When I was young, my family used to go on road trips in a conversion van that had a VHS player in it as its sole source of entertainment, and so I wound up watching a bunch of the same movies over and over again since the VHS tapes were too bulky to bring a bunch of them. One of these movies started with a skit featuring The Lion King’s Timon singing a cover of Stand By Me that caused Pumbaa to get pummeled by increasingly improbable cartoon violence, and seeing this hundreds of times over countless road trips caused me to associate the song with impending disaster. It felt apropos, then, when Final Fantasy 15—a game I went into expecting the worst of after playing two-thirds of the terrible FF13 trilogy—began with a rendition of Stand By Me. It certainly lived up to the expectations the skit had imprinted in me for the first 10 or so hours, presenting an unremarkable open world littered with shameless fan service and endless busy work. It eventually opens up and smooths out some of the initial rough edges, and there are some parts that were good enough that I even considered making this a positive review for awhile, but at the end of the day, this is a game that borrows so heavily from other games that it’s entirely bereft of originality or creativity. That’s not the same thing as being bad, of course, but Final Fantasy 15 takes so many cues from other games that it lacks any kind of individual identity, and considering how many games have done the same things better, you’re best off just playing those instead.
The weirdest bro trip ever
Final Fantasy 15’s setup is simple: the main character prince is going to marry the magical oracle of a land that’s largely independent of (but still subservient to) the obviously evil empire that’s been trying to invade his home for the longest time. The idea is that the marriage coincides with a peace treaty and I suppose functions as a symbol of it or something. Obviously this doesn’t go swimmingly because evil cares not for treaties, but it functions as a way to get the prince and his retainers out on the open road. Now, it took me something like 30-40 hours before I actually remembered the names of the characters, which is to say that I wasn’t very impressed by their personalities early on. First there’s Noctis, the main character prince who I came to refer to as Binaca because no matter what anyone says, he tries way too hard to be cool about it. More specifically, the Final Fantasy brand of cool, which basically means that he’s an emo “whatever” machine who’s, like, totally conflicted about his tough life of having cars and friends and attractive blonde fiancees foisted on him. Not really a relatable character.
Then there are his retainers, whose names all end with -us or -is and sound like gladiators, but I can only remember the beginnings of their names. There’s Glad-something, the gruff, strong one who I came to refer to as Beefy McButtonYourShirt because of his propensity for wearing what’s perhaps the least fitting attire possible in the presence of royalty. His role seems to be mostly worrying about his sister until the plot picks up, at which point he continually gets into stupid macho bro-offs with Binaca about how he’s totally not strong enough to be king, and I can’t possibly make these bits sound more stupid and forced than they come across in-game. Then there’s Ign-something (-is, I think?), or as I came to think of him, Inexplicably British Lance Bass. He cooks the meals and drives the car, and is probably the only character I actually connected with by the end because of his more subdued personality. That brings us to the final retainer, Prom-something (basically Zell from FF8 right down to their virtually identical appearances), who seems to be equal parts comic relief and audience stand-in, and words can’t even begin to describe how annoying I found him. For how grating his constant dumb puns and miscellaneous stupidity is, though, he gets so much worse when they try to make him show emotion. At one point, I rested at a hotel, only to get a cutscene where he tried to open up to Binaca. I honestly can’t tell what the point of the scene was, but it made him seem like he was secretly in love with Binaca, something occasionally backed up by other little things he says and does.
The story actually makes sense!
When things quickly take a turn for the worse, Binaca and buddies decide to abandon their original plans and instead take the fight to the evil dudes. If that sounds pretty self-explanatory, it’s because it is; Final Fantasy 15 is one of the most straightforward plots I can remember in a FF game, and while there are a few wrinkles and imperfections, its lore and villain motivations are actually explained to you. Whatever your feeling on the series of late are, that’s definitely forward progress. I also really respect the way the game ended, which is to say the ending is bittersweet rather than conjuring up a magical deus ex machina to give everyone a fairy tale ending. Without delving into spoilers, I remember reading some comments about the game Remember Me awhile back where people were really disturbed by the thought of the main character messing with people’s memories like it crossed some kind of line into the cruel. While that’s not even close to what happens in this game’s plot, I imagine the same people will find certain elements here incredibly distressing and depressing. Personally, I loved it—for all my expectations about how they’d magically fix everything at the last second, the writers somehow managed to sneak a kind of gritty, consistent groundedness into the world and its rules that’s been largely lost since Final Fantasy 6.
