So, as I said in the last journal, I wanted to do some reviewing of some of the games that kept me busy in the past year... It may boil down ultimately to this one, Persona 5, and NieR Automata. I'll see (if I manage to get these three down), if anything else comes to mind.
Be warned that there will be spoilers. SPOILERS.
Still, I think that anyone who was interested in these games already had their spoiler session.
So, let's jump right in.
Final Fantasy XV
After a looooong time of development, full of twists and turns, we finally got this game a little more than one year ago... still, I was away at the time and managed to start playing it in January, so for me it's a game of THIS year, not the previous.
It's a Final Fantasy... and we all know what that means: divisive.
Unlike other franchises who like to keep things on their format, adding to their core with new games, Final Fantasy usually goes for radical gameplay changes at each installment... and that makes for things that some people consider very good, and others consider very bad.
It's no surprise then that the game was loved by some and hated by others, like... every main Final Fantasy that was released since when internet is popular enough to know what others think of the game? ^^"
To keep things short: I love the game. It has several, MANY flaws, which I will point out in the review, but I love it all the same.
So, before going into an actual, standard review, I'd like to address a few points that I hear all the time and that seem... let's say stereotypes about the game:
1) "Ah, the game with the K-Pop Boy Band" or similar statements.
Now, this is a statement that I really hate for a few reasons.
The first one is that it is extremely superficial and became kind of viral about the game.
The second one is that... yeah, Prompto and Noctis have quite the unlikely hairdo but a) I don't see how Gladio or Ignis can fit in the boyband trope and b) after spending a few months in a real capital city and seeing the hairdo and attire of local, fashionable young people, I understood that it is actually quite realistic. The impression that I had, as a country person, in seeing how eccentric the fashion can be in a capital is exactly the same feeling of outlandish that you can get from the two 'culprit' characters... so I think it fits.
Third point, after what OTHER characters Square-Enix gave us, I don't see where the particular problem would be with Noctis. Just go look up Vaan, Cloud, Cecil, Squall... just for a few examples. Now look their design WELL... and tell me that this looks weird.
2) "The story sucks" or similar statements.
As someone who more or less knows how the things go, I can tell you that this is FALSE.
The NARRATIVE is bad, yeah, but the story isn't. Of course, there will be more detail about it in the story section of the review, but it's an important thing to point out. There is a difference between a bad story, and a good story that is told in a bad fashion. Part of this BAD fashion of telling it is that the game takes for granted that you'd watch Kingsglaive and Brotherhood, for example, and just assumes you did for the whole game, no real in-game fill-in for those who didn't.
Okay, having taken these two things out of the way, I'll start with the review.
Graphics: 9/10Now, there's no going around it... the graphics here are gorgeous. Just gorgeous.
The amount of work that went into them is clear, and everything is sort of... graphically perfect. Not only the models and rendering itself, but also the little touches and details that make things that much better, such as the wet effects and stuff like that... of course, it can STILL get better, but it's really just perfect for immersion.
It doesn't get a 10 because some animations are... subpar. For example, most of the time, when you're talking with NPCs Noctis will go through a very unnatural idle animation that doesn't make any sense at all... or how you see that Noctis already has the hook in hand when he crouches to get a fish out of the water... in a game that spoils you with almost perfection, these little things become an eyesore. Still, it's just great, yeah. ^^
Design: 7/10Here is where things start to get a bit... uneven. For several reasons.
The first one is that the game itself has rather uneven design by concept: you have what seems to be an American highway style of huge roads with little markets and gas stops in a world of flying airships and monsters... the mixing of the two is quite bizarre, I'll have to admit, but the familiar elements help in giving a sense of immersion to the whole thing, maybe?
Then there are parts of the game that surely, clearly, got more thought than others. You can see very well how well the main cast was designed, as well as the main antagonists and supporting characters. Random NPCs? Not so much. Random locations? Not so much. The great big overworld? Poorly. The geography is fine, mind you, and there are a lot of different environments which are done very well... but they're mostly empty. Eos is a world you CAN explore... but you won't. 'Cause there isn't much to find out there, and that's the truth. This is the biggest design flaw of the game if you ask me, and one that cannot be overlooked. You don't really have the thrill of exploration when you can, if you're lucky, find a random collection spot or some items. In a world like that, you needed colorful NPCs, mysterious spots, quirky sidequests... and that falls VERY short.
