(Continued from Part I)
The short answer is this: having wrapped up the main story of Final Fantasy XV (but not the gobs and gobs of postgame content), I feel confident in standing by my earlier statement that it’s the one I like the most since FFIX, even though its flaws are now more apparent.
At a certain point you wind up on a second continent which you take a much more linear trip through. In itself the concept is fine, but in execution it feels rather rushed, with the game breathlessly leaping from one set piece and plot twist to the next, without giving you much time to absorb what’s happening. The result is that the emotional impact of the story’s final act feels somewhat less than it should be. At the same time I’m not getting any older, and the length of the game as it currently exists feels reasonable enough for a modern RPG. And, unlike The Phantom Pain (which I think took twice as long for me to clear) I felt satisfied by the time I crossed the finish line.
The stuff that’s there works quite well, and it works entirely because much of the first half of the game was spent just hanging out with the protagonists and getting to like them. So when the final hours of the game ramped up the melodrama and the story started playing for keeps I felt pretty invested in what was going on (hi Rogue One), and even Noctis managed to come into his own; by the time the climax rolls up he really does feel like he’s grown into the king he needs to become.
It’s also towards the end that the game’s real theme raises its head. I felt early on that my FFV comparison would hold up all the way: that the story would be fun, but not have any real substance to it. But while a lot of FFXV’s lore feels half-baked and poorly explained, the game does kinda turn into a memento mori. A lot of FF games like to attempt to ponder the significance of death, FFXV felt a lot more unflinching in its portrayal of the impermanence of things. Without giving away too much, it’s fair to say that the light hearted open world part of the game exists to become a memory of what was for the characters (at least until you load up the postgame and jump back into it again).
And that open world did work well for me in the end, and I think I can better articulate why. A lot of the quests themselves are pretty unremarkable (grab an item here, kill a monster there, etc.), but the world has enough tucked away that a lot of them feel like excuses to accidentally discover stuff. Take a wrong turn in some unremarkable shrubbery and you might stumble into an entire optional dungeon or area. Or a series of fest quests that eventually points you in the direction of a returning boss from FFVI. There are a lot of secrets crammed into a world that seems to feature vast expanses of nothing, and only a small portion of it is actually necessary to complete the game. There’s a continuous sense of discovery to it that you don’t see much in modern games outside of stuff like Dark Souls.
Given the ruinous development model this game represents (and to a lesser extent, the last two or three previous entries in the series), the franchise still seems to hover in a precarious place. It’s difficult to even imagine what an FFXVI could even be like. But at least this once it was like old times again.