Final Fantasy XV disappointed me on release

What happens when everyone around you is enjoying a game, but you aren’t?

Square Enix put a lot of time and money into the development and release of Final Fantasy XV and it seems to have paid off. The game is currently sitting on 81/100 (PS4) and has shipped over six million copies worldwide. I’ve seen many a website and Twitter friend praise the game, but I’ve been feeling left-out. Thing is, I just didn’t enjoy the game when it was released.

I hadn’t followed the development of the game for the longest time, even though I was a full-time tech/gaming/business journalist. To be honest, I knew I wanted the game, but wanted to keep most of it a surprise for myself. Though, I did plough through both of the demos and thoroughly enjoyed them.

When the release date drew closer, I put down money on pre-ordering the Deluxe Edition version, which included a stunning steelcase, which featured artwork by the amazing Yoshitaka Amano, some digital goodies, and a Blu-ray of the tie-in movie Kingsglaive (more on that another time). It had been years since I pre-ordered a game and for once I’d be playing something brand new at the same time as everyone else. Well, something that I purchased and wasn’t a review copy.

The day it was released I set aside my evening to finally play a title I’d been waiting a decade for. I popped in the disc, download the day one patch, ate supper, and finally sat down to play. The visuals and Florence + The Machine’s rendition of Stand By Me blew me away. I sat in awe for most of the evening, meeting new characters, learning about this new world that was once a spin-off of Final Fantasy XIII, and taking on monsters in the fast-paced combat.

As the days went on, I started to feel a little off about the game. My social channels were filled with people singing Final Fantasy XV‘s praise, it’s combat, characters, and every little detail about it. Websites were awarding it perfect scores, stores were selling copious amounts of copies, and I wondered what I was missing. Sure, it was an okay game, but not quite the experience everyone was hyping it up to be.

When I put Final Fantasy XV under a microscope, analysing the title for myself, I began to see just why I wasn’t enjoying it. Much like Final Fantasy XII, Square Enix tried something new with the combat, straying away from the turn-based battle systems that defined JRPGs. While it was fast and furious, it was also confusing and all over the place, not to mention that the camera as abysmal. It just wasn’t satisfying, and I’m probably not going to get into how meaningless the entire magic system feels.

What draws fans into RPGs, and especially the Final Fantasy series, are the stories whether they be big or small. There are complex characters that go through their own arcs, often experiencing the Heroe’s Journey, and making the fictional world a better place in the process. With the latest single-player numerical instalment in the franchise, I couldn’t click with any of the characters or their plights. Each of them felt as though they came out of a bargain bin novel with the stoic hero, the muscle, and clown, and the intelligent one. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy their dialogue and lines, which the screenwriters and voice actors did a superb story with.

In Square Enix’s process to create a product to satisfy the masses after XIII and XIV, it seems as though they missed what makes a truly compelling story, at least for the first 15 hours I played. This doesn’t include having to watch a tie-in movie, anime series, and read a novella to understand each character’s backstory and motivations. That, to me, is very sloppy.

But enough about the negatives of Final Fantasy XV. Where the game did shine for me were the graphics, character models, and environments. Sure, the open world feels a lot more like a linear experience and lacks what makes Grand Theft Auto, Skyrim, and Fallout¬†interesting, but I feel it’s a step that lends credibility to the game.

It’s been a few months since I touched Final Fantasy XV. Since then, Square Enix has announced a number of tweaks that will be coming to the game, gameplay balances, and DLC to flesh out the story. As I’m typing this, my PS4 is busy download patch 1.09 for the game. At the end of the year, once I’ve finished my Persona binge, I’ll go back to the game.

I’m willing to give the game another go after a few more updates, and I don’t regret my purchase, but I hope it doesn’t let me down again.

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