So my journey through Final Fantasy XV has been continuing on, mixing up the story chapters with running back and doing batches of side quests and hunts. Or just driving around and listening to the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack – because I mean, DAMN. Terra, Celes, Locke, Sabin, & Edgar’s themes? AND Dancing Mad? That is one fine collection of music. More than I can say for Final Fantasy X’s selection of songs in XV which includes the battle music… and uh… that one song that plays when Tidus whines about listening to his story? Seriously? You left out the Hymn of the Fayth? You could have dropped one of the FOUR compilations of Final Fantasy XI music to give us a few more iconic songs from X. Or maybe included X-2, XIII-2 or Lightning Returns’ music AT ALL. I mean, Dissidia and Type-0 is in there. All I’m saying is I want my boy band quartet jamming out to Real Emotion as they drive around Duscae.
Anyway, I haven’t exactly been pursuing the ending with a fervor. I take my time with RPGs and I enjoy exploring and all the little doodads. Which is useful because like 50% of XV’s plot is told via radio blips, overheard conversations and newspaper clippings. Seriously, if you aren’t checking that stuff out you will be missing a TON of whats going on in Eos. However, if half the plot is revealed in little side things that you can check out, I’d say that about another 40% of the story isn’t told until you reach the most divisive and controversial moment of the game: Chapter 13.
Without spoiling too much of the narrative that goes on, Chapter 13 is the penultimate chapter of the game and could rightfully be viewed as the final dungeon. Much of the explanation for what has been happening and why it is happening all occurs here. However, the chapter itself is a 90+ minute jog through endless tight corridors without weapons, companions or the ability to save outside of the occasional safe room. The halls are filled with enemies, jump scares, blind corridors, and the voice of the main villain enthusiastically mocking you. Your only real defense is the Ring of the Lucii, which gives you three spells:
- Death: Must be channeled and expends MP all the while. Tougher enemies take longer to channel than weaker ones. Heals you when the enemy ultimately dies.
- Holy: It’s more of a dodge that also does damage than an attack. You hold down the button, MP starts draining. If you are melee attacked while holding the button down, you dodge and blast the enemy with power. Also recovers a bit of MP when successful.
- Alterna: Uses your entire MP bar to suck everything in the area into a bubble and then destroy them. It’s your only AOE attack, and it will automatically drop you into ‘Stasis’ when you use it.
I’m sure from those brief descriptions you can see why some may be annoyed with the Ring over things like your weapons, Royal Arms, or normal spells. I ended up mostly using Death for the daemons and Holy for the Magitek Troops. Alterna I used like twice when I got overwhelmed. Then again, the enemies are pretty much all in their low 30’s, and I was level 88. Nothing in this place could really kill me unless I intentionally let them. About halfway through you do get one of the Royal Arms to help you with the fighting, but the Royal Arms weapons also drain your health with each swing. Ultimately, unless you are loaded with items like potions or ethers, the whole chapter becomes about resource management between your health, your magic, and your patience.
Since the games release a few weeks ago, Chapter 13 has become infamous among fans as the worst part of the game. Some have risen to defend it as almost an ‘artistic expression’ of the loneliness and isolation that Noctis is experiencing and forcing you – the player – to experience Noctis frustration as well. Some have described the chapter as “physically and emotionally draining” including the radical plot developments that occur over the course and especially at the end of the chapter. A few even took the chapter number into account and thought the long hallways were a satirical stab at Final Fantasy XIII. Others call it “lazy design” and would rather just see the whole thing removed from the game. So where do I stand?
Meh. I liked it.
I honestly did not see what the hub bub was about. I kept waiting for a Mass Effect 3 Ending level bomb to be dropped on me and quite honestly it just never came. In fact, I found the design and work on the area to be very interesting. Not in the “Noctis is frustrated, so you’ll be too” way but in the “This is a LOT like Resident Evil” way. You’re in the enemy capital, daemons everywhere, and your walking down these tight tunnels with barely enough room for two people to pass. There are blind corners everywhere and you have no clue what around them until you turn. All the while, the sound design gives spots of noises: scratches, weapons being dragged on concrete, grumbles of monsters from somewhere. It puts you on edge. It makes the whole thing feel dangerous. And this is coming from someone whose character was 50 levels above everything in that place and I STILL was jumping about when bad guys leaped out at me. It wasn’t lazy in my opinion, it was actually really cleverly designed to keep you in suspense. The maps opened up a bit more as things went on, especially when more plot details starting being delivered.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to say it’s a flawless piece of perfection or anything. Plot gets thrown at you fast and at full force and there’s a pile up of plot twists toward the end. But is that really so different than say… Final Fantasy X? Not saying that makes it better, but let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that Final Fantasy is renown for its well paced stories. Interesting and cool stories? Sure. But the pacing is all over the place.
Still, over all I don’t understand the immense hatred this part of the game gets. It’s a long maze of a dungeon. There’s a couple of puzzles in there. You get some story. It’s atmospheric. Does it take a while? Eh. I did it all in 90 minutes and that was with looking in every nook and cranny for shiny dots and reading all the lore material. Considering some of the areas you get to run through in Final Fantasy XIII, you’d think this would get more slack, yet I’ve seen – no joke – people comparing XIII favorably to this section of XV. I mean, I loved XIII. I’d pick it up and replay it in a heartbeat. But come on. Coooome ooooon.
