Tag Archives: Final Fantasy XV

Opinion – Solutions for Open World Games

We’ve hit peak open world….I hope.

The open world genre is undoubtedly dominating the video game space.  From genre luminaries like Grand Theft Auto and Far Cry to lesser lights such as The Division and Watch Dogs to genre newbies like Final Fantasy and Mass Effect, developers collectively have concluded that the market wants more open world games.  There certainly is something appealing about the genre.  The ability to explore new worlds, take on a variety of challenges, and change your environment for the better are all something that open world games do very well.  Sadly, newer entries have taken their cues from the Ubisoft model which significantly degrades their long term prospects.  I’ve already written on why that model doesn’t work, so this will be on how to fix it.  We’ll start with something that should be obvious:

Every game mechanic should meet a threshold of fun

Playing games is a voluntary act.  We all pick up the controller because a game promises a good time (however we choose to define that).  We don’t play games for the prospect of large quantities of boring activities which is where most Ubisoft style games land these days.  Rather than emphasize the entertaining nature of their gameplay, many open world games promise hours of stuff to do in the hopes that the player will find something to enjoy.  Unfortunately, this approach results in shotgun blast side quests that are quick, unspecific in their aim, and often variations on the same theme.  Final Fantasy XV demonstrates this issue by having a map full of activities that rarely elevate beyond “kill this monster” or a straightforward fetch quest.  The end result is a world full of activities of which few are actually worth doing.  This is a trend we’ve seen in countless other games including Mass Effect Andromeda’s deluge of shoddy side content and Far Cry 4’s multiple variations on item collection.  Developers need to ask themselves if every major mechanic in the game (open world or not) is fun on its own.  If the action isn’t, than strip it from the game rather than rely on the myriad of other activities to pick up the slack.  Quantity doesn’t make up for quality.

Systems are your friend

One of the greatest missed opportunities in games is the chance to apply broader mechanic systems to open worlds.  Rather than try to craft each event, developers should establish worldwide systems that create gameplay opportunities.   Saint’s Row 2 provides a simple example of something that could be incredibly complex.  When the player takes territory in SR2, the player’s gang replaces the opposing gang thereby turning a once hostile territory into a friendlier place.  When the player goes on missions, the gang will support them in the territories under the player’s control.  This system isn’t particularly deep, but it creates a more strategic element to the game where the player could take certain territories before missions to ensure they had back up during the big fights.  Open world games are perfect for this kind of worldwide system where the player can have an important impact on the look and gameplay of the open world.  Rather than making maps a collection of static icons, developers ought to code dynamic systems that create gameplay by themselves and through their interaction with other systems.

Please stop forgetting about the story

Given the considerable energy that goes into creating enormous environments, players ought not be surprised at the sacrifices developers make in other aspects of the game.  Story often suffers as the developers must devote limited resources to creating a story wholly within the open world environment.  Whereas other style games can move character’s through new cities, different continents, and even other planets, many open world games must focus on a single place.  The evolution of the Saint’s Row series shows how this works in practice.  While the early games focused on small time street thugs trying to carve out territory in a major city, SR3 & 4 envisioned the eponymous Saints with global aspirations.  Given the limited nature of open world environments, the stories of SR3&4 had to both justify a) why the Saints had to take over yet another city and b) why everything important seemed to happen within the confines of that city.  The end result was a hackneyed plot about space aliens destroying Earth who then put the Saints in a city simulation for, you know, reasons.  I’ve focused on the environment, but characters, narrative arc, and every other aspect of the narrative declines as soon as the developer utters the words “open world”.  By refocusing on making great stories, developers could create an interesting new direction for the genre.

If the open world fad is anything like its predecessors, we can expect it to fade as it collapses under the weight of over indulgence and its lack of innovation.  If open world games decline to the point of just a few tent poles, then developers will have missed out on an opportunity to do some incredibly interesting things with the genre.  These games should not have a future if they continue to mirror the Ubisoft industrial mold, but could create a whole new generation of fans if they’re willing to try something new.

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Opinion – The Final Fantasy XV Opening

It’s like sticking the bread between two slices of salami.

The beginning of a game should set the tone for the early part of the adventure.  Many games choose to do so with an explosive introduction which often throws the player into an exciting scene.  The Final Fantasy series is known for this including one of the best intros of all time, Final Fantasy VII.  In that game, the players goes from a tranquil skyscape to participating in a pulse pounding strike against the Shinra power plant (it was the innocent days before 9/11).  Successful intros have similarly thrilling beginnings, even including the much maligned Final Fantasy XIII.  Surprisingly, Final Fantasy XV (FFXV) went the exact opposite route.  It is an interesting attempt at doing something different, but, sadly, it doesn’t quite work out.

