[This isn’t a review, but more a discussion of the game. However, I haven’t mentioned any plot specifics so as to not spoil the story for anyone.]
I don’t usually post video game reviews on my blog, but this is not exactly a review. I just wanted to share some of the thoughts that are rattling around in my head after finishing Final Fantasy XV over the Christmas break. It’s been a long time since a video game had such an impact on me. Although I love strategy and simulation games, story-driven games have been another favourite of mine ever since I played Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic some thirteen years ago. I had played some games with stories before that, but nothing quite like KOTOR. There’s something about customising a character and choosing how they respond to situations that I absolutely love. Few games have left such an impression on me over the years as KOTOR, Mass Effect, Jedi Knight and Uncharted. Even though Nathan Drake and Kyle Katarn didn’t have much in the way of customisation, they still hold a special place in my heart, along with Commander Shepard and my party members in KOTOR.
Then there’s JRPGs (Japanese RPGs). I’ve played through a lot of them with my husband over the years, and we enjoy them for the most part, but I tend to dislike some of their features, like the need to grind for experience, and the abundance of really young characters, absurd costumes for female characters, clunky control systems and the occasional ridiculous storylines (I’m looking at you, Tales of Graces). I would list Eternal Sonata as my favourite non-Final Fantasy JRPG, though I also enjoyed titles like Lost Odyssey and some of the Tales games. I don’t have as long a history with Final Fantasy as many other gamers. I’ve started FFVII several times, but just found it to be too antiquated (fortunately the fabled HD remake is on the horizon… somewhere). Since meeting my husband, a major FF fan, I have completed X, X-2 and the XIII games, and enjoyed them immensely. Our dogs are named Yuna and Zack. And while I would consider X-2 and XIII among my favourite games, there are many other games ahead of them on my list.
Which brings us to Final Fantasy XV, a game with so much story they made both an anime series and a 2-hour film. Normally I’d probably have sat with hubby while he played through the game, but he needed to get through it as quickly as possible for review, so I ended up playing it myself. Needless to say, I’m glad I did.
The aforementioned film, Kingsglaive, introduces key characters and gets the story going in a way that a cutscene or tutorial section wouldn’t have been able to achieve. Apart from iffy lip sync and a sometimes clunky script, Kingsglaive is a visual marvel and an entertaining film in its own right. More importantly, it gives you more insight into numerous characters that you’ll meet in the game. Lady Lunafreya is chief among these, and I feel my game experience would have been poorer had I not seen the film. The same could be said for the film’s main character, Nyx, who doesn’t even appear in the game but who is pivotal to the events that take place early in the game. Plus, the film, especially the combat sections, are really cool. Personally, I’d love to see more entirely CG films in this style.
The anime Brotherhood does a really good job of setting up the main characters in the game, and their history and their relationships. While not as necessary as Kingsglaive, there are story elements and character moments that simply aren’t mentioned anywhere in the game, and as such I felt Brotherhood gave me a deeper understanding of Noct and his friends, particularly Prompto.
I didn’t want to write a review of this game. There are plenty of those out there, and my thoughts are more emotional than critical. The game is not without its flaws, as can be said for every game in existence. However, the flaws are not what will stay with me. I think FFXV will be one of those games I’ll look back on in a decade and smile when I think of the adventures I had with Noct, Prompto, Gladio and Ignis (much like how I fondly recall my adventures in KOTOR).
As a female gamer, I’ve spent the majority of my life playing as male characters. And while I really did enjoy games like Serious Sam, Uncharted and Jedi Knight, there’s really something special about getting to choose to play a character who matches your gender. Failing that, strong female characters in the story, or better yet, the party, can be really important.
As such, I was skeptical at the prospect of a game where the party is all male, and the entire game only has a handful of significant women. And in true JRPG fashion, the first woman you meet in the game, Cindy, is dressed in something completely absurd. Her clothing doesn’t even match anything else in the game. It’s all quite bizarre, but fortunately, she’s not a huge part of the game.
However, the ‘road trip with friends’ theme comes through so strongly, pulling you right into the party like you’ve always been a part of their group. The four main characters are so believable as best friends, and I believe it works because they’re all boys. Certainly some of their conversations are so male that I don’t think it would have worked any other way. (Or worse, the developers could have just tacked on a girl for the sake of it.)
I think that’s part of what makes FFXV so special. Instead of being in a party of random strangers thrown together by circumstance, you’re joining a group of friends who’ve known each other for years. There are older characters (though fortunately not the standard really old guy who appears so often in RPGs) and there are two younger characters (who are fortunately not young children, one of my most hated JRPG tropes). They’re all tropes themselves to some extent, but with a surprising amount of depth and enough variation to make them feel like more than just a trope.
Gladio might be the big strong fighter who doesn’t feel the need to wear a shirt, but he’s also good with people, poses for photos, loves camping and the outdoors, and… reads? Ignis feels a bit like a butler. He cooks and drives and nags Noct about eating vegetables. However, he’s young enough that he doesn’t come across too old and stuffy. Noct is your typical young prince, not quite ready to take on all the responsibilities that have been thrust upon him, but slowly coming to realise that refusal is not a luxury he has.
Prompto is, for me, the most relatable character in the party. He’s not royalty, nor a royal guard. He’s just a kid who happens to be best friends with the future king. He’s insecure and shy and feels he isn’t as important or as worthy as the others, and he covers by being loud and energetic and silly. I found so much to identify with in Prompto, making him a vital member of the group. Prompto also documents the journey through his camera, something that really helps cement that road trip with friends vibe. Many of the photos are imperfect, just like real photos, and they show moments you could never capture with mere screenshots. Moments when the friends are just being silly, or showing affection for one another, or even mid sentence, all captured for you to save and share. What really impressed me was the variety of photos. Comparing the photo albums from my playthrough and my hubby’s game, there are very few photos that are the same. From characters in different poses, to different filters, to different lighting conditions, to selfies that Prompto took with side characters in my game that he didn’t in my husband’s game, the photo part of the game is really impressive.
FFXV is a game where you can easily spend a few dozen hours just driving around doing side quests, which is what I did for a lot of my 40-something hour play time. I found myself just exploring the world, marvelling at its beauty, and listening to what my friends had to say. The importance of their comments was highlighted for me when I recently started playing Dragon Age: Inquisition and realised that your party members are largely silent during the exploration parts of the game, which now feels really weird. I think FFXV has set a new standard for RPGs in this regard.
So many times while playing FFXV I found myself thinking, ‘I love this game so much’. So many games let this feeling fade as you enter the later stages of the story and the annoying parts start to outweigh the good parts, but this was not the case here. The relationships you build with the party mean that when things stop being light-hearted and start getting serious, you really feel it. I actually cannot think of any game that made me cry so much. (Actually, the last time I can recall crying so much over a work of fiction was at the end of the Return of the King film…)
There are a few parts along the roller coaster that is the second half of FFXV that are a little irritating, most notably for me being separated from my friends and missing their camaraderie. Despite this, however, the story works out in a way that left me satisfied that it was worth it. Plus there’s always post game content if I feel the need to go back. And it’s likely that I will.
With all of that said, I will summarise by saying… for 13 years when asked what my favourite game is, I’ve said KOTOR. Today, I’m not so sure I can say that anymore.
Aaand since I saved about a billion of Prompto’s snapshots from the game, I just had to share a few more: