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Final Fantasy XV Demo Impressions / The Legacy of Final Fantasy XIII


So, what did you guys think of the Final Fantasy XV demo?  

... let me rephrase that.  

What did you guys REALLY think of the Final Fantasy XV demo?  I certainly have some extremely mixed opinions after playing it, and I'm willing to bet you all do as well.  But what people are saying publicly about the demo - I suspect - is not really matching up with what they truly feel about it.  I feel like the Final Fantasy fanbase, and the video game press have backed themselves into a corner, and into a narrative, and there is no longer any escape from it.  That narrative is that Final Fantasy XV is the savior of JRPGs and the Final Fantasy series after the disappointing Final Fantasy XIII trilogy.  But what if it honestly isn't the savior everyone has already convinced themselves it will be?  What if they were wrong all along?

I didn't even complete the questline in the Episode Duscae demo, after waiting years for this thing to finally surface in a playable form.  I didn't complete it after it was updated either.  I just don't have any emotional attachment to this game, and it's not for a lack of trying.  I just have multiple issues with what they've presented so far, so I'll break all that down one at a time.  But I don't think it's all bad.  It's certainly not even close to the worst game I've ever seen, so I'll get into what I think the demo does well also.

1) I Don't Like the Cast

There isn't a single character that I've seen that does anything for me, from a narrative, visual, gameplay, or emotional standpoint.  Ignis really bothers me with his smary attitude.  Gladiolus is pretty boring, and isn't even particularly cool as the tough strongman character.  I don't get anything from him that's screaming "badass," like I did with Auron, Kimahri, Kain, our countless other one note Final Fantasy tough guy characters.  Prompto does nothing for me either, besides annoy me.  I'm not into his awkward, comedic attitude.  Noctis is the most visually interesting of the bunch, but that's about it.  The guy's main trait is that he likes sleeping.  I'm not making this up.  I have literally nothing else of note to go off of here, after all this time and two demos.  Seems like the guy has some powerful dreams based off the Platinum demo, but nothing there has been revealed yet either.  Maybe that'll be more interesting down the line.  From a visual standpoint, this might be one of the worst casts ever in a Final Fantasy game.  They all wear the same color, the same style of clothing mostly.  The modern, reality-based setting is not doing them any favors in terms of costume design. 

2) I Don't Like the Music

We've heard the same 2-3 songs for 10 years now, and they're not even that great.  The music in the demos just doesn't compare to the songs we heard in the Final Fantasy XIII demo, like Saber's Edge, Blinded by Light, and Hanging Edge.  The songs in XV aren't bad per se, but they are largely forgettable.  I definitely don't get the sense like I'm hearing video game music being pushed forward to some new heights - which is how I felt with the whole XIII trilogy, most Uematsu games, and even FFXI.  I think it'll go down as one of the weaker FF soundtracks at this rate if things don't start changing fast.  That old western style chocobo ranch theme was not promising either.

3) A Fantasy Based on Reality .... is Boring

What's the best part of Final Fantasy?  Usually it's the jaw dropping fantasy art that establishes the setting, the character designs, the monsters, the world, the elaborate magic.  Well all that's mostly gone in favor of a fantasy based on reality.  Talk about shooting yourself in the foot and hobbling your best feature as a studio.  No one can say Final Fantasy XIII was not intensely interesting from a visual standpoint.  We weren't sitting around pre-launch, looking at pictures of 4 guys cooking some food on a grill, or 1950s-era cars in a boring looking city.  Nothing about the actual level design and artwork going into XV has genuinely hit me emotionally, which is basically a first for the entire series.  I remember pouring over artwork for Final Fantasy XII, with the new races, and the fantasy buildings.  Or artwork and screenshots of Final Fantasy XIII, all 3 entries.  But everything about this, other than the water city, has been pretty boring to be honest with you.  It pains me to say that, but it's just the truth.  Duscae was flat out boring.  A grassland with nothing exceptional about it except the arching rock formations, and boring cars, a boring convenience store, a boring chocobo building, boring NPCs.  Nothing about this screams fantasy to me.  None of the monsters even looked cool, as they're all modeled off slight variations of real life animals now.  Just hobbling all the talent at SQEX into this boring vision that's going nowhere.

