Final Fantasy XV (Square Enix)
Final Fantasy served as the standard by which all other role-playing games were judged, starting with the first Final Fantasy, released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in the ’80s. The very fact that the latest release is technically the 15th in the series should go a long way to proving just how deep the sword and sorcery series has burrowed into the subconscious of most gamers. Final Fantasy VII, released on the first Playstation, captured an entirely new generation of devotees, as did Final Fantasy X on Playstation 2. But the series began to lose its luster in the states as American-made RPG’s like The Elder Scrolls and Mass Effect introduced more player choice, ethical systems that forced players to make “moral” choices, and most importantly, expansive open worlds free for players to explore. These American RPG’s in many ways were more direct in appealing to American themes of strength, war and politics–doing away with the cuteness and Japanese quirks the Final Fantasy series made so famous. Final Fantasy XIII was roundly criticized for being too linear on top of having an absurd and opaque narrative. Players were forced through the same path, fighting the same enemies until finally reaching the next cut scene–a cut scene their choices had little to no impact on.
Final Fantasy XV seeks to change that by introducing an open world populated by a host of mythical beasts. Players take the role of Noctis, a prince traveling to his arranged wedding in another kingdom, accompanied by his team of young male bodyguards. Dressed in black and boasting fastidious grooming and feathered hairdos, Noctis and his vanguard come off more as the Backstreet Boys than they do a host of adventuring knights. But that quickly becomes the charm of the game. Noctis and each of his friends contribute to their road trip in different ways. Ignis cooks, Gladiolus keeps everyone in shape and Prompto documents the trip with his camera. The motley crew packs into a jet black muscle car called the “Regalia” and venture out into a wasteland populated by 50’s style diners, gas stations and hotels. Days pass quickly as the boys go questing–stay up too late and the really nasty monsters come out. Forget to sleep and the characters moan about being tired. Retire to an RV for the night and they shout about how sticky they are and that it’s “bath time!” The game piles on a number of intuitive battle, loot and magic systems but in the end the game remains fairly linear. Despite the ability to customize your car and pet, and roam freely across a great expanse whether by foot, car or Chocobo (giant yellow chicks), the game simply doesn’t advance unless you engage in the main story. Final Fantasy XV is a game full of a number of discoveries and joys but they are only there for people who are open to the experience–people who are charmed by the design of the world, the quips exchanged by the lead characters and the game’s deference to past installments of the game. The game does not deliver quick thrills–instead it requires devotion and promises memories to those who commit. Final Fantasy is an epic road trip only those with free time and patience should commit to.
Three and a half stars.