Final Fantasy XV – Stand By Me
Wow! A brand new Gamer’s Quest! Must be New Year or something! Anyway, I wanted to write about a game I’ve been playing a lot of over the last few weeks – partly the reason why I’ve been doing so many reruns of old GQs. As you may or may not know, I’m a huge fan of the Final Fantasy series. Even though I feel the games lost their way after IX – although I hugely enjoyed X-2 – I’ve still had a special place in my heart for them. So I thought I owed it to the fifteenth entry in the long running series to try it out.
Did you know that the original Final Fantasy game was Hironobu Sakaguchi’s last ditch effort to get into the game industry? According to Wikipedia, if the game had failed he would have quite the video game business and gone back to university – hence the name “Final” Fantasy. That was in the mid-1980s. Now, thirty years and countless games later, I think it’s safe to say the effot paid off. Another interesting fact – this game was originally going to be named Final Fantasy Versus XIII, taking place in the same world as the XIII sub-series. After a long and trouble development the studio decided to make it a stand alone entry.
There’s been a lot of coverage about this game, from the battle system – which is a lot of fun, the experience and levelling system – which takes some getting used to, and even the soundtrack – which is some of the best work ever heard in a Final Fantasy game. I don’t want to retread any of that ground here, except to say that all the elements come together to make something that’s really fun and enjoyable. I want to talk about something which, I hope, is a bit different.
You see, one of the things I never had the chance to do was go on a road trip. Just pile into a car with a bunch of mates and travel somewhere, seeing sights and experiencing new things. While I don’t regret it I do sometimes wonder what it might have been like. And thanks to Final Fantasy XV I have some idea. Even though a lot of stuff happens in the story, not all of it good, at its core its four friends on a final road trip before one of them gets married.
There’s a lot of politicking and wheeling and dealing behind the scenes – most of it explained in the Kingsglaive movie – but essentially Crown Prince Noctis of Lucis is set to marry Lady Lunafreya of Tenebrae (don’t worry too much about the names!) and he sets out with his faithful retinue to travel to the city where the wedding is to take place. It all goes well until they break down shortly after leaving the city and we discover that far from being a royal prince with his bodyguard, Noctis and his companions are just a group of close friends having fun and teasing each other.
From there the friends push the broken down car to the nearest garage, meet (and fall in love with in at least one case) the mechanic Cindy and her grandfather Cid, do some odd jobs to make money – mainly involving slaughtering some monsters – and see some amazing sights. In fact, if it wasn’t for the monsters and magic, this could almost be a game that takes place in the real world. There are cars – actual petrol driven cars, shops that sell magazines and car parts, diners and restaurants that serve amazing looking food, and more that wouldn’t look out of place in a real city.
In some ways this makes the fantasy elements more pronounced because they kind of feel out of place. As well as the fantastic beasts and giant birds there are daemons that come out at night – these are the more traditional series monsters – magical weapons to find and ancient gods to ally with. Even though I really enjoyed playing this game – and I’m still enjoying it – the two parts don’t mesh together as well as they could have done. There’s something a bit surreal when one minute you’re driving down a road with other cars going past you and the next you’re fighting a group of giant centipedes with glowing swords and daggers.
But, after all’s said and done, it still feels to me like a road trip – fun, spontaneous, just a good time. Of course it doesn’t last forever and the story takes some very dark turns, but for the first few hours at least, it feels like you’re joining these characters rather than playing as them. It feels like you’re genuinely sharing in their adventures and seeing the sights for yourself. It’s a beautifully made world and really I can’t think of a better way to experience it. And of course the amazing soundtrack caps it all off perfectly.
Geoff is just a normal guy who loves gaming in all its forms, but especially PC gaming. He’s on a continual quest for the perfect game that marries story, setting, characters, music, sound and gameplay into one glorious whole. He’s found a few that come close but that one perfect game still eludes him. Someday he will find it. And never play another game ever again.