It took 10 years, but the developers at Square Enix delivered: Final Fantasy 15 has redeemed the series. A statement like that is bound to invite disagreement, but then the game itself has done the same. With the recent announcement of a year's worth of DLC plans, it's clear that there are rough edges. But what's also clear is this is exactly the kind of evolution the series needed to stay relevant.
As I write this, I am fully aware of the cheerleader quality to my words. I am not a cheerleader. In fact, I was one of the biggest critics of the previous single player trilogy, Final Fantasy XIII: Something About Crystals With Voice Actors So Irritating I’d Have a Root Canal? But, just as much as that previous game drove me up a wall, Final Fantasy XV has endeared itself to me. It's a departure that some people feel goes too far. Those people need to decide whether they want Final Fantasy to a blockbuster or a B-side to the series’ storied history.
After XIII, something had to change. A lot of things had to change. In the days since the series was at its peak (the last ostensibly "good" game, Final Fantasy 12 in 2006 and even that is up for debate) RPG gaming has evolved from the SNES and PSOne era JRPGs as the dominant force. Games who rely on random battles and incessant grinding have fallen from grace and, with rare exception, are pretty much middling on good ol’ Metacritic. Western RPG design is now the defacto standard for any game with triple-A aspirations. Even the critical darlings who break the mold, Ni No Kuni, for example, a game I adored, pale in comparison to the Elder Scrolls, Witchers, and Mass Effects of the world.
Traditional, classic-style JRPGs aren’t bad, they just aren't what the mainstream craves anymore. Again, with rare exception, because these games are good and there are a handful that can still compete with Western heavy hitters. My suspicion is that the audience has aged out. In ten years, people graduate from school, college, have kids, and become home owners. Random battles and hours of grinding just to attempt a boss battle, or suuuuper long summon animations, just don't hold the same appeal when you only have an hour or two a day to play games.
Of the series' evolutions, I most love the open world. The landscapes beg to be explored and are easy to lose yourself in. I've lost count of the number of times I've run off because something in the distance caught my eye. Random encounters and little rewards are peppered throughout the world to keep you exploring even when you should go back and hit the main quest. Yes, the monster hunts feel like they're straight from World of Warcraft circa 2007 (they probably were designed around then), but give you a reason and reward for striking out off the beaten path. I am enamored with this game's behemoth wildlife. I've said "wow" more times playing through this Final Fantasy than I ever imagined I would again.
Evolutions to the game's combat are more divisive and completely change how it plays. It doesn’t much feel like Final Fantasy, but then again, everything surrounding the one-button-barrage combat pretty much does, so the game never feels truly foreign. Single button combos eliminate the button mashy memorization of pure action games, but the blend of flanks, warping, and clever party techniques feel strategic in a way that still fits within a roleplaying game. And if the mission statement of “a Final Fantasy for fans and newcomers” is true, these battles certainly do more to catch the eye than pause and play does for the passerby.
There are many, many more changes, but it’s clear that XV is a necessary reboot of the franchise. In an interview, Game Director, Hajime Tabata, wouldn’t even commit to a sequel coming if XV flopped. Now, we can be sure.
The game isn't perfect, as our review rightly reflects. It confusingly fractured its narrative between the game and a movie and an anime. Square announced that they will be adding whole new cutscenes to flesh out the story and motivations of a late-game villain because it’s currently unclear. That kind of DLC is also known as a plot patch, so sorry to those who played already. There's also an entire chapter which seems like an exercise in experimentation that falls flat. Here's the thing: if it takes some missteps to keep Final Fantasy a blockbuster franchise, so be it. And really? This is a pretty darn good game.
As someone who considers himself a lapsed Final Fantasy fan, XV is incredibly refreshing. I was in LOVE with Final Fantasy before XIII. I appeared on podcasts to talk about how excited I was. When I played it and couldn't stand the characters or level design, I was more than just let down. I was burned so badly I couldn't be bothered to play the sequels. This isn’t a return to form, it’s a new form, and one I’m having trouble pulling myself away from. That’s a great feeling.
Light news week! Only two stories to round of the Final Fantasy love.
Torment: Tides of Numenara finally has a release date. The game will officially release on February 28th. Steam reviews of the early access version hail the game’s atmosphere and storytelling but are near universally critical of its overall bugginess. With two months left to go, here’s hoping those bugs are already getting squashed on their internal build. If Wasteland 2 is any indication, this is a game to be excited for.
We also have four new minutes of gameplay from Deck 13’s The Surge. The trailer certainly looks neat. The ominous sci-fi future is great and the animations are fantastic. It’s being compared to Dark Souls quite a bit, which even a glance will tell you is totally fair. Their last game, Lords of the Fallen, garnered the same commentary and was criticized for it. I believe a lot of that was because it too was fantasy, like Dark Souls, and couldn’t stand a direct comparison. The gameplay systems weren’t half bad, though! The Surge should have all the mechanical improvements of a sequel without being a direct, side-by-side comparison. I’m excited for it.
That’s all from us. Let us know what you think in the comments below!