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Ending Talk: Final Fantasy XV

Now that it’s officially July, the requisite six months have passed since Final Fantasy XV’s release that I’m willing to discuss spoilers of the game freely.  I know a lot of people haven’t had a chance to play or finish the game, since 2016 and 2017 have been packed to the absolute brim with great game, and that kick ass train doesn’t appear to be stopping any time soon.  So, I will be writing about a lot of very big spoilers about everything regarding this game, other than the DLC (since I haven’t played it, and Ignis’s isn’t out yet) and this is a warning.  That said, I’m not going to get into spoilers until I put the big game cover up as an intro picture, so keep that in mind.

Now, over time, I think a few people have cooled on their approval of the game, and I can definitely see why.  Still, it was a miracle the game came out, and the fact that it was actually as good as it was, and it’s actually pretty good, that’s saying something.  Still, that ending did a lot of damage, and in a lot of different ways, so we’re going to spend the next several hundred words talking about that.  Okay, this is the last warning, unmarked spoilers like crazy coming up.

ff_xv_cover_art

Copyright Square Enix

So, Final Fantasy XV is pretty fun up until about Chapter 13.  Prompto has been knocked off of the train that the boys spend the last main chunk of the game in, and while Noctis and Gladiolus aren’t at each others throats any more, there is still a lot of tension.  It’s a shame that the Niflheim stuff isn’t open world like the Lucis stuff is, because it’s clear that all of that stuff is already made, it’s just the quests don’t work, and the map apparently isn’t done.  People glitch on to it, and there are places to drive, but there isn’t anything great.

Chapter 13, however, turns into one long, slow ass dungeon crawl, which sees the Regalia destroyed (cool), Noctis fight through a really long, solo dungeon that attempts way too many jump scares (lame) and Ignis and Gladiolus just vanish.  They apparently do their own thing, which isn’t that much cooler, but it does allow the player to skip some of the bullshit.  Then it ends with a long boss fight, some revelations, and Noctis vanishing into a crystal.  In the crystal, Bahamut tells him that he has to die to stop the Starscourge, that the Empire of Niflheim has been consumed by the Starscourge and that Ardyn is telling the truth.  Ardyn, before Noctis drops into the crystal, reveals that he’s actually related, distantly, to Noctis, and it sets up the final battle.  It also completely tears the game apart.

First, after building the Emperor up as this ruthless, unyielding bastard becomes, and I’m serious about this, a random boss fight that harries the party after they all meet up for a bit.  Seriously, he’s a boss fight that pretends to be a random enemy for a few bits of the dungeon, but is actually really tough.  It’s dumb.  Plus, thanks to the Starscourge and the daemons (along with Ardyn’s machinations) Niflheim completely falls apart and the people who had been the bad guys literally up until this moment just vanish.  It’s not the worst time that has happened (wait, Golbez is actually Cecil’s brother and we have to go to the moon and get the moon crystals, because this game is too short.  Actually, that’s not the worst, and in context, it’s kind of cool), but it’s still pretty dumb.  One of the reasons XII works so well is that the Archades Empire remains a credible threat throughout, and that since they are the bad guys.  Venat doesn’t just kill of Cidolfus or Vayne and declare himself the big bad or anything.  Hell, Vayne going rogue and merging with Venat is basically their suicide charge, since they’ve already lost and want to make sure no one wins.  It’s cool and it’s effective, and while XV does have the player follow along with Ardyn much more than with the Emperor, the game sets Ardyn up to be the Emperor’s emissary.

Sure, Ardyn is supposed to be like Kefka, and he usurps the Emperor, and that’s totally fine, but the rest of Niflheim just falls apart.  Kefka at least kills Vector when he destroys the entire World of Balance, and we, the players see all of that happen.  Ardyn and the Starscourge just basically causes the empire to fall apart before we even arrive in the city.  Worse, the whole game is sort of set up, until around Chapter 13 to be a means of taking down Niflheim.  All four of the boys have a personal stake in doing so, and while the Starsourge is cool, it’s more of a setting back drop.  It’s not important until more than halfway through the game, when Lunafreya gets offed, and it’s barely mentioned as anything before Chapter 9 as anything besides the source of the world’s monsters.  It would be if the moon in VIII suddenly became the bad guy and the source of every problem in the game, and killed Ultimecia.  Or something.  Maybe that did happen.  VIII is a weird ass game.

Anyway, most of that are just quibbles.  The real problem is the rest of the game.  Chapter 14 has Noctis wake up 10 years later, where the sun hasn’t risen since his trip into the crystal, and while it does give one great scene right before the final battle, which is one of my favorite Final Fantasy moments ever (seriously, it made me cry), it also runs into so many problems.  First, of course, it stretches suspension of disbelief, since a decade without sunlight is insane.  Especially since the sun prevents monsters from just crawling out of the ground, and the monsters we see in the World of Ruin are fucking powerful as Hell.  Level 60 and above.  Shit, Demon Wall was there.  Demon Wall is a boss.  Second, it the time difference makes the reunion feel hollow.  There are some implications that the boys knew Noctis would come back, and that they knew because of what happened in the crystal, but the way it’s set up, it’s like he’s only been gone for a few weeks.  It really seems like 10 years is only there because it being a 10 year game was one of the original promises, and to give Talcott some pay off, but Iris could have been the person to pick up Noctis.

