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Final Fantasy XV & How It Failed To Live Up To Fan Expectations

Having waited ten years for Final Fantasy XV to release, it was great to see it break records, pulling in a whopping 5 million sales on the first day of its release. This is more than most games manage to achieve in their lifetime, but for the most part Final Fantasy XV is far from perfect and I'll explain why.

As a diehard fan of the series, this is an article written out of pure passion and love and as a friendly warning, there will be many spoilers ahead, so if you've not finished the relatively short campaign already, I'd advise you do so before reading any further.

I was 19 when the original 2006 E3 trailer aired. Back then, Final Fantasy XV was known as Final Fantasy Versus XIII and unlike XIII's combat, Versus was based on the Kingdom Hearts engine, focusing on real-time combat, only with a more sluggish and realistic approach to it. The game looked amazing and promised to be the darkest and most realistic story in Final Fantasy history. It was very Shakespearean and with each new trailer released, you were able to understand the story that little bit more, piece by piece. As such, I was both intrigued and eager to get my hands on the game, but also a little worried I'd seen more than I should have, half expecting to have spoiled the story for myself. Little did I know, this would be all I'd see of the original dream/concept, as what we we got wasn't exactly an accurate representation of what was advertised.

I'll make it known now that before we step into hate territory here, my views can be harsh, but they're almost always fair and it's clear to me that there's undeniably a lot of good within the latest entry to the Final Fantasy series - It's just that none of it is with the story and sadly, that's where I feel it should count the most.

Starting with the pros, the first thing I'd like to say is that Final Fantasy XV is one of the most immersive Final Fantasy titles of all time. I don't like how restricted you are when it comes to driving the Regalia, but I absolutely love the fact you can customise it, fast travel when you desire (for a small amount of gil) and most importantly, drive along to the tunes of previous titles (a favourite of mine was FF9's Festival of the Hunt and for dungeons, FF9's Lifa Tree theme, though I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss the melancholy of Bran Bal).

Final Fantasy titles have always had great music and Final Fantasy XV doesn't disappoint, but when you have access to so many songs, it's nice to be able to customise your experience, playing songs to suit what's happening on screen. With the use of the in-game MP3 player you can do that on foot to a degree also, but sadly as soon as you enter a battle, your preferred song fades out in favour of FFXV's standard battle music. So no "Force Your Way" for boss battles, then. A shame though it may be, this is by no means detrimental to the overall experience. It just would have been a nice option, considering how far Square went in their efforts of including such a large quantity of songs.

As for the combat, it was definitely a highlight of the game, but felt like a less refined version of what you'd expect from say Kingdom Hearts 2. Instead of being completely under your control, it felt somewhat automated to me and severely lacked challenged. I didn't feel any sense of accomplishment from beating creatures miles stronger than my party and didn't once see the Game Over screen, so it definitely lacked any kind of challenge. The fight against Leviathan was nothing like I expected, also suffered from being way too easy and although Super Saiyan Noctis worked to a degree, there was no real sense of urgency to get things done and the overall experience here lacked any kind of excitement what so ever. To be fair, this is likely due to a number of things. For instance, the whole segment in Altissia once you have your alliance forming meeting felt incredibly rushed. One minute you're there and the next you're outside killing soldiers as buildings collapse around you under the immense pressure of Leviathan's raw power. This was when the sad realisation hit me - Practically nothing from the 2013 E3 trailer made it into the game. You can watch the trailer below, but the whole "battling your way through a falling building as Leviathan manipulates water to kill you" segment just doesn't happen. In addition to this, the monkey-barring to safety, dangling from the inside of a burning tower and teleporting from ship to ship before hijacking a Magitek Armour segments are also absent from the game. Why is this? Why did Square decide this was a good idea when it was clear to us all that these were already complete segments? It makes no sense.

Cutting the building escape as part of the Leviathan battle was a huge letdown. This looked to be one of the most exciting aspects of the game and yet, it was completely scrapped. That's not all however, because even though fans actually felt like they understood the relationship and struggles between Noctis and Stella, back from the earlier trailers, the final product was far different to what fans had come to expect from the many trailers released over the years. As proven by Stella's removal (in favour of Luna, who had practically no character development and felt like a cheap ploy in Square's attempt to force some kind of emotional reaction out of us upon her death), a lot of the original content was also cut. The Goddess Etro had practically no mention in the game in favour of the more familiarly named Summons. The love tragedy of Stella and Noctis, who loved each other but were destined to fight in the streets of Insomnia never happened. The ride-able Magitek Armoured Mechs never made it into the game. You couldn't even teleport up and down the outside walls of Noctis' Palace due to a cutscene automatically leading you up the stairs and into the building to have your final confrontation with Ardyn.

Two of the biggest issues for me were the amount of off-screen deaths and the way the story suddenly dumped everything it had on you at around chapter 10 onwards. Aside from being incredibly short, the story threw Ardyn's true intentions at you completely out of the blue. I really didn't see him becoming the end boss and there wasn't enough development behind him for me to even care about him as an antagonist. Unlike most bosses in other Final Fantasy games, Ardyn didn't even have multiple forms. It was just you (Noctis) vs him (a jealous dude who'd been around too long with a grudge). He wasn't menacing like Sephiroth, crazed like Kefka or as cold as Kuja. He was just a dude wanting what he felt cheated out of. His character design was visually great, but the fact all of this came out of nowhere and in the very final chapters of the game, meant that you didn't have time to sympathise, empathise or even hate him. You simply had no time to feel anything for him. The same can be said about Luna, though. Her death was meaningless to me and I was more upset about Ignis losing his sight, because his character had actually been developed over the course of the entire game, both through cutscenes and the roadtrip banter.

