All right, let me start off by saying this, because it might clear up some of the misconceptions about what I’m going to talk about here: I can’t wait for Final Fantasy XV. I think it’s going to be a great game and, if some of the other previews that have appeared are any indication, I think it has the potential to reinvent the Final Fantasy franchise for lapsed fans and a whole new generation of players. But, and this is a very specific “but,” both of the demos Square Enix brought to E3 for the game were — in my opinion — sort of a strange way to show it off. As I’ve said in other cases, this is a preview, not a review, so I’ll try to avoid being overly critical — but my real point is that the demos Square Enix chose to bring to the show might not have been the best ways to communicate its appeal.
Let’s start with the actual PS4 demo, which entailed a single E3-exclusive mission. Overall, I think it was a little more interesting than the one for PSVR, but that one came off as more of a tech demo to me — whereas the one on PS4 was supposed to be a sampling of what we can expect from the full game. And in that regard, I’m not sure it was the best demo for the job. Essentially, the mission boils down to beating Titan: though you’ve got to do a little traversal to reach him first, the vast majority of the playable content involves fending off and then defeating the earth giant. And while he is definitely an intimidating and awe-inspiring foe, I have to say I was a little startled by how much this particular demo focused on the cinematic and how little agency the player actually seemed to have.
A Demo That Plays Itself
The first time I played through, I have to admit I winced a bit. Titan attempts to stomp you with his massive feet and knock you clean out with enormous punches, and make no mistake — these attacks look really cool — but your method of fending them off? QTEs, of all things. Not just QTEs, though: QTEs with extremely lenient timing. Pressing the button any time within a five-second window pretty much guarantees you’ll block his attack, and the same goes for Noctis’s parry move afterward. Like many people, I find QTEs cheap, but I don’t usually mind them if they’re used sparingly and there are some fantastic visuals to look at onscreen.
The strange thing to me about their usage in this demo, though, was just how much of the total gameplay they really entailed. After defending against a few of his attacks, you’re allowed to roam around the battlefield and are pretty much left to your own devices. I used this time to land some attacks on Titan (no pun intended, I swear), but I didn’t seem to be doing much damage at all. Soon, I got an onscreen tip to use Blizzara against him, but hitting the attack button after selecting my magic triggered a finishing cinematic instead of letting me use the spell organically in the field. Titan was dead, but I didn’t feel like I’d done a whole lot to actually bring the giant down.
What’d I Miss?
The demo was short, so I played it again to make sure I didn’t miss anything. And…yeah, it really did seem like the game sort of played itself in this particular instance. Sure, there’s a ton going on, but most of the action takes place in cinematics or QTEs — the actual game mechanics go neglected for the majority of the 15-ish minutes of play. And herein lies the problem: from what I’ve seen of other, longer previews and trailers, that’s not an accurate reflection of what you’ll be doing in the finished product. I might be able to take all this with a grain of salt, but I’d hate for someone (heaven forbid, a lapsed fan unhappy with the last few entries) to play that particular E3 demo and come away thinking that the game mostly consisted of QTEs and control being wrested away from the player for (admittedly epic) cinematics. Again, this isn’t criticism of the game itself — just concern that perhaps this wasn’t the best way to make a good impression on newcomers or skeptics.
The VR demo, on the other hand — sorry, the Final Fantasy XV VR Experience — is admittedly lame, but it’s more of a throwaway than an outright travesty. Fighting the Behemoth as Prompto, you’ve got a gun in your hand and you hold the back trigger of the Move controller to fire. And…yeah, that’s about it. You can warp about the field by looking in different directions and hitting the center button whenever you see the warp icon, but different vantage points don’t seem to make a difference. Like the other demo, it seems like it’s impossible to lose, which means you don’t feel all that much of a sense of accomplishment when you finally bring the beast down. Oh, and the less I say about the cheesy end sequence — where you’re made to look around a car with Cindy by your side — the better.
Noct What We Asked For
Again, I don’t mean to be harsh or overly critical here, but it’s really important that Square Enix get these things right. Final Fantasy’s name arguably doesn’t carry the pedigree it once did; new RPG gamers have Western offerings from the likes of Bethesda and CD Projekt Red to consider first, and many gamers who enjoyed previous titles have felt some distrust toward the developer since the XIII saga and the utter disaster of the first XIV release. These demos may just be demos, but they’re meant to sell people on the game — and i’m not sure what Square brought to E3 was really a good way to accomplish that.