Tag Archives: Final Fantasy

Review: Final Fantasy XV

81WyEyShisL._AC_SL1500_The previews and the demo for the long-awaited Final Fantasy XV made it one of the most anticipated Final Fantasy releases in quite some time (even if I didn’t actually get around to finally playing it until eight months after it came out), but could it possibly live up to all the hype that seemed to promise a return to greatness for the series? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to that question. This is one of those divisive games that you’ll either love or hate depending on what you want from your games, so I’ll just tell you what I took from it and maybe it’ll help you figure out which side of that fence you think you’re going to fall on.

So let’s start with the bad news. The bad news is that the story and the story-based missions, with a few rare exceptions, are pretty uneven and undercooked. You should know that something’s wrong right off the bat when the game starts by telling you that your father, the king, was killed and your country was overthrown by an evil empire, and conveys this information to you through a phone call and a newspaper. Oh, did you want to know exactly how this took place, or who this evil empire is, or who this Cor fellow is, or what the deal with your fiancee Lunafreya is and how and why she has the vitally important magic ring you need, or why her brother is apparently the commander of the military for the evil empire and has it out for you, or what all this business with royal magic, the crystal, and the demons plaguing the planet are? Well, too bad. You should have watched the prologue movie, Kingsglaive (not included)!

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Just try not to think about the details while you’re out there stabbing horses and stuff.

Luckily I had heard about this movie and watched it beforehand, so I knew most of the answers to these questions (although apparently I missed the fact that there was also a free anime mini-series released online that I was supposed to have watched beforehand too), but I can only imagine how vague and thin the plot must seem to anyone who jumped in without that introductory info dump. The game continues on in this fashion for quite some time, with barely a trace of a story in sight, which even then only really continues the same notion that you just need to keep gaining more power so you can go back and beat up that pesky evil empire, who is really evil because…reasons. You’re eventually clued in to the motivations of the villain, but not until the game’s just about over, which is about the only time there starts to be any new plot movement again.

The story missions themselves are one of the weakest aspects of the game too, most of them feeling very basic and restrictive compared to your adventures in the open world. You may have heard stories of the dreaded Chapter 13, where you’re trapped in an area without your standard weapons and your team, and end up running down dark, empty corridors and dealing with unpleasant forced stealth sections for so, so much longer than is at all necessary. Supposedly this section has undergone massive patching since release after so many fans complained about it, and even now it’s still the worst part of the game by far.

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The few story missions that had big boss fights against summons were nice though.

The characters are as hollow as the plot too. While your team isn’t outright unpleasant, and is certainly more likable than some previous Final Fantasy characters (Tidussssssssss!), they aren’t much more than flimsy anime stereotypes. There’s the semi-brooding leader, the strong one, the brainy one, and the dumb, kind of annoying one. There really isn’t much in the way of character development beyond that for anyone until the very end.

The many side quests throughout the game are also almost entirely lacking any kind of story to them. They are as basic as can be, and it was clear that no effort whatsoever was put into giving any of them any real purpose, other than to continue to help boost your power and wallet. It’s just a bunch of “Go here, kill this”, “Go here, pick this up”, and then “Ok, now do that thing ten more times until this quest chain arbitrarily ends”.

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“Smokers are jokers!”

So…at this point it probably sounds like I really hated this game, doesn’t it? Well, don’t be so hasty, I still have to tell you the good news! The good news is that the open world section, which makes up the majority of the game, is absolutely amazing. It’s one of the most beautiful looking game worlds you’ll ever see and is just bursting with a huge variety of exotic locations to explore. You will most likely forget all about that big red story mission marker on your map, because you’ll be too busy scouring the map for all the little towns full of new shops and side quests, and deciding whether or not you should try to fight all these strange new creatures you keep coming across, and finding new fishing spots and getting lost in a frenzy of surprisingly fun serial fishing, and clearing out one of the various dungeon areas, and so on and so on.

There’s just so much ground to cover, so many sights to see, and so much content filling it all that even the most thorough of explorers will probably still never see quite everything there is to see. Whether you’re walking, riding a chocobo, or driving your fancy multi-mode car around, there’s always something to do, even if you weren’t looking for something. It’s a truly impressive feat of both visual and world design, even by Square-Enix standards.

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Can you overcome the ultimate fishing challenge?

The combat system is also extremely fun, so much that I didn’t even mind the lazy design of the piles and piles of side quests, because I was just having so much damn fun slaughtering my way across the countryside (though I understand that this may not be enough for some people). From the point warping system, to the various limit break powers, to the huge variety of weapons and gear, to the surprisingly complex magic creation system, it just never got old to me. In fact, I got so wrapped up in things that I went through over half the game without even really exploring just how detailed the magic system was, finally realizing that I could have been creating much crazier spells if I’d been using all those catalyst items I’d been hoarding.

