Final Fantasy XV is finally reaching upon us, after a development cycle spanning consoling generations the game is reaching world wide release in just 10 days... I think it is time to get excited and look forward to what XV has become, how this side project is now the next Final Fantasy and what that means being part of such a series, so I ask you to joining me in reflecting upon the last 10 years, on the remaining 10 days to come.
Versus: The past
When it comes to this title, we can simply look at it on it's own merit due to the very prolonged history of this title being in development. I remember seeing the trailer for Final Fantasy Versus XIII over 10 years ago thinking “Oh, this is my reason to buy a PlayStation 3” (Along with XIII too!) Time went on and we got Final Fantasy XIII – Which I actually enjoyed. However the Normura project lingered on to the point we thought it would never materialise.
At this time we had seen plenty of cutscenes and gameplay not just in the city but also out in the wilderness. Showing each character using unique attacks and having them control machinery to use against their foes. The world seemed compelling with a very different feel, one which was more darker and realistic but maintaining the beauty of Final Fantasy in it's art direction.
XV: The Future
Looking back at what we had seen of Versus XIII, we still never really could grasp a concept of what it was presenting, it was very pretty and offering plenty of potential within the imagery but with the project lingering for so long, we never got to see more advances on the progression of the narrative and what was happening.
Back in 2013, it was announced that Versus XIII would become XV, the next numeral instalment within the series franchise, with this we got a sensational trailer which really depicted this much better, in having Noctis and his guardians travel with him to seek Luna. The trailer presented the game in having a Roadtrip structure to the story, this put many people off, as they dismissed it as silly and also regarding how the tone of the trailer was much lighter than the previous vXIII' trailer dripped in Gothic design. I for one felt very enthusiastic with this direction as it really presented the experience as an adventure, travelling across the land in a car with your companions sets this up perfectly and I'm much looking forward to this aspect of the game.
I honestly feel if Tabata had not taken on the helm of vXIII it would have never come to be and we'd all still be wondering what happened. While XV may not be an exact replication of Nomura's vision, Tabata was involved in the early development of the project and I believe to be a fitting choice as a successor. I didn't like Type-0, I admit but his other project Crisis Core was far FAR better than Dirge of Cerberus... I also value Tabata's approach and how open he has been, since he has been in charge we have had plenty of updates and even playable tech demos relating to the game, the team is really listening to our input to help make what I hope to be a remarkable experience.
Taking on the Numeral
from vXIII to XV, the project has been given Numeral status, not being a mere side project but a main entry in the series. This does lead to certain expectations and standards. The tricky thing is this is not going to be Final Fantasy VII, this is not going to be Final Fantasy X (etc.), this is to be a new entry in the series, with new ideas and structures. XV I feel is the biggest departure since XII, the combat system is very different, which I know people have been hung up on, but it is a core component to the gameplay experience and worth the fuss. I personally am still a little hesitant, I'm wondering if I will be able to get to grips with Noctis and his warp abilities, on Duscea I was beaten down again and again. I also hope there is a lot of interaction with the other teammates and be moments where I can assign them to help with particular strategies – having them use a certain ability of limit break using their ability according to my plan.
I was thinking earlier what is important to Final Fantasy and it's sense of adventure. Part of it was exploring the environments and having little events happen or talking to NPC's who interact with you or are busy doing something. I think far too often with games these days we have these open worlds to which nothing of substance is actually happening in them. Take VII, where you walk into a strangers house and take the Elixir on this old man's bed, as you leave the old man questions wether you took something or not. Or in IX where a boys Kitten called Mittens ran away, you can actually search around the town and help find him! Or even subtle ones like in an Inn in VIII, there is a train locomotive toy track across the room, if you try walk into the Bedrooms without paying a barrier comes down (Like one on a train line) and stops you. It's important to have environments which are interesting to explore, I do feel it is a bit for a shame they're basing towns of real locations, I'm not particularly interesting in seeing a replication of Venice, this isn't Assassins Creed, I hope other locations are more interesting and that there are plenty of activity within these places. I think since VII, we've had more artistic opportunity in the locations, as in the 16 bit era games all the towns look the same, I hope each region in the world is differentiated by it's surroundings.
I think another core part of the Final Fantasy experience is the character driven story, something which XV seems to present. One of the biggest problems I have in most RPG's is the 'Silent Protagonist Syndrome', a main character which is mute and meant to be placement for you to step into the shoes of and experience, but all is see is a blank uninteresting character. I need an interesting lead to whom I can empathise with and become pulled into the drama with their motives. I still however feel I do not know much about Noctis (This is after watching Kingsglaive & Brotherhood Episodes 1-4), While the punch of t he story seems to resolve around fate between him and Luna, I hope that other characters are presented well. I like it when each character has a proper story arc, strong motivations and conflicts within the adventure. I feel for example VIII had a really strong main protagonist with Squall, whose history and reasoning regarding his hostile attitude was explored perfectly. Sadly however I felt the rest of the cast was pushed to the side, Quistis has no value in being there beyond the initial SEED missions, nor does Irvine beyond the Assassination Mission, yet these characters linger on and are just there. I really hope this is not the case and that each character gets involved in little sub-plots. This can be done, looking back to Final Fantasy X which has a similar Guardian motive, we have Khimari, who upon guiding Yuna encounters his Ronso tribe which mock him for being HORNLESS!!! Khimari has dealt with this shame and later confronts them upon arriving at his home town (Though we do have a few encounters with them beforehand too). It's this sort of sub-plot which branches out the companions we really need in this game an I hope XV delivers.
I mentioned about the environments need things to do, in XII & XIII most of the side-quest content was focused on monster hunting which has a very basic formula of finding A monster, Beat it and Claim the reward. This is all fine, but to me it never felt it really went outside the norms of the main gameplay anyway. While other Final Fantasy's have had fantastic mini-games like Chocobo Racing, Triple Triad or Blitzball! Mini-games which literally play differently to the main game. When done right these mini-games can be just as compelling and bundle up so much more playtime within the experience. It makes the game as a whole more diverse and interesting to play, complimenting the main game with usually some of the best rewards you can earn in-game. From what I gather there is already Fishing, A Monster Justice Five a Pinball Machine and I believe Chocobo Racing in some form. These are great but what I also loved were the little side-quests within the towns, where you could assist an NPC with item resources or helping with some other method. I remember in VIII, in Dollet there is this mini-event to where you enter a store and in the store there is a painter who paints a picture, though the picture has a bone in it, the painting shows an area in the town and the bone representing a reward, you go back a few times and thee will be a new painting showing different areas, it's just a more fun an example of making tasks in games more engaging, I really hope this never becomes a checklist game like Elder Scrolls – Though I am glad to see the story is within the 40-50 hours time frame, hopefully meaning there will be an active presence within the main story.
10 days to go and we've had many previews, demos, even a prologue movie, I don't feel I am over-hyped, yet I just feel eager to see what it's all about, I am hoping I will enjoy the experience but am keeping in mind that this is an experience which hasn't just been in constant development for 10 years, this is a project which has been halted and revived with passion from a team eager to deliver a grande experience. I'm hoping it will be and look on to the final remaining days with excitement but the willing to accept this as a new entry to Final Fantasy and what it has to offer.