Final Fantasy XV is gaming with a capital ‘G’

by Andy Humphreys, Games

I like Final Fantasy XV. Objectively, I mean.

I said exactly that in my review. It’s the best, most accessible Final Fantasy in years, and even though it’s not without its flaws, it does a lot of things really well. That’s what I think. It’s written down, so it must be true.

Having spend a long time with the game now, I stand by everything I said in that review. But I’ve still yet to really fall in love with the FFXV. My problems with it are my own, I’m absolutely sure of that, and I’m also sure that most people that have played the game for as long as I have probably don’t share my opinions. Whatever; I still can’t shake my issues.

Though most of the stuff I’ve criticized is technical, like the annoying camera that rears its ugly head at the least convenient moments, I find this stuff can usually be overlooked if I can connect with the game. Hell, I made it through Silent Hill 4: The Room purely on its unique premise. Literally JUST its premise. Because technically, that game is a fucking mess.

No, the prime offender, the single thing that brings me out of the game, stops me from becoming involved in the plot and gaining a rapport with the characters, and just generally makes me sigh with exasperation once every fifteen minutes, is this:

Final Fantasy XV won’t stop reminding me it’s a game.

This issue may seen weird and petty, especially for fans of the JRPG genre. FF games have always embraced their gamey-ness, throwing out copious numerical stats, big ugly menu-squares, and action-obscuring damage figures at every opportunity. All this never really bothered me before (although I’m not a JRPG obsessive, I’ve played my fair share of hours within the genre). But now every time I get a detailed score-card for defeating one measly enemy, it irks me. And I think I know why.

In almost every aspect, FFXV is trying its best to show it’s Western side. From the Americana-esque setting, to the real-time(ish) battles and the attempts at accessibility for newcomers, what’s evident is a game that’s trying to cater for an audience outside of Japan. And by all accounts it’s worked, or at least the marketing has. The game has sold big in Europe and North America in a way that has eluded the series for years.

But those gamers who grab a copy and expect a little more of the influence of popular Western RPGs of recent years, such as The Elder Scrolls or even the Mass Effect series, will find the similarities are largely skin deep.

An example: Combat. Though simple to pick up, the battle system is still incredibly complex to master, and there’s pretty much no chance you’ll figure out all its intricacies by just playing the game through without consulting an external source. You might make it to the end of the game, but you’ll do so in the most ungraceful, stuttering way imaginable. I’ve dragged my combat skill up through practice, but, as I mentioned in my review, my battle-style is a far cry from the sort of balletic, elegant combat that I know is definitely possible. For me this level of competency remains frustratingly out of reach, as I suspect it will for many who come off the back of Western RPGs which usually allow you to become the best you can just through

I’m not suggesting FFXV needed to be more Westernised, before anyone gets shirty. Many fans of JRPGs love the fact they have to dig deep in external material to get the best out of the game. Love the menus. The depth. Love all that.

But the designers made the choice to position the game in a particular way, and market it to a particular audience. That creates certain expectations.

And that’s where my annoyance comes from. Square-Enix have made so many concessions, done so much to make the game non-JRPG aficionado friendly, but have not gone quite far enough. At least not for me.

That said, I honestly think that if FFXV had been an un unashamedly Japanese role-playing experience, I wouldn’t be having these problems with it. I’d accept its Japanese eccentricities and just get on with it. It’s because FFXV tries to meet its audience in the middle that it highlights too many of the tropes that are to me, nothing but weaknesses.

And though my party continues to get stronger, my weapons deal damage more effectively, and I continue to get a shit-load of snaps from my journey, that true love for the game continues to elude me. I’ll keep plugging away, completing the repetitive quests, wrestling with the dodgy camera, dragging my ass through the infuriatingly labyrinthine dungeons.

But maybe not for much longer.

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