Square Enix’s Final Fantasy 15 is an unbridled success and a game of the year candidate, but one writer can’t help but wonder how much more of it there should have been.
Final Fantasy 15 somehow lived up to the hype. A game that was a decade-plus in the making and had the weight of expectations from some of the JRPG genre’s most passionate fans placed squarely on its shoulders actually managed to deliver, and Square Enix has been raking in the profits from Final Fantasy 15‘s incredible reception. Whether it be the fact that Final Fantasy 15 is selling exceptionally well or the near-unanimous positive critical reception for the RPG, the headlines in the past few weeks have been dominated by respected voices in the video game industry singing Final Fantasy 15‘s praises.
Let’s be clear – Final Fantasy 15 has a lot to like. It’s a game filled with the kind of content that RPG lovers adore, including secret dungeons that are only accessible after the game has been beaten and the kind of fast-paced tactical combat that Final Fantasy 13 only briefly flirted with in its best moments.
Yet for all the accolades that have been lauded upon Final Fantasy 15, there is an undercurrent of unrest bubbling just beneath the game’s surface. Why does everything after the game’s road trip-heavy first half feel as though the player is being hurried through different locales at a whirlwind pace? Where do interesting, crucial characters like Aranea and even main villain Ardyn disappear to so often, and why does it feel as though they have so much more to say?
For a game with a gigantic, beautiful world to display, Final Fantasy 15 really only stops and lets players admire it in spurts. Sure, players have the luxury of really exploring most of the areas once the post-game content opens up, and some of these areas have neat little surprises like suddenly housing a gigantic Adamantoise boss fight ready to be beaten. Yet even then areas like Niflheim’s empire and cities like Tenebrae are just blips on the radar in a hurried and harried final few acts in Final Fantasy 15‘s main story. The existence of these areas and characters that come so tantalizingly close to being explored before they are left behind can mean only one thing – Final Fantasy 15, despite its size and decade in development, is an unfinished game.
The evidence is certainly there, if fans are willing to look. There have already been reports suggesting that Square Enix plans to release a patch that fixes Final Fantasy 15‘s story, presumably with the intent to add crucial missing details about the game’s complex politics and spiritual philosophies. Final Fantasy 15 also received a hefty Day One patch upon its release that came in just under 10 GB, and although it mostly addressed technical issues and bugs rather than adding a significant amount of content, the sheer size of it alone raised a lot of questions, and game director Hajime Tabata’s assertion that Square Enix wanted to avoid a multi-disc game seemed off.
To me, these patches speak volumes about the state of Final Fantasy 15 before it was released. It isn’t that Final Fantasy 15 is unfinished in the sense that it is missing key gameplay elements or that the developers simply skipped important plot details intentionally to save time and space, but rather that the ambition and scope of the vision Tabata had for Final Fantasy 15 was limited by the status of the project when he took over. Tabata really only had a few years after he took over Final Fantasy 15 to prepare it for launch, and what he created with the assets he had in that span of time is a testament to his talent as director and the team he assembled around him.
That could still mean that Tabata simply wanted to do too much, however, and Final Fantasy 15 is littered with (in-game) physical evidence that points to this being the case. When the game suddenly shifts in tone after key characters begin to die and party members get injured, it feels like a smart shift to a more mature tone as the journey begins to become more serious. Yet Noctis and crew barely have time to mourn a death or come to terms with their own short-comings before they are whisked away to the next plot point, and they encounter some truly breath-taking level design along the way only to be forced away from it soon after they arrive there.
It’s not just the sudden restrictions on new areas to explore, either, although that should be enough – Tenebrae alone, with its odd beauty and tragic fate, feels gigantic but never more than something off in the distance serving as a plot point. The way the game approaches its key mechanics is another tell that maybe Final Fantasy 15 was much bigger than it is now, and that a lot of content had to be cut in order for the game to be ready by the end of November.
The summon system, for instance, sees Noctis engage in two epic boss battles with Titan and Leviathan in order to win their favor. Winning over Ramuh doesn’t require a battle, but it requires a lot of exploration and character development as it happens. The last two summons for Noctis, however, feel as though they were tacked-on right at the end – Shiva looks like she will have an entire level dedicated to her but simply shows up to help Noctis, and Bahamut, despite his status as series icon, simply tries to explain away a lot of the plot holes near the end of the game and shows up one more time for a cool summon sequence.
Final Fantasy 15‘s main villain, Ardyn, suffers a similar problem in the sense that he seems to just kind of do things in order to advance the plot as it comes near its end. He’s engaging and interesting, but he never has enough time to succinctly explain why he wants to do what he’s doing, and he could have been so much more. The level dedicated to exhibiting how cruel Ardyn is also feels rushed, as it plays a lot more like a survival horror game and unnecessarily strips Noctis of most of his powers to make it more difficult.
There’s no denying that Final Fantasy 15 is an incredible game and one that will go down in memory as one of the better modern takes on the series, but there’s also a tangible sense of something missing. The world of Final Fantasy 15 had so much more to offer than what we see, and there are hints of it everywhere that never come to fruition. Final Fantasy 15 has a beautiful story to tell, and gamers want to listen, but we only hear a jumbled mess of it like Square is playing the telephone game with its plot. Now I wonder, inexplicably, what kind of masterpiece Final Fantasy 15 would have been – if only the game ten years in the making had more time.
Final Fantasy 15 is available now for PS4 and Xbox One.