FFXV begins with the protagonist Noctis joining his friends/bodyguards in bidding his father, the king, goodbye.  Noctis and crew hops into their car and drives away only to have it break down.  One of the earliest pieces of gameplay is the playing pushing the stalled car down a highway.  The experience is about as thrilling as it sounds.  This extends into the opening area where the only arching narrative is a fetch quest to get Noctis to a pier so that he can sail to a faraway kingdom to marry a princess for the sake of peace.  The intervening missions are largely fetch quests to explore a small, peaceful part of the kingdom and to get used to the gameplay.  Battles are limited and straightforward and the whole area feels like a waystation for something bigger.  And that’s the problem.

FFXV is a game about a road trip (at least, so far).  Unlike previous entries in the series, this one clearly wants to focus on a small set of characters and their interactions.  Developer Square Enix limits the characters and plot by keeping everything focused on the daily affairs of the local population.  By narrowing their view, Square Enix probably hoped to forge a bond between the players, the world, and the characters before embarking on the larger quest.  Rather than overwhelm the road trip theme with the story of invasion (you know it’s coming if you’ve seen Kingsglaive), FFXV starts at a moment in time when all is quiet.  This isn’t a bad idea, but the execution is questionable.  While the base gameplay is fun, the early quests don’t go out of their way to establish the all-important relationships that Square Enix wants to carry this game.  The chatter between characters begins that process, but the real stand out is the beautiful environment and breathing world.  Square Enix wants players to hop in their car and experience the ride before settling into the exciting parts of the game.  It feels like the road trip, more than anything else, is the focus of FFXV and everything that conflicts with it is pushed aside.

That’s unfortunate because shedding the story makes much of the later development incomprehensible.  A number of plot beats strike before, during, and after the opening section that lack support from the previous cutscenes and dialogue.  Without having watched Kingsglaive, the player will have no clue what’s going on.  At a bare minimum, this is poor form.  Completely offloading the introductory story line to a different media altogether isn’t just shifting the emphasis, it’s neglecting a key part of what an intro should do.

The introduction plays a very important role in setting out the themes and tone of what’s to come.  It should wet the player’s appetite for the game world and get them invested in its stories and characters.  In neglecting these duties, the introduction to FFXV feels more like a piece of filler midgame.  The basics of the game are all on display, but there’s nothing to suggest this area couldn’t have been 10 hours later in the game with minor tweaks.  I intend to keep playing, but I can’t help but feel that this isn’t a great start.

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Review – Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV

Please don’t suck.  Please don’t suck.  Please don’t suck.

Square Enix and its previous incarnations don’t have a great track record with movies.  Final Fantasy: Spirits Within and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children are extremely pretty bundles of complete nonsense.  While Square Enix displays some of the finest visual effects in both movies and games, it can’t seem to create a coherent, grounded story.  The developer consistently falls into the trap of deus ex machinas, not explaining key concepts, writing flat characters, and assuming the audience will go along with whatever craziness they put on screen.  Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is the next movie in this failed series, except it shoulders greater responsibility than just being a good movie.  Charged as the opening act for the upcoming Final Fantasy XV game, we must not only ask is the movie any good, but also what it says about the next iteration of this venerable series.

The story begins with a rushed introduction of the war between the Kingdom of Lucius and the Empire of Niflheim.  The evil, technological Niflheim is threatening to overwhelm Lucius and its magic wielding king.  The movie follows Nyx Ulric, a member of the titular Kingsglaive as they repulse Niflheim’s attempts at domination.  Being something of an Achilles heel for the series, I am delighted to say that the story for this movie is fine.  Nyx leads a cast of understandable characters (an achievement, considering the pedigree) whose grounded motivations help overcome Square Enix’s desire to do too much with too little time.  Approaching Kingsglaive as the introduction to the game, the developer crammed in too many concepts without giving them time to develop.  Character motivations and the broader narrative arch jam in new concepts right until the final scene with a desire to brief the future players overcoming the need for a contained movie experience.  It’s frustrating when the setup obscures the movie narrative, but the story beats and characters are strong enough that viewers can follow the broader plot and enjoy the action.

