When I first played the Platinum Demo for Final Fantasy 15 I thought, hmm, that was weird. It didn’t really feel like Final Fantasy at all, which as the series continues to age, it seems to get farther and farther away from the turn based joy I knew as a kid. The 15th entry into the original series does away with the turn based combat completely, and as you fire up the game for the first time and every time after that you are greeted with the message, “A Final Fantasy for fans and newcomers alike.” A bad omen indeed.
This opening line is the first thing that screams at the player that this isn’t really a traditional Final Fantasy game. Sure it has summons, and Chocobos and grinding for XP, but the way the game plays it feels more like an open world Diablo/Witcher 3 knockoff than a Final Fantasy game.
(Insert obligatory “Spoilers ahead” line here)
I started the game on day one, played to about level 10 and decided the game really wasn’t for me, and maybe not for fans of the previous entries into the series either. The combat felt bland, the story non-existent, and the grinding didn’t even feel worth it. The lack of story reminded me of Destiny, another grind and a half, that took the story and lore out of the game and placed it on Bungie’s website in a form of collectible cards for the player to read instead of discovering the story as the game unfolds (I enjoyed Destiny for the most part). Final Fantasy 15 takes all of the back story of the game and forces the player to watch a multi episodic anime series called Brotherhood, and a prequel film called Kingsglaive in order to understand the backstory and motivations of the characters. Most of us these days barely have the time to play the game, let alone watch several hours of backstory before starting the game. Of course I didn’t watch any of the prequel series or film, so the story felt bland and hollow.
The game also adds in a bit of weirdness with the skills each player acquires in and out of combat. Noctis likes to fish, Prompto is a photographer, Gladiolus cultivates survival skills, and Ignis is on his way to become a master chef. Skills like Prompto’s photography and Gladio’s survival are mostly passive skills that level up as you play on. However, Ignis and Noctis have to try at their skills. If you don’t camp and rest (which I almost never did because you don’t get an XP multiplier outside of hotels and RV’s), Ignis will never level up his cooking skills. Fishing, the prince’s favorite past time is also a non passive skill that can be time consuming, and mostly useless for the duration of the game just like the skills of his comrades. Gladio’s survival skill is the only useful skill. As he levels up, he collects better potions and elixirs after battles, which can save some Gil when it comes time to stock up again.
After about a 6 month hiatus I decided to pick the game up again just to see how it felt. This time I got hooked for some reason. The story still felt hollow and made no sense. However, the magic of the game is the grind. I started just walking around the open world and taking each and every hunt and side quest that I could until I cleared out an area and was forced to move on. I finished the story eventually but the satisfaction I got from taking down a mark for a hunt was more satisfying than any part of the story or lack thereof.
Once I finally progressed the story and unlocked the ability to summon I got a bit excited, since I had previously seen how the summons looked in YouTube videos during the games marketing campaign. Giant deitie coming to the aid of Noctis and his friends and destroying everything in their path sounds awesome. The first time it happened it was. Then you get through about 80% of the story before you unlock the 4 main deities you can summon, and most of the fights are telegraphed so you can’t even lose if you tried. Summons work in a unique way. Unique as in a random summon button pops up on the screen and you just hold it for a few seconds and everything in the battle is destroyed. There is no pretense to the summon ability or any rhyme or reason for when it occurs. The only time it felt relevant was when fighting the second to last boss in the game when you get to see almost every summon at once, which I still didn’t see Titan at all throughout the entire game.
Like I said previously, the open world grind is the best part of the game. You lose access to the open world and the game becomes linear about 60% in to the story and you are forced to slog forward without any context to the conflict or why the antagonist has any motivation for his actions. Ardyn pops up as a cryptic force early on in the game and helps move you forward, but by the end you still don’t really understand why he wants to kill everyone. The game is separated into chapters and I couldn’t tell you where one part of the story begins or ends as far as the chapter goes except for Chapter 13.
Chapter 13 is the second to last chapter of the game and lasts about as long as the last 3-4 chapters combined. It’s one big dungeon crawl puzzle where you rush to save Prompto and find the crystal that Noctis believes is going to save the world from darkness. I played through four or five chapters in the game the last day I was playing it and decided I would stay up a little later and finish the game, thinking, the chapters have all been pretty short so I must be close to being finished. I was wrong and went to bed around 2 AM that night. I was determined to be finished with this weird slog of a game.
After a few hours of crawling through the penultimate chapter and getting to the end of the game, there is a time jump (which to me is just lazy in any form of media). After ten years of being trapped in the crystal Noctis returns to Eos and the entire world is dark and covered in daemons. You meet back up with your friends and gear up for one last camping trip and meal from Ignis before you go off to send Ardyn to his doom and save the world from eternal night.
The final area is full of higher level daemons that you can take down fairly easily. Ardyn summons Ifrit and the game picks up where it began with the opening cutscene and everything on fire. The battle is easy of course. The 4 players wear Ifrit down until a summon is available, and he is taken out. His health regenerates and you have to fight him a second time. The same thing happens again, wear him down, then you get multiple summons of deities you most likely haven’t seen yet. The cut scenes are gorgeous, but the fight is on auto pilot until they finish. Then you save the game, and it’s Noctis vs Ardyn 1 on 1 for the throne. Ardyn scales to your level, and after the button mashing/holding for ten minutes is defeated and banished forever.
The game goes on with some cut scenes where nothing makes any sense at all. After the credits there is another cut scene that tries to wrap everything up in an otherworldly bow that again makes no sense. You can go back to your final save point before fighting Ardyn and return to the past to go back into the open world and commence more hunts and grinding. At this point I was exhausted from the story and had no desire to venture back out into my favorite part of Eos.
I enjoyed the grinding and classic RPG leveling aspects of Final Fantasy 15, but that is about all the game has going for it. Maybe it feels more engaging and worthwhile if you feel like watching the prequel anime and film, but who has the time for that these days? I turned the game off after defeating Ardyn and I’ll probably never go back to it, but I’m glad I picked it up after my initial hiatus from it so I can say I gave it a shot. If you like brooding entitled emo characters and holding buttons down until enemies are dead, and collecting all the XP, then you might enjoy Final Fantasy 15 as well.