Music: 8/10Most of the in-game music feels appropriate to the scene or scenario where it is played, no complaints there. Nice touch on the Chocobo theme changing depending on if you're walking or running with it. Access to a LOT of tracks from previous games and in general FF media. I loved many of the BGMs that Yoko Shimomura made for Kingdom Hearts, and here she did it again, without a doubt. Also, I like the epic choir style, so a few musics are very, VERY good in my opinion.
Still, few pieces are really outstanding in-game... most of the time the OST just works as what is probably should be: background music. It helps set the mood, but many times I could just forget about it.
Gameplay: 8/10In all honesty, I would like to give it a lower score. I'm going to talk about a lot of the flaws of gameplay, and for those it would deserve a lower score... but in the end, I like it. So, I can't go lower than 8.
If you've watched any video about it, you'll know what this is about. You play as Noct, go around in the world by foot/Chocobo/car, fight monsters, find items, do sidequests (mostly hunts), fish, cook food, take pictures and that's mostly it. With your 3 valiant sidekicks at your side that can help you with all of this.
The exploration was improved with quite a few options by the updates, as are the hunts (now you can take more than 1 at a time, saving a LOT of painfully wasted time). Fishing is... okay. Luckily optional, I went into it to finish some sidequests and get a trophy. If you're a completionist and want to catch EVERY fish, prepare for frustration. But it's not that bad.
Cooking is just about gathering ingredients and recipes, and doesn't require any player input, you just choose what to make depending on the stat boosts it'll give you... or whatever you want.
And then the fighting, which is what you will do most of the time in a Final Fantasy. The basics are very simple, one button to attack, one to dodge/block, one to lock on, one to enter the menu and use items, one to warp and pull some cool stunts, d-pad to change weapons between 4 equipped ones, one to call special moves from the allies. A few special options that come up along the way.
All pretty simple to get into, quite more difficult to master. But the game is FAR from being punishing, apart from the secret dungeons you'll unlock in post-game, it takes some serious effort, or a GRAVE lack of healing items, to get a game over in this game.
Still, there are SEVERAL negative points to this, which I will point out:
1) Lack of variability.
Sure, Noctis can equip quite a few different weapons, especially with the Royal Arms, that can have some pretty interesting moves different from any other weapon... still, his repertoire is quite small. While at least the 3 friends can learn some special moves along the way, Noctis does not. He has his attacks, his warp, his Armiger mode almost from the start of the game... and that's it. No special moves, no great tricks up his sleeve. Which isn't bad... but makes you wonder WHY can Gladio pull an Impulse of pure devastation, and Noctis has no special moves? We players like to have uber-attacks, you know?
So, yeah, the combat isn't bad, and you can spice it up with all the different weapons... but you'll be pulling combos and warp strikes from level 1 to level 100, with the occasional Armiger when your bar is filled.
Magic is a HUGE issue here. You have little of it (just Fire, Blizzard, and Thunder, up to -ga... but whatever, still three spells). You can't use it a lot, as it is limited by how many flasks you have, how much energy you have, the items used to make it somewhat cool, and the cooldown time. Also, it's great at the beginning of the game, and sucks as you progress... which isn't how it should be, aye?
The problem is this: there is a damage cap at 9999 for everything, including magic. You can break it on the special moves... but it's mostly still there. So, at the beginning of the game, a spell can easily hit for 3000 damage while your attacks do some around 100 damage each. And that's cool.
At the end of the game, magic hits for 9999 damage (with a maximum of hitting 5 times) and your attack hits for around 6000 damage... as you can see, not really worth it anymore. I personally only used Magic with some special effects from items, mostly Expcast to get loads of exp from big monsters, but not for the damage.
It would have been a lot better, and not that complex, to add more spells. You make them by combining different quantities of energy from fire, ice, and lightning. It couldn't have been THAT hard to, for example, put Flare or Ultima if you put all three elements in maximum amount, or Holy as Fire + Lightning and stuff like that. Feasible, and would have spiced things up, making magic crafting more interesting by experimenting with combinations.
Also the other "magic" in the game, which are Summons, are not all that good... you can't decide when to summon them, or WHO to summon. For example, I never EVER had the chance to summon Titan. Which is a pity.