Speaking of action, Kingsglaive excels at it.  One of the opening scenes includes a battle that stands out as one of the greatest CGI fights ever made.  The sense of scale and delightful light show reinforce Square Enix’s reputation as one of the finest purveyors of visuals anywhere.  Square Enix uses the Kingsglaive’s method of transportation, throwing a dagger and teleporting to it, to setup fantastic aerial stunts.  Even without giant war engines and wild spells, the developer manages to imbue its world with a sense of wonder.  The Lucian capital city of Insomnia blends modern technology with a magical twist that turns the mundane into the wonderful.  Kingsglaive is a feast for the eyes and can almost be watched on that basis alone.

Taken as a movie, Kingsglaive is an enjoyable experience.  Better movies certainly exist, but this one is worth the five bucks for an Amazon rental (get the HD).  Taken as an introduction to its video game counterpart, Kingsglaive achieves what it sets out to accomplish.  In showcasing an inviting world of magic and technology, the movie provides a clear hook for players to explore that world through the game.  The background information, largely superfluous for the movie, provides a workable primer for the players.  Even the story’s penchant for doing too much seems less like a flaw given that the considerably longer run time in the video game will give Square Enix time to flesh out the concepts it crammed in to this movie.  The fact that Square Enix didn’t completely bungle the narrative gives me hope that the game will avoid the major narrative pitfalls for which the developer is known.  All told, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is a decent movie and an excellent lead in to what will hopefully be another success for the video game franchise.

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Opinion – Talking to an old friend

This is gonna get awkward.

Hi Final Fantasy!  It’s been a while.  I’m so sorry that we’ve lost touch.   How have you been?  Is the whole Final Fantasy XIII franchise concept working out for you?  No?  People keep complaining about bland, unlikable characters and an incomprehensible story line weighed down by three games worth of crazy?  Sorry to hear that!  …not really.  Look, it’s time to be honest with you.  When we stopped being friends, it wasn’t me, it was you.  You changed and everyone noticed.  Our good buddy who had memorable characters, unique worlds, and an epic sense of adventure was lost in a sea of flashy graphics and narrative nonsense.  I see that you’re trying to turn that around.  Final Fantasy Type-O looks amazing and I’m even hopeful for Final Fantasy XV, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  Here are a few things you could work on.

Have better friends – Remember Lightening?  How she thought she was so cool because she kept her distance and never betrayed any emotion?  She was no fun.  While her devotion to her sister Serah was great and all, it seemed to be the only complexity to her.  Conversations at the bar were about swords or protecting her family, but what did she do in her off hours?  Oh, and let’s talk about Serah and her very earnest boyfriend Snow.  There’s a reason I don’t hang around 13 year olds in love.  They’re totally obsessed with each other, but have absolutely nothing in common.  Maybe you know why they’re such a great pair, but I could never figure it out.  That actually seems to be a major problem with all of your friends.  They are all about declaring emotions and making grand gestures, but there never seems to be any substance to them.  They’re just words.

Tell better stories – Final Fantasy, I know you’ve got a great imagination, but I really wish you could reign it in now and then.  You’ll start with some story about oppression or nobility and, then midway through, you’ll throw in gods and stupidly random magic powers and act like its okay that you’ve just contradicted yourself 20 times.  Look, I know you want to be interesting.  Everyone does, but the most interesting stories don’t have floating cities or thousand year old sin monsters.  The best stories talk about people and their struggles.  They pull on extraordinary circumstances to show comparatively ordinary emotions.  And they make sense.  Seriously, if I hear one more deus ex machine out of your mouth, we’re only going to meet at the bargain bin.  If you can’t explain your story to a five year old, try again.

Stop treating me like an idiot – You’ve got a lot of fun ideas for some really neat games.  I love how you’re constantly trying to invent new ways to play.  I just wish I didn’t have to sit through 30 hours of handholding to get the whole ruleset.  I also wish you didn’t create very pretty games that have all the user input of Candyland.  I’ve been playing all kinds of games since we were kids, Final Fantasy.  Many of them are much more complicated than yours, yet you’re still acting like we’re five and you won’t play with me because I’m not smart enough.

If I’m to sum up everything I’m saying, Final Fantasy, it’s grow up.  I’ve got so many more friends with incredible depth, unique character, and their own sense of style and interests.  They have grown up with me in a way that you never seemed able to achieve.  I genuinely wish you the best.  I want your new offerings to build on the concepts that everyone else has pushed forward.  I want this, but I look at your most recent games, and I’m not hopeful.

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