How Square Enix Ripped Out My Heart & Then Stomped On It: Final Fantasy XV

This was a difficult review to write. Of all my reviews until now, it was the most difficult. Because I loved this game in the beginning. Because in the beginning this game seemed perfect. 

The opening scene of Final Fantasy XV had me hooked. The Citadel of the Crown City. A graying king bids his son a sad farewell, and  a young prince coolly turns his heels and leaves the kingdom, heading out on some as-yet-unknown-to-me quest with his three besties. Who also happen to be his bodyguard, his advisor, and… well, what roadtrip would not be complete without an amateur photgrapher? A bit of tension, the promise of a story to unfold, and characters: Final Fantasy XV had me hook, line and sinker, to use an apt metaphor. 

For me, Final Fantasy XV is all about the experience. Noctis’s roadtrip with his bros was my roadtrip too. I gassed up the car at roadside stops. I played pinball in diners. I camped under the stars and I helped Ignis decide what to cook at our campfires. I fished with Noctis. I looked at the photos we took. It was glorious!

Oh, I shared in the hard times, too… and there were plenty! The kingdom in danger, battling men and beasts and immortals across Eos, the tragic quest to find the bride, the encroaching darkness.  And because I the player felt I had forged a bond with the main characters, I felt worry and sorrow for them. 

So yes, in spite of the years-long development troubles this game went through, the writers and developers behind Final Fantasy XV did a good job in delivering an experience. And the player experience is freaking awesome. 

Until it isn’t. 

And let me tell you, there will come a time in everyone’s play-through – about two thirds of the way for me – when it isn’t awesome. When the gameplay becomes a slog and the story turns out to be a stinking pile of plot holes and loose ends. 

Final Fantasy XV is a JRPG and JRPGs are nothing without a story. The real problem with this game (and it is a big Big BIG problem) is that the story does not stand on its own. No. It doesn’t. And seriously, it’s a big problem. 

Now, upfront: I am a fan. I love the game and I love the story. But the story as it is presented in the game (which I love) is incomplete and incoherent. 

This is because the game itself only tells part of the story. The real, actual Final Fantasy XV story includes a large compendium of lore, which exists outside of the game. Want to know why King Regis was sad? Watch the two-hour movie, Kingsglaive. Want to know the backstories of Noctis’s friends? Watch the five-episode anime series, Brotherhood (which is in Japanese). Very importantly, want to know what happened during the game to Noctis’s three friends when Noctis was not there to observe them? Play through three episodes of DLC, each one featuring one of his three friends. Also important, want to know who the main antagonist is, and what he wants? Well, watch a short anime, which is the introduction to the episode of DLC which features the antagonist. Want to know more about Noctis’s bride? Want to know about the very awesome female dragoon? Want to know why the gods do the things they do? Well, you can read about those things in a 376-page novel, Dawn of the Future

I wish I was joking. That is seriously what fans of Final Fantasy XV have to do if they want the full story. And the full story is excellent, it really is, and it is absolutely worth the extra effort. Yes, but look… I love the story, but only because I consumed all that additional media, which I only did because I loved the game first. But I don’t think many players will want to put in that much work. 

I love Final Fantasy XV. Even with its seriously flawed storytelling, this game has a place on my short list of all-time favorites. 

But it should have been so much more. 

Trailing Sleeves gives Final Fantasy XV 9 / 10 bowls of soup:

3 comments

  1. Too bad. I’ve been off the Final Fantasy train since after X, so it’s been a while for me. I was curious about XV but never got around to it — definitely looks impressive. However, I think a game or any work that’s put out as a standalone piece should stand on its own as far as story goes. It’s one thing if it’s released as part of a series telling an ongoing story, but from what I understand that’s not how XV was represented.

    I’ve played a few games like this that leave you wondering what just happened and then you hear that you have to read a novel or watch another series to understand it fully, and it always pisses me off. Especially frustrating when the thing you have to read hasn’t even been translated/localized.

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  2. I agree with you 100% about these standalone RPGs. I feel as though there is an unspoken agreement between a storyteller and an audience, and these games that don’t deliver are breaking that agreement. With this game in particular, I don’t know if Square Enix planned it this way, or if it was just the accidental byproduct of the development troubles, but either way, I can definitely see why many people have a low opinion of this game. And it really is too bad, you are right!
    I really am looking forward to XVI, though!

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  3. […] How Square Enix Ripped Out My Heart & Then Stomped On It: Final Fantasy XV (Eating Soup with Trailing Sleeves) — I lost track of Final Fantasy many years ago, so I can’t comment personally on the subject, but Trailing Sleeves gives a personal account of the Final Fantasy XV experience here, along with some thoughts about how effectively (or ineffectively) it tells its story. […]

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