Final Fantasy 15 was nine years in the making - and counting. Are we the same people we were in 2006?
Final Fantasy is one of the most important gaming franchises in my personal pantheon of treasured delights. I especially love FF6, FF7, FF8, FF9 and FF12. FF7 in particular was a really important part of my deciding that games were a thing I'd pursue over other hobbies and interests, like going to law school.
There are a couple of things that define the Final Fantasy series, and reinvention with each new release is one of the really key ones. Because of this constant evolution, every Final Fantasy fan has their own opinions as to which are the really good ones and which were near misses.
I'm pretty sure that, for me, Final Fantasy 15 is going to be a miss.
This is so disappointing for me, and not just because I've been waiting nine years just like the rest of you. As I said, FF7 holds a special place in my heart, and the look and feel of what we've seen so far - the character design, the city - woke up a little flame of love and nostalgia. Open world gameplay and a new action RPG system perked my ears and flared my nostrils with anticipation.
But having got my hands on the demo, Episode Duscae, that flame has been extinguished.
Have you ever had one of those days where you've not had quite enough sleep, and woken up with a nagging headache and a feeling like you're thinking through cotton wool? Everything feels slower and more difficult than it needs to be, time drags, and nothing seems to make you happy.
That's how Episode Duscae felt to me. Everything was just that little bit off in a way that inconvenienced and irritated me. Things like not being able to move the cursor with the analog sticks. The way the camera never seemed to be pointing where I wanted it to in combat. The disconnect between the character's gestures and the English voice acting (it is better in Japanese).
Most of all, it just felt like a grind. I know there'll be a car in the full game, but in the questline included in the demo you have to run everywhere. Noctis's pace is not well matched to the distance of the open world he must navigate (also he runs like his joints are capable of at least 270 degree motion and he's trying to keep it under control, but that's just aesthetics). What this means is that every time you want to go somewhere, you have time to get bored on the way, and then you have to come all the way back. I feel very similarly about it as I do about jogging in meatspace: I don't want to do it and it is a painful chore.
To prevent you going out of your mind with the dullness of traversal, Duscae provides you with enemies to fight. Buckets of them, in fact, You can barely move for more than a few seconds before a sabre beast or whatever it's called aggros on you, and brings its friends with it.
In theory you can avoid these random encounters, but sighting the enemy so you can break line of sight before it finds you is difficult at best.
Combat is interesting, for sure, and I feel like in better circumstances it'll be worth mastering, but I just got super frustrated. The afore-mentioned camera problem is a doozy, especially when fighting those sabre beast things which you meet in such large numbers, because they zip about the field really quickly. The warp move is supposed to compensate for this, but in practice I found it best to just hit whatever was nearest and let the AI do most of the work. I don't know; Alex liked it, and I respect his opinion, so I'm sure I was just missing something.
Outside of combat, and trekking snail-like across the landscape singing Ten Green Bottles to keep my mind active, what I saw of gameplay in general didn't please me. I just don't want to wander from waypoint to waypoint, wandering linear paths, and collecting the items that appear directly in front of me as if determined to prevent me exploring. Don't even get me started on the you're-too-close-now-as-soon-as-you-close-the-prompt-you're-too-far mandatory stealth section, and the battle which prompts you to flee part way through but won't let you pause to find out where you're supposed to go, while an enemy that can pin you down and take out your entire health bar in two hits fills the entire screen.
What Episode Duscae reminded me of, more than anything, was PS2 and early PS3 era games. Not that it wasn't seriously beautiful and whatever: just that clunky feeling of bad cameras and draggingly slow traversal that plagues older games when you go back to them, having been spoiled by the new generation.
I started to wonder how I would have felt about FF15 if I was playing it nine years ago - and how FF12, which I love and which also has an open world of sorts, would feel if I went back to it now.
I started to wonder if maybe over the past decade I've somehow grown not out but away from Final Fantasy; like the long wait between FF13 and the next core single-player entry was just long enough for me to be distracted by other franchises, when I would otherwise have stayed faithful to those elements of Final Fantasy attracted me in the first place. (I did ask director Hajime Tabata about this possibility, but all I really got for my pains was a shocked expression on the other journalists' faces and no invitation to spend any more time at Square Enix.)
I don't know, y'all. Episode Duscae is not a finished build. It's possible many of the things that really annoyed me will be rectified before launch. At the end of the day, my complaints are minor irritations. Your mileage may vary. I just... did not love it, and I had expected to. I hope your anticipation isn't answered with the same level of comedown.
Final Fantasy 15 is coming to PS4 and Xbox One and has not been dated.