4) Gameplay Basics Don't Feel Polished

Just the simple act of running doesn't feel that great in FFXV.  It's not fast and fluid, prioritizing unique animations over tight and responsive controls.  The jumping doesn't feel good, which is weird for a game with a character that can float in mid-air.  He barely jumps high at all, can't jump over small thigh-high fences, and has no double jump.  The car feels stiff in the Platinum demo, and as far as I can tell has no real acceleration ability, instead driving with the feel of a station wagon.  You can't really skid or turn sharp.  Apparently you can't even drive into enemies as it makes zero contact and does no damage with them, just pushing them back in a weird, floaty animation.  

5) The Combat is Simplistic and Boring

I don't know how anyone else would feel otherwise.  You basically just hit attack and watch it cycle through 2 strikes over and over.  The attacks don't feel like they have any weight or immediacy.  They don't seem to stun the enemy or interrupt their attacks often unless it's a critical hit or warp strike.  It just doesn't have a good feel to it.  I feel detached and loose, not grounded and in a fight.  The dodge is equally amorphous and vague, with the ability to just hold it down and dodge most things as long as you have MP available.  

The biggest offender is magic, which seems like it takes everything people hated about the magic system in Final Fantasy VIII but makes it 10x worse.  Magic is now just reduced to an item.  And all the magic works the same so far.  It's basically a colorful grenade.  You pick your arc and toss your grenade and there you go.  One of the only adult spells we've seen a few times is fire, which honestly doesn't even look as impressive to me as the fire in Dragon's Dogma, a last generation game.  In the Platinum demo, fire was a tiny little puddle of flames on the floor that you can't walk on or it'll hurt you or the enemy.  It doesn't even have the satisfaction of a normal grenade in a big budget FPS game.  It just lacks impact so far, lacks visual flair, and the delivery method for it is just not inspired or easy to use.

The warp seems to barely work still.  You can only warp to a limited number of environmental locations, and it's still very finnicky.  It's not clear what triggers it just yet, but many times in the Platinum demo the warp points would disappear and not be available.  Then half way through the fight they'd appear again, and I have no idea why.  You can also warp into an enemy for a large damage attack which is fun.  Other demos have shown that it can even function as a stealth attack, which seems neat to me.  But based on my time with both demos, it still doesn't seem as fast and fluid as one would have hoped.  Utilizing it in the environments still seems extremely touch and go.

Healing still seems like a potential mess, but I'm willing to wait and see what happens with the full game.  So far we basically just have a few items, and the ability to retreat to warp points for fast regen.  But the Platinum demo doesn't have a ton of enemies like Duscae did, so it's not clear how effective this is going to be yet.  That also brings to mind the other main problem I had with the Duscae demo, which is targeting multiple enemies, locking on, and switching targets.  The Platinum demo doesn't really give you a ton of opportunities to do this like in Duscae.  You're never truly surrounded by a dozen enemies like you were before, so it's not clear how well the new camera and targeting systems are going to work.  It was a significant issue in the original demos.  You're also never facing enemies with projectiles in the Platinum demo like you did in Duscae, so it's not clear how lacking the dodge will be in that case.  In Duscae, you would be facing a dozen enemies and repeatedly struggle to see or react to arrows coming at you from the distance with no effective block.  The Platinum demo does introduce a shield, so maybe there's some hope on this front, as well as a shuriken ranged weapon which might help even the odds a bit here.  

At the end of the day though, I'm mostly talking about combat in terms of hoping it's not any worse than it already is.  I'm not talking about any aspect of the gameplay that genuinely excites me, which is a pretty big problem.  I haven't seen anyone else do that either.

There are definitely still some things I like about it though.  Like I said, this is FAR from the worst game I've ever seen.

1) The Graphics are Generally Quite Lovely

It's obvious the game is going to be one of the most meticulously polished games we see in 2016.  The characters, as annoyingly dressed as they are, all have pretty spectacular character models with a lot of varied animations.  The environments generally look pretty damn good, some more so than others.  The most obvious standout is the lighting, which looks spectacular and really shines in the day / night transitions.  There's great weather effects, like snow, rain, sunshine, and it'll interact with the magic and your car (putting the roof up, using windshield wipers).  All that is lovely, and it's going to be a treat to see it all.  There's no denying that.