The day/night and sleep cycles help add even more variety to things too. Creatures that are extremely difficult for lower levels start coming out at night, so until you’re much more powerful, you’ll have to take care in how you go about your journeys and carefully plan when and where you’ll be sleeping. Resting not only entirely heals your party and moves the clock to morning time, but it’s also when your gathered experience will be added to your character so you can level up. This is where you’ll find you have to make some choices, as you can decide to head to a nearby campsite to sleep out in the wild, which is free and gives you the option of cooking special meals that’ll give you various buffs and bonuses the next day, or you can find a town with a hotel, which cost money, but give you a bonus experience gain multiplier that rises depending on how fancy the place you stay is.

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Or you can just wander around on top of random rock formations finding hidden treasures. Whatever.

The game is also nice enough to let you come back to the open world at almost any time, even when you’ve found yourself whisked off to a strange new country by a story mission, you still have the option of teleporting back to carry on with your open world business. You can also continue on after the main campaign is over too, if you want to wrap up anything you left unfinished or tackle some of the crazy post-game content.

There’s actually quite a lot to do even after you’ve beaten everything in the main story and done every single quest you could find during that time. There are the high level hunts, including the mountain-sized Adamantoise, who is hyped as the most difficult enemy in the game (but really just has the most health and takes the longest to kill), as well as another new quest chain that makes you face off against some really tough new bosses to win some fancy new weapons.

There’s also a series of eight “super-dungeons” that are locked away inside a bunch of the dungeons you visited during the main game, which you can only get into afterwards. Each one gets increasingly difficult, leading up to a rough 100-floor dungeon packed full of nasty Tonberrys and such, and an even nastier final dungeon with only 60 floors, but no usable items allowed.

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Hanging out with Leviathan

AND there’s also an extra super secret dungeon that you can only get to with some tricky flying, which has no enemies in it and is just an insane puzzle/platforming maze of doom that I never would have expected to see in a Final Fantasy game.

Point being, there is a hell of a lot to do in this game. I finally finished, having cleared out the majority of things to do (aside from the extra obsessive stuff like catching all 100 different types of fish, even though none of the fishing quests require it), at around 112 hours. I don’t think I’ve spent so much time on a Final Fantasy game, and had so much fun doing it, since the original PlayStation days. While the story issues will most likely keep Final Fantasy XV from replacing anyone’s pick for “favorite Final Fantasy game”, it’s still a step in the right direction and it gives me hope for the future of the series.

Before I go, let me drop a few closing tips regarding this fine game:

  • For you 4K people out there, be aware that you have to manually enable HDR (and possibly change the performance selector) in settings to get the full power of the crazy graphics.
  • Also, you can download A King’s Tale – Final Fantasy XV, a pretty fun little retro themed beat-em-up, for free on PS4 and Xbone
  • Finally, if you’ve already played FFXV, check out my spoiler-packed rant about the meaning of the controversial and unusual ending of the game HERE and let me know what you think!

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Lying to myself – my strange and enduring non-relationship with JRPGs

I have finished three JRPGs in my life.  The first, Final Fantasy VIII way back in the late nineties, blew me away.  It was cinematic, it was touching, it was a hell of a lot of fun.  Its 2000 sequel was the second, which raised the bar by presenting what I still to this day is one of the best ensemble casts to grace a video game screen, while hooking me in with simple yet engrossing battle system.  The third, more recently over the summer of 2008, was the fantastic Persona 3.

As recent as that seems, that’s coming up on seven years ago now, seven years that have gone by without seeing those ever elusive credits scroll, without ever seeing the always long-winded and often poorly translated story to its undoubtedly fitting conclusion.  Sure, I’ve dabbled, even enjoyed the odd JRPG over the years.  But no game since that crazy tale of teenage life in Japan has held my attention long enough to grind past the first misstep.  I lost my whole party in Dark Spire in one fell swoop way back in 2009 and shelved it indefinitely.  Which by the way I’m still incredibly bitter about. While perhaps more akin to the more western style of roleplaying game I played and loved in my youth – Eye of the Beholder and Bards Tale – it is a pretty good indication of what the genre is up against in vying for my attention.

But I’d still make excuses as to why I wasn’t playing them.  “I just don’t have the time, what with my job and my social life, and my responsibilities.  God forbid I have kids, am I right?!” I’d say.  “I just don’t start them because, bloody hell, that’s one hell of a time commitment I just can’t afford”.  I’d use any excuse to justify why I wasn’t playing them, but it was the severe reduction in free time that came with moving out of home and into full time work that best corroborated my story.  “Just give me something quick and dirty”.

Of course, I’d then go and spend 30 hours with the latest Far Cry game.  I was lying to myself.

