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Final Fantasy XV: two fans debrief their first week in Eos

The latest installment of Final Fantasy has been released from its cage into the arms of millions of fans. Resident Fantas-ites(?) Eugenia Woo and Matthew Codd settled around the old Skype and discussed what worked, what didn’t and why the little things matter.

Matthew: So. Final Fantasy XV.

Eugenia: Final Fantasy XV.

It’s been a long time coming.

Ten years.

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Which is a lot of time to build up expectations about what it’s gonna look like. What were you expecting?

I was expecting not a whole lot, I’m gonna be honest. Maybe because over the years I’ve become desensitised. If you think about what the game was meant to be, it was meant to be a spin-off game, right? So in that sense, everyone got super hyped about it but I wasn’t really on the hype train at that stage. I also play Final Fantasy, the MMORPG so it’s not like there’s been a drought of Final Fantasy content that we’ve had to live through.

There’s been a lot of stuff in the meantime with the MMO. Did you play World of Final Fantasy?

No, but I’ve heard that it’s incredibly good so maybe that’s our next stop.

I definitely think if you like Final Fantasy you should check that out. I was kind of in the same boat. With it being a spin-off I wasn’t really expecting too much and I didn’t like Fantasy XIII much either so that set my expectations quite low. Then with the development of it and all the hurdles it’s been through…

Yeah the demo, right? When I first heard English Noctis I thought, I’m not spending any money on a game that sounds like a bad One Piece dub. I am not forking out some sweet, sweet cash for that. But in the end it got me. As a fan, I feel like the new game of the franchise is too strong. So I came back to Final Fantasy and I’m not unhappy.

Me too. I’m really enjoying it quite a lot. It didn’t take long for the game to set my worried aside. I specifically remember the moment where I thought okay, this is the new Final Fantasy game, it really is. Which was really early on, just after some fight out in the wilderness, nothing special. There’s a bit where Pronto just starts humming the victory fanfare and I don’t know if that happened to you or it’s just a random thing that happened, but it was just so out of the blue and unexpected, almost broke the fourth wall. I was like yeah, I see what’s happening here and I’m on board.

I definitely did not perk up over victory theme, though it is a great theme and I hear it often. But I think for me when it really hit home that it was a Final Fantasy game, was a very atypical moment. It’s not a moment that you would associate with Final Fantasy. When you end the day in the game, you now get a little cut scene with your bros, you’re all around the campfire having a good time.

The next morning, one of my bros, I think it was Gladiolus or something- which is actually interesting because he’s named after a flower. I thought that was quite cool cos I was thinking he’s probably the most masculine-presenting character. I think there are things that FFXV has done with masculinity and the relationship that men have with women and one another. I know the whole road trip bro thing was a huge joke at the start. I thought it was a big joke. I was like ‘alright, I see’. It was just one of those moments whereby it was super early in the morning and the Gladiolus was like ‘get up, let’s go do a quest together’. And I was like oh god, sure why not, let’s go kill something together. But it’s just in the interactions. Everything felt so easy. It’s that party magic.

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What they’re really good at doing in Final Fantasy is these super captivating – I wouldn’t say intriguing or complicated – but I would definitely say they write these really endearing side characters. No matter which Final Fantasy game it is, you’ve always got the one or two side characters who pull you in and they attach to the story. That’s what I thought. When my mate drags me out of bed in the morning at the arse crack of dawn and I’m just thinking ‘man this sucks’ but this is Final Fantasy. This dynamic that we’ve got going, that’s very Final Fantasy.

With all that being said, do you think it’s a game for people who haven’t played Final Fantasy before?

I think that people who haven’t played it will find it very accessible, mainly because of the open world format and also the combat, and all the quick time events. It’s very like a triple-A Witcher feel. You hack and slash and your moves are super flamboyant. I wouldn’t say that combat is hard, per se. There’s so much going for it and there’s so much in it. With Final Fantasy XV, the cheesy moments kinda grab you.

I don’t know if you’re up to this part yet, but you rock up in this Mediterranean holiday seaside town and then they’ve got like an instant ramen cart on the street. It’s like an instant ramen advert. Gladiolus has his news presenter voice on and he’s like ‘If you like meat and noodles, what’s your favourite flavour?’ Stuff like that. I find stuff like that, the really cheesy goofy stuff – obviously that was just my re-enactment and I did a horrible job – but when I was listening to it I wasn’t cringing. I find this funny, this is great.

