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[personal profile] flonnebonne
My little brother and I finished the game a few weeks ago, and it was fun! Definitely not what I expected (which was a Kingdom Hearts clone), but a pleasant surprise, not a nasty one.

I have a sneaking suspicion that part of the reason the development cycle took so long was because the creators had to spend a few years clawing Nomura's influence out of the game and then figuring out what to do with the remaining mess. As my little brother put it, "I'm glad it didn't end up being a game based on nothing but some old character designs Nomura did," which is what it looked like it was going to be for the longest time. There IS something of substance here, although what that substance is is...weird. 

Spoilery talk about FFXV's themes

The obvious theme is that you gotta love and appreciate your bro-licious dude-friends, of course. Which is why there are no female characters in your party--a huge problem with the game, but today I'll be discussing more what the game actually does than what it should do. 

The dude-bro theme is related also to the themes of responsibility and growing up: your spend the first half of the game tooling around with your doods instead of saving the world, and the second half of the game you grow up (literally) and actually save the world.

And the third theme...has to do with the real world. I think. It's hard to explain and I'm going to take many rambly many paragraphs to lay it out. 

Even though you and your buds look like Japanese boyband rejects, the first half of the game basically takes place in the rural USA. It's very authentic, apparently. I like it. I like the contrast between the absolute ordinariness of your Amurican surroundings and the magical swishiness of your kingly destiny, and your hair. That contrast is always there, even though it's almost never talked about. The visuals tell the story. 

This is a good thing, because most of the story-related dialogue is terrible. Case in point: Lunafreya's speech before she summons Leviathan is boring and lifeless. As one of the most important conveyors of exposition, poor Luna is given the most trite, gloomy lines in general, really. (Which is why my brother and I made sure to send her ridiculous messages like "Keep on rolling!" through the dog-book thing.) Compare her speech to Vayne's excellent Caesar speech in FFXII and it looks even worse--though to be fair, FFXII was written by the folks from the FF Tactics team, who were originally from the company Quest, not Square. 

But anyway, Luna doesn't matter (this is another theme of the game, sadly--that females don't matter). The most important dialogue in this game is the backdroppy stuff, not the front-and-centre-y stuff. It's the ubiquitous comments about Ignis' cooking, Noctis' fishing skills or lack thereof, Gladiolus' love of cup noodles, Prompto's relieved "Still alive! Let's celebrate by eating something dead!"

The translators did a great job spiffing up all this background verbiage in the English version, by the way, adding plenty of character and idiom and cheese. The Japanese comments are a lot more boring and non-idiomatic, which I know because I can understand most of it without difficulty. (FF scripts generally become more cheesy and idiomatic when they get translated to English--a good thing, IMO.) 

Anyway, to sum up the last four paragraphs, Square put a ton of effort into making you feel a sense of familiarity and banality through (1) detailed, authentic visuals of backcountry America, and (2) hours and hours of plot-irrelevant, dumb-ass background comments from our four main dumb-asses (Ignis may sound smart, but he is honestly a dumb-ass too--just listen to his plans whenever you raid an Imperial base). And yes, not everyone is familiar with rural America, but I think fewer people around the world are familiar with, say, rural Japan. 

Meanwhile, the characters who seem like they should be important, like Noctis' dad, Luna, Luna's brother, Aranea, etc. get hardly any screentime at all, no real backstories, and when they do talk you wish they would stop. Honest game trailers sums up the incongruence nicely.

Why the hell is the game like this? Why are Prompto's selfies more important than Noctis' fiancée? Why is fishing more important than Noct's dead dad? 

It's definitely fun and weird and trippy, but I didn't see the thematic relevance...until the second half of the game, when all of the things that made the first half of the game so fun and weird and trippy are thrown out the window and replaced with more conventional FF drama and fantastical landscapes.

The sudden shift in tone is startling and obviously deliberate. Luna dies, Ignis goes blind, Prompto goes missing, and worst of all the car is blown up (most tragic death in the game). Noctis loses all his weapons and friends and gets this magical ring that can suck the HP out of a monster while the screen turns spooky and the poor monster gets thinner and thinner until it explodes. Dead, zombie-like Magitek soldiers (yes, Magitek) litter the floor, and when you least expect it they wake up maul you. Everything is dark and cold and you can't go back to finish your old quests, at least not until you beat the last boss.

The second half of FFXV is equivalent to the World of Ruin in FFVI (there's actually a mission called "The World of Ruin")...except the World of Balance in FFVI wasn't rural fricking America. The characters in FFVI also weren't cell-phone carrying dude-bros playing card games in trailer parks. FFVI had the usual fantasy tropes. FFVI was normal.

Ah ha ha? Did I just say that? Fantasy is normal?

And here's where we get the theme. FFXV, through its conflation of the positive, escapist first half of the game with the "real world," is basically telling us that our real, modern world is a fantasy. A ridiculous and unreal and frolicksome fantasy. It is too awesooooome to be anything else. It has fishing in it, after all. And Coleman camping gear. Cup Noodles. Phone games. Nicknames like "Iggy." Luxury hotels. Video games with simple, quantifiable goals (kill x monsters for x amount of money). Compare the real world/first half of FFXV to the more horrifying, magic-filled, life-and-death second half of FFXV, and you'll definitely say that real world/first half = NICER!

What's the game trying to tell us? Enjoy the mundane, I guess. Enjoy it, because it is an escape, and it is only temporary. Like Noctis, we know the impending doom of (ugh) adult responsibility will come for us. The fantasy cannot last. 

Does this not capture the zeitgeist of our times rather well? The fear that our modern commercial playland cannot last, the fear that we're shirking our responsibility to protect our future world, but the acknowledgement that there's something very important about enjoying what we have? I think so.

What impresses me about this theme isn't so much the theme itself, which is common enough, but how it's presented. It's done not so much through explicit dialogue (thank GOD) but through the visuals, the quest system, and most of all the lack of plot and character development in the first half of the game. This must have taken real forbearance on the part of the creators, considering how much material they could have shoved in there.

I'm sure the decision to make the game so relatively empty of plot and character development was largely a practical one (they had to finish the game at SOME POINT, after 10 years of development hell), but I'm still impressed. Someone at Square must have stared deep into the 10-year void and turned all that dark matter into a cohesive game, somehow. I am honestly glad it happened this way; FFXV could have been a hot Nomura-esque mess (like Kingdom Hearts 3 is almost certainly going to be--I am so ready to be completely confused by that game), but no--FFXV is its own weird, streamlined little creature.

It is also a finished game, no matter what some people say, which is a relief after poor FFXIII (which I haven't actually played, because I don't like running down beautiful empty corridors). Sure, the epic drama part we were expecting is decidedly unfinished, but don't we have enough epic FF games already? The half-half structure of the game works; if the drama had dragged on too long, it would have undercut the theme of reality=fantasy. Besides, who has time to play a poorly scripted melodrama for 80 hours? I've gotta go back to playing Candy Crush or writing blog entries about video games instead of playing them, ya know. That's our final fantasy right there; the lure of pleasant mundanity, the ultimate escape. 
In conclusion, 8.5 out of 10! 

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