If this ain’t how I feel…
I waited for this game since I first saw it aired at E3 2006. I was focusing on FF12 at the time in 7th grade. The trailers for Lightning’s games and this XIII Versus game came out. Lightning’s story looked cool. She looked cool. But she just never sold me. I never had any interest in playing XIII. I did watch all the cutscenes for it later and I was glad I never played XIII. There are some games out there it’s just better to watch the cutscenes on them and move on with your life. Sorry if that’s illegal.
But Noctis was being driven in a car and he had a Shakespeare quote that stuck with me: There is neither good nor evil but thinking makes it so. He could use his sword to teleport from battle to battle and he was a lone prince fighting this girl and her army. (Sidenote: Noctis served as inspiration for Damé. One of my chapters is inspired by this XIII Versus trailer)
I think Final Fantasy has strayed too far as a series trying to Americanise themselves. The Shin Megami Tensei series has faltered off into weird succubi stories (good stories but would never play), the Atelier series isn’t played for story, Star Ocean isn’t bad nor is Kingdom Hearts but you could do better with both. Tales is the only series that has stayed true to their nature and continues to crank out enjoyable storied games. I’m not even 5 hours into Zestiria and I know this is the game I need to be playing. I can explore and be rewarded for doing all the optional stuff.There is lore. There is backstory. Their battles are challenging. Tales gets it right when they will add twists to an old system and while you can draw conceptual similarities between games within the series, they are all unique.
This is going to be an extremely in-depth review using our macro and micro lenses. Because like anything with Final Fantasy, it is going to be complicated. First, let me start by saying, my expectation for this game was to change my life all over again like titles of the series in the past have. I wanted to walk away with a new sense of thinking and possibly even a sense of direction in my life. I know that’s an extremely high expectation and that only 2 games in my whole life have afforded me that philosophical euphoria. However, I just knew the story of this game would do the same. I was immediately drawn to it. Had it come out as XIII Versus and we’d seen Stella Nox Fleuret and not her wimpy “younger sister” as the main female lead, my high ambition for this game would have been realised. However, that’s not what happened and I’m not going to further lament on it. What’s done is done. I will buy a DLC to give them another chance at redeeming the bountiless potential they had for this story. But I don’t see myself buying another Final Fantasy in the future if the games will be like this. In fact, because I wanted to like this game so much, I might even take a crack at writing out a doujinshi. I’ve never been a fan of fanmade stories partially because I’ve never gotten into them but also for their reputation of the writer trying to insert themselves into the story where they don’t belong. I’m sure there are some good ones out there and I would happily read one if referred.
Let’s get to it.
Game mechanics are well-polished and it’s a beautiful game. You can’t disagree. Battle itself is fun. I would love to live in Lucis. I would buy a DLC and build a home in an exact campsite because I love that area so much. There are several elements that feel like Animal Crossing to me: tiny elements that put exploration together cohesively. Exploration in this game is the most thought out for a Final Fantasy ever. There’s cooking. If you stay out all night, you won’t fight as well, perform as well, and you lose exp for it. You have to plan your days by how much daylight is expected because of a super awesome plot device called the Starscourge. I like fishing. I like gathering materials for cooking. I like reviewing the photos taken each day. It feels like I’m riding around with my friends. It’s a tiny party but it’s an intimate one. I enjoy riding around in the car and questing. I’ve always touted the highest ranking for any bounty hunting sidequests (though not for 15). I dislike that magic wasn’t as heavily reliant on the party as previous titles. However, it’s an interesting spin to make black magic fresh again for a younger generation that only knows shoot-em-ups. Elemancy isn’t a system I used too often unless I felt it would speed the fight up but it is a cool concept. I wish they hadn’t gone open-world but that’s what Square’s new Western market wants.
If this game had the ambitions of Animal Crossing to be a relaxing game, it would succeed them. But this is Final Fantasy and we all know the masters they are at story-telling. In this title, they failed. I was expecting to put 100 hours into this game. Easily. Cumulatively, I probably put 900+ hours into FFX and FFX-2. I put 600+ hours in FFXII. I think I’m at 400+ for Xillia. I ended Fifteen at 55 hours. I have no motivation to collect all the things and see everything in the game. They didn’t reward me for going above and beyond. Because there was a lack of a thrill to a good story, I did not see a reason to behave in my normal ways as a gamer. What’s painful is in all of the time it took for them to develop the game, they had those thrilling story concepts. But in 2016 (the same year it came out), management said to simplify it because The West, Square’s new primary market, complains too much about complicated stories in games.
