The last time I had a new, main-entry Final Fantasy game was when my daughter was born. Almost seven years later, FFXV has come along following a development process that sounds so painful that it makes me gladder than ever that I’m not in the games industry.
At this point I haven’t completed FFXV yet but, at some 40-odd hours in, I feel sufficiently armed to provide a bit of an assessment of it. And, just to give some context to the whole thing (and because the last time I wrote something about a Final Fantasy game I almost got lynched), let’s be clear that I’ve got a pretty good history with the series: I’ve played almost every main entry from FFIII to XV, can tell my chocobos from my moogles, and own enough related merchandise that I could probably be considered a ‘fan-boy’. That said, I hated FFXIII when it came out and, though my opinions have changed somewhat since then, I do feel that at some point the series has lost its way. There was a sense of magic and fun about an entry like FFIX that somehow seems to have been lost.
I was hopeful going into FFXV that it might mark a return to form. After 40 hours, do I think it does? Well…
First things first: the game has obviously been a labour of love for the development team, who have poured their hearts and souls into this; that much is obvious. What’s also unfortunately obvious is that, despite the game’s lengthy incubation period, it probably just needed a few months or another year more in the oven. Some things are blatantly unfinished: the story is a jumble of plot-holes, with pivotal events happening off-screen and mentioned only in passing. Major characters get little or no character development, committing actions that seemingly have no motivation behind them. The open-world is large but mostly barren, and strewn with invisible walls that make navigating it an inconsistently frustrating experience. Sub-quests are plentiful, but rarely become much more involved than the standard formula of ‘go-here-do-this-come-back’. In that sense they’re very similar to those of Xenoblade Chronicles, though at least that title had the good grace to remove the necessity to return back to the quest giver for a reward.
For all this, though, FFXV is an experience that should not be missed if you have any kind of interest in the series. There are some wonderful facets to it: the combat system is frenetic and fun (if slightly shallower than it initially seems); the world is amazingly detailed; and there are just so many little touches throughout the title that it will bury its way into your heart.
Crucially, it’s the central relationship between the four main characters that defines the game. You play as Prince Noctis, and you begin with a retinue of three other characters: Ignis; Prompto; and Gladiolus. Unlike previous FF titles, this remains pretty much the extent of your party for the entire game. Whilst at first this seems a bit disappointing, the camaraderie you build up with the others means that you legitimately care for them.
Well, except for Gladiolus. He’s just an arse.
In many ways FFXV is frustrating, because it’s obvious it could have been so much more. There are so many weird decisions made during its development that sometimes you just sit back and wonder what they were thinking about. Who, for instance, thought it was a good idea to have the majority of travel in the game take place during unskippable car journeys that take literal minutes of real-time? Who decided there shouldn’t be an option to ‘wait’ and rush through the day-night cycle when so many quests and monster hunts are only possible at certain times? Who decided those bloody frog-catching quests were a good idea?
FFXV is a work of artistic genius, and, like all such things, has idiosyncrasies that are mitigated by the brilliance elsewhere. It could have been a better game, but as it stands it is a great experience.