I spent the last two weeks of my winter break playing as much Final Fantasy XV as I could. I’d hoped to beat it before the semester started and things got busy, but of course that didn’t happen. I’ve since completed the story, using every scrap of free time I had, but it still wasn’t enough. FFXV is the kind of game that I don’t want to stop playing. I don’t want the game to be over. Luckily, this entry in the series is in line with some of the old-school Final Fantasy games in that it has tons of post-game stuff to do, like super hard dungeons to conquer and ultimate weapons to hunt down and wrestle from the jaws of some particularly nasty creatures.
I’m sad just thinking about not having anything left to do once I complete my last few objectives. I’m currently grinding AP to unlock some of the pricier Ascension skills that I feel like I’ll need to take on the hardest secret dungeon in the game and Adamantoise, the enormous turtle that apparently takes hours to defeat. That will take care of the ‘big’ things, so if I’m really feeling depressed about finishing I’ll just have the high level hunts left to do.
Prior to the game’s release I avoided virtually all hype or even discussion about it. I learned the dangers of buying into hype long ago, so for games I’m already excited for, I play it safe and stay away from news and previews (I still get burned, on occasion, but it’s pretty rare). There’s something about the purity of experiencing a game with little expectation. Anyway, I say this because I’m glad I avoided previews and reviews, because apparently some people really didn’t like the game (or some parts of it, anyway), and I can’t help but wonder if seeing that stuff ahead of time would have subconsciously affected my enjoyment of it. Would I have gotten to the section that seems most harshly judged and been looking for it to be bad, making me appreciate it less? Retrospectively, I don’t feel the way others do about that part of the game. I won’t be too specific, in case anyone except Russian bots (thanks, Google Analytics) reads this, but the complaints are mostly based on the sudden change of pace and a change in your party’s line-up. That’s sort of a Final Fantasy thing, though. It doesn’t happen in every game, but some of them definitely have major shifts in pace when the world map becomes inaccessible due to apocalyptic events, or cases like FFIII (VI), where you are forced to split your party into three groups for the final dungeon. Sure, it was a little annoying because I was so used to having my friends back me up in combat, and a little quiet because they weren’t there to add color commentary, but the change in atmosphere felt purposeful. I was on my own, a little anxious about what I’d have to face, a little worried about my friends’ safety… it was an effective change to the cadence of the game to that point.
That aside, I just genuinely loved playing this game. I was resistant when Square-Enix began messing with (modernizing?) their traditional turn-based/active-time battle system, but I ended up loving the fast-paced and fluid combat in FFXII, and the combat in FFXV reminds me a lot of it, but even better. Initially I was hoping for a return of the gambit system from FFXII as well, where you can essentially program your party’s behavior, but I didn’t miss it all that much. I was always aware of my partner’s location, weaknesses, and strengths, and once I found a balance between using that information with my own attacks, it was incredibly fulfilling, especially against large, difficult monsters.
While I had reservations going in, the world and characters ended up becoming a natural part of the Final Fantasy landscape for me, too. I know the worlds in previous games have been drastically different from each other, but the few screenshots I’d seen of FFXV before playing made me worry it was going to be too slick, modern, and realistic to feel like a, well, fantasy. I was wrong. I mean, there are better characters, but these characters seem to have more personality and are more memorable than most of those in FFXII and FFXIII.
I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t build and customize my group for a fair chunk of the game, but after a while I grew used to and appreciative of my bromantic partners and the chemistry we’d built. [Some spoilers ahead, dear non-bot readers] Still, I wanted to see a lot more of Aranea Highwind, and I wanted her to be a (permanent) party member even more. It almost seems like she was meant to be, at some point, given that you fight her, temporarily join her later, and she has her own set of moves and weapons/armor. I would definitely play a Final Fantasy XV-2 that starred a group led by (or including) her. From the early days of my Final Fantasy playing, I wished you could choose and woo the romantic partner of your choice, as you can with BioWare games now. Sorry, FFVIII’s Rinoa – I would have gone to the moon for Quistis, and you would have had to help me get there. Aranea would have probably been the object of my romantic efforts in FFXV. She is, as the kids say, bae.
Aranea was far from the only bit of beauty in the game though, as I was almost constantly catching myself in awe of how gorgeous the world, characters, and almost everything is. One of the weird things I pay close attention to in games is geography/geology. I appreciate open world games that seem natural and realistic in terms of how the land is shaped and the land features work together. FFXV’s canyons, mountains, volcanoes, hills, forests, etc. all seem to have spawned from actual geologic events, even if some of those events might have been more powerful or variable due to the magic-and-god-infused universe in which they reside. The grass, trees, boulders, bushes, etc. seem to be where they should and not just dropped in by the god-hand of some invisible programmer.
I also caught myself appreciating how similar the CG scenes looked to the in-world graphics. I remember seeing the trailer for Final Fantasy VIII and feeling so awed by how stunning it looked… but then a little sad because I knew the game itself wouldn’t look nearly that good. We’ve come a long way, though. Still, the CG in the middle of the game, when you meet Leviathan and just after, has some of the most incredible and breathtaking graphics I’ve ever seen. I found myself crying during one of those scenes, and I can’t help but wonder how much of it was what was happening in the story and how much of it was how overwhelming the visuals were.
I could go on and on (chocobos were cool, I like the car stuff, the post-game flying car sucked, etc.), but I just wanted to get some of my thoughts down before finishing the game. I’m sad to see it go, but I’m happy I had a chance to play it. I don’t know if it’s my favorite Final Fantasy game ever, but it’s easily top three. It’s hard to say, either way, because the series is filled with games that are so different from one another, but if I gauge it by how sad I am that I’m almost done playing it, FFXV is probably number 2 or maybe even number 1. I’ll end this blog by posting some of the pictures taken by my characters in-game, along with a few screenshots that I took myself so that I can look back nostalgically at some distant point in time. Farewell, beautiful friend.