That’s not to say that I don’t have my share of problems with the story, though. For one: I don’t think mothers exist in this world. Binaca certainly doesn’t seem to have one, because despite doing a dizzying number of sidequests, I can’t recall her being mentioned once. In fact, while fathers are mentioned periodically throughout the game and plenty of people have an opinion on Binaca’s dad, I can’t remember anyone’s mother being mentioned anywhere in the game. Of course, this is probably something that’s hidden away in the anime or movie that were partitioned off for some inexplicable reason, and that brings me to another problem I had: you spend no time in the characters’ kingdom, so there’s no impact when you finally return. The entire game builds up to Binaca retaking his home, but while characters fondly reminisce once you’re actually there, I felt like raising my hands as if to say, “hey, you know this is the first time I’ve been here, right?”
It doesn’t build up to things
That’s a problem that exists throughout the game, too, as the game tries to achieve these powerful moments using characters that haven’t been established enough that I care about their fates either way. At one point in the game, a character is suddenly killed off and everyone is sad. I’d only just met the character, though, and they had a combined screen time of maybe 1 minute, so when everyone went off to get revenge like this was some horrible tragedy, I felt like a third wheel to all of this random emotion that hadn’t bothered trying to make me invested in it. The same is true of the random crises that drive a wedge between Binaca and Beefy, and that’s a large part of the reason why they come off as so frustratingly contrived.
The bigger story problems
The most glaring problem with the story, however, is that it doesn’t suit the open-world design at all. This causes the first 8 chapters of the game to be fairly slow, while the 6 or so afterward are largely linear and end up being replete with info dumps and tonal shifts. One minute you’re driving around doing fetch quests in sunny weather, and the next you’re being tormented on a train and running around a maze looking for keycards in a seemingly endless foray into quasi-survival horror (complete with jump scares and tons of QTEs). Worse, the game introduces time travel as a means of traveling back to the open world to continue doing sidequests, but the second I turned on a radio in the past, it reported on things that only happened in the future after I left the open world. The story doesn’t support time travel, either, refusing to let you use advance knowledge of events to change them. It very obviously exists solely to give you the ability to jump back to the open world once you get to the linear parts. There’s also a sudden, practically needless time skip right at the very end that I’m convinced was included because the writers weren’t comfortable including a bittersweet ending that affected the young versions of characters, so they suddenly grow up right at the end and have facial hair. This doesn’t really add anything notable, though, and numerous characters who are referenced and who I’d have liked to catch up with before the end never appear, presumably because no one could be bothered making older models for everyone.
Another problem I had is that you can really see the changes the game went through in some of the characters, with some appearing as though they were intended to play a greater role before being pared down and/or combined with other roles. Gentiana is a great example, and her role doesn’t make sense once you get to the later parts of the game where she inexplicably waits several weeks before showing up to help you even though it’d make more sense to do so immediately after a certain event occurs. Loqi and Caligo also suffer from this, both being enemy commanders you face at various points. You blow Loqi up and he doesn’t escape, but he later shows up with Caligo (who you capture earlier in the game, only for him to escape before the end of the mission because the levels of incompetence some characters in this world possess border on being a superpower) to fight you in an optional section despite me being convinced he was dead. Really, the villains in general seem to have pulled the short straw this time around, because most of them never even show up to bother you. One guy shows up in a cutscene, then disappears forever. Aranea is a legitimately interesting character who gives you one of the better fights in the game, but then she’s kind of pushed off to the side and used for other purposes before being mostly forgotten. You may expect to go up against the evil empire, but most of it manages to implode on its own without your assistance. Talk about an anticlimax. There are even minor characters who just kind of appear out of nowhere. At one point, Beefy goes, “thanks, Dustin,” and all I could think is “who the hell is this Dustin guy?” I met Monica, and Dustin later appears to be some kind of other-Monica though virtually no effort is put into explaining what her role is, but I could swear that our paths hadn’t crossed until that point despite him apparently being trustworthy.
Some of the things that grated at my nerves before any of the bigger story problems popped up were things like the constant puns. You can see one in this review’s header image, and despite what you might expect, this isn’t a rare occurrence. Various characters—though mostly Zell-lite—are constantly making puns out of everything, in large part because no one ever shuts the hell up. One of the games Final Fantasy 15 seems to draw inspiration from is Dragon’s Dogma, and one of the things it seems to have taken from it is characters who talk constantly. You have virtually no downtime where someone isn’t pointing something out, whether it’s a nearby enemy or Lance Bass coming up with a new recipe or someone just pointing out that the reoccuring area of Hammerhead is “paradise for a technophile like you.” That line is verbatim, and I know this because I’ve heard it dozens upon dozens of times. It only took a few hours before lines started repeating, so imagine how maddening it becomes when you’re 40+ hours in and still hearing the same lines. This causes strange problems of disconnect between the story and open-world, too, such as when dialogue that seemed important and plot-oriented got cut off as someone else warned me of approaching enemies. I missed entire plot points at times because of these barks, like in one case where I was left confused after Beefy talked about how he was worried about his sister. Turns out she wasn’t answering her phone, but I didn’t know that at the time because it apparently got cut off by some inconsequential dialogue. The same happened with some prophecy stuff Gentiana was talking about, and while I still understood the larger story, it’s nonetheless aggravating to have something important-sounding cut off as someone warns you about a ship of Magitek troopers above you for the millionth time. Especially since they’re rarely not above you.
