Final Fantasy XV`s troubled development history is an overused narrative. However it is difficult to ignore it given the structure and rushed nature of the latter half of the game. Final Fantasy XV utilizes an open-ended world for the first eight chapters of the game, but this comes to a screeching halt in Chapter 9 when the party travels to Altissia. After this point, the game becomes incredibly linear in nature. This all comes to a head in Chapter 13 where the terrible design choices and questionable narrative rear their ugly heads.
There is an interesting comparison to be had between Final Fantasy XIII and XV. Upon its release, XIII was heavily criticized for its linear nature and lack of towns and overworld. It opened up somewhat much later in the game, but at that point the damage was done. Final Fantasy XV has the opposite problem. The game is very open-ended from the onset. Beginning with Chapter 3, the entire map opens up. There are many sidequests to complete and many secrets to find. The game then abandons this concept altogether, and it gives the impression the latter half of the game was incredibly rushed. The narrative in particular feels disjointed with characters dying off screen and being mourned without much of a stake behind any specific death. The back story behind Final Fantasy XV’s world is difficult to fully comprehend, and the motivations behind some of the characters are confusing at best. In the end, Noctis is the hero who must save the world, but the agency behind his tale is lacking, and characters place a lot of faith in him without a lot of evidence to support their strong conviction.
Perhaps the linear design could be forgiven if there were some wrinkles added into the gameplay formula at this juncture. That never happens. The battle system remains the same throughout and if anything, the environments become even less interesting the more you progress in the game. There is one notable encounter in Chapter 9 that is memorable, but outside of that Noctis and company traverse very little from that point onwards. In fact, the majority of the time past Chapter 9 is spent running around train cars while inner turmoil in the party begins to take root. This stark contrast between two portions of the game doesn’t happen very often. When a drastic change occurs, there are usually extenuating circumstances at play that relate to the change. Without knowing the behind the scenes situation behind the game’s development, fans can only speculate. Speculation points in the direction of pressure being put on the development team to finish the game as soon as possible. Regardless of the actual decision, the end product speaks for itself.
Chapter 13 is the biggest indicator of the poor direction Final Fantasy XV headed in its later stages. Some games fall into a trap where certain gameplay elements are forced onto the player without being introduced or used prior to that point. The most common example of this phenomenon is stealth segments. In Chapter 13, not only does Noctis become isolated without his companions, he loses access to his weapons and spells. The only means of combat at his disposal is a ring that casts death on enemies. The two biggest downsides are that it drains mana and takes a long time to cast. Noctis is completely vulnerable when using the ring and the enemies become increasingly dangerous as he progresses through the game’s longest story dungeon. That’s right. The game’s longest story dungeon features a distinct lack of combat, something that Final Fantasy XV heavily emphasized up until that point. To make matters worse, more difficult monsters are introduced and as a result, remaining hidden is heavily encouraged. Very few design choices make me more frustrated than a game forcing me to use stealth when it has clearly not been used at any point in the past. The dungeon itself has some interesting lore pertaining to it, but the environment is bland and boring. It consists of running down interconnected hallways, slowly unlocking access to further levels with keycards you discover along the way. Square-Enix has promised to take a look at Chapter 13 with a future update to the game. I truly hope it fixes many of the issues plaguing it. With that said, Chapter 13 is not the sole problem. The entire second half of the game needs to be looked at, but at this point, for those of us that have already completed the game, I believe the best we can hope for is DLC that fleshes out the story more and keeps me invested with the characters.
There were parts of Final Fantasy XV I liked a whole bunch. The soundtrack in particular was incredibly well done, and many of the battle tracks stand out. However, with a game that has been anticipated for so many years, the flaws cannot be ignored. The latter half of the game abandons the open world structure and it suffers greatly from it. The story is a mess and there is a distinct lack of explanation. At different points, it felt as if events were simply happening without a proper segue. Chapter 13 is the best example of the game’s many problems working against it. Several design choices such as a focus on less combat hurt this section of the game and make it tedious at best. I do think Final Fantasy is headed in the right direction, but I also believe a simpler story could work in the next game’s favor. Final Fantasy could return to form in the future, but only time will tell.