2) The Game is Going to be Huge, and I Think They Have Kept Most of it Secret

This is where I pin 90% of my hopes.  The game is by all accounts, absolutely gargantuan.  Using the car and eventually the flying car is without a doubt going to be fun.  Exploring large cities is going to be fun.  

And who knows?  Maybe that high fantasy stuff I crave is all hidden in their somewhere, in the end of the game, in Noctis' dreams?  Maybe they've been keeping all the best stuff secret this entire time.  At the end of the day all we've really seen are Duscae, highways, and two of the cities.  There's got to be a ton left for us to discover, and I genuinely appreciate that they haven't spoiled it all yet.  

3) The OST is Bound to Have One or Two Hits

Even though I have no doubt the OST will not be as good as Hamauzu, or Uematsu's at the rate it's going, it's going to still be a large 4 disc OST with high production values by a talented composer.  It's bound to have a few hits here and there, and I always look forward to hearing some good, new music.

4) It Will Finally Be Over

Frankly, I'm just excited to finally play this and be done with it.  After this, all of the promises of the last decade will be fulfilled and we can finally move on to new stuff.  I have a feeling FFXVI, or Type-1, or whatever comes next after FFVII will only be better.  This is a troubled project, and it feels dated in more ways than one.  It'll be great to move  past it, with all the new experience they have in open world design.  Because I'm sure they can make something even better.

So what does any of this have to do with people's reactions, or Final Fantasy XIII?  Well, I'm willing to bet that most people agree with my assessment of the demos.  But contrary to how people treated FFXIII, most of the criticism has seemed extremely muted in regards to FFXV.  It's almost like FFXV's narrative has so much momentum now that the reality of the demo and the actual gameplay is not going to get in the way of that.

I think most Final Fantasy fans, and the press, have painted themselves into a corner that they can't escape.  Deep down, I think they all love the Final Fantasy series and want it to continue.  But for the last 10 years, it's been pretty common to trash the Final Fantasy series mercilessly in the hopes that they'll turn it around and make stuff they think is superior.  I think they all realize that if this game isn't successful, the series is in deep shit after all the horrific PR the press and FF fans have heaped on the series, this simply has to do well.  So onward we march, with everyone pretending this is going to be the greatest game they've ever played.  Much, much better than FFXIII, right?  I don't know if that's really going to be true though.

Skip to 5 minutes in.  Can anyone really tell me that this game doesn't look 100x more visually interesting than FFXV?  The characters look cool, the environments are like nothing you've ever seen, steeped in fantasy and exceptional art design, and the music is immediately gripping.  It carries right into that first boss fight, which is honestly pretty awesome.  Then look at when you get control of Lightning.  She has an awesome run unlike Noctis, and you're in a cool area that you know nothing about and want to explore.  5 minutes of this video moves me more emotionally than anything I've seen in FFXV so far, and that's the honest truth.I think if you guys watch the gameplay, you'd be hard pressed to HONESTLY disagree.  Those FFXV demos are boring as hell!  The monster design, the characters, the music, all of it!  I don't even think FFXV will have a better combat system in the end, with far less magic available from the looks of it.  And you look like you have even less control over your teammates than you did in FFXIII, where you could at least set up paradigms with their job classes effecting your formation.

But the thing is, everyone trashed FFXIII so intensely that they won't be able to admit it's good for a number of years.  They'll have to quietly pretend that FFXV's demo is exciting, and represents a course correction for everything SQEX did wrong previously.  But that just simply doesn't seem to be true guys.

FFXV has better tech in terms of the ability to tackle open worlds and cities.  That's an accomplishment that will positively affect the game.  But the characters, art design, world lore, setting, all seem like they're designed to put you to sleep from boredom.

Don't get me wrong, I still think you should all go and purchase Final Fantasy XV.  They've invested so much time and money into it that it's going to have some spectacle in there somewhere that more than justifies your $60.  I'm going to buy the special edition, already pre-ordered it.  It's worth the money, I just think that people expecting a perfect game, a religious experience, a life changing affirmation of their 10 years of waiting, are going to be let down.  I'd love to be wrong, because I am getting the game and like to be blown away obviously.  But I suspect that in a few years people will be willing to admit that yes, even FFXIII did some things better than FFXV.  I'm calling it now.

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About Shintaone of us since 1:53 AM on 02.15.2010