Why I’m excited about Final Fantasy XV (and a failed attempt at a brief history of Final Fantasy)
Welcome to a trip down nostalgia lane. My Final Fantasy career started in the long forgotten days of youth when my cousin introduced me to Final Fantasy 8. The game followed a surly young man named Squall and his quest to save the world with an odd party of people who eventually he called friends.
The magic of Japanese RPG’s in those days was the insane amount of depth to story and the surreal environments and concepts that surrounded the story. Japanese culture within computer games has often had a real grounding in the fallout of the Second World War and the impact of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is evident especially in games such as Final Fantasy VII where the world is slowly being drained of energy as human greed literally destroys the environment from inside out. Similarly the colossal weapons from this game acted as a unique take on world destroying machines. You see this also in Japanese anime such as Naruto where there is a focus on this end of the world type dialogue, with there being a character who himself acts as an atom bomb.
However back to the main topic. Final Fantasy has always held a special place in my heart up until the release of Final Fantasy XII. This was released after their first big scale MMO and similarly felt much more like an MMO with no people as opposed to the more character centric and linear story I came to love in previous Final Fantasy games. Then there was the release of Final Fantasy XIII and its many sequels, which focused on a linear form of gameplay the likes of which gaming has not seen for generations. From one polar opposite to another then. Final Fantasy XIII was the nail in the coffin for the franchise personally at this time. The story was ridiculously convoluted and the game felt like one long corridor with very little space to manoeuvre. (The game was literally for the first 20 hours long corridors with the odd story segment plopped in).
Much of the charm of the franchise seemed lost, which could arguably be down to the original creator of Final Fantasy leaving to form his own studio. I would argue this case in particular as he released a little game known as Lost Odyssey which captured a lot of the feel of past Final Fantasy games. This change could also be put down to the merger of SquareSoft and Enix as companies, as this happened around the time the games changed.
All of this brings me to the actual point of this article, so apologies for the long convoluted history lesson!
So…. Final Fantasy XV, this game was announced 8 years ago under the guise of Final Fantasy XIII Versus. Originally it was intended to be set in the same world as Final Fantasy XIII but within a different time period. Unsuprising with the polarising views on the Final Fantasy XIII the game title changed to Final Fantasy XV. The incredibly long development cycle as well as its shift from Playstation 3 to Playstation 4 has led to a long period of scepticism as to if the game will ever be released.
Why do I have hope for this game then? Well, recently a demo of the game has been released and much of this was shown at PAX East. The game boasts an incredibly large open world with a focus on character development and story. What excites me about the game is the amount of dialogue the party has with each other and how the AI reacts to the environment. The demo centres around the protagonist Noctis and his 3 friends as they flee their homeland and explore a region named Duscae.
SquareEnix have invested a lot of time and money into this game and are adding a lot of revolutionary and game changing concepts into the franchise. There will be a day and night cycle with different enemies at different times of day, which feel reminiscent of games such as Pokemon and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. The combat itself focuses around action based combat similar to the Kingdom Hearts games (Which isn’t surprising considering the game director for most of the games development has been the creator of Kingdom Hearts).
The game appears to be exhibiting sign of surivival aspects perhaps with the recent surge in survival games. This is evident in their inclusion of camping as a gameplay mechanic where food is cooked to add certain bonuses to they the following day.
Another interesting factor is weather changes such as rain and lightning. The changes in weather look amazing graphically and the game definitely looks next-gen in terms of graphics. Past nods to old instalments of the series also seem set within the game such as the mention of Magi-tek armour (which was in Final Fantasy VI) as well as the fabled Chocobos many fans have grown to love.
Yet what excites me most about the game is the focus on story and the way in which the party AI react to the environments around them. There is a fluidity to the conversations the characters seem to have and the reactive nature they have in both combat and the environment around them is impressive.
The only glaring issue so far seems to be the lack of female characters within the party. While I like the idea of brotherhood that appears to be a central theme in the story, I am slightly perplexed as to the lack of female characters represented in the game so far. However it is perhaps too early to pass judgement on this factor at this point considering the game is only 60% complete.
From what reviewers have said about their time with the game, the game definitely sounds like it brings back some of the feelings of past titles in the franchise. Overall I am quietly optimistic about this one, and as someone who was incredibly disappointed with recent entries in the series that is quite a mean feat for SquareEnix to achieve. Rumour suggests that Final Fantasy XV is the last big attempt to bring back the Japanese RPG by SquareEnix, as the Japanese markets are moving more towards mobile gaming. This perhaps explains the long development cycle and the amount of effort the company appear to be putting into the game. There is definitely a lot weighing on this games success not just for SquareEnix but also for fans of the Japanese RPG game in general.
I will keep an eye on the development of this title and for the first time in a long time there appears to be hope for Final Fantasy. Hopefully it will not fufil its namesake and literally be the Final Final Fantasy. I would love to discuss this further with people and get your perspectives on this, feel free to leave a comment and maybe we can get a dialogue going!