It’s award season here at Twinfinite! All week long, our editors and writers will be nominating games that stood out enough in 2016 to be a Game of the Year candidate. And later this week, we’ll reveal our winner! Today, features editor Ishmael Romero tells us why Final Fantasy XV is worthy of being Twinfinite’s 2016 Game of the Year.
For some, Final Fantasy XV impresses by sheer virtue of existing. The first core, numbered entry in the series since 2013 (Lightning Returns), this game came with an expectation of greatness. Its gameplay and story took a sharp turn from its predecessors, landing in a state dramatically different from previous entries in the franchise. The risks paid off, and Final Fantasy XV is a game worthy of its lofty expectations.
What jumps out early in Final Fantasy XV, specifically if you’ve played a few of the previous entries, is the focus on action. The franchise that helped to make JRPGs commonplace in the western world eschewed the classic ATB and turn-based approach that it itself popularized. Everything moves about the screen so quickly, with little warning as to what you need to watch out for and where you need to stand. This diversion from what makes fans of JRPGs so comfortable was a risk, that much is true, but it would also prove to be the game’s largest strength.
Before XV, the series played with a lot of ideas yet kept most of the formula intact, a sort of lifeline for fans to find their way back to the beloved core. Final Fantasy stories have grown to be more convoluted over the years as well, but the premises themselves have always been easily identifiable. Even with the introduction of fast-paced Paradigms in XIII, combat still remained in a controlled space with a light sense of turn-based action.
It was safe to keep with the status quo, innovating around the core rather than transforming it to the risk of muddying the waters.
Final Fantasy XV casts all of that aside, going for a seamless open world approach. While you are still on a journey tied to the primary protagonist, you are also free to go on your own adventure, exploring a beautiful landscape full of opportunities and secrets to uncover. There are legendary weapons to find, monsters to hunt, and people to befriend as you learn more about them and their lives in a world thrust into war and terror. It’s this sense of scale that helps drive the majesty of the adventure home.
The world of Eos is magnificently large, detailed, and yours to tackle as you see fit. The monsters that inhabit it are to scale, often times towering over Noctis and his friends. It’s genuinely terrifying to see deamons crawl out from underground when you’re still under-leveled, or to witness large Griffons fly overhead as they shriek, filling you with dread before they swoop in.
You’ll face all these threats as Noctis, the game’s hero and a character capable of using any weapon, casting any spell, using summons, and commanding allies in battle. He’s an empty vessel that allows for you to place yourself inside the game, rather than being constrained by a predetermined style. Being able to leave your mark on the hero in such a way is refreshing and adds a level of immersion that makes the action pop.
Meanwhile, the controversial real-time gameplay is free and fun, yet doesn’t betray the RPG nature of offering difficulty and strategy to those who want it. You can beat the game with little trouble, sure, but it takes a skilled hand to really master everything that Eos has to offer.
Final Fantasy XV isn’t without its issues. Unfortunately, while the world is beautiful and the gameplay is addictive, the story suffers plot holes. The remedying content is locked away in material found outside of the game, such as Kingsglaive, a feature length animated film, and the short Brotherhood anime series. If you didn’t happen to watch these, you couldn’t be blamed for finding certain parts of the story confusing and rushed. That said, the developers are working to add to the story and fix the pacing at least after the fact, even if it should have been sorted out prior to release.
That isn’t to say that the narrative is completely botched. These characters are easy to love, and the world opens itself up for connection the more you explore it. There’s a scientist that takes you under her wing to learn more about the monsters of the world, and a hunter who wants to see every brave warrior put to rest properly. Even the gods and classic avatars such as Shiva, Ramuh, and Ifrit were much more than spells to cast in battle this time around. They were critical players in the political structure of the world, as well as your means of connecting with Eos on a deeper level. And your friends, though the origins of how you met them were left to the anime, helped to keep things lively with varied personalities that never felt forced. If it wasn’t for the crew, particularly Prompto, some of the lonelier bits would have been a real drag. Their concern for you, the laughter, and even some of the bickering helped Eos feel welcoming.
In the end, as I watched the credits roll, I felt as if I truly accomplished something. Even with its flaws, Final Fantasy XV sinks its hooks into you and makes you care — about its world, its characters, and most importantly, your friends. The shift to free action and an open world only makes the journey more believable. Despite its changes, XV holds the heart of Final Fantasy right down to the core.
The Final Fantasy series is growing and expanding in exciting ways, and its successful first step should not go unnoticed. It’s a scary endeavor to create something so new out of something so beloved, yet Square Enix embraced that challenge wholeheartedly and delivered one of the best RPG experiences of the year. If the next entry is just as novel as this one was, Final Fantasy has an even brighter future ahead of it. For giving us what we love without fear of taking risks, Final Fantasy XV is worthy of being 2016’s Game of the Year.