Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV looks like a very weird game. And honestly, after playing it myself, it actually is. It is, for all intents and purposes, a virtual reality fishing game. You cast your line, you get a fish, you reel it in, you put it in a bucket. Although there’s more to the experience, that’s the core of the gameplay. And you know what? It’s way more fun than I, or probably anyone else for that matter, ever thought it would be.
The demo I got to play was relatively short. I just had to catch a few fish before facing off against some horrifying looking sea monster. However, in this short space of time it was the mechanics that sold me on the experience, despite how straightforward they were.
You’re given a sonar device that you use to ping the locations of fish for you to catch. Afterwards, you cast a line, and once you get a bite you start reeling them in. You actually have to reel which I didn’t think I’d enjoy but found myself intently rotating that handle as if my life depended on it. It was interesting because while playing the fishing game in Final Fantasy XV, it was hard to care that much as you’re simply tapping a button and hoping a line doesn’t snap. But for Monster of the Deep, you feel like you’re really in there, and a pep talk from Prompto right before the demo began in earnest helped light that fire under me so I could get him the best damn picture I possibly could.
There was just something about casting that line and instantly hoping I got a good catch as if there was a way to take it home. It’s incredibly simple, but it taps into that part of the mind where you just want to do better and it reminded me of a game that I hadn’t played in a very long time, Sega Bass Fishing on the Sega Dreamcast. It came with a special fishing controller which mimicked the handle and reel of an actual fishing rod. You simply went out there and tried to catch the biggest fish you could in order to win a championship. Simple, yet oddly engaging which helped get the game ported to several other platforms (though none were as well received as the original). You would think that standing in your living room (or wherever it is that you have your video games hooked up) and reeling in a fake fish on a fake rod that you can’t actually feel couldn’t possibly work, yet it did then, and Monster of the Deep: FFXV showed me at NYCC that it still does now.
But it was more than just the simple fishing that endeared me to this odd, standalone VR experience that’s heading to the PSVR next month. While fishing, there was just so much Final Fantasy happening. Beautiful music played in the background, and it changed depending on what I was involved in. A Cactuar randomly appeared while searching for some fish and Carbuncle, who was resting atop a rock, seemed to grow tired of the fishing happening around him and jumped away. There was even a moment where I made an impressive catch that led to me being able to take a picture with the fish. At that moment, VR became a lot more AR, and I could pose with the virtual fish using the PlayStation Camera. But, the biggest moment was when I reached my regular fish quota and got to fight a boss.
A huge, monstrous creature jumped around the screen, sometimes attacking me directly as I continuously shot at it with a crossbow. Eventually, I was able to reel in that one too, though it put up quite the fight. Monster of the Deep uses some of the same mechanics present in the regular mini-game found in Final Fantasy XV such as needing to change the direction of your rod, and this beast had me moving left and right like a madman (which is much easier to do with motion controls than it was in the standard Final Fantasy XV adventure). Having a fishing game suddenly become a shooter threw me off for a second, but when I caught that foul beast, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel great.
To cap off the whole little excursion, the game cut to a scene familiar to Final Fantasy XV players. Ignis handed over a plate of food, kebabs for this demo, as Noctis, Gladio, and Prompto chowed down around a fire sharing stories as they usually do. For the first time, players are part of the gang, and that’s a pleasant feeling after a hard day’s work (depending on how eager you are, fishing will tire you out). It was 1998 again, when playing a fishing game was more fun than it had any right to be. I’m curious to see how far Square Enix goes with this, but for the right price, this can end up being a must-have gem come Nov. 21.