In the end, I can see why some types of people would find Chapter 13 to be an annoyance or a slog. But I really wanted to throw my own hat in the ring and say that I really didn’t find it to be that way at all. I really didn’t find to be nearly as bad or unappealing that so many voices out there are shouting it is. I will say this though: It can be emotionally draining with all those big reveals and twists. You will want to punch the bad guy by the end. There is also some serious nightmare fuel hidden in the readable paper stacks scattered throughout. But hey, that’s half the fun of a good story, right?
I’m almost done with the game, so expect to hear my full thoughts and probably another one of those Type-0 style “What actually just happened here?” style posts coming up in the next few weeks.
I mean, I’ve clocked in about 64 hours according to the in-game clock. But that includes ‘paused time’ where I was making food or running errands, etc. Still at 64 hours, I’m only about half done with the main story (but have the achievements for 80 side quests, unlock 50 ascension nodes, and sitting just shy of level 70) But yea, I think I can share some of my early-ish impressions of the newest addition to the Final Fantasy series.
- The action is fun and chaotic. I often find myself biting off more than I can chew. The wait mode helps some but takes some getting used to. It only activates when you stop moving, so there’s a bit of a flow to combat you have to figure out. My suggestion would be to get used to it early. Wait Mode is SUPER helpful, especially once you upgrade it in the Ascension menu.
- Speaking of the Ascension menu, it’s a neat system. It grants you more stuff you can do, empowers your existing stuff, but it gives you lots of choice on which tree to build on and what you want to empower. It also has a bunch of ‘do X to get more AP’ stuff so you can spend AP to make more AP (but warp-killing low level baddies is still probably the most efficient way to do it)
- I wish I had some degree of control over my party members. Other than Ignis’ gather ability which huddles you around HIS position instead of yours, they kinda just go wherever and attack whatever. This runs into problems when Magic has these huge bursts and does friendly fire. I get around this currently by just popping a mega-potion or megalixir after scorching the earth with a massive 300 power firaga.
- Director Hajime Tabata’s influence is ALL over the side quest structure in this game. It honestly shares a ton in common with Type-0’s side quests. Pick up shiny dots. Turn in shiny dots. Give items to people. Some actually have cutscenes tied to them but they’re brief. So. Many. Shiny. Dots. Just remember, when side questing, the ORANGE shiny dots are the important ones.
- I know it’s almost sacrilegious to say this, but damn am I missing FFXIII’s datalogs. There’s so much interesting stuff I’m curious about in the world of Eos and I have NO way to find out more. From the Gods and their war and its effect on the world, or the sharp cultural divide in Lucis between those outisde of Insomnia’s walls and those inside. I think more history and cultural info would be a great read to understanding some of the context to the world.
- Speaking of context, I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to be accomplishing in the plot. Now, granted, I haven’t even made it to Altissia yet, but so far its been ‘collect ancient weapons’ and then ‘collect God power’ without a great explanation as to WHY Noctis needs to do all of this. Other than ‘retake Insomnia’ which doesn’t seem to come up very often as a goal on the road trip. I know Lunafreya wants me to do something but I have no clue what. Seems like this game might be up there with FFX in terms up loading all the crucial plot points in the back end of the game.
- I think it’s fun that you can still spot a few places where the Fabula Nova Crystalis stuff was before it got changed. Like the Gods only communicating in visions, similar to how Focuses were delivered to l’Cie.
- The whole evil empire thing confuses the heck out of me too. They don’t seem evil beyond backstabbing Lucis during a peace treaty. They actively drop out of the sky to fight monsters to protect people where Insomnia pretty much left everyone outside of the walls to fend for their own, and they seem to be prepping for some big evil. Honestly, they more come off as ‘doing the right thing, the wrong way’.
- While you don’t get a lot of written history or cultural background, the game does an AMAZING job of world building through natural interaction. The fact that the boys from the Crown City have names like Ignis, Prompto and Gladdio and the folks outside the wall have names like Cindy and Dave gives quite a bit of an impression of the difference between the areas. Or the funky looking outfits you see women wearing in Cleigne are actually radiation/heat suits because women are the only ones who work the power plant. Hell, the game starts with Prompto asking “What’s a Gil?” at the gas station. This does a great job of building an atmosphere, I just personally wish to devour more. Like getting a nibble only makes you want the whole thing.
- What exactly is Luna & Noctis’ relationship? Their marriage is described as a political one – for what purpose I don’t know – but they were childhood friends and they send letters to each via magical teleporting dogs, so they do care about each other it seems. Noctis seems to be genuinely looking forward to reuniting with Luna at points. Honestly, I’m really hazy on this. Do they actually have a relationship or are they just childhood pals pushed into an arranged political marriage?
- Seriously, if you’re not going to give me a codex or datalog, don’t hide the lore books in random order all over the bloody kingdom.
Final Early Judgement: REALLY FUN, but from a Lore fans perspective very frustrating early on. I’ll give a full rundown when I finish it.