January 10, 2017
Casey Moore, Host
**This is the first -new- post created for the Respawn Lounge blog. From this point on, every Tuesday will feature a brand new piece written by one of the members – and, if someone feels so inclined, potentially a listener piece from time to time as well. If that sounds interesting, you can find our email in the Contact Us tab.
Sometimes these pieces will coincide with the week’s podcast topic and sometimes not. This time, not. That will depend on what’s going on in the gaming world and how inclined toward topics we are for writing purposes, and as far as inclination goes, Final Fantasy suits me just fine.
Releasing this past December was the decade-long anticipated fifteenth entry in the Final Fantasy franchise. Originally proposed as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis trifecta (which met an exceedingly premature end, having both this and Agito XIII repurposed and renamed), early screenshots showed the protagonist Noctis fighting in a combat system not unlike Square Enix’s other flagship, Kingdom Hearts. In 2016, the final product doesn’t seem true to its original form.
Final Fantasy XV is an action RPG, yes, but the similarities don’t extend much further than that, unless you think potions and party members are a Kingdom Hearts calling card. What we have instead of more similar to a slower paced Platinum game, the likes of Metal Gear Rising or Bayonetta. FFXV isn’t as bombastic as either of them, at least not during the majority of the game – the big boss battles certainly give Asura’s Wrath a run for its money on spectacle alone – but the combat is far more action heavy than previous entries in the franchise.
Final Fantasy XV is nothing if not bold. It’s unequal parts open world and linear, it’s action rather than turn-based, and you control a party of black-clad pretty boys. This is oversimplifying things of course, as the characters are much more than their outfits, but what is clear here is just how far removed Square Enix made this game with its presentation from the rest of the franchise.
At least, it seems that way, but players oft forget just how hard the Final Fantasy games remove themselves from each other. Starting at the beginning, Final Fantasy (one) is a fairly average romp through a fantasy land of elves and orcs, albeit with a story far ahead of its time compared to its ilk on the NES and, more closely related, the RPGs of the classic Japanese computers. Final Fantasy II, however, forsakes all these strides in favor of entirely new ones, discarding the character classes and nameless party for an even more story-driven narrative where important characters die before your very eyes. Final Fantasy III then, perhaps being the greatest example of previous Squaresoft programmer Nasir Gabelli, extends itself further still to invent the job system the franchise is so famous for. Final Fantasy IV is a soap opera drama, Final Fantasy V is a comedy routine, Final Fantasy VI is operatic, and Final Fantasy VII is a not-so-stealthy commentary on the influence human engineering has on a world’s natural bounty (and also aliens).
All this to say that, despite common complaints on the internet, “being” Final Fantasy is as malleable as it gets when it comes to franchised titles. Each title makes a concerted effort to reinvent the franchise rather than build upon it – while certain similarities do exist, such as the parallel of FF3 and FF5, there’s invariably more to the mix than some fans seem to realize.
That said, when taken with the context of its elder brethren, Final Fantasy XV is right at home in the franchise as far as brand recognition is concerned. Sure, it’s the first action-based numbered entry, but it’s a natural evolution considering the final entry in the FF13 saga, Lightning Returns, was action as well.
While there’s fun to be had observing and discussing what makes this game so different from its predecessors (and that’s surely something Square Enix emphasized), you might be surprised how many similarities there are to previous titles. In fact, as I completed the game a few weeks after its release, I felt it more of a love letter to Final Fantasy than a breakup text.
From this point on, readers should be wary of spoilers.
The most obvious accents associating FF15 with its Final Fantasy family are the existence of common creatures like chocobos, cactuars, and tonberries. The chocobo theme is present, you’ve got you phoenix downs and your megalixers, you’ve got your Bahamuts and your Shivas – none of which truly define the franchise in its entirety, but all staple condiments to a full course series.
Some of the more subtle nods are in the forms of tributes. For one, you can play the soundtracks of previous Final Fantasy entries while driving the Regalia – and later on foot. With the Day One Edition of the game, you can get a greatsword called Masamune; not a Final Fantasy original, but definitely a staple. There’s a character who identifies as a Dragoon and exhibits the spear and dragon motif that’s been omnipresent with the class since the series’ second entry.
The plot itself is reminiscent of Final Fantasy II. Four youths whose home is destroyed stand up to an empire that draws its power from using dark and arcane energies (in FF2, literally Hell, but in this case simply demons) and can only be stopped by a purveyor of light. There are fewer politics, unfortunately in my opinion, but the acknowledgement is fairly distinct – and if it sounds like the plot of Star Wars, that’s because it is.
During the final chapter of the game, a time skip occurs and Noctis must venture solo for a time until returning to his aides in order to stop the villain who devastated the world and assumed a godlike position, a nod to Final Fantasy VI that must have given the scenario writer whiplash. The overworld is even called the World of Ruin in this portion of the game, just as it was in FF6.
In the final cut scenes of the game, we’re shown Noctis and Lunafreya sitting upon the throne as the camera pans to them – curiously, as not only are they presumed dead, but because as the camera set the scene the two of them weren’t visible until it drew closer. It would appear that the event happening is either or both a coronation ceremony for Noctis and/or their wedding. It’s more likely that this is metaphorical – the game emphasizes harshly that Noctis does not and cannot survive his final confrontation with Ardyn – and what we saw was a dream, or an alternate reality, or perhaps just a metaphor. This entire scene gave me flashbacks to the finale of Final Fantasy VIII, where Balamb Garden is hosting a party and Rinoa turns to find Squall, who almost certainly fell during the last battle with Ultimecia. The layers of vagueness and openness to interpretation was so clear it was palpable.
Final Fantasy XV may be more of a black sheep than previous entries in the series, steering the most away from the franchise to date, but its identity as a Final Fantasy title is as apparent as ever. While it may play as differently as can be, FFXV is right at home in the pantheon of the Final Fantasy franchise, and different though it is, I have no doubt that it was made by a team with a deep love for Final Fantasy. Though its direction is controversial, as far as “being a real Final Fantasy” goes, it sits right at home, staring lovingly back at its forbearers, basking in their memories and embracing its heritage – just as Noctis did.
Something something you spoony bard.