Finally, there’s the random stupidity. At one point, Binaca has this long cutscene where he has trouble putting on a ring. He grunts and groans (oh, I’ll get to the grunts and groans later, trust me) and acts like it’s killing him because oh the emotions. This was dumb beyond words. Also dumb beyond words are the random cutscenes of Luna, Binaca’s bride-to-be. These are laced throughout the early chapters as though to remind you that she still exists, but she does nothing in particular during them. In fact, her only role throughout the game seems to be pining for Binaca because they were friendly when they last saw each other 12 years prior, and it gets surprisingly creepy surprisingly fast. Then there’s the stupid fan service: while the Magitek stuff and even Luna’s name (Lunafreya, because how do you do, fellow kids, Square-Enix is totally on the same page and also likes the Final Fantasy Nines) are fairly harmless fan service, as are the music albums from previous games you can buy at gas stations and play during the long in-game drives, Cindy is as pointless as pointless can possibly get. She’s Cid’s granddaughter or something, but while the game tries to characterize her, there’s really no getting around the fact that she’s present for cleavage. Her back story eventually putters out and goes nowhere, and if there was any doubt that she’s solely present as eye candy, consider the fact that refilling the gas tank at Hammerhead (where she spends most of the game) gives you two cutscenes in a row, including one gratuitous one of her washing the windshield. Guess where the camera is focused during this? Compare that to refilling gas anywhere else, which gives you one cutscene where Binaca does it. I’m not averse to scantily-clad characters by any means, but when they exist for that reason alone and little effort is put into justifying their existence otherwise, it starts to become a bit insulting.
Some of the games this game borrows from
I already talked about how this game takes inspiration from Dragon’s Dogma, but “inspiration” isn’t really an excuse given how many games are shamelessly ripped off here. From Dragon’s Dogma, there’s the constant talking, damage sponges, and the general flow of some of the larger fights (though climbing has been replaced with teleporting and the fine points of combat are quite a bit different). From the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, there’s constant grunting and gasping and miscellaneous sounds of exasperation that get to be a bit much, as well as numerous sections where things are destroyed around you and your only input is to run down a corridor to escape it. There are also sections where Binaca ducks through a cave or edges across a ledge or balances along a pipe that seems to be almost identical in terms of motion capture, camera angle, and slowness of movement. Then there’s chapter 3, where you suddenly get the most substantive sidequest in the game—it wouldn’t be unfair to call it the only sidequest with substance in the game, honestly—that sees you tracking down a large behemoth and taking it down in order to protect some chocobos. Afterwards, you’re free to rent chocobos and ride them around, and the wetlands area with small white fences and rainy weather combined with wandering around on a animal and a sidequest where you follow a beast and come up with a plan before slaying it gave me some serious The Witcher 3 flashbacks. The most inspiration, however, was clearly taken from Ubisoft sandboxes, which aren’t a specific game so much as an amorphous blob lacking creativity and offering little but empty space and tedium.
Which is to say sidequests are crushingly dull
The very first thing you do in Final Fantasy 15 is finish a “kill X amount of Y” sidequest, followed by a “find something” quest that eventually turns into killing a group of enemies. I apparently spent 50 hours with this game doing sidequests in the hopes that they’d turn the corner and become interesting like the behemoth hunt from earlier, but they really don’t. You have quests where you fetch an item for a character. Sometimes you have to fight for it. Sometimes you don’t. Then you have quests where you just have to kill things. That’s pretty much it as far as sidequests go. There are also hunts which also send you up against a group of enemies, but harder ones. These are actually more entertaining because they provide the only real challenge in the game and can sometimes send you up against giant enemies who prove to be anything but pushovers, but I eventually tired of those, as well. I got to the point where I started to wonder if sidequests were randomized, because they were all the same and it seemed like finishing one quest caused the quest giver to randomly have a new one. It’s truly sad that these aren’t actually random, but hand-designed to be this monotonous.