3) Fake difficulty
This... is quite the issue. In the end, most of the time, despite it being apparently an action-style game, you're going to get hit. Often. And hard. But you can heal. A lot, and easily. And without cooldown, either. So... you're going to spend a LOT of time healing, and the game is thought that way. So you're going to get in Danger a lot, and heal a lot.
It could have been tweaked a lot differently, so that you don't have to stop the flow of battle, otherwise pretty dynamic, to heal very often.
Okay, there surely are some very skilled players who do not get hit quite that much... but I think that for most of the players that will hold true. Especially as you can't really avoid the rest of the team getting hurt.
Characters: 8/10This, of course, comes 90% from the main cast. Noctis, Gladio, Ignis, and Prompto are a very good bunch to have as the focus of the game. Their personalities are calibrated very well and balanced. It shows the thought that went into it, really.
What makes me angry is that, with this cast, they could have had MUCH MORE meaningful and memorable scenes. Instead, most of the interaction is just the banter along the road, which SHOWS very well the dynamics within the party, but do not give any extra depth or details about it.
Then Lunafreya and Ardyn are very good major NPCs. Lunafreya sadly doesn't get much screen time as of yet, and I really hope for an episode on her.
Ardyn, instead, is easily one of the best villains of the series, with a very good combination of traits that make him easy to hate, but not the BAD kind of hate. Also, he's the second - I think - villain in the series who REALLY did it. At the end of the game, he gets what he wants. The other before him was, kinda, Vayne, since he did manage to break the Occuria's hold on history. Ardyn is the second one... he manages to kill the royal family, the bloodline of oracles, the deities, and himself.
As for the other characters... they're not very good. Pretty bland and flat. Cor and Aranea got a bit more in the DLC, and Ravus will most likely benefit from that as well.
But the other NPCs, whether recurring or not, are not memorable in the least.
Story: 6/10I can't give more than this to the story section. As I said before, the story is not bad... but the narrative is. And, no matter how good the story, if it is not told in a proper way, it won't become enjoyable.
There are several problems here... the first is that the pace is totally off. You spend 8 chapters bumbling around (despite the quite dire circumstances) with no sense of urgency whatsoever... and then everything starts happening all at once and you can't get a breather. That's NOT good pacing.
Also, a major problem is that the thing is 95% told from Noctis's own "point of view"... so you miss on a LOT of information since Noctis is NOT an ACTIVE player in the plot. He is being led through this whole thing by Lunafreya on one side and Ardyn on the other... he doesn't make choices or call the shots, not really. He's brought along to face his destiny... and is left none the wiser until the very end. This makes it pretty confusing from the point of view of a player, who knows more or less as much as Noctis does about the story, which is really little.
Still... the feelings are real. The final chapter did get me emotional, and that didn't happen in a while... so, good work there.
Themes: 8/10The whole game is one big tragedy, despite the probably happy ending, and plays out very well in that direction. I love the way in which all the "special" about Noctis is incorporated in every aspect of the game, from his fighting style to the healing (which is done with energy drinks, who become magically healing thanks to the Power of the King) to his relation with others, being at the same time one of the bros and completely different. His burden as a king is made very clear as everyone around him faces the fallout of his destiny: his family, his country, his fiancee, his companions... the pillars on which his life was built upon shake, tremble, and sometimes crubmble, until he himself is called to make the final sacrifice to save the world from being overridden by demons forever. Quite the build-up... and even if it is not the optimal storytelling, the final chapters are done very well and almost make up for the rest of the game.
Also, the theme of a different sort of love than the one we're used to is pretty good. Most of the FF revolved around the romantic bond between main hero and main heroine. While this is a factor also in this one, we don't really SEE that much, if at all... and it's all focused on the brotherly bond of friendship between the 4 protagonists, each of the three having a different, but equally deep, bond with Noctis: Ignis' caring and strict, motherly position; Gladio with his patronizing and strong, tough-love attitude that just screams big bro; and Prompto being just the best buddy, also thanks for the same age factor, I would gather.
This theme is surely done very well.
I could go on for whole paragraphs about each char and all that, and maybe I will rework this later on. XD
In any case...
Final virdict: 9/10
It's not the average of the scores... 'cause that makes no sense, each part works on the other, and the whole can be more, or less, than the sum of their parts. UwU
For all its many flaws, it's just a very enjoyable game and I like it that much. ^^
Here are my two cents,