Final Fantasy 15 has been generally well received. Kind of makes me feel like that one guy who can’t help but ruin the fun for everyone else.
This is one article I wished I’d never have to write. At least not from this perspective.
If you’re a die-hard fan of Square Enix’s poster child (the Final Fantasy series) then you’re probably already upset by the title of this post.
But before you start throwing a tantrum and wishing death upon me and my console—take a moment to hear me out. I’ve been a fan of Final Fantasy for easily over a decade.
The first title I got into was Final Fantasy 9—this was in the early 2000s. I was a pretty hardcore gamer already, but ended up learning about the series when I went to spend time at a friend’s place.
I watched them play the game so much, I got interested. Weeks later (maybe months, this was a lifetime ago) — I got myself a copy of Final Fantasy 7 and I never looked back.
At least…not until Final Fantasy X-2.
Final Fantasy 15 was supposed to be the game that revived the franchise. And people had high hopes—after all, it took Square like half a decade to release the damn thing. It seems some of those hopes were met, and I’m happy for everyone who’s stoked about what Square Enix delivered on the most recent title.
I, on the other hand, feel a bit differently. FF15 is not a bad game. It’s not just not a ‘great’ game. It’s especially not a ‘great Final Fantasy’ game.
After FF13 many people (including myself) lost hope in the series. It really upsets me that FF15 didn’t improve upon 13 the way many of us had hoped it would.
If you are a big time fan of the series, but think you already know where I’m going with this and sort of agree with me—great.
Let’s talk about some of the characteristics of a Final Fantasy game that really got people like me into the series in the first place.
Final Fantasy always took the mythical route, I mean it’s called Final Fantasy. The characters always had a ‘Japanese’ Shounen, sometimes Shoujo look and vibe to them.
You had characters like Auron from Final Fantasy X who looked like a badass out of the next big shot Shounen Manga. Then you had Tidus, who would be the perfect Shoujo character—if he didn’t whine so much. Or maybe the whining is acceptable. I don’t know—Shoujo was never my thing.
In any case, the character designs may or may not have been better accepted (by myself) because back then anime was not as big a deal on the western hemisphere. And the overall look of the characters they cooked up was still pretty intriguing.
Where do I start? Old Final Fantasy titles almost never took a wrong turn when it came to world design. Except Final Fantasy 8 where nothing was exciting.
Not the combat, not the characters, not the big dreary world showcasing technology that contrived to be just as mundane as the lead character Squall.
I’ve never played more than 10 minutes of Final Fantasy 8 and I don’t regret it.
Anywhere from Final Fantasy 7, 9, to 10, even 12—and you’d be in for nothing less than magic.
From the planet Gaia in Final Fantasy 9 where the world was like a blast from the past that mated with the technology of the present and created some beautiful alternate universe that puts butterflies in a fanboy’s stomach.
To the world of Spira where a giant blob monster with the power to wipe out humanity keeps resurfacing to wreak havoc on common folk—I have a hard time believing there exists a single human being who wouldn’t be moved by these visuals and the stories that power them.
Whether you’re racing across an enormous field on the back of a Chocobo, or sprinting across a giant bridge made of crystals all for the purpose of saving the world—there’s enough intrigue crammed into these games to make you want to take a break from the ‘normalness’ of everyday life.
There have always been specific monsters I found to be cool or interesting in the series. But this just may be where FF15 stands out to me, as opposed to the classic titles.
I’ll explain a bit more later on.
The designs of monsters like Sin from the FF10 title really struck me. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s creepy, intriguing, threatening, or mind-blowing. Come to think of it—Sin may be all of those things fit together in one dangerous package.
It has a tail, it has legs, and a few wings that sprout from its back. It has fins so it rules the sea as well as the land and the sky. Did I mention it also seems to have a small village perched on its head like a neat little crown?
I’m not sure what the inspiration behind Sin is, but they deserve a pat on the back for creating a villain that impresses you as much as it confuses you.
I spent a very long time thinking this was one thing Square Enix would never get wrong. You know, with the exception of FF8. The highlight of the series story wise, is easily FF10.
This isn’t to say the other titles haven’t delivered. It’s just that FF10 has one of THE best stories I’ve ever bore witness to.
I vividly recall shedding 12-year-old tears as Tidus told Yuna ‘he had to go’.
The whole summoners traveling and gaining the powers of the Aeons in order to defeat Sin was interesting from the jump.
It got even better once you learned that the summoners had to die in order to succeed, and that one of their friends had to sacrifice themselves and become the’ ‘Final Aeon’ that would challenge Sin’s power. After they defeat Sin, the Final Aeon would then take his place and be reborn to wreak havoc.
Even worse? This entire cycle is perpetuated by ‘Yevon’, the god that these people worship and believe will lead them to a peaceful existence. It’s some crazy stuff.
