After 12 episodes of enjoying Final Fantasy XIII (with plenty more to come) I was excited to contrast it with FF XV. Would it pull in a completely different direction due to the XIII backlash? Would the tortured ten-year development show its warts?
The opening scenes and cinematics were Square Enix and the franchise’s usual stunning standard. The character models in the pre-rendered moments bought a mansion in the uncanny valley. It’s amazing how consistently they can amaze. Naughty Dog is leading the way with motion-capture of facial and physical performances, but the detail here is remarkable.
After the opening ‘battle’ in the fire-filled room, the first playable moment is pushing a car. This is a perfect symbol for the opening few hours of the game. Beautifully detailed characters push a beautifully detailed car through a gorgeous environment, but the interaction is extremely limited. You are in charge of holding one button while the characters banter and ‘Stand by Me’ plays. You can control the camera to play along with the cinematic nature of the opening. It’s the equivalent of giving your toddler a menial task so they think they’re helping.
This sequence succeeds in further establishing the group’s personalities and relationships. XIII’s best moments were the character interactions and I’m glad to see XV quadrupled-down on this as the core of the story.
The more the group speaks, the deeper their personalities evolve from flat caricatures. This banter is mostly consistent throughout battles, traversal, and after important moments, bringing you closer to the best-friends-in-the-world with each experience.
I’ve mentioned before how much I loved Breath of the Wild’s start. Where Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword bogged you down with story first, action later, BotW threw you into survival mode and didn’t let you rest until the first stable, several hours later.
This succeeds in building your relationship with the controls and gameplay first, allowing you to care about the story and lore during a much deserved safe time. Starting with the safe downtime in a video game is almost always a terrible idea. When a player turns on a game they want to play, not watch!
It’s troubling when pushing a car by holding a button is the most interesting part of the opening. Meeting stripparella and Cid to receive mediocre fetch quests and braindead battles was a very disappointing start to an epic adventure.
Once the car is repaired I had access to challenging bounties, new areas, and a meeting with a mysterious stranger. The battles were rewarding in difficulty and monetarily, the new area felt like exploring a new town in a classic JRPG, and the mysterious stranger was a great way to kickstart the adventure while also seeing the group respond logically, deepening their character.
Dear lord you run around a lot in this game. Classic Final Fantasy had your character navigating a world map but the scale made movement feel incredibly quick. The ground-level areas like towns and such were usually very dense, stuffed with shops, NPCs, and objects of interest.
FF XV so far has been running around a gigantic, mostly empty desert, fighting scorpions. Running from point to point takes minutes of uneventful travel, and driving is much the same. Listening to classic FF soundtracks and group banter is nice but I was already looking for an option to skip.
Simply put, the ratio of interesting/boring has been terrible.
I’ll continue to play through both XIII and XV, as I love the franchise and always enjoy seeing how these massive landmarks of the industry shape up.