet so who knows; maybe he becomes a magical Unicorn or something. Either way he is an odd companion to have brought along, and while he does document your journey with photos which you can hand select for your album at the end of each day, a majority of them are just awkward selfies or just so randomly taken or bizarre that you only store them for their comedic value.
Speaking of comedy, this game is funny. Not in the sense that it has well-written comical dialogue, but more that a large number of the exchanges are either really inappropriate for the scene they take place in, make zero sense or are just plain homo-erotic. One example sees Prompto complaining it’s too hot, to which Gladio replies “why don’t you just take off your shirt and show us all your muscles?” while another sees Prompto excitedly leading us to see a wedding dress, before sighing because “it’s just all so romantic”, Gladio responds (again) with something along the lines of “you’re here with us, and you can have us all to yourself.” We are presented these characters as though they are just men saving the world, and other than Noctis, whom we know has a fiancee, very little is known about the others besides what is implied by their dialogue choices or body language/clothing, and when their body language is mostly that of a female runway model, and their clothing is exclusively leather and either fully-open shirts (Gladio) or tank tops that are way too tight (Prompto) then we can only presume that the developers are telling the story of how Prince Noctis and his three GBF’s saved the world. Not that this is a bad thing at all, if anything it would be a refreshing stance to take in videogames rather than sticking to the norm, however it just seems a little weird that they would merely imply this as opposed to outwardly stating it. Feel free to play the game for yourselves and interpret it how you will, but once you start picking up on it you’ll be unable to stop.
As a newbie to the series, the story has probably been the most difficult part to follow, as whilst it may be fairly basic and entry-level in terms of it’s scope (stop the evil empire, find your fiancee, save the world or something) it has so many bizarro happenings along the way and parts that are so random I can only presume that they are in some way relevent to past entries in the series, either way I have spent a majority of my time with this game saying “hmm, sure why not” because if I tried to actively make sense of it all I’d probably combust. Japan, you wonderfully crazy country, you…
I’m yet to finish the campaign, and am on chapter 13 of 15 at the moment but at close to just under 30 hours played in a little over a week it clearly has it’s hooks in me, even if it is batshit crazy nonsense that seems insanely over the top. It may be my first experience of a Final Fantasy, but it’s certainly provided me with enough character and enjoyment along the way to ensure it won’t be my ‘final’…