Even the way you accept these quests is poorly designed. Final Fantasy 15 suffers from a near-fatal case of context sensitivity, so the button to start a sidequest and talk to the shopkeeper/food person/tipster are the same. To get around this, there are two different spots you stand in to do each, and you’ll often find yourself talking to someone instead of accepting or finishing a sidequest. That’s just the beginning of the context sensitivity problems, though. You also get on a chocobo, jump, and pick up items using this exact same button, so the game is full of moments where you’re jumping around like an idiot instead of picking something up or getting on a chocobo. This game had more problems with context sensitivity than any I can remember playing, and when you consider that this is the 288th review on this site and I haven’t reviewed everything I’ve played, that’s really quite sad.
Combat is good, but inconsistent
When I played through the platinum demo before release, I remember being intrigued by the creativity of the setting and underwhelmed by the combat. Imagine how strange it was when the opposite turned out to be the case in the actual game. While combat is definitely a bit on the simple side, with (on PS4) square being dodge, circle being attack, and triangle being warp-attack, it manages to become surprisingly engaging when you face off against some of the tougher enemies. Most foes can be hacked and slashed at until they go down, even on the normal difficulty that’s inexplicably the highest difficulty setting, but I set my sights on fighting daemons (which are nocturnal-only enemies of a very high level) while still at a low level and quickly realized how difficult combat could actually be.
You have two health bars for some reason, with one being your current HP and the other being your maximum HP. If your current HP goes to 0, you can restore it with a potion rather than needing a phoenix down, but maximum HP going to 0 slows down the game and gives you a chance to use a phoenix down to heal. If you don’t, you get a game over. Thing is, phoenix downs are expensive early in the game, and daemons at that point are dozens of levels higher than you. A fun little thing I noticed, though, was that they’re damaged by the sun, so a bit of patience and a ton of dodge-rolling can actually allow you to beat them without leveling up. It’s probably not worth it, but still a fun little touch they added in.
But since most people don’t find dodge-rolling for minutes at a time entertaining, there are also other twists in combat that can be leveraged to gain the upper hand. The first and most abundant would be parrying, which is simple: at various points throughout a fight, you’ll get a prompt telling you to hold square. If you do, it’ll (sometimes—this isn’t as consistent as I’d have liked) pop up a prompt to hit the circle button to parry and counterattack, and this can be a lifesaver in certain situations. There are also backstabs and link attacks. The first is self-explanatory, and the second is a randomly-occurring joint attack you sometimes get with allies when you perform a backstab or parry when they’re nearby. The important thing is that both you and that ally become invincible while performing the animation, however, and these types of invincibility frames are actually surprisingly useful when you add companions’ special attacks on top of things. As combat unfolds, a bar broken into thirds is slowly filled up, and companions can be equipped with special attacks that use up a certain amount of the bar. These special attacks level up as you use them (which seems to increase their critical hit chance, but I can’t say for sure) and also cause the involved party members to do a certain animated attack. If you find an attack that doesn’t use much of the bar and involves multiple characters, then, you can trigger it as soon as an enemy starts one of its worst attacks and use the invincibility frames to avoid taking damage entirely.
Wait mode, leveling, and meals
There are two approaches to combat that’ll be familiar to those who played old Squaresoft games: wait mode and active mode. Given certain enemies’ damage sponge-y nature, though, having the game suddenly pause during combat only makes things a pain and I quickly switched to active mode exclusively. Where wait mode worked well in older games that were littered with menus and such, here it just randomly pauses the action and ruins the ebb and flow of combat. Leveling up is another thing that’s been randomly changed from previous games, with both quests of the side- and main- variety giving experience in addition to what you pick up from defeating enemies. You don’t level up immediately, though, but accumulate the experience and only use it once you find a place to rest. If you rest at camp, you get as much as you’ve earned and the ability to eat one of numerous stat-boosting meals (which, despite the game’s insistence that they’re important, I only relied on once to give me an electrical immunity and otherwise ignored without any issue). If you pay to stay at a hotel or RV, on the other hand, you don’t get the meal, but your gathered experience is multiplied by a certain amount. My advice is to do a ton of sidequests and save up 10,000 gil, then stay at Galdin Quay because while it’s expensive, it multiplies your experience by 2 and helps with quick leveling.