The hardcore fanbase is asking Square to go “niche” and not “AAA”. For non-gamers, what this means is they’re asking Square to become like Pokemon or Mario –> something good and enjoyable but won’t expect the highest sales and has a tinier audience to satisfy. AAA are the big games everyone knows about and designed to sell and satisfy large audiences –> the game everyone is talking about. The problem with this request is that if Final Fantasy goes niche, the other JRPG series imported to America will have a much harder time getting over here. If you’ve played a JRPG, chances are it was Final Fantasy. If you got into it, you’re going to want more. Final Fantasy has carried the burden, much like a political hegemon, for the other Japanese series. As much as I adore Tales, I would not have played Tales had Final Fantasy not paved the way to get to American shores. Final Fantasy showed the other companies not only could it be done, but it was profitable. And I get it: I’d like to see Square Enix go back to its roots of a linear system. I love turn-based battle but I know it’s not profitable anymore and I can accept that. But the bottom-line reason I play at all is for the story. If you cut that from one of my most beloved series, you’ve literally ripped my heart out.
Why were we told major plot twists by item drops after we killed someone, like what is that? Why did we not hear that character verabalise their own motivations? I want to see Ravus’ complexities. He would be an amazing character if I could connect my heart to him. But you never gave me the chance to see him shine. You just told me about him by radio newscasts ever so often. I met him twice.
Next, things happened too fast. And not in the good way. I’ll concede that I played this game listening to Japanese audio. I thought it was a good idea since I’m learning it. I’m at the point where I can listen to things and I have a general idea of what they’re saying but I’m not “fluent” or anywhere close. What I’m saying is: there’s a chance I missed certain things because I was listening in a different language. But I don’t think I did. I think in trying to simplify, we were not given time to digest. Things were flown at us and I sometimes didn’t understand all of what was going on. And that’s not for a lack of trying. I’m not asking to be spoonfed. But I am asking you rely on your story-telling ways of the past. Those methods worked.
Personal digression: I never got to meet Stella but in my opinion, she would have been a much stronger female lead for the role you envisioned. She had so much conviction, much in the ways of Final Fantasy’s heroines of the past also had. Who is Lunafreya and why is her name that obnoxious? She was absolutely annoying in Kingsglaive trying to be a Milla Maxwell and for consistency’s sake, if she’s going to be annoying, keep her annoying. Annoying characters work. But her goal wasn’t to be annoying, right? She was meant to awe us in her conviction and dedication to sacrificing her desires for her man. Bleaugh. I recently learned you cleaned up her dark past. You didn’t have to do that since that would give her major credibility. But instead of showing us a survivor, you created an idyllic 1950’s wifey that only thinks of minimising herself so her man can shine. Stella would never let a man define her.
So where do we go from here? Square can recover even though they broke my heart on this. I’ve literally never been so disappointed in a game in my whole life. I know what I like and I stick to it. JRPGs are almost all of what I play. Like 99% of it. Here is what I would like to see in the next Final Fantasy: return to a linear world that feels like open-world, like 10, 12, and 13 were. Or heck, keep the open-world but give me the story back. I would keep the exploration system from 15. That was my favorite part of 15. I even liked being driven around and listening to music. I felt lazy but it was alright. I would swap the sidequests from hyper-levelling me and let the main quests do that. I felt so awkward and weird that I was lv57 in what felt like an early part of the game since a whole lot of the story hadn’t happened yet. The 50s are an indication that the game is almost over. And well, in my case, that was true, as there were only 20 or so hours of main story. Give me a linearly-followed story that allows me to think abstractly, like games of FF’s past have. Reward me for wanting to see and do everything like you have in the past. Like Tales still does. I don’t mean in achievements. I mean: I get to learn all the details of characters and places by going back to places even though the main story has moved on. Give me Giruvegan and the Monster Arena. Make me complete 100% to see the super secret and bomb ending.
Thank you for reading this. I know you can do better Square. That’s why I wrote this out.