The FINAL FANTASY XV player base can mostly be divided into two groups: those who feel the game’s incohesive story has forever ruined the game, and those who admire the game for what it was, but expect improvements.
In a discussion with Jeremy Parish over at Polygon, Director Hajime Tabata discussed the future of FINAL FANTASY XV in great depth. Just yesterday I wrote what I felt FFXV needed in terms of gameplay enhancements in order to remain relevant in 2017, but today I want to focus on what ultimately matters going forward and why I am still skeptical about Tabata’s approach to the game – the story.
As players who have beaten the game know, FINAL FANTASY XV is quite lacking in the story department. After beating the game I questioned why key characters had either vanished or never appeared at all, why major plot points were suddenly introduced, characters were killed with little to no screen time, and where the hell the Nifelheim empire was. It took quite a bit of research online; reading the lore of the game, notes from chapter 13, and fan theories to really understand that FFXV’s story is actually quite brilliant but misrepresented. Put simply: too much happens off screen.
Arguably for budget reasons, Tabata recently told Gameinformer that the narrative direction was intentional and that “It was for the players to experience the story through Noctis’ eyes…Instead of creating a comprehensive and perfectly balanced story, we placed greater importance on the four main characters and strived to depict a world seen from their perspective.” This statement mind you is actually 70% true and 30% pure baloney since there are scenes from the perspective of Luna, Ravus, and the Emperor of Nifelheim in the game. That said a vast majority of the game is indeed seen through Noctis’ experience. As a result, we are told the simple story of a prince trying to take back his throne but the world of Eos and the people around Noctis, even his three bodyguards, suffer for it.
Free Story Fixes and DLC
When speaking with Parish Tabata stated, “I don’t want  to be a one-off experience where you play it, you complete the story, and then you’re done with it. I want it to be something that users can enjoy for years to come.”
Some ways Tabata will be prolonging the longevity of FFXV will be through gameplay enhancements, expanded cutscenes that explain characters motivations in the main story, and DLC packages from the perspective of other characters. However, the only character we know of to be getting free cutscenes is Ravus and it remains unclear if SQUARE ENIX intends to add any other free scenes for other characters. On the other hand story DLC involves moments when the party members abruptly leave the party seemingly to pave way to the DLC itself and many would consider this cut content from the main game. The $4.99 price tag for Episode Gladiolus adds validity to such speculation as it suggests that the DLC episodes are likely short and light on content. In Episode Gladiolus, Gladio will be joined by Cor as well – a nice chance to build both characters, but it seems that Gladio still doesn’t remember that he has a father who lived in Kingsglaive. Maybe Iris would remember if she had a DLC. In fact, more than Noctis’ main friends, characters like Cor, Aranea, and Iris arguably deserve lengthy DLCs even more given how little screen time they have. In many cases, what was happening around Noctis may be more interesting than what was actually happening to Noctis.
When discussing comparisons to FFXIV’s development style Tabata said:
Even though it may not be an MMO, or similar to an MMO, we want players to enjoy the time that they spend in the world of Eos for as long as possible. We have a year of downloadable content lined up, and we think that we’ll be able to provide players with a really satisfying experience and allow them to create even more memories in this world…As you see in games like The Witcher 3 or the GTA series, you have periodic updates, right? That helps satisfy the user base. It gives them new content to enjoy, and that’s one of the goals for us — not only the main game development, having this big, open world, but also the downloadable content that they have planned for this current year. In a way, because we’re putting everything out simultaneously worldwide, it will become kind of a collective experience.
First, FFXV is not GTA. Second, most gameplay enchancements are not going to bring people back to FFXV, story is. Third, whether talking about gameplay or story, a recurring flow of new trophies is helpful in bringing back a significant playerbase as seen in games like Batman: Arkham Knight. Those DLCs better damn well have trophies! It’s pretty stupid that FFXIII-2’s story DLC didn’t and FFXIV’s entire expansions don’t. I play through the story in FFXIV’s expansions exclusively without delving into any of the MMO’s other features. If not story, trophies bring people back to your game and in a game that Tabata wants players to play throughout 2017, he needs the trophy/achievement loving gamer.
Tabata also discussed the multiplayer stating:
There are a lot of things I can’t really say about the multiplayer future just yet, but it will tie into the game — the main game — at some point in the story. And for the multiplayer feature, we are less focused on playing as the four main characters but rather as an avatar that the user creates themselves. So rather than having you and your friends play as these four guys and experience their journey again together, it’s more about the journey that you and your friends have together with each other in this world.
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
When Multiplayer was originally announced I rolled my head and questioned, “Why? Why does another single player game need a tacked on multiplayer mode.” However after completing the game I realized that the ten year gap is simply ripe for multiplayer opportunities in the World of Ruin, and Tabata’s statement lines up with said theory. What does disappoint me though is that proper characters are being discarded in favor of player created avatars and I feel that this is a huge mistake.
One of my favorite Online Co-Op experiences is UNCHARTED 2 and UNCHARTED 3’s Co-Op Adventure because those game modes gave multiplayer the fun of a horde mode combined with an actual story to follow and enjoy with your friends, even if the story itself was light. Co-Op Adventure was both about players being able to experience the journey of Nathan Drake and crew while also being about the journey that friends took with each other. I have no doubt that Tabata’s team will deliver from a gameplay perspective since he’s worked on multiplayer in Type-0, but in order for FFXV to truly stand apart he needs to do better. An avatar system suggests a Monster Hunter or horde-like system taken on by random hunters in the world of Eos. This would be a truly missed opportunity, as the development team could weave multiplayer into the narrative itself.
We hardly know anything about what became of the characters during the ten year gap aside from a few loose details provided by Talcott. We know that Noctis’ three companions hardly spent time hunting together in the ten year gap and things between them fell apart but we don’t know why. We know Iris became a renowned Daemon slayer along with Aranea. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to learn about what became of FFXV’s characters through their eyes even through simple interaction in battle? Instead it seems as if Tabata has opted for Monster Hunter style co-op, where your character is quite irrelevant and gameplay is prioritized over narrative.
SPOILERS END HERE
As I wrote yesterday, I believe the team at SQUARE ENIX has wasted an awful lot of time on DLC and improvements that don’t really matter as far as gameplay is concerned. The current track record, the low pricing of the story DLC, and lack of actual characters in multiplayer give great cause for concern. Let us also not forget the sheer number of RPGs coming out in 2017 including Persona 5, Mass Effect Andromeda, and Ni no Kuni. While Tabata’s recent statements to Polygon do little to lessen those fears, they do also provide a little hope. I’m starting to believe that FFXV may never reach its true potential. Despite this, I maintain hope that it will at least get close. If not, at least FFXVI will seemingly use Luminous Engine and probably be awesome after everything the team learns from FFXV. Seriously though, SQUARE ENIX give us more trophies…