A little boring, I know, but I’m trying to hold myself to some kind of regularity standard 😉
Soo I’m actually closing in on my third playthrough of FFXV (not for any good reason- I botched my chance for the regalia type-F so I gotta get to the post-game section all over again) and I’m not sure how much my opinion of it has changed since I originally began playing it.
Fundamentally, the game is pretty much a desert feast. For me, games like Bloodborne and Salt And Sanctuary are like well-rounded meals compared to most modern video games. Bloodborne is a meal; Final Fantasy XV is a four-hour stretch of ice cream, fast food and cheetos. My retro sensitivity also keeps me in touch with older FF titles (IX, VI, VII and IV), Shin Megamei Tensei, Chrono Trigger and the odd platformer and horror-survival game here and there, but right now we’re talking about new stuff.
I’d also like to add that I’m not sure whether or not I qualify as a Soulsborne fan. I really love Bloodborne and Salt And Sanctuary, so clearly I like some fundamental aspects of the formula. However, I only recently started playing the PS4 remaster of the original Dark Souls and it just seems…underdeveloped? Some of that is to be expected, since the first game to break some new ground can hardly anticipate the more mature off-shoots of its influence, but I also kinda think Bloodborne ruined me. So I think I have a foot in the Soulsborne door but I don’t think I’m “there” yet.
What I meant about a meal versus desert-marathon is that Bloodborne (if I may be a little repetitive in my examples) takes advantage of multiple different dimensions with both gameplay and narrative. A huge manifestation of this is the use of multi-player within Bloodborne versus the recent expressed priorities of the big bugs at SquareEnix. When one first plays Bloodborne without any prior experience of Soulsborne or its derivatives it almost seems unplayable. If one putzes around enough to get into the cleric beast boss fight and score your first Insight point, there is a clear implication that you really should take advantage of co-op.
I’ve come across a few gamer size-kings on YouTube who felt emasculated by this, but I think it’s the beginning of one of the game’s essential sweet spots. The circumstantial emphasis on multiplayer (which gets VERY difficult to avoid in the last of the Chalice Dungeons and parts of the Old Hunters DLC) also adds something cool to the narrative experience. Bloodborne has little to no plot explication. The vast majority of information available to the player as to what they’re doing and why is visually and circumstantially suggested by the environments and creatures. You do get some interesting interactions with NPCs but their understanding of what is going on, rather like your own, is only superficial and relative. Beyond this, the rest of our information about the setting and the plot comes from item descriptions and loading screens.
One consequence of this kind of story-telling is to make the player feel alienated from any single in-game source of information and therefore compelled to reach their own conclusions. When this is combined with the multi-player experience, though, it’s hard to avoid discussions with your fellow co-operators about the world and lore of Bloodborne. Not only are you sorely tempted to team-up with other players by the occasional overwhelming boss fight or punishing section of level design, but the multi-player experience also adds to the unfolding of the narrative through discussion and mutual discovery.
Compare this to what SquareEnix has shared with the press regarding its future business models: they plan on shifting most of their emphasis to MMO’s and mobile apps. Essentially, they plan on letting go of the single-player experience as a primary concern.
If me opening this entry with a stated comparison between Bloodborne and Final Fantasy XV seemed a little odd, just look at how FromSoftware and SquareEnix look at multi-player: one of them seamlessly integrates a HUGE multi-player component into the linear narrative more common in single player games, and the other uses narrative as a threadbare gimmick to hold the game together.
Like I said, a meal versus a desert feast. In Final Fantasy XV you are encouraged to do every little side quest between point A and point B regardless of how it effects the story’s sense of pacing. This can be cute at times, like when Gladiolus wants to delay the journey to Altissa in order to look for the perfect ingredients for a cup of ramen. At other times it’s just kind of jarring. When the party stops at the elevator near the only Lucii royal tomb on the Niflheim continent you could, if you wanted, take a break to help a train passenger find her lost chocobo chicks and a journalist find pictures. This is happening at the same time when the party is experiencing its first internal crises. There has been a recent character death, one of them is permanently disabled and two of them are fighting like cats in heat. Noctis being compelled to do little random chores at the same time goes beyond distracting into bizarre. The game is designed to give you several chances to do stuff like this, which can only mean that the developers meant for the player to treat the central plot as secondary.