This brings me to my second point - Off-screen deaths and battles you were expecting but never had the opportunity to fight. My initial thoughts were that Ardyn was a messenger, perhaps a Grand Diplomat of the Emperor who knew your father King Regis. Aranea was then an attack dog of the Empire. She'd come out to make your life difficult and would offer several fights over the course of the game. Ravus would then be second in command to the Emperor of Tenebrae. You'd have to fight him before reaching the Emperor, again over a course of several fights where with each fight, he'd become stronger than the last time you faced him. This would then allow you access to battle the power hungry Emperor who'd likely reached Godhood by this point in time, giving you a truly epic showdown. That's not how the story played out, however. After getting my hopes up that I'd be able to fight Ravus (who by the way, looked absolutely awesome!), he instead died off-screen (you do get to battle a demon possessed form of him, but that's not the point) and I killed the Emperor without even realising it was the Emperor. His Demon form had a line or two of dialogue, but his true identity was far from obvious. I had to read up what happened online after finishing the story, to even find out what had happened to him. So although the plot could have been good, it was executed so poorly that it did absolutely nothing for me and that's a massive shame.

Of note, although you only got to face her once over the course of the whole game, I really liked Aranea and she was by far the best boss battle the game had to offer. It's just a shame we didn't get to see too much more of her.

Such an awesome character and yet even she suffered cut content.
Interestingly, Square had received a lot of feedback addressing story related issues and they're currently working to patch more cutscenes into the game for free, to remove plot ambiguity. They say this is because they want Final Fantasy XV to be the best experience players can have, for both new and old fans alike. Personally, although this is a very respectable decision, I don't see this even coming close to righting the amount of wrongs every cut gameplay segment brought to the table and I really don't see the story improving much, if at all.

The impression I got was that even after a literal decade long wait, the game was still somewhat rushed to the shelves and the shift of Tetsuya Nomura being moved onto the development of Kingdom Hearts 3 and the Final Fantasy 7 remake (in favour of Tabata coming on board) really didn't help things. I could be wrong, but what likely happened was that when Tabata came on board, he cut large amounts of content instead of continuing work on what was already there, because the deadline became too unrealistic and the overall scope of the game perhaps proved too ambitious when compared to the amount of funds it was eating up. This likely meant Tabata decided to cut expenditure by cutting major unfinished plot points out and working with what they already had to make a complete story.

Personally, I would have preferred to have waited longer for a more complete and unique experience, seeing as I and every other fan out there had already waited a whole decade for this to release. I also strongly feel that if Tetsuya Nomura was on board for the whole of the development cycle, we'd have all played/been playing a very different game and perhaps one more true to the original design.

Going back to the issues I had with the difficulty, I still can't quite believe how easy the fight with Leviathan was. It was meant to be the most climactic point of the game and sadly felt anything but that. Noctis went Super Saiyan, sure, but there was nothing super about it. Leviathan's presence should have felt intimidating (it didn't) and upping Noctis' game just served to further remove any underlying challenge that could have been there. My total play time was 82 hours when I reached the end credits and in that time I didn't once reach the game over screen. I was playing on normal mode so didn't have Carbuncle and although there was one particular dungeon that pushed me very close to dying, I didn't once feel challenged in any way. For me, this was incredibly disappointing.

Although nothing major, it would have also been nice to have slightly better controls, because having x to jump AND interact meant that at times instead of interacting you'd jump on the spot, breaking immersion for a brief amount in time.

For me, the best part of the game was the first half. You didn't really know what to expect, you had great character development between the main party members and had a great deal of freedom to explore the world at your own leisure. It would have been nice to have more freedom of control with the Regalia, perhaps taking it off-road (before it got wings), but aside from that the gameplay was pretty good. It was just the second half of the game where everything fell apart. Luna didn't generate any kind of connection between herself, Noctis and us as the players (where as Stella managed it before with just a few trailers) and many of the characters such as Cor, Iris and Ravus ended up being left behind as they were largely forgotten about with almost no closure.

Check out the incredibly interesting video below, touching on some of the points I've covered and a whole lot more. It's a long watch, but if you're a fan wishing to know more about the problems FFXV faced and wishing Square would just do something to fix the story, it's well worth the watch.

For a Final Fantasy title, this definitely had an ample amount of side quests, but it wasn't the side quests we wanted to be amazing. It was the story and being a Final Fantasy title, this shouldn't have even been in question and yet Final Fantasy XV's story fell so short I can barely even call it a story. It's more just a sequence of badly portrayed events.

Final Fantasy XV was set up to be one of the best Final Fantasy titles of all time. The visuals were stunning from start to finish, the gameplay had some problems but felt mostly solid, the banter between characters in the open-world was fun and somewhat relatable and yet the most important aspect of any Final Fantasy title (the story) was where it all fell apart. This wasn't the game initially shown back in 2006. Practically everything those of us had come to expect from the story presented in the many trailers released over the ten year development cycle had ceased to exist, and instead we were left with a rushed and incredibly poorly executed plot, full of characters deserving of more screen time than they actually got. This wasn't the Romeo and Juliet-esque tragedy advertised. This was a poorly told story with too much cut content and as a fan who waited for ten years, believing this would be one of the best of the series, is absolutely heart-breaking and devastating to admit.

With an immersive open-world, subtle changes in characters facial expressions, impressive wind effects, flashy attack visuals and solid voice acting it would be wrong to condemn the overall experience by its incredibly lacklustre plot, but I feel with how much had been cut and by how rushed everything became, the story itself is a 5/10 at best and that's being generous.

Maybe next time, Square.

What did you think of Final Fantasy XV? Agree with this article? Let us know in the comments below or hit me up on twitter @CaptainCortez

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