When you level up (or fulfill certain conditions inside of combat, or outside of it), you earn AP points. These can be put into the “Ascendancy” trees that are basically a less awful Crystarium with more available choices. To be perfectly honest, though, I often forgot about AP for dozens of levels at a time without feeling any more or less challenged for it, so it’s not a hugely important feature. One thing I would recommend, however, is to put points into the things that increase your MP. Rather than MP being used for spells like in previous games (here spells are consumables you craft from energy picked up from glowing energy sources, weirdly enough), it’s used to dodge and warp-attack. That makes it helpful enough on its own, but it’s also used in the aforementioned survival horror-type section that lasts seemingly forever. You’re given a ring that’s your only protection, and it burns through MP like crazy, so it’s best to buy a bunch of ethers and have a ton of MP by the point chapter 13 rolls around to mitigate the amount of annoyance you’ll face.
Combat problems and quirks
The main villain of Final Fantasy 15 is foliage. Sure, there was another guy, but more often than not it was the foliage that was making things miserable. Combat has a tendency to become absolutely chaotic when you face off against larger groups of enemies, so picture this: you’re holding a controller and pressing square/circle to dodge/attack. You hold these buttons rather than mashing them, so your thumb is firmly planted on either at any given time. Now imagine that the right analog stick controls the camera, which has an incredible talent for becoming tangled up in foliage. My question: with what do you operate the stick to dislodge the camera if all your fingers are busy? Seriously; this couldn’t have been designed to be less user-friendly if they tried, and there were countless times I was left to fight in total blindness, relying on parries exclusively because I couldn’t see where anything was. As if that wasn’t bad enough, combat is also littered with occasional QTEs. If you get pounced on by certain enemies or get in a sword-pushing contest with other enemies, you have to mash circle. The fights that look the most fun, those being against giant enemies, are typically the most boring ones because they devolve into QTEs. Press circle to kill boss! Mash this to escape! The final battle was an especially galling example of this, where halfway through the fight he and I suddenly went super saiyan and started shooting explosions at each other. Then all I had to do was hit circle a bunch of times for what must have been 10 QTEs in a row (what is this, Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy?) and that was it.
The open world has also opened up the possibility for cheesing combat in strange ways, and this revealed some strange game behaviors. There was one fight where my idiot companions had trouble staying alive, and yet when I crawled up onto a ledge enemies couldn’t reach and shot at them with a gun, my companions became untouchable juggernauts. They would occasionally teleport up to join me on the rocks, of course, but this is something I managed to reproduce later on flat ground when I discovered a strange bug I’ll get into later. For some reason, being in certain positions where enemies can’t reach you cause them to be able to dodge enemies flawlessly, and if you rejoin the fray, they’ll unexpectedly become pathetic liabilities who can’t stay alive without your assistance.
There are also irritating scripted fights
In chapter 13 (the terribleness of which I can’t overstate, and which is so bad that the developers have actually pledged to somehow fix it), an enemy comes up to you and has to be fought off while waiting for an elevator. By the time the elevator had arrived, though, I had taken out a large chunk of its health, so I figured I’d finish it off. Shortly afterward, however, it jumped off-screen and quickly returned with a new health bar. As it turns out, this thing is meant to follow you around throughout the chapter and irritate you the whole time, so you’re not allowed to kill it. Even if you totally could. This happens earlier in the game, as well, in a scripted scene with a Malboro enemy. My companions were complaining about how badly we were doing, and yet I managed to get its health so low that a single hit more would kill it. Then that hit came and went. Then two more. Then three more on top of that. You’re not allowed to actually finish it off until you move to a certain point, at which point Lance Bass kills it in a scripted sequence. I hate this kind of stuff with a fiery passion; if you want to make it scripted, make the whole thing scripted, but don’t tell me I have an input in the outcome before ripping control away from me.
Let’s talk about padding
Look, it’s bad enough that all of the quests are tedious fetch-or-kill quests. It’s worse that they always require a long commute, and your car is only able to drive on roads (so no off-roading it, even when it would be infinitely faster). Chocobos can go off-road, but the world is filled with so many invisible walls that sometimes you’ll try to take the fastest route, only to realize that the only way to reach the spot you’re headed toward is to go back to the road and follow it. It felt insulting when I discovered that there’s fast travel, but you have to pay money (equal to a full tank of gas) every time you use it. All of that sucks worse than a single paragraph could possibly convey, and that’s not even getting into the random fluff. You grow carrots to trade for weapons (and berries for a certain quest), you sort through Zell-lite’s random pictures every time you rest, you level up Lance Bass’ cooking skill and Beefy’s survival skill, the latter of which is apparently upgraded by walking around aimlessly, and you wander around the world looking for little glowy things that give you items. The most maddening parts of the fluff, however, were the quests that could only be completed at a certain time. At one point in Altissia (which you spend like 5 minutes exploring before the story takes off and the area is forgotten about forever outside of time travel), Zell-lite told me he wanted to take a picture at a certain spot. We got there at sunset, which would be perfect picture-taking weather. Having scrolled through hundreds of his awful pictures, I know that he didn’t have an aversion to sunset pictures. The game, however, had other plans, and he explained to me that the lighting wasn’t right. Basically, “it’s too close to nighttime, so come back during the day.” This happens with tons of quests, and I hate it.