While I think these kinds of side quests are presented very awkwardly and constitute something of a weakness, they are very fun at times. Particularly the things you have to go off the beaten path to find, like Costlemark Tower and a few of the more challenging hunting side quests.
I’m not trying to state the obvious by insisting that this game is awkwardly developed but even with the recent DLC, multiple updates and the Royal Edition expansion, there are still a few glaringly important angles that somehow escaped everyone’s notice even back when FFXV was just released.
One of the major plot-points in the movie Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is that Lucis was defending several smaller states from being annexed by Niflheim and once the peace treaty (to be ratified with the marriage of Noctis and Luna) is set into motion, Lucis has agreed to stop defending these states. Not only was Lucis protecting them from being conquered, but they also exacted levies from them in the form of military personnel. Most of the warriors of the Kingsglaive are not indigenous to Lucis; when the treaty is signed, they feel as if their homelands were forfeited in a negotiation between more powerful nations. This consequence of the peace treaty seems like it should have had way more impact on the plot of the video game; at the very least you should encounter a mention of it here and there. Noctis should have at least some reaction to it, since the marriage alliance between Lucis and Niflheim involves him and Luna personally.
While we’re talking about differences between the various pictures of the FFXV universe, I wanna mention what I consider the coolest of the recent content updates (version 1.16) which really tied a huge part of the story together and makes a connection between the plot of the game and the distant lore. And even involves Ardyn and Luna’s character arcs.
In the distant, mythic past, Ifrit was the only one of the six deities to directly interact with humanity. He helped them create the super-advanced civilization of Solheim and encouraged their every ambition. Ifrit’s enthusiasm for humanity eventually did its part in romantically winning over Shiva, who had previously looked down on humans. Ifrit eventually began to feel spurned by Solheim, though, since its people began to shift their loyalties to themselves and the rest of humanity and away from the god Ifrit.
When Ifrit has a meltdown over this, Shiva is instrumental in defending humanity from his wrath. The rebellion and the fall of Ifrit subsequently gave rise to the Starscourge. This links us directly with Ardyn, the first oracle, who initially acted as a big’ol sponge soaking up the Starscourge infection. Ardyn was made immortal in order to contain the Starscourge indefinitely, but subsequently felt shunned by the world he was supposed to protect, as he was basically turned into a walking quarantine zone. While Ardyn is not on-screen participating directly enough in the plot for us to connect with him much, I felt like this helped make him more interesting.
About Ardyn, though…this leads us to one of the really, really bad decisions at work in this game: the repeated internal comparisons to Final Fantasy VI. I have no clue how the developers thought FFXV would ever benefit from that comparison. I mean…the 16-bit buddies regalia decal, the use of the word ‘magitek’, the use of the phrase ‘world of ruin’ and Noctis saying to Ardyn “Get off my chair, jester”…for some reason, they thought it would be a great idea to beg people to compare this game to FFVI.
Also…”Get off my chair, jester”? Seriously? Are we seriously supposed to think Ardyn is somehow analogous to Kefka? Has anyone who has played both FFVI and FFXV ever thought that Ardyn compared well to Kefka?
Like…like…that was a 16-bit game from the early nineties that did open world way better than FFXV. I mean, the whole second half of FFVI is totally up to the player. During the original ‘world of ruin’, you are guided up to the point of recovering the airship. From that point, you could do anything or nothing. You could go straight to Kefka’s final boss fight if you wanted or you could track down the rest of the party. You could even go way out of your way for some delightfully random optional characters like Gogo and Umaru and Mog and some truly awesome optional dungeons (some of which are harder than Kefka in Vector). As wonky as some of this stuff is, none of it is positioned in a way to take any momentum away from the pacing of the central narrative. All those bells and whistles were in the original game in the early nineties. Zero need for later additions in reaction to demands from the fanbase. But somehow the developers thought the most recent Final Fantasy game would look good if they invited people to compare it to FFVI.