On the road again.
*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*
Let me preface this feature by stating: I loved Final Fantasy XV. After my ten years of waiting and hoping for Final Fantasy Versus XIII, Square-Enix offered me Final Fantasy XV, a game they dedicated to Final Fantasy fans of old (and new). The experience on the whole left me satisfied, with brilliant execution of main characters (specifically Noctis and his friends) and a sturdy, if leaky, narrative. Still, Final Fantasy XV felt less like a game to me than it did an experience. But with that new and awe-inspiring feeling, I was missing one key aspect of the game (for me): a fluent narrative. Perhaps not everyone feels this way because of their approach to the game.
The story of Final Fantasy XV is difficult to follow for a variety of reasons. The first, and most evident, is that the scope of the narrative is far too wide. Perhaps it was intentional, but Final Fantasy XV appeared to lack storytelling for seemingly significant aspects of its story. For example, after the opening cinematics where King Regis is betrayed by the Emperor of Gralea, we never see the emperor again (outside of one cut scene thereafter). During the penultimate chapter of Final Fantasy XV, in the depths of a Gralean research center, we are finally privy to information on what happened inside the empire – why the emperor was silent and why so many daemons exist.
Again, the first moment we meet Ravus Nox Fleuret, he’s a villain, commanding the armies of the Gralean Empire. Having watched Kingsglaive early into XV’s narrative, I saw why Ravus fought against King Regis – and it all made sense. In the final few chapters of XV, however, Ravus has a change of heart, which is very briefly touched upon during a short cinematic where he speaks with Luna and appears to become an ally. And that’s it. You find Ravus’ corpse at the bottom of the Gralean research center during the penultimate chapter, so any dialogue options or clarifications simply perish with Ravus.
Now, let me repeat: This may be intentional. I can see, as a means of explaining, that we never learned about any of this exposition because the story was, essentially, a third person limited point of view. We never leave Noct’s side but briefly, and we almost never see outside story arcs unless Noct is directly involved (or it is a flashback obtained via speaking to someone). Some exposition can be gleaned from listening to radio broadcasts or reading discarded newspapers. And actually, as a form a literature, I kind of appreciate the thought of third person limited. Why should the player know what’s going on a country away if Noctis doesn’t know – especially considering that the story clearly isn’t omniscient.
I think we, as gamers, expect the entire story spoon fed to us from a third or first person omniscient perspective. Or if we are stuck in a third person (or first person) limited point of view, there always seems to be a character who exposits for us. Super convenient, right? But this isn’t my issue with Final Fantasy XV’s narrative presentation (in fact, it actually improves it). My biggest concern with Noct’s journey is that, in an open world populated with over 200 quests (and, more importantly, trophies for completing 80 quests), I couldn’t convince myself to actually proceed in the narrative until I completed every quest available to me.
What the pleasure of a wide open world did to hinder Final Fantasy XV’s storytelling (to some gamers) is offering far too much content with improper narrative pacing. Those who’ve completed XV understand how quickly chapters 10-14 fly once initiated. Inversely, I spent 30 of my 50+ playthrough hours on the first three chapters – mostly completing quests. If you’ve done that math, that means I spent only about 24 hours finishing chapters 4-14 and about 20-30 additional quests to finish out the game. This, of course, doesn’t include my post-game trophy hunting, but you get the overall gist of the matter.
The final question we should consider, then, is whether the massive world was worth it. For me, and for the method with which the story was presented (third person limited), the open world of Final Fantasy XV works – and I’m not sure it could have succeeded any other way without adding about 50 hours to the presented plot. Choosing to focus on character growth instead, too, benefits Final Fantasy XV more than a large cast of usable characters (though it was cool to battle with Aranea Highwind for a chapter) – especially in its presentation. Yes, Final Fantasy XV is not a perfect endeavor. Eric did a superb job in his review (found here), but I wanted to add my own thoughts to the project.
In summation, Final Fantasy XV’s narrative, unmodified, could not work in any other fashion than what was presented. While gamers (myself included through most of it until post-game reflection) might feel like they were lacking information or plot specific exposition, it’s actually okay; we’ve just been conditioned to expect an omniscient narrative and don’t know what to do when given something more limited. Even the grand scope of Noct’s world fits in a limited narrative – but gamers, like readers, need to accept the choices authors make in story presentation.