Final Fantasy XV (2016) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Final Fantasy XV (2016)

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I treasured my earliest moments with Final Fantasy XV (FFXV moving on).  Noctis has to get out of his car, which ran out of gas, and help his three friends push the now-useless hunk of metal to the closest gas station.  The friends gently rib on each other as the soundtrack swells to a charming cover of Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" performed by Florence + The Machine.  "This is how it should be," I thought as warmth overtook my heart, "a silly road trip with the occasional monster clash is just what these anxiety-filled times need."

It was barely a couple of hours later until cracks formed in the charming facade, and it was over something as simple as getting into the car.  Driving around with your buddies was one of the focal points of the advertising and is the player's primary mode of getting around the world.  After parking my car for gas while getting some quests I returned to the car and pressed X to enter.  Noctis had his own ideas, and jumped instead of entering the car.  I waited for the prompt to enter and hit X again.  Noctis, once more, displayed some fine cardio instead of doing the thing I wanted him to do - get in the car.  I walked back a bit, slowly approached the car, and pressed X for a third time.  This time a cutscene started for a quest that was sharing the same space as the car I wanted to enter.

A tiny plea began building in the back of my mind - "Can I please just play FFXV Square Enix?"  The cutscene ended, Noctis jumped a couple more times, and I finally got into the car.  The plea grew louder as I realized each destination for the quests I took had a minimum of four minutes travel time.  There was no quick-jump option, I had to sit there in the car either holding R2 and kind of paying attention to the road or do absolutely nothing while Ignis drives.  "Never fear," my friends who like FFXV assured me, "you can chill and listen to great music while taking in the scenery to your destination if you auto-pilot."

This once-charming hunk of software lost much of its shine at that realization.  You can buy soundtracks to other Final Fantasy games to listen to while you're in the car.  So the key to playing FFXV is to not play it, buy soundtracks from other games to listen to in the process, and actively take in the scenery instead of fiddling about with the controller.  I'm down with some sightseeing but the only worthwhile sites to see in FFXV are in tightly-controlled scenario-specific encounters.  The rest of the time I was treated to flat expanses of nothing with crystalline structures jutting out from nowhere.  When I realized the aesthetics of the landscape are the equivalent of grabbing some sand and taking a trip to the natural healing store for landmarks to plop down I figured I was going to be in for a long game.

"The key to playing FFXV is to not play it," was the answer to, "Can I please just play FFXV Square Enix?"  The hole in my enjoyment began to echo with existential questions about what it means to play video games.  Pondering what good human input is to FFXV became an interesting conundrum with the combat.  FFXV wrestles control out of my hands when Noctis' friends do a super attack, dodging and parrying enemy aggression splits success with my correct controller inputs and if FFXV deems them worthy of acknowledgement, and enemies quickly gain the strength to two-shot Noctis and friends so I spent as much time healing as I did fighting.  One time I took a bad hit and stumbled around waiting for one of my friends to save me.  I was surrounded by Ignis, Gladio, and Prompto - all healthy - and not a single one of them stepping forward to save me.

After my friends watched me die, I reloaded then realized all health management is trivial since there are few weapon upgrades worthy of the currency.  I bought 99 High Elixers and 99 Phoenix Downs, trivializing any danger for the rest of FFXV.  So combat became little more than a semi-interactive screensaver with the dungeons serving as copy/pasted linear corridors colored in different shades.  The rare outdoor dungeons felt like a taunt, cloaking the "beautiful landscape" in mist as FFXV bewilderingly became a stealth game when taking out a behemoth, or straight-up acknowledging control is a joke during the action cutscenes of Noctis' encounter with Titan.

Plot points eventually made their way into my semi-interactive challenge-free charisma-deficient bro-off featuring characters I didn't need to bother learning about as they would disappear for five to ten hours after they were last seen.  At this point FFXV became self-aware and started taunting me to play it further.  Ignis is injured off-screen in one encounter so I need to go slow so he can keep up.  Yet Ignis is not the one voicing concern, it was Gladio starting with, "Make sure you go slow." Whenever Gladio fell behind with Ignis literally standing right next to me I'd hear, "Wait for the royal entourage," only to drive me to a raging limit when I finished a fight and Gladio said, "We need to hurry."

Which is it FFXV?  What do you want from me?  Do you want me to hurry, am I waiting for Ignis, is there some side-quest I missed to make Gladio less of an obnoxious tool in these moments?  Did Prompto really need to take that photo of me dying while he stood back with Ignis and Gladio?  Two experiences finally broke the wave of questions and I went mad.  The first was when I couldn't jump over a bush.  I could jump over other bushes, or even walk through some bushes, but I couldn't jump over these specific bushes in a town despite Noctis' clear dedication to cardio every time I wanted to get into the car.  The second was after I got chocobos, the sole fun method of transportation in FFXV, and I wondered how to get my temporary companion Iris' pink plumage chocobo.  An hour later, Iris is shocked at seeing a chocobo, triggering a long conversation about chocobos.  What did you think you were riding Iris?

By the time FFXV introduced the true identity of its big bad, the magical mysterious murder hobo known as Ardyn, I was giggling uncontrollably at every fresh attempt to gaslight me.  I received instruction that I needed to keep up with Ardyn in my car otherwise it's GAME OVER.  Fine, FFXV, whatever arbitrary rule you want to put in now I might as well accept it because there's no way you can troll me any harder.  Then the post-game gave me a flying car that finally grants me the same control over my automobile as the chocobos.  My first flight I had to align my landing with a road and instead of landing when I pressed the button my Jetsons-influenced skycar exploded on contact with the ground.

After the explosion I hit the eject button and erased the data.  FFXV works in the sense that I received onscreen verification of button presses I made.  But FFXV treated me like an unreliable player, questioning my humanity as it refused to do the simplest tasks broadly advertised in its own promotional campaign, and exploding seemingly at random when I did things it asked of me.  So I look back at my notes, "The key to playing FFXV is to not play it."  Sound advice from me to me I ignored in my madness and now write to you readers.

The key to playing FFXV is not to play it.

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Posted by Andrew

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