When I think back to the launch of Final Fantasy XV back in 2016, I still can’t quite believe that Square Enix managed to get away with it all. Everyone might be kicking off now about separating the Final Fantasy VII Remake into multiple who-knows-how-many parts, but at least we know (hopefully) that they’re all going to be actual games. If you wanted to understand what the heck was going on in Final Fantasy XV, you had to watch a 110 minute CG movie called Kingsglaive first, then a five-part anime series called Brotherhood.
There was also an entirely separate (albeit promotional) game detailing the life and fun adventure times of the main character’s dad called A King’s Tale, and a real-life version of the in-game minigame, Justice Monsters Five. You didn’t need to play the last two to understand the story, but man alive, what a mad old set of affairs, eh? And that’s before we get to the whole DLC debacle.
It’s the kind of thing that probably wouldn’t fly now, but I still kind of admire them for doing it all the same. Apparently, the director Hajime Tabata said he created the “Final Fantasy XV Universe” to avoid what happened with Final Fantasy XIII, where the story ended up getting split over multiple games. Personally, I would probably have preferred a Final Fantasy XV-2, so to speak, if only because it might have meant the game’s ending actually got finished properly rather than being one giant corridor. I mean, yes, they definitely succeeded in not making it like Final Fantasy XIII. If anything, it was the exact opposite – all lovely and open world at the start, and then two thirds of the way through it puts the blinkers on in a desperate race toward the finishing line.
I can’t say I blame them, to be honest. At that point, the game had been in development for absolutely yonks and they just needed to get the damn thing out the door. It’s tempting to think what could have been, though. Once you finally enter that long stretch toward the end, for example, there’s a section where you’re riding on a train toward the enemy’s capital city in a new country, and oh boy, what I wouldn’t give to be able to explore that landscape on foot like the rolling hills of Lucis. Alas, all you can do is watch it whizz by in the background as the game makes a literal beeline towards its conclusion.
And yet, for all its immense flaws, I still kinda love it. It has issues, sure, but what Final Fantasy game doesn’t? (The answer is Final Fantasy VIII, of course, which we all know deep down is the best Final Fantasy game of all time). I love the fact, for instance, that this is ultimately a game about a stag party that gets wildly out of hand. Noctis, you see, is on a quest to get married. His childhood love (and now sagely oracle) Lunafreya is waiting for him in the Venetian-inspired town of Altissia across the sea, and their wedding (if you watched the film) is going to be the one thing that unites the world in peace.
Naturally, things go awry along the way, but even before everything goes decidedly south in the warring states department, I love how many excuses there are in the wider world to prevent Noctis from being a good boy and arriving at his wedding on time. Breath Of The Wild may have spawned hundreds of memes about Link getting distracted by chickens and Korok seeds while poor Zelda’s stuck in an endless battle with old man Ganon, but Final Fantasy XV is the original ‘man stalling for time’ gag. So much so, in fact, that when I finally bit the bullet and said goodbye to the open world part of the game, the recommended level for which was something stupid like 25, my characters were all closer to Lv.60.
I also just love spending time with Noctis and his fellow noble boys, and would even go as far as saying they’re probably one of the best parties in the entire series. I love Prompto’s in-game photography, I love Ignis’ cooking, and I love that Gladio thinks it’s perfectly okay to be a royal bodyguard without learning how to button up his shirt. Everyone has a role to play in Noctis’ journey to matrimony, and despite the film and promo game, the main game itself never gets bogged down by flabby filler characters. The lads have some pretty good bants, too, and I would absolutely go to bat for all of them if they ever got into trouble.
Sure, it’s a bonkers game when you sit back and take it all in at once, but there’s just something about it that still makes me smile even now. It’s a game of brilliant vignettes if nothing else. It may not make for a particularly coherent whole, but as that old saying goes, “It’s the journey, not the destination, that truly counts.”