Again, the fall season is still some ways off, so it’s time for another filler post. I know, I know. I’ve been gone for so long, and now that I’m updating the blog again, I have the gall to waste your time with filler? Yes.
So why did I go on hiatus anyway? Well, it’s true that I’ve fallen out of love with anime. It’s not just anime running out of ideas. No, that’s a bit of a cop out. I have also run out of ideas. I never was the greatest blogger out there, and I did churn out a lot of terrible content. I blogged a lot of shows that I had no business writing about. Like I said in the previous post, there were times when I would write just to fill up a time slot. But even then, I had some integrity. There were some shows that inspired me, got me going, and really made the rusty hamster wheel in my head crankin’. All of the other shitty posts were just to prop up the one essay I really cared about. Yes, lure them in with Harem Hill and anime tits, then trick them into sticking around for the painful pontification about Concrete Revolutio and social revolution. But even then, I slowly started to run out of ideas. Even with the good shows, I didn’t feel like I had anything interesting to say. I couldn’t keep up with the expectations, yours and mine. So in a way, I decided that if I had nothing insightful to say, it was best to say nothing at all.
Enough about that. What I wrote above is still just one reason why I haven’t been watching and writing about anime. The other reason was that I started to make more money, and as a result, I could actually afford console games again. So I did just that. I got my PS4 (Pro) last December, and if I wasn’t working or hanging out with friends, I pretty much played games non-stop. And unfortunately, I still don’t have any insight into anime to give you. Soon, though. If you’re patient, I might write about Death Parade. Of course, after the last two years in which I can barely follow a consistent updating routine, you should know by now not to trust anything I say. There’s probably a 10% chance that the Death Parade post ever gets written. There’s probably a 90% chance I stick around for about two weeks, then disappear into the ether again. Nevertheless, I’m here now, and I’m gonna talk about the oh-so-wonderful JRPGs I’ve been playing.
But before I get into the nitty-gritty, I’ll have to forewarn you that I’m not here to review these games in any formal sense. If you expect me to break these games down into their discrete components (i.e. gameplay, graphics, audio, etc.), I’m not going to do that. There are plenty of review sites out there, and my goal isn’t to convince you to play or not to play these games.
Also, there will obviously be spoilers in this post. I have always spoiled the shit out of everything I write about, so this is nothing new, but I figured I’ll just warn you guys anyway.
Alright, let’s kick things off with… the ultimate flavor experience.
Oh, if only.
Look, I honestly don’t care that the gameplay is a clunky piece of shit. You have no idea how many times I ran up to an item, saw the prompt to press X in order to pick the item up, and end up hopping in place like some brain-addled idiot.
I also don’t care that the open-world was mostly empty. We have two real cities to explore, and the rest of the map is nothing but copy-pasted diners, gas stations, etc. Even the terribly generic side quests don’t bring me down so much. I mean, it’s pretty pathetic that they barely had any lore to them, but in this day and age, I’ve pretty much gotten used to this MMO style of cookie-cutter questing. Is that a bad thing? Hell yes. But it still isn’t what bothered me most about Final Fantasy XV.
Amazingly enough, even the fact that Kingsglaive exists as a separate movie that I have to pay additional money to watch wasn’t what ultimately doomed the game. I kinda like Nyx. I kinda like Aaron Paul’s performance. I am disappointed that he had to die at the end of the movie (oops, spoilers), because I had hoped to run into him at some point in the actual game. Oh well.
And yes, much of the game’s story is delivered through notes, signs, newspapers, radio broadcasts, what have you. The game’s final hours were the biggest offenders here. Obviously, the Niflheim portions feel incomplete and rushed. I thought that sucked, but then again, FFXV still could’ve redeemed itself if it had just delivered on the one thing I was actually hoping for:
The game’s opening is so, oh so cheesy, but fuck, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t tug on my heartstrings. It doesn’t help that “Stand by Me” is one of my favorite songs of all time. So here you are with your bros — the four warriors of light — kicking off your grand adventure. But of course, the car breaks down. Why are we dressed in all black? In the desert, no less. It’s fine. It’s stylish. Why are we taking a car to see Lunafreya if you’re the goddamn prince. It’s fine. There are story reasons for it, too… kinda. Why is Gladio’s ass in those tight leather pants front and center? It’s fiiiiiiiiiiiiiine. Needless to say, I was ready and primed to cry. I wanted to cry. I wanted a heartbreaking story about brotherhood, camaraderie, so on and so forth. And it’s easy when things are going well, when you’re sitting around the fire, enjoying some of Ignis’s home-cooking, and looking through Prompto’s photos of the journey. Friendship is easy when the going is also easy. When the going gets tough, however, that’s when friendships truly become beautiful. When your friends are willing to push a two-ton car through the desert with you, that’s when you know you’ve got real pals around you. So to me, FFXV’s opening set the perfect tone. And if it could’ve just built on that theme alone, I would have forgiven all of the faults I listed above.
I actually had FFXV sitting on my shelf for quite some time. I had heard a lot about how the final few chapters were rushed. I had even heard that Square Enix planned to add cutscenes in future patches to help flesh the story out. As a result, I wanted to hold off on playing the game. I didn’t just want the ultimate flavor experience. I wanted it to be complete. Unfortunately, I stumbled upon a Reddit post on games with sad endings, and people mentioned FFXV. I was intrigued. I had just gotten done playing through Nier: Automata, Persona 5, and Yakuza 0. All of those games had their emotional moments. Nier and Yakuza, in particular, really hit me hard, but more on them in later posts. And that’s what I game for. Yeah, some people are really focused on gameplay. Others wanna just have fun with their friends, so they’re all playing League of Legends, PUBG, or some MMO. I’m looking for games that give me a strong emotional reaction. So when those Reddit users hyped up FFXV as a game with a really sad and heartbreaking ending, my interest was piqued. I needed to see it for myself.