That was a lot of what I thought as well. It seems there’s a lot of Easter eggs and references and stuff, but I think a lot of the really great parts about it aren’t things put in there for fans. The interactions between the characters and those little moments, like the ramen cart, are things that I think anyone would be able to appreciate and enjoy.

Obviously I’m coming from the perspective of a hardcore fan so I don’t know how much that translates. I’d be curious to hear from people who actually are playing this as their first Final Fantasy game. To see if they have the same kind of experience. I imagine it would be quite accessible.

Just in terms of gameplay mechanics, it’s got a lot of the more successful video game elements in it. Definitely I think even if people aren’t ‘Final Fantasy fans’, the game is still accessible but the shift into the style of game…I don’t know if this is a successful future for the franchise that a lot of people think it might be. Maybe it’s just a fan being super nostalgic, but I enjoyed the old combat. That was real Final Fantasy to me, that was the staple of the franchise. You didn’t have hack’n’slash, it wasn’t very much like Ninety Nine Nights, which is still fun and I appreciate that. I’m not complaining about the flamboyant visuals or the aerial strikes, sorta weird combat maneuvers we do, like acrobats. That’s fine, it’s cool, it’s very flashy and great.

This is sort of a belated realisation for me because at the start I was like ‘this isn’t an FF game, it doesn’t feel like it.’ I was being a bit grumpy. But as I’ve gone on and 30-something hours in, I think as a fan you have to come to terms with the fact that FFXV is an attempt to redefine the franchise. So it’s fine if stuff is a bit clunky and stuff is a bit different.

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It feels to me like a mix between Final Fantasy, Tomb Raider, The Witcher, maybe a little bit of Grand Theft Auto. It’s all these different ideas and it almost feels like, in the early stages, the director was just like ‘alright give me your ideas’ and then didn’t want to say no to any of them. So you just got all these different ideas coming together from all these different places and it works in a lot of ways.

I don’t know if everyone will enjoy the end result but for the most part I think it works quite well.

I definitely agree. I think it’s very sort of a kitschy, mish-mash of all things that are popular now things that made it big. Narrative-wise, though, in terms of whether or not it’s gonna be a big hit with fans or new people. What do you think? Give me your opinion.

I dunno. I think it does a lot really interesting things that maybe other Final Fantasy games haven’t touched on to that extent. I know you talked about the masculinity aspect of it, which I think is really interesting. And the whole road trip, coming of age type story is … I guess other Final Fantasy games have been like that to some extent. But this one seems a more deliberate attempt to showcase different types of male friendships, especially compared to what we usually see in games.

On the flipside, though, – and this might sound like I’m whining or I’m finding things to dislike about the game but it’s not really a dislike, per se, I suppose maybe a slight concern – FFXV, for all the great moments you have with your mates, smashing back beers or whatever on the road, what the game is lacking so far (we’re decently far in at this stage) is a well-developed female character. At the risk of being pedantic about this, we have the usual love interest character, except we don’t see her at all. You’ve got ‘mechanic chicks’ on the road in biking leathers, and that’s alright too, that’s fine. I’m not at all saying like you need to have one or the other. Just maybe they thought with all this focus on the really great friendship unit that really builds the narrative and grows with the world, they’ve let certain kinds of characters fall by the wayside.

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I agree. What do you think of Cindy and her general design?

I don’t want to use the word ‘shallow’ in game design because I feel like when you’re going into the process of designing a character slash anything, there’s no element of shallowness about it. It’s not intentional. But I definitely think that with a lot of the side characters that are outside the main dudes and the antagonist and the damsel in distress fiance type character, I think they’ve tried very very hard to ensure that the side characters are relatable and in doing so, they’ve done this thing whereby they’ve essentially given you a blank slate for most of these side characters.

Hear me out. It’s like ‘we’re letting you project whatever you want onto them.’ Which I guess is a strategy that can work but I feel like in a game like this, where so much of the focus in the narrative and in combat, and even in the world-building – there’s so much stacked in this narrative – having these side characters that sound and feel a little bit like accessories, it’s not enough. It didn’t hold up enough under scrutiny.

