Obligatory Final Fantasy XV Doom and Gloom Post (Or: An Examination of Another Divisive Entry in a Divisive Series)

November 28, 2016 Written by Heath Hindman

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It’s a safe bet that Final Fantasy XV is going to be met with high sales and high (or at least high-ish) review scores. Just as safe a bet is that it will be angrily blasted by disappointed fans.

For those who haven’t noticed: the human brain is complicated. Different people enjoy different things for innumerable, sometimes inexplicable reasons. The more popular a game franchise is, the more likely you are to find large groups of players that feel varying flavors of hate or love, bliss or disgust. Divisive games are in no short supply, but Final Fantasy ramps this up a notch.

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Having cut my teeth in this games writing thing on JRPG-specific websites, it’s been my passion and duty to be right in the middle of the conversation for more than half of Final Fantasy‘s 30-year history, and I’ll tell you this: in the 3D era, there’s never been a slam dunk unanimous hit. Final Fantasy VII is one of the most beloved video games of all time, but in the late 90s as well as today, it draws plenty of jeers to go along with its cheers. You don’t need hard data to see that haters are a minority (remember that explosive E3 2015 reaction?), but they’re out there, they’re loud, and there’s more than just a few.

Final Fantasy VIII? The love story and Junction system get people fuming, be it from anger or from…uh…hot, steamy love fumes. I didn’t really think ahead when I started that sentence.

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(Not actual screenshot.)

Final Fantasy IX returned to some of the series’s early traditions, only to please longtime fans while, oops, confusing the children.

PS2 came around just in time for Final Fantasy X to be praised for its touching story and impressive technical achievements, but utterly shat upon for its linearity. The loving reputation FFX enjoys now stands in contrast to the heated debates that went on when it first launched.

You can accurately guess what kind of things were said when an all-girls sequel became the first Roman-Numeral-dash-2 in franchise history.

Being MMORPGs, I probably also don’t have to tell you what people hated about FFXI and later, XIV. With XII, the battle system, cast, and world-focused story (as opposed to character-focused) earned burning hatred.

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Final Fantasy XIII was Final Fantasy XIII. Its current reputation is probably surprising, given its overall positive press when it was brand new. And yet, later, Square Enix would distance itself from the whole Lightning trilogy, as seen when Agito XIII and Versus XIII were re-branded into Type-0 and FFXV, respectively.

Even so, if you piss on FFXIII, you’d better get ready for someone to come for you like the hypothetical “bad boys” from that one song about bad boys and the fact that they would like to come for you.

For whatever reason, Final Fantasy brings out this kind of venom, especially when it comes to reviews. Oh, I’ve seen hate coming from all angles in my time, but Final Fantasy remains the king of being damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Whether reviewing an FF game positively, negatively, or somewhere in the middle, someone is going to want to drive a truck down your gullet.

I don’t know who is reviewing the game for the crew here at PSLS or any other website, but I’ve got my popcorn ready for the weeklong show that will be the flame wars. The problem with that is that popcorn tastes fucking terrible after like an hour. Why the hell do I already have this ready? Damn it all. Once again, foresight proves to be my weakness.

So What’s Gonna Divide the Masses?

Chances are you’ve already had a debate about the (un)coolness of Final Fantasy XV‘s all-dudes-in-black-leather cast. The term “boy band” is likely to have come up. With that out of the way…

An Open World

Get ready for people to love and hate the hell out of this!

One thing that irked me in my times with FFXV — that I never expected to — is the numerical distance countdown. Having played more than two games in the last decade, I’ve definitely become accustomed to having objective markers on maps and often in the world in front of me, but the numerical countdown, for whatever reason, plays on my subconscious and makes the hike feel longer than it is. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t make sense, and yet makes perfect sense.

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Expect to see complaints from some gamers about navigation taking too long, while a whole other Coleman® camp feels a rush of exploratory joy. A lot of people won’t give a flying crap about my little gripe. They’ll see FFXV as a modern manifestation of what Final Fantasy was always meant to be. There’s no right or wrong answer here.

Combat

History has shown that Final Fantasy battle systems are pleasure and poison, depending who you ask. A great many crave a return to turn-based combat, while just as many see it as a relic not worth revisiting. Final Fantasy XV has included a Wait Mode for traditionalists that, I have to admit, impressed me, but it might not do much for others. The system might be doomed no matter what, in much the same way FFXII‘s was. “If you hate the Gambits, turn them off,” never seems cool the rage fires for that game.

Story & Characters

If the word “emo” doesn’t show up at least 500 times between NeoGAF, Reddit, and GameFAQs, I lose $100. But it will be seen as “fresh” and “a break from the standard” by others.

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These buncha guys has a lot more side conversations than other Final Fantasy parties have had before, thanks to the marvels of evolving technology. You can expect it to be lauded for including so much more character building than previous titles, yet slammed for some conversations feeling forced, hokey, or forcing the edge in a little too hard.

What Was Lost

An honest description of Tetsuya Nomura’s departure from the director’s chair will probably never be public; whether it was his choice or decided by someone else in the company, we may never know. What we can tell from history, however, is that his replacement, Hajime Tabata, brought with him a reputation for getting games onto shelves. Where Nomura carries a reputation for moving at a snail’s pace (related note: the most recent Kingdom Hearts games tend to be co-directed by Tai Yasue), Tabata is known for getting a project finished.

I for one believe that we would not be sitting here just one day removed from the Final Fantasy XV release date, had Nomura remained the director. No knock against the quality of the work itself in that belief; it just takes for-fricking-ever, which a big business like Square Enix has to hate.

But with the new director came what some would call a whole new game. The TGS 2014 videos in particular felt completely different from anything we’d previously seen about Final Fantasy XV (which spent most of its pre-release years being called “Final Fantasy Versus XIII“). As time went on, we saw new ideas come in while old ideas got the ax. To many, Final Fantasy XV is not what Final Fantasy Versus XIII would have been, and I can’t say I disagree.

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But which would be the better game? We’ll unfortunately never know. Outside of the Square Enix headquarters, few people will ever really know how much progress had been made on FF Versus XIII or what it would have played like at all (…if it ever released).

What we do know for sure is that there’s already widespread bitterness. We’ll never play Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a game that spent years and years hanging near the tops of media most-wanted lists and being constantly mentioned in anticipated game threads. We — individual gamers, I mean — can’t know whether Tabata’s game or Nomura’s game would have suited us better, and that unknown will drive some people nuts. Some will go so far as to convince themselves that they do know for sure that the unreleased game would have been better, and you can expect arguments on that to burn on for quite some time.

Indeed, no matter what Final Fantasy XV does or doesn’t do, it’s already doomed in the eyes of many. Verily, Too Much Is Never Enough might be an all too perfect theme song. I can’t help but wonder if the team has realized that.