The only means you have of speeding up time is to rest. If you’re saving your money for expensive phoenix downs and also want the expensive 2X experience bonus, however, you have to stay up all night. The game thought to give you a whistle to summon enemies which it hands to you out of nowhere with zero story justification, so why couldn’t they give you something that changed the time of day? Bethesda games let you skip to a certain time of day without actually having to wait. Even Breath of Fire 2 for the Super Nintendo let you do this back in 1994, so a game making you manually wait feels incredibly backwards. That would be mitigated somewhat if the world wasn’t as empty and featureless as it is, but apart from occasional shiny things you can pick up for random items you rarely actually need, there’s nothing to do in this world. Once you leave towns, there are cars, but you’re pretty much given nothing to do unless you run into daemons while wandering around at night. I mean, there’s also a fishing minigame you can do in certain spots, but they’re few and far between, and fishing was so uninteresting that I eventually abandoned it and all quests involving it. Running into daemons can be an entertaining fight, but that’s all there is, and you can’t drive past them on the roads. You even have to listen to Inexplicably British Lance Bass explain to you that you shouldn’t be driving at night every single night you try until you reach some kind of level or strength stat that pleases him, at which point the game finally unlocks the ability to have him drive you around at night, allowing nighttime fast travel that can kind of function as an awkward way of moving time forward.
But then you’re dealing with more loading
Loading times in Final Fantasy 15 are awful. Manually driving takes several minutes (at one point I left the console, made some food and a drink, and came back to them still driving—that’s not feasible most of the time because random dialogue pops up sometimes, freezing travel until you close out of it), but loading times also take a minute or more. In fact, once I got two loading screens back to back that made me wait something like a minute and a half. Getting a loading screen when you load is obvious and totally forgivable. Getting a loading screen when you fast travel is understandable, as well, since the game has to load a different area rather than being able to stream it as you drive there. The amount of time you spend waiting around during loading screens is painful, though, and when I found myself staring at a minute-long loading screen that was keeping me from a fetch quest I was only doing for the experience, none of this being fun, I realized that any enjoyment I was getting out of the game came from compulsive busywork tapping into my OCD rather than anything of quality spurring me forward.
Quests go a little like this: you accept a fetch quest, fast travel to your car, wait through a loading screen, use your car to fast travel closer to the quest area, wait through a loading screen, walk/chocobo ride your way to the objective and get/kill whatever you’re supposed to, fast travel back to your car, wait through a loading screen, fast travel back to the objective, wait through a loading screen, then run to the person and spend 15 seconds trying to angle your character’s momentum to land on the “quest” marker instead of the “talk” or “shop” marker. It all adds up to something incredibly tedious that lacks any kind of reward beyond money and experience, and given that this is what most of the game is comprised of, Final Fantasy 15 becomes incredibly difficult to recommend to anyone but those who are looking for a game to tap into their need for a second job. Oh, and I forgot to mention it, but getting in and out of the car has a long, unskippable animation.
And those unexpected minigames!
The game seems to recognize that it occasionally becomes dull, so the main story has been littered with various minigames that add nothing but “why the hell is this a thing” to the mix. At one point, you’re escorted to a blocked-off area by an NPC, but he explains that you have to keep up with him without running into him, and the quest text explains that the game ends if you can’t keep up with him. I’m sorry, but when did “I will escort you” turn into “nice car, let’s race”? It doesn’t even make sense given that character’s personality and motivations, not does it fit the rest of the gameplay at all. At another point, you have to race your car through obstacles to get to a certain point in before a timer runs out. Soon after that, you have to race on foot, dodge-rolling past enemies to make it to a closing door. It all sucks.
There are no choices here
That last one where you’re racing on foot highlights another issue, that being that there are no actual choices despite the game making it sound like there are. Immediately beforehand, my idiot companions who require my presence to stay alive told me to leave them and that they’d be fine. History would suggest otherwise, so I decided to take out all of the enemies in the room before leaving. After killing a hilarious number of them, however, it dawned on me that it was an endless mob. You can’t stay there and help out. It’s yet another scripted sequence, and the game started to feel like it was being sarcastic when the villain chimed in to taunt me over how hard the decision to leave my companions behind must have been. Except when I didn’t leave them and instead killed everything in sight, it all came back, the timer ran out, and I was greeted with a game over screen. I don’t expect a huge amount of reactivity in a Final Fantasy game, but don’t make things look like choices if you don’t intend to actually offer any. Otherwise, you might as well cut out the middle man and make these things happen in a cutscene.