For all that’s said about the visual design of Cindy, as she develops when you’re doing her side quests and stuff, I feel like she becomes quite an interesting character. And maybe not necessarily a deep character but I feel like she’s just an interesting personality and I enjoy those moments, as creepy as that’s gonna sound.

People like what they like, you know. Coming back to what you said about side quests and how you find that enjoyable, 100% I would honestly rather ride around on my chocobo than get on with the story. I don’t know if it’s a pacing problem, it might be, or it might just be my fixation with fetching stuff for other people. But I feel like the game does the small things very well. It makes you want to explore, it makes you wanna hang around in tiny towns doing stuff for people that probably don’t really appreciate you. Which is the main thing in RPGs but I don’t hate that, I really enjoy the small stuff in the game.

I think that’s what it does best. Even just driving around, not even doing the side quests specifically, but driving from A to B so that you can do the side quest, just not really doing anything. Not even driving, I just usually put it on autopilot and let Ignus drive and just watch the scenery and listen to the music, which is usually the soundtracks from the old games, and just have that bit of downtime.

A lot of games are so interested in giving you stuff to do and overwhelming you with stuff that it becomes too much. I think Final XV is good at just giving you that time to stop and breathe and look at the world.

It definitely doesn’t hurt that everything’s beautiful. Everything from the dirt on the ground to your Tokio Hotel-type, My Chemical Romance outfits. And the toast! The HD toast. Everyone loves some HD toast.

And 5000 different other HD dishes. They’ve put a lot of effort into those.

For real. I guess that’s the thing with FF, the games are always really beautiful. The games have always been really beautiful games and the story’s always been the driving point. In making the game so open-world and making the narrative and the game focused around character relationships, that’s a different way for Square Enix to push through the narrative-heavy style they’ve always had. It’s a more organic way of doing it. I don’t know if that’s how you feel…

I agree a lot, actually. You think about Final Fantasy, you probably think about cut scenes, you’ll think about stories. I mean, there were a few cut scenes in this but they’re not as frequent or scripted or deliberate. A lot of the character building moments are just in those organic campfire moments.

That’s a good way to put it.

That’s not gonna be for everyone, but I really liked it.

On that note, how do we feel about the cross-media stuff with Kingsglaive? Now people are calling Kingsglaive the companion film as if it’s almost compulsory viewing to get a little more out of the backstory or to even get context for the narrative. I haven’t seen Kingsglaive so I guess I can’t speak to that.

Neither have I. I’ve heard people say Kingsglaive is pretty much mandatory, like you need to watch it to enjoy. But I haven’t seen it and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. Everything that I’ve played makes sense and I don’t feel that there are plot details missing that I should know about. But I wonder if that more scripted format of a film, if they can do more to build up an emotional payoff.

Definitely. Looking at just the cinematics that we’ve seen so far for Kingsglaive, I think maybe what it has is the buildup that would lead to emotional impact slash payoff in the game. So far nothing has happened to make me want to cry. Usually by this point in an FF game I’m thinking ‘god, some real crap has gone down and I’m gonna cry like a baby because someone stabbed me in the back’. I totally get that. I love these lighthearted camp moments and I love my chocobo like nothing else, honestly.

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Do you want to ride your chocobo all day?

Yes, all day. Honestly, I never wanna go on to the next bit in the story. I feel like the longer we go, stuff gets a bit darker towards the end. And I’m just looking back thinking I would give my right leg to be back at the campfire with my trusty chocobo, chilling out, having my toast. At least so far, in the second part of the game when the game thinks you’ve chilled out enough and starts driving you towards the emotional payoff, that final big arc, that big finale. I think the switch between the two is a bit jarring.

You’re just doing whatever you want in leather and then the game’s like ‘hang on a minute, you’ve got a life to save, you’ve got a kingdom to save,’ that kind of thing. So Kingsglaive might be essential viewing because it fills in those gaps. The plot works without Kingsglaive, 100%, but maybe it’s just the extra context that explains a bit and gives us a chronological timeline maybe of what’s going on.

I think you might be right and I think maybe we just need to watch Kingsglaive.

We should probably have done that.

That might’ve been good.


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