FF 7 would be a good runner up in terms of having a powerful story behind intriguing visuals. I’d probably go with FF9, but while I LOVE that game—the ending was a bit too ‘clean’ in my opinion.
FF7 and 10 had way more emotional heft in comparison.
Dynamic character development helped to flesh out the story a whole lot. Most of the characters were effective without ever being over the top or hard to tolerate—unless they were meant to be. I mean, Tidus did whine a lot.
The relationships were very natural, and the ending could bring a grown man close to tears. If I had to put together a top ten list of ‘endings’—nothing specific—just ‘endings’ in general, Final Fantasy 10 would be in the top 3 at the very least.
The musical element of these games means something very different these days. It has for the past few releases. Nobuo Uematsu is no longer with Square (he hasn’t been for a long time now) and you can tell in the production.
Nobuo is the mastermind behind pieces like ‘Zanarkand’ (FF10) and One winged Angel (FF7).
Great as he is, he wasn’t the only reason FF soundtracks brought new meaning to the gaming experience and in some ways even life itself. Masashi Hamauzu can also be credited with creating some of the most masterfully crafted pieces of music in the series—in the history of video games, period.
Hamauzu is the mind behind Wandering Flame from FF10. A simplistic and atmospheric wave of emotion that embodies the despair, hopelessness and beauty of Spira.
I’ll never forget one of the first times I heard it; when Tidus and his friends finally make it to the ruins of Zanarkand, overlooking the destruction that was once his home.
Unlike Uematsu, Hamauzu is still on board the Final Fantasy ship. But over the years, most of his work hasn’t been able to mirror the magic he created to accent the world of FF10.
About Final Fantasy 15
I’m not writing this article to ‘attack’ Square Enix or bash their most recent efforts. I’ve just been generally disappointed with what the series became after FFX12—a game that was never perfect—but it was a solid RPG experience that stayed true enough to the classics in terms of QUALITY.
As far as FF15 goes, I’ll start by talking about the stuff I think they got right.
Final Fantasy 15: The Things They Got Right
Hybrid World Building
I think the devs do an almost seamless job of mixing mythical elements of world building with modern ones. A lot of things in the environment seem familiar and still manage to exude magic.
At certain points it almost feels like you’re NOT playing a FF game—and I actually mean that in a good way. This is exactly the kind of stuff I’m looking for in the new generation of Final Fantasy.
Final Fantasy has been recycling monster designs for YEARS. Whether they just run out of ideas, or do it for nostalgic purposes, I’m not sure. This, however, doesn’t really bother me.
That doesn’t mean I won’t appreciate the effort they put forth when they do actually surprise you with some new designs.
FF15 shows off some cool looking monsters. I was actually impressed looking at some of these things. This particular monster looks like a mix between a giraffe, a rhino, and elephant and some long neck dinosaur. I’m not even sure what this thing is supposed to be, but good going.
The Combat System
The combat system is a bit refreshing. It only makes sense if you spend almost a decade working on the thing. They’ve abandoned the turn base battle system—which while nostalgic—the truth is it’s run its course.
I’m not in love with the combat system of FF15, but I do appreciate the effort the team put into it. They were really worried about how the changes would be received by players.
On one side of the fence you have die-hards who believe the series should NEVER change (the kind of person I’m hoping I don’t sound like). On the other side of the fence there were people like me who really think it’s best to leave turn based behind us.
Square Enix settled on a combat system that’s somewhere in the middle, but steering towards real time. What I mean is, players have the option to switch to the traditional system (that I’ll get into in a few) or stick to the new and exciting system that I’m sure you’ve probably heard about.
The Traditional System
If you’ve ever held a controller and dove into a Final Fantasy game, then you know what I’m talking about here. Think Pokemon with a bit more brain power behind it.
When you tap into ‘Wait Mode’ which is what the traditional system is called in FF15, you basically have the chance to ‘pause time’ and tackle the fight from a more strategically standpoint.
Of course, being able to freeze time and think things over in a game that should be steering towards real time combat sounds a lot like cheat mode. But Square doesn’t want death threats or to see longtime fans sinking into depression so they had to compromise.
The New (and arguably) Improved System
Here’s where things get a bit interesting, especially if you’re like me and you’ve been accustomed to how battle works in just about every Final Fantasy that has ever existed.
The new combat system looks more like a mosh pit of combos, magical and tech powered attacks, and some really cool looking monsters for you to take down.
On the surface, this might look like one big cool mess, full of hack and slash and mayhem. But there’s more to it than meets the eye, as I’m about to explain.
Combos depend on what weapon you use
Yes, your character will deliver deadly blows in awesome combos. But the precise combo comes down to your weapon choice—which is interesting. Vaguely reminds me of move sets in Dark Souls.
It’s hardly the best thing I’ve ever seen in a Final Fantasy game, but it makes for more exciting engagements with enemies.
