Monday, January 08, 2018

6 Hours Into FF15 and I'm Convinced It's a Bad Game

If you've been following my streaming antics over the past few Sunday's, you'll notice that I'm steadily working through Final Fantasy XV with my brother. It's been over a year since the title was released. A few DLC's are out and some of the glitches have been addressed. Even some story elements were changed. Multiple times. Has the game improved? Is it truer to the narrative that SquareEnix wanted to tell?

Well, I don't know. But I can certainly say that this is not a Final Fantasy title.

Sure there's Chocobos, Cid, a sword called Ragnarok, and even Iron Giants. But from what I've seen so far, this is not Final Fantasy. Why? Because if there are two things FF games do well it's story and character development. FF15 has little to none of either.

My disinterest hit around the 4 hour and 30 minute mark. We had finished a fetch quest that would allow us to travel on to a boat to our next destination. I remarked that we should go ahead and go, push the story forward. So we did. And we were treated to a bunch of plot nonsense that unhinged me.

Let me roll back a little bit and talk about the very basic plot. You play as Noctis, the Prince of a city called Insomnia. Charming name. You are engaged to an Oracle named Lunafreya to help solidify a peace treaty. But you've known her since childhood so it's all good. Your father, the King, sends you out to travel to the wedding with your 3 cohorts (bodyguards? friends?) with a road trip. Because...reasons? You stop to help out the people with random quests, figure out the battle mechanics (if you skipped the tutorial), and that's about it. Brotrip because the King is a cheap ass, clearly doesn't care about your safety or the alliance, and wants you to miss out on your wedding.

You learn a tiny bit about the distinguishing features of the main cast that you will probably be stuck with throughout the game. Noctis likes to fish. Another likes to cook. One likes to take photos. And the last likes to camp and do outdoorsy things. Very little story development happens here. When you reach your first chapter end, the dock that leads you to the boat, that's when the sh*t hits the fan.

You are treated to a cutscene that is a mesh of action, minus all dialogue and sound effects. A semi-somber song plays over the sequence. There's a fight between the King and some random guy in armor. The city (I think it's Insomnia, but the game never states where you are and you never see a full shot of the city like Midgar or Balamb Garden - you only see a small section of the techno-pimp castle) puts up a shield over itself, but then it's disabled. The King is stabbed and the scene ends.

Okay. Um...what the fudge just happened?

My brother had to explain to me that what we saw was from the FF15 Kinsglaive movie. He has seen it. I haven't. Whatever story happened at Insomnia in-between Noctis and his team leaving the city to reaching the docks, that's what Kinsglaive explains. Noctis finds out the news that his father might be dead, but he seems to take it surprisingly well. He whines for a moment, but then it's business per usual. In fact, the entire team is pretty calm about the attack on the city. The plot takes you back to the city gates to see what's going on, but you can't make it past the blockade. A cutscene triggers at one point with a news station revealing that your father is indeed dead, and the rest of the world thinks you and Lunafreya were also killed. Again, Noctis whines for a moment but then goes back to normal.


It was this point where I stopped believing that this game was worth playing.

First, the story. The intermission at Insomnia is fine but it needed context. It should not be assuming that everyone playing the game had already seen the movie. The gamer needed to come up with some grand conclusions to figure out what was going on during that sequence, where a bit of dialogue or a narrator could help clear up the story. Yes the King was killed, but why?

Heck, even showing that there was an invading army would have improved the context (this was noticeably absent in the cutscene). This didn't happen. It was a few close-up shots of the King fighting some guy, the city shield going up, and the King being stabbed. How were we suppose to understand how this affects the world of FF15? Who is this guy? Is it someone the King knows? Is it a rando trying to gain power? Who are the Imperials? Why do we care about them? Are they good? Are they bad? What does the city lose with their monarchy dead? How is the city still functioning?

It's lazy writing to assume that the gamer is going to gorge on everything FF15 before playing.

Second, the reaction of the team. If Noctis wants to be whiny and then cool about his father dying, fine. But the other 3 gentlemen? No reactions? No changes in their demeanor? Prompto seems like he would have shown some emotional response - even if it's surprise or horror and not necessarily sad. He's one of the few characters that shows a shift of outward emotions, and yet he never conveys any sorrow or concern over the King's death.

I'll take any response versus no response. One could argue that everyone processes grief in different ways. Where some may be weeping, others take the quiet and stoic route. That's fine. However no one else in the game changes their attitude. No one. Cindy is the same. Cid is the same. Sidequest Dave is the same. Everyone seems to take the news of their King dying pretty damn well. Even your 3 companions are chill with it. This is not normal, even in a video game. Barret showed more emotion when Aeris died then Noctis!

Third, this entire bit at the end of Chapter 1 made me realize that we were given no time to care about the King, Noctis, or their relationship. The only interaction we have between the two is at the beginning, before Noctis sets off on his road trip. It's a minute of communication and that's it. We don't know anything else about the King or why the marriage is important. We don't know about the Imperials or why they are bad/good and how they affect the kingdom. It's bland dialogue and off we go on a road trip! Yea?

Because of this, the gamer doesn't have a chance to imbue empathy towards anyone when the King dies. His death is nothing more then a plot device to force the story to move forward. It's not interesting. It's not sentimental. It happens and as gamers we're expected to accept it.

I don't accept it. 6 hours into this game and it has completely lost my interest. I am not impressed.

This is the grand story that SE has been wanting to tell? This is what we've been waiting for? This is the "perfect score game?" In 6 hours they managed to kill off a major character without providing any backstory or context to his being, didn't develop any relationships to allow the gamer to connect to the characters, and we are expected to have seen everything FF15 has to offer before playing it so we can understand the story.

That's not how this works. This is steadily turning into the game version of  'Jupiter Ascending.' Bland characters with little emotion. Sci-fi stuff and things blowing up because CGI. Inconsequential plots that require you to read them first before you play. I'm waiting on the ridiculous amounts of unnecessary exposition to begin before we go full-blown 'Jupiter.'

The opening screen where the game proudly announces that FF15 is a game for fans and first-timers is a farce. How are new gamers expected to approach this? How are fans? And to expect a gamer to understand all of the plots of FF15 that only exists outside of the game, that's downright bad story telling. My friend Dan said it best - it's like 'Lord of the Rings' bringing in Gandalf for a scene. Taking him away. And then telling everyone to go read 'The Hobbit' to learn more about Gandalf. Gandalf is a key figure in LoTR and you want to throw him away like a side piece? That's not how storytelling works.

Because I promised myself and my brother that I would sit through this until the end, I will. But I have to say, FF15, you have already failed me.

Update 1/22/18: Played another hour. I'm even more confused by the new plot developments and exposition that leads nowhere. What is up with this game? The struggle is real.

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