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.