Incorporate tech attacks in combat
This element is useful as far as teamwork goes, especially for finishing off foes. There are some conditions that have to be met for you to pull this off, though:
- Party members have to be alive and kicking
- Tech bar (the green bar to the left) has to be full
- A final attack has to follow your first tech attack.
One thing I’ve noticed a long time ago, fans of RPGs and MMORPGs LOVE magic. These players are especially annoying in games like Dark Souls where magic is typically a pain to deal with. Everyone tends to look down on these guys and gals who rely on magic as a result.
But this is Final Fantasy where using magic is considered ethical. And Square didn’t do a bad job here.
Casting spells has more to it now. You don’t just click away at the spells you feel like using and launch them at unsuspecting foes. Now you have to think of how you’re going to create spells and also what places are best to use them:
- Fire magic: You have to be careful of using fire type magic in grassy areas because you know — forest fires! Not being wary of this can cause trouble for not only your enemies but your friends as well.
- Apart of the Universe – In FF15 magic is a part of the world, the universe, which means you can draw on magic from the environment and use it in a battle down the line.
- Fewer spells, more creativity – You have fewer spells to choose from, but also the option of customizing them.
All these elements are the things I think FF15 excels at, but I still have to be honest and say it doesn’t stack up to my expectations. Some may agree with me. Others may think I’m being nitpicky or a jerk.
That’s fine. I feel as a longtime fan of the series my opinion is worth something, though. Otherwise I wouldn’t have written at length about this 😛
Without further ado, here’s why FF15 still fails to reignite the flame of the series (IN MY OPINION).
Final Fantasy 15: Where they went wrong
I mentioned above — character development is one of the elements that helped the classic games thrive. I’m not as obsessed with FF7 as most FF fans are—I actually think it’s a bit overrated, albeit a good game.
Not to mention Cloud’s depression is enough to make anyone suicidal.
But I can’t say the characters were mundane, or uninspiring. They were great! Everyone was distinctive and natural. The friendships felt real, and convincing even though the original game didn’t have voice overs!
When I first saw the lineup of characters from FF15, the first thing I thought was KPOP had gone GOTH. They were all wearing black, leather, and looked like they ended up on the side of the road trying to hitch a ride after a long night of cocaine and booze.
I wasn’t feeling it.
Sure you can customize wardrobe later on, but that still doesn’t add any color to their personality.
I want to see that one person who is going to look me dead in the face and tell me the story of FF15 does the franchise justice. It doesn’t even compare to FF9 and it’s overly clean way of wrapping things up.
Honestly, FF15 and FF8 were probably made for each other as far as storytelling and character development goes. At least, FF15 has redeeming qualities, though, none of which will be found in FF8 no matter how hard you look.
The main character is Prince Noctis and he’s accompanied by his boy band protectors. They are heading to Altissia (the capital city of Accordo), where the ever bland Noctis is to wed Lunafreya.
One their way they learn that their kingdom has been betrayed by Niflheim (a neighboring continent). The ‘Crystal’ is stolen, the Lucian king is dead, and I don’t care about any of it.
For a world filled with magic, and demons and ‘Crystals’, the story is rather dry.
Music without the Magic?
Here’s the deal, the music isn’t garbage. I’m sure the composers put their heart and soul into creating some real magic, and maybe to some people — they got it right.
Unfortunately, the only piece I found the least bit moving was ‘Noctis’ Dream’ the soundtrack you get to hear from playing the demo.
To be honest, I was hardly surprised. The music of the classic titles were life changing. I don’t care if that sounds dramatic—it’s true. Pull any die-hard FF fan out of a crowd and ask him to describe the music from the classic games and I promise you’ll get a similar response.
I’ve gone into details about how important music is to Final Fantasy games. That being said, I can’t let this slide. Some people may think I’m being hard on Square Enix. The classic games have left big shoes to fill. That’s true, but didn’t Square give us those games as well?
Why is it too much to expect far above average work from a far above average developer?
I’m not saying this stuff because I’m against them. I’m saying this because I’m on their side, and I want to see the franchise live on much longer than it already has.
I want them to give the fan base quality of the highest order. Not games that are ‘OK’ or ‘get the job done’.
The Bottom Line
Final Fantasy 15 is not as groundbreaking as the classic games. Not by a long shot. It’s also not a failure by any means. It’s generally well received and it manages to bring some new things to the franchise that even I (a long time die-hard fanboy) can appreciate.
I know Square really wanted to get this right and while I know they could have done better, I’m still happy with the final product.
The music is very subpar with what I expect from their games. The characters are a huge let down as well. However, the world building is stunning, and the modernization of the world paired with the mythical elements works on a genius level.
Unfortunately, without the powerful characters and enchanting music, we end up with another Final Fantasy title that fails to recapture the lost magic of the franchise.
Final Fantasy 15 does, however, give me hope for the future, which is more than I could say about Final Fantasy 13.