Then, of course, we have the final battle.  It’s got a great line (get out of my chair, jester.  The King sits there), but it’s also totally alone.  The game is about the boys and their brotherhood.  It’s why they all, Noctis included, wear Kingsguard uniforms to the final battle.  Even when they fracture, it’s their mutual love and brotherhood that brings them together, and the final scene before going into Insomnia for the last time is all about how they face the final battle together, as brothers.  Also, the very opening of the game is them going up against Ifrit, at the end of the world.  It should be great, but in the end, Noctis and Ardyn have a crazy Dragon Ball Z battle through the air, then Noctis sacrifices himself to end Ardyn’s immortality, and Noctis gets to be with Lunafreya in the afterlife.

Noctis dying, weirdly, becomes the easy way out.  Instead of losing Lunafreya, instead of having to suffer alone on a throne and rebuild a kingdom out of nothing, Noctis gets to have everything.  Sure, he “dies,” but the final scene shows that he gets to be with his love and be married in the afterlife.  He doesn’t have to suffer on earth with his friends, and rebuild a broken world.  Terra doesn’t get to die in Final Fantasy VI when the magic goes away, because she has to be there to raise the children (also because you can potentially beat the game without her, you monster).  She found her place in the world, she got to have her arc, and killing her would be pointless and grim.  Here, it’s sort of the opposite.  It’s a dark game, and in this instance, Noctis gets to die instead of doing the hard work.  It’s a shame.

Still, it’s an otherwise great game.  Probably best to just ignore everything after Chapter 12, though.  Or, at least, Episode Prompto.  I hear that one is pretty good.

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Number 3: Final Fantasy XV

ff_xv_cover_art

Copyright Square Enix

The past decade hasn’t been easy for me, at least as far as being a Final Fantasy fan went.  Sure, XII came out, and it was my favorite in the series across all 20 years, but that was sort of the end of the line.  I didn’t think it could get much worse than X and all of the terrible sequels to VII, but then we got XIII and those games, XIV was so bad they had to rebuild it from the ground up to salvage it, so it was hard to look at XV with the legacy Square Enix had left behind for the past ten years and think that the ten years it took to make would result in a game that was coherent, let alone good.  Now, here we are, and I can’t stop playing this game.

Real talk, it’s not the best Final Fantasy, and it has a lot of the quirks of several of the other games in the series.  The characters are a little flat, the plot doesn’t always make sense and villains don’t get enough good screen time to be enough to flesh them out and all that terrible hair (Gladiolus has a mullet, people.  A mullet).  Plus the combat is a bit dodgy and the magic system is more of a good idea than a good execution, but, honestly from the word go, none of that mattered at all, because XV works.  How it works is best illustrated in the very first scene in the game, where the car is broken down on the side of the road, in the desert, because of course, and the prince and his buddies have to push the car to the gas station and all four of them start bickering and teasing each other while pushing it.  It’s just an instantly relateable scene that transports the player right there to the world, and everything just makes sense.

This is what makes it so good.  Final Fantasy, even back on the NES, had lush, gorgeous visuals that did a good job of making it feel like the player was right there in the action, only getting better over the past 29 years, but XV does it on a whole different scale.  Whether it’s driving on the highway with Noctis and company, looking out of the side of the road to see a meteor being held up by a titan just as part of the scenery, or riding on chocobo back in across the plains to fight some monsters, or walking into an enchanted forest to find a tomb of a lost king, all of completely seamless and without transitions, it made me feel like I was there, every second I’m playing the game.  When I was on the Veldt in Final Fantasy VI, it was just a map, with some forests added in for flavor, but here, I can drive out to the forests and go right in without anything ever changing.  It makes great work of the open world.

Combat is a lot of fun, too.  Sure, it doesn’t always work right, but it doesn’t matter.  The action combat system is the way Square wants to go, and I can’t blame them.  It’s not Dark Souls (and I’m glad it’s not), but the controls are good and the way engaging monsters happens, especially the huge, multi-target monstrosities the game will let a player tackle, works so well.  It feels exactly like how I imagined Final Fantasy combat “really” looked in my head when I played them as a teenager.  Maybe I didn’t expect throwing a greatsword at someone, then teleport slamming into their chest (which is SO satisfying, and I’m glad its a central part of combat), but everything else is exactly how I imagined it, right down to the characters making fun of each other and complimenting each other in the middle of a battle.  Even some of the chatter sounds word for word what I expected Cloud and Squall (or at least their buddies) would say after scoring a really nice critical.

At the end of the day, what really works about the game is that it’s about a bunch of buddies on a journey, and the journey manages to be compelling no matter what wrenches get thrown in.  Not everything here works, but it doesn’t matter, because when I get to camp, Prompto is going to have a bad selfie, a pick of Noctis’s ass while trying to get on a Chocobo, and a picture that made everything I did between save points look awesome as hell.  That, sometimes, is all that matters.