Sadly, outside of the very opening scene that I’ve described above, most of FFXV fell flat. And of course it did. Your very own bros were hardly developed as characters. With Kingsglaive being its own separate movie, I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that much of the main characters’ backstories are also separate from the game itself. Yes, there’s a series of shorts aptly called Brotherhood, and they flesh out the backstories for Noctis and his three buddies. But even had SE built Brotherhood into the game proper, the story still lacks those truly special bonding moments between friends. Needless to say, I was confused when I read reviews after reviews commending the game for placing an importance on male bonding. Where was it? There are moments, I won’t lie. Moments like when Noctis, having disappeared from the world for the past decade, sits his friends down around the campfire one last time. They know that this is their last battle. They know that this will be the last time the four of them can ever be together like this again. You know, and the guys know, that Noctis has to sacrifice his life in order to truly lay Ardyn to rest. Confronting your own mortality is no easy task, especially when it feels as though you’ve been born to die. Destined to be a king, destined to die for his people.
Like most people, I love this scene. Unfortunately, it happens at the very end of the game! It happens after you beat Ardyn. The credits are just about to roll. There aren’t enough moments like these, and when you finally get one, the story is just about over. There also aren’t enough moments to support moments like these. FFXV doesn’t just lack these bittersweet scenes. It lacks the golden moments to help contrast these bittersweet scenes. Think about it. At no point in the entire journey do you ever feel as though Noctis and his pals manage to achieve any sort of major victory. A sad story can’t just be sad all the way through, or you’ll end up desensitizing the audience. You need both highs and lows for the peaks to stand out. How effective would Nier’s story be if Ending A (and B) didn’t end on such a hopeful note? How effective would 9S’s mental meltdown be if the first twenty hours of the game didn’t carefully develop his relationship and teamwork with 2B? But enough about Nier, because again, that’s another post. My point is that I can’t remember any magical moment in FFXV in which the boys actually got to feel like winners. I never experience a scene in which I pumped my fist triumphantly, because goddamnit, the boys did it.
First off, Insomnia gets wrecked soon after the story begins, so that sucks. And the bad guys never really get their comeuppance. Not at the hands of Noctis and pals anyway. All of the major bad guys just get fucked offscreen due to Ardyn’s machinations. By the time you get to stick it to Ravus, he’s already a pathetic zombie begging you to put him out of his misery. You’re also told to collect the royal weapons, but this never builds to anything momentous. You don’t even need all of them. Most of all, you never seem to save a kingdom or anything. Eventually, Noctis finally catches up to Lunafreya, but before they can even embrace each other, Ardyn fatally stabs her. After that, the Ignis loses his eyesight, Gladio loses his temper, and Prompto almost loses the party. Then the rest of the gang hastily lurch towards the finish line. There’s never a golden moment. There’s never a sense of true accomplishment like, “Yay, we did it!” It’s just all kind of emotionally flat.
So to circle back to that final campfire scene, it’s also really the only truly bittersweet moment that you get. Yes, Lunafreya dies in Noctis’s arms, but like everything else in the game, their relationship doesn’t feel developed. It’s a very anime sort of love between the two of them. What I mean by that is that they’re destined to be together, because, uh, they spent a lot of time together as kids? And Lunafreya has to fulfill her duty to prop Noctis up as the savior, which she faithfully carries out at the risk of her own life. She has a lot of faith. She’s so utterly selfless. She feels unreal. Whereas Noctis gets to explode in anger and sadness, gets to mope and grieve, so on and so forth, Lunafreya carries out her task with almost perfect stoicism. She’s the perfect Japanese wife. But she’s not real. So when she dies midway through the game, I feel as though a goddess has been murdered, but not my wife-to-be.
But ultimately, this isn’t a story about Lunafreya. This is a story about four friends, and sadly, we just get small glimpses at their camaraderie. As you explore the vast and empty world, the four friends engage in banter, but even that is woefully limited. I kept hearing the same lines over and over and over again. FFXV must have had a giant budget, and yet, I feel like very little work was done to make these characters come alive. You also never embark on any side quests that focus on any particular member of the party. Yes, there are DLCs for Gladio and Prompto, but in those scenarios, our friends are separated from the rest of the gang. You never, say, go to Gladio’s hometown and learn about his pasts, his future aspirations, his current worries or fears, so on and so forth. Hell, it’s not as if there are hometowns to visit! FFXV itself is a very short game. Take out all the fluff. Take out the giant distances between any points of interest on the map. Take out the mindless fetch quests and loreless hunts. Without all that padding, FFXV is probably just 10 to 15 hours long. For a JRPG, that is hardly enough to flesh out any main character, much less four of them.
At the end of the game, you get to pick one photo to take with you. Noctis is going to die. He knows it, the boys know it, you know it, everybody knows it. Prompto has been dutifully immortalizing their adventure every step of the way with his camera, so there has to be one poignant photo to encapsulate everything about their story. I couldn’t help but pick the snapshot of cup noodles.
‘Cause other than the opening scene, the only other moment that really stands out to me is Gladio’s stilted shilling for cup noodles. That’s sad, isn’t it?
I could honestly see myself replaying FFXV again in the future. After all, SE can’t seem to stop pimping it. Hell, some people are even pumped to play that multiplayer DLC. So who knows? Maybe in a couple years, FFXV will finally be finished, and SE will release some game of the year edition that will seem like a whole new game. On the other hand, I could never see myself replaying FFXIII. Yep, I think once is more than enough. And yet, I still feel as though FFXV let me down more. I feel as though FFXV had more promise, and as a result, its failure hurt me so much more than FFXIII ever could. What a shame.