Some terrible design decisions
This is already probably my longest review to date, and yet I have so many other terrible things to talk about. For example, you can’t load a save in combat. I understand not letting you save in combat, but disallowing loading? There were a few moments where I got into a fight with an overpowered enemy I couldn’t hope to beat, only to change my mind as the tide quickly turned against me and go into the menu to reload the save I made right before engaging the enemy. No dice; if you change your mind about combat, the only way out is to either run away or just let your character die. Then there’s the pier. Oh, the pier. It’s in the video above, and I hate it on a level that would best be described as “biblical.” Fast-running chocobos refuse to go up onto the pier, so you have to manually run along it, and it takes around 30 seconds at the fastest. Sprinting causes your stamina to run out, though, which highlights another weird problem: the default running speed is weirdly slow. Given how much empty space there is between things, it should be much faster. As it stands, the fastest mode of travel is to either dodge-roll everywhere or bunny-hop (I became rather partial to bunny-hopping around like a madman, which inexplicably seemed to be as fast as sprinting without the stamina drain, but jumping is the same button as getting on chocobos, starting conversations, and everything else, so there are obvious problems with hopping near people).
Saving has its own issues, as the game autosaves and seems to freak out when you try to save manually too close to an autosave. Trying to save, I’ve had everything lock up for ~15 seconds as the game took a breather and tried to catch up with what was happening. Then there are the summons, which are technically a part of combat, but you only get two summons before they stop mattering, and all of them are random. There’s a lot to unpack there, so let’s start with the fact that they’re random; where previous games often allowed you to summon these things at will at a certain cost, here they only become available if you fulfill certain conditions and are standing on one leg while circling in a way that appeases them. I suppose in that regard they nail the whole “capricious god” aspect. By the time you get Shiva (always the most interesting and my personal favorite), though, the game has practically ended and you’re in the linear section. You can go back via time travel, of course, but by then you’ve no doubt done as many sidequests as you can stomach, so there’s really nothing to use her for. Even that’s more than can be said of Carbuncle, though. When I first started the game, it thanked me for playing the platinum demo and told me Carbuncle would help out through my journey. I then proceeded to play through the entire game without him, with his sole appearance being in one of Zell-lite’s photographs. Not exactly helpful.
Some of the dungeons are terrible
There are various “dungeons” that Binaca can go through to find the magical weapons used by past kings. Not only are these pointless (the weapons reduce your current HP when they hit and are rarely more powerful than the normal weapons you find), but the dungeons themselves are mostly terrible. Granted, the first one you find is part of the main story and it’s actually pretty solid, if a bit too lengthy for its own good. The ice cave, on the other hand, is an abomination of same-looking areas, invisible walls, and blind luck. I had wanted to do all the side content, but much like fishing, the dungeons were something I eventually realized I hated too much to keep doing. One dungeon was in the sewers and involved falling long distances, then slowly climbing back up while going through identical areas and looking for machines that apparently unlock a door. Or so I assume. I wouldn’t know, having had a “screw this” moment halfway through and leaving. Then there’s one at a castle. It was incredibly difficult until I realized I could buy a meal that gave me lightning immunity, at which point I fought through countless high-level daemons, only to step on a glowing floor plate that looked important. It sent me back to the beginning, forcing me to trudge through it all over again (thankfully, that time with no enemies since my immunity wore off in the meantime). When I finally made my way back to where I was, though, I was faced with slow-moving platforms that went through a bizarre maze that was disorienting and about as far from fun as I could stomach. I managed to find the door with the weapon behind it, but it was locked, and the thought that the key was hidden somewhere behind those slow-moving platforms was enough to abandon that sidequest.
Bugs and weirdness
Sometimes you can fast travel to a quest destination. Sometimes you can’t. What’s weird is that sometimes you can fast travel to where a quest destination is if you select that area specifically, but not if you choose to drive to where the quest is. You can drive either to parking spots you’ve found or quest locations, and there didn’t seem to be a great deal of consistency in where you could and couldn’t fast travel. Then there are the more classic bugs, such as when I started to notice that holding dodge and focusing on an enemy would sometimes cause them to stop attacking entirely. Allies would attack them, but they’d just stand around like idiots soaking up the damage. Another bug that was easily reproducible was during chapter 13 when you have nothing but magic to defend yourself with. At certain points, I couldn’t hurt enemies and they couldn’t hurt me. They’d attack and hit only air, and the only way to actually finish combat and continue on was to use the magic attack that uses all of my MP, which then took forever to regenerate (required in case it happened again, which it did). Hence my advice to have a bunch of ethers by that point.