And for a long time I stuck to that story, that idealised version of myself, almost to the point where anyone that came to know me probably thought that up until 2005, I was a sucker for the old Japanese role playing game.  They may have even thought me to be a bit of an expert in the area, not of my doing of course, but it was probably an easy assumption to make.  It’s irrational I know, almost as if I’m clinging to some version of me that I desperately wanted to be, the version of the video game fan I saw on the internet in the mid-2000s, where anyone worth their salt was playing the latest opus from the East.  If you hadn’t played Chrono Trigger, you were the gaming equivalent of a Luddite  And I kept up appearances with that persona (ahem) for a long time, buying seemingly every worthwhile title that hit that market, even searching high and low for the more obscure ones to add to my collection.  Games that still sit there on my shelf, largely untouched, definitely unfinished.  Resonance of Fate sitting alongside the seemingly thousands of entries in Namco’s Tales series, gathering dust, while I pillage and plunder the games from around them.

Which brings us to now, seven years and one console generation later, and still no more JRPG notches on my belt.  And that’s sad on some levels because I simply love the idea of JRPGs.  They’re usually thematically beautiful games that, more often than not, take me on a grand and sweeping journey to fantastical worlds to meet even more fantastical people while fighting my way through fantastical bestiaries.  They offer an amazing cerebral challenge, taxing the brain in a way that no other genre tends to, and in the best cases, offers the same sort of satisfaction I can imagine Napoleon got upon decimating the armies of his foes.  But there is almost nothing about the act of playing them that gets me excited.  Which is weird, because when it comes to accumulating them, I’m quick to the draw.  It’s like I’m almost hedging my bets in the hopes that one day, just one of these days, I’ll decide that JRPGs are the best thing since Vegemite and pour hours upon hours into traipsing through dungeons while assuming the role of an unlikely hero.

Problem is I’m not sure I’ll ever be that bloke.  But I think I’m finally actually okay with that.

Persona3

I’ve developed a bit of a fascination with how people create and often curate their video gaming identities. Want to know more?  Try:

The Great Videogame retcon: how the internet has Americanised our gaming history

Beware the retrogaming illuminati (and don’t let videogames define you)

2006: A Spacial Odyssey – how objectivity is ruining the Nintendo Wii’s Legacy

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The Last Story: A Fitting Swansong for the Wii

Last_Story_Box_ArtLast week we said farewell to the Wii with a list of our top ten games on the console, and right there in seventh place was this little gem: The Last Story. It snuck out for release in Europe in August 2012, right before the launch of the Wii U, but it turned out to be one of the best games to come out on Nintendo’s wonderful white box.

It was directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of the Final Fantasy series (Last Story, Final Fantasy, geddit?), and although he’s produced many games over the years, this is the first game he’s directed since Final Fantasy V. Visually, the game shares quite a few similarities with FF – notably the elaborate costumes and Cloud-a-like hero Zael – but in other ways it’s very different. The fighting is a blend of real-time hacking and slashing and careful strategy  – and it works surprisingly well. Running towards a monster will see you automatically start swiping at it with your sword, but you can block or dodge using the B and A buttons, respectively. As you attack you fill up a meter, and when it’s full you can pause the game and assign various magical and physical attacks to each member of your party, which can really turn the tide in battle. It works brilliantly, and more layers of complexity are added the further you get into the game, meaning it never gets dull.

Probably the thing that surprised me most about The Last Story is that all of the characters have British accents – and bizarrely, the lead character is voiced by Jack Ryder off of EastEnders. I can’t remember the last game I played with all-British voice actors – usually there’s at least one character with a mid-Atlantic accent drawl. But no, here we have Northern, Welsh, Cornish, Scottish, Irish and London accents, with not a single American in sight (well, earshot). I don’t have anything against American accents in games, but it’s just so refreshing to play something where everyone speaks in accents I’m used to.

The Last Story screenshot Zael

Story-wise it’s fairly generic, although at least it’s not about a young boy leaving his tranquil village in response to a great tragedy. Still, it’s not hugely more original than that, and there were some irritating gaps in the back-stories of your companions – some of them have their past fleshed out slightly, but Syrenne and Lowell may as well have not existed before the game began. But the game whips along at a fair old pace, particularly during the second half when you’re hit by revelation after revelation. I also liked the decision to keep the game world fairly focused – for almost all of the game you’re in one location, which helps to keep things focused where other games submit to ‘world bloat’, trying to cram in too many places and spreading the game world too thinly as a result.

All in all it’s a really fun game, and a must if you’re a fan of Japanese RPGs. The Wii saw a fantastic triumvirate of JRPGs released in its dying days – The Last Story, Xenoblade Chronicles and Pandora’s Tower – and I’m determined to complete the set by playing the other two. Watch this space…

[Penned in a British accent by Lucius Merriweather.]

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