Final Fantasy XV

As some of you may know, I’m homebound for a few weeks and was looking for a game to pass the time. I found one: Final Fantasy XV. Before I get to my review, I have to address the elephant in room (though it’s more like a T-Rex in a broom closet):

The very first female character players see in the game is Cindy. She’s got a chest that only exists in the world of computer graphics, and wears a car mechanic’s outfit of the sort you see models wearing in magazines like Hot Rod. She speaks in a Southern Belle accent and generally acts like a sex kitten. You can see an image of her here:

http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Cindy_Aurum

There are other women in FFXV. Those women are either standard anime tropes (the cute teenager with mystic powers; the woman warrior with revealing chest armor), or background NPC figures that are easily overlooked or skipped over in dialogs.

FFXV was published in 2016, well after awareness of representation in video games had become an issue. There was no excuse for this, other than to appeal to young Japanese boys who are presumably the target audience of the Final Fantasy series in its country of origin.

If I hadn’t just paid $50 for the game, I would have ragequit when I saw her. As it stands, I cringe every time she’s on the screen. This is fairly often, since she’s a frequent quest-giver and is responsible for maintaining your character’s main mode of transportation. Of course, whenever she refuels your car, you get the classic “bend-over” as she waxes the hood.

Setting that aside (and it’s a lot to set aside), let’s take a look at the rest of Final Fantasy XV.

FFXV is a fairly standard entry in the fantasy-world RPG genre. You fight monsters, complete quests, and explore dungeons. These gain you experience points to advance your character, money (the currency is “gil”) to buy items, and skill points (here called “Ascension Points”) to buy skills in a progressive tree.

Your character, Prince Noctis, starts off in an open-world environment, accompanied by three companions. Predictably, given what I noted at the start of the review, one of them makes frequent remarks on the female NPCs’ appearance. It’s very much a guys’ adventure, with typical male-bonding tropes.

The open world follows the conventions of the genre: villages, towns, cities, quest-giving NPCs, wandering monsters, etc. The difference is that the environment is based on modern-day imagery like that you’d find the mid-west. The towns are gas stations with diners, the main characters dress in Goth outfits, and you travel from place to place along interstate-style highways in a sports car. The monsters are still monsters, and you can still hack at them with swords, but you can also use guns if you wish.

Apart from what’s noted above, the story is FFXV‘s weakest link. It’s conventional: After the death of his father and the conquest of his kingdom by evil armored invaders, Prince Noctis must save his kingdom and marry the princess to restore order and happiness to the world. Evil foes with obvious motives obstruct his hero’s journey, including the mysterious Ardyn (who looks like the Fourth Doctor, acts like the Seventh Doctor, and turns out to be like the Valyard).

Apart from the lack of originality in the story, the presentation of the world’s mythology is confusing. There are big cinematic confrontations where it wasn’t clear to me who was doing what to whom and why. Maybe it would have made more sense in the original Japanese or to someone who played previous Final Fantasy games, but I found it to be opaque.

Another problem with the story is after Chapter Nine or so, the open world is left behind and you’re put on a generally linear path through the rest of the story. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing; a linear story revealed between combat and puzzle challenges is the description of the Uncharted series, which I enjoyed.

But the Uncharted games know what they’re doing, and FFXV does not. The linear portion of the story mainly consists of one cinematic after another, with very little player agency. It’s more like watching a movie than playing a video game. That would be fine as well, if the movie were interesting. But it’s just another tired series of cliches. For heaven’s sake, if you’re in Japan, just have lunch with the anime studio folks next door and ask them how it’s done; don’t come up with something boring.

The partial saving grace is that after you’ve finished with the linear story, you can time-travel back to the open world with all the gear, experience, and skills you’ve gained. The story is over, but there’s still plenty of open-world content to visit, depending on how long you chose to wait before completing the tasks that lead you to the linear adventure.

For the record, I played on the Easy difficulty level. The linear story requires you to be level 35-40, I didn’t go on it until I was level 50, at the end of the story I was level 55. When I returned to the open world (courtesy of a time-traveling dog), I was immediately informed of a level 99 quest. So there was plenty more to do, if I cared to do it.

I finally grew tired of the game when I hit level 77. It’s certainly possible to advance further than that; game forums speak of leveling up to a max of 120. But to get beyond 77 I learned that I would have to become less focused on adventuring and more on using tricks; e.g., eating foods and gaining items that boosted experience; resting in places that granted XP bonuses. It just didn’t seem worth it.

Conclusion: FFXV served its purpose, which was to occupy my time. It certainly is not the best open-world video game I’ve played; that honor belongs to Horizon: Zero Dawn. If you, like me, are looking for a basic time-spender, FFXV is acceptable entertainment, if you can overlook the misogyny and the story problems.

Now to find another time-spender. Platformers, first-person shooters, and multi-player combat games need not apply.

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