Then there was one point where I was going to Cid to upgrade one of my weapons, and it directed me to a lighthouse. Cid was nowhere to be seen. As it turns out, the main story hadn’t progressed to the point where Cid relocates to the lighthouse, so driving all the way there had been a complete waste of time because he was at Hammerhead as always. On another occasion, I got a quest to go to a place and get a certain kind of meat. There was no separate “quest” marker, though, and I couldn’t figure out how to progress. As it turns out, you have to accept one of that person’s hunts and you get the ingredient that way, which is totally inconsistent with every other quest I completed, not to mention poorly communicated.
This is the story of when I had fun
Despite the past 7,000 or so words complaining about everything that sucked about Final Fantasy 15, there were a few points where I was genuinely having fun. The first of these came when Beefy’s sister Iris was introduced—I felt pity for her at first because she was very clearly obsessed with Binaca and was likable (and therefore unlikely to survive in a Square-Enix game given their penchant for leveraging likability for cheap emotional deaths), but she eventually became my favorite character. At first it was little things I came to appreciate like the body language the mocap put into her gestures toward Binaca (and there are various small touches like that, such as the car’s convertible top going up or down depending on the rain). Once she joined the party for a short segment, however, I came to really appreciate how much a female character added to a party of all guys. She was upbeat and chipper in a non-annoying way (unlike certain Zell-lites I know), and it didn’t hurt that she was invincible while a part of the party and capable of doing a special attack that insta-killed Magitek troops. I spent so much time convinced that she would be killed off for cheap emotion that I somehow latched onto her, so running around on chocobos (because the car was scripted to move forward after she joined) and doing hunts while she was in my party, leveraging her invincibility to kill off daemons and grinding her special attack to its highest level in the hopes it’d somehow mess with space-time and allow her to survive the game was the high point of my experience. I probably spent 3-4 hours just running around killing things with her, but in my defense, space-time was totally affected and she totally survived. You’re all welcome.
The other notable high point was during the aforementioned fight against Loqi and Caligo. Really, fighting against the empire troops and giant mechs in general was awesome, but this particular section let me jump up onto a machine gun and take down giant mechs in first-person mode before before knocked down by snipers. After that, I warp-killed them all, warped back up to the gun, and continued my relentless barrage while screaming at the top of my lungs, “THIS IS FOR LEO YOU MAGITEK BASTARDS!” Oh, and the fight against Aranea was also great. Her character in general was great. I really wish they had done more with her, honestly. And before I forget, you can run down the road and jump over cars on top of a chocobo. Just thinking about it almost makes me willing to forgive the game’s many, many other flaws. You can give your chocobo a name and color, so I named mine Chocobo Norris and colored him pink, and together we had magical adventures. Well, mostly fetch quests. And a few kill-thing quests. Sigh.
Also, after I finished the game, I was given a flying car that kills the party if you don’t land correctly. That was weird and kind of hilarious and awesome and random. They were just like, “oh yeah, by the way, I did something to your car and now you can fly everywhere.” Kind of wish it had unlocked during the actual game instead of afterwards, but it was an amusing little touch anyway.
Graphics are decent, but hair and pop-in suck
Graphically, the game looks pretty good. Not stunning by any means, but it’s certainly not ugly. The prerendered cutscenes in this game are actually surprisingly rare, but when they show up they’re always incredibly detailed and aesthetically pleasing. The thing that bugged me about the graphics the most would definitely be the hair, which was all jaggy and weird-looking. There were moments where I was failing to get emotionally invested in a scene because the weird jagged mops on top of characters’ heads were distracting me. What’s weird is that sometimes the hair looks amazing. It’s when the camera zooms up on faces that it becomes eye-bleedingly bad. Pop-in is also an issue (see: the light poles near the end of this video), though it definitely bothered me less than the hair issue and is par for the course as far as open-world games are concerned. Finally, we have the music, which is surprisingly passable and something I preferred to Final Fantasy 13’s soundtrack, but unsurprisingly not up to par with the classics of the genre due to its lack of that same consistent, driving personality. This is really punctuated when you A/B the two after buying the old soundtracks and listening to them while driving around, only to get out and find yourself wanting to go back to the old stuff. The music suits many scenes regardless, though, and there’s an organ track that plays in dungeons that felt like it could have fit in one of the old soundtracks.