Even though a million games have come out recently, three members of Waypoint—Austin Walker, Mike Diver, and myself—are deep into Final Fantasy XV. For the past week, it's basically all we've been pouring our free time into. Given how much we were already talking about the game to one another, it made sense to do another letter series, diving into our thoughts on Square Enix's latest. The first part of our discussion is right here. Oh, and if you missed it, Austin recently participated in another back-and-forth on how Watch Dogs 2 handles race.
Hey Patrick, Austin,
It's neither the divisive combat—which I personally enjoy, constantly upgrading weapon load-outs and unlocking new techniques for allies to support me with in battle, in real-time (that "wait" system is more annoying than helpful)—nor the camera's unpredictability that snaps me out of the moment-to-moment play, be that actively side-questing or simply roaming about the landscape. It's Cindy.
My biggest negative from my time so far with FFXV is Cindy. She was in the Duscae demo, attired as she is here, a single loose thread away from indignity. I remember back then thinking: surely, surely, Square will see how people react to the girl's lack of sensible coverage (she's a mechanic, for crying out loud; a line of work in which you're regularly handling substances you really don't want on your exposed skin) and respond accordingly. But nope.
She can still be sexy, if that's the aim; but when did you last get your wheels serviced by someone in a bikini? They changed the position of the wheel in the quartet's car, the Regalia—in the demo, it was right-hand drive, as we have in the UK, whereas it's left for the game proper. That's a hell of a lot of work for any garage. But finding some overalls has proven too difficult for Cindy's workplace, Hammerhead.
Images courtesy of Square Enix
The game's director, Hajime Tabata, says that she's not supposed to be erotic but rather energetic and outgoing. I can only assume he wasn't in the room when the cutscene that plays out when she refills the Regalia was approved. When she's leaning over the car, wiping down the windshield. When her breasts are practically spilling onto the hood. I'm no prude, and I like skin in video games is just fine when the circumstances are properly set for it, but meeting Cindy for the first time, playing the game with my wife beside me, had me embarrassed for the medium. "What is she wearing?" Very little, and little that's appropriate, dear.
I'd mind less if Cindy wasn't the first significant female character you're introduced to in FFXV, and if I remember correctly, she's immediately regarded as a trophy by at least one of the four boys on tour, in a post-Hammerhead conversation. If I knew more of Lunafreya than she's a victim, a refugee, a quarry, then perhaps I'd be thinking that the game's depiction of women was going to be a little more even than how I feel it is now. But it's not spent much time at all, thus far, with the particulars of the former princess's personality.
The only other woman of note introduced so far has been Gladious's sister Iris, who seems to have quite the crush on Noctis, desperate for him to reciprocate her interest. Or maybe I'm seeing signs that aren't really there? But if she's going to prove a better-drawn secondary character than she was introduced as, I'd like the transition to happen post haste.
The events-of-FFXV-preceding Kingsglaive movie was awful in terms of representation, too. It's disappointing to have a series that's given us Garnet, Lightning, Aerith and Yuna, to have this new numbered entry appears to paint its women so two-dimensional. But it's early days for me—there's a lot of game to come, a lot of road to travel.
And I do like so very much of it. The weird mix of magic and machinery, both fantastical and mundane, is fascinating. The aesthetic, which veers from Middle America with a shit-load of monsters dumped into it to European cities that have stood the test of time and two major world wars, is oddly alluring. And these boys, they each have their charms. They're not as believably close as the casts of Watch Dogs 2 or, going back a few years, Persona 4, but I'm sold on their My Chemical Bromance, and am going to stick with them for the duration of their quest.
Whether I'll do everything, sweeping up every little contract and treasure hunt once the game's credits have rolled, I can't say. This doesn't feel quite like the Witcher 3 replacement I wanted. More, as I play it, I can't help but yearn for more of CD Projekt's great role-player, which just nailed open-world adventuring for me, for this console generation. But I'm not about to put down the pad before Noctis's story's been told. It's good enough to hang in there.
So I guess my main questions to you guys are as follows. Did you feel, as I did, that Cindy was totally out of whack with the rest of the game? (Shout out to Dino, too, for having the worst hey-wise-guy accent in the history of adventuredom.) Have you been getting on fine with the combat, which I think has found the sweetest point possible between the ATB systems of old and freer-flowing action? (Although I can definitely appreciate how some won't like it, this being Final Fantasy, a series synonymous with waiting your turn.) And, no spoilers please: do you feel the story's particularly engrossing? I feel like if it were stronger, I'd have spent less time so far harvesting ingredients for Ignis's evening meal.
Hey Mike, Austin,
I've had the same concerns as you, Mike, about Cindy, to the point where I keep awareness of who's in the house when I play Final Fantasy XV. It's embarrassing. My mom was supposed to stop by this weekend, so I was purposely refueling my car at places Cindy was not, for fear the game would once again trigger the erotically-tinged sequence where she fills up the Regalia. I've got no problems with Cindy the character, and if Cindy the character expressed a desire or reason for dressing the way she does, maybe I could find a way to look past it. Instead, it just creeps me out, and makes me wish there was DLC I could pay for to dress her up differently.
Part of the reason Cindy stands out, though, is because it's so at odds with the rest of the game, at least what I've experiences so far. Cindy is an outlier that seems too fan service-y.
My real problems with the game involve pacing, and while it's totally true the actual plotting is all over the place, what I'm speaking to is the game's ruthless inefficiency. It's not just, as Austin noted yesterday, the basic inability to accept multiple hunts at once, but how the game poorly communicates whether a side quest is worth doing. Let me start by better defining what I mean by "worth doing." And, yes, this means I'm going to invoke The Witcher 3 because look, that game did lots of shit really well.
One of The Witcher 3's smaller touches was telling you which side quests to care about, allowing you to prioritize how you spend time with the game. There are dozens (hundreds?) of "monster nests" scattered throughout the world, but the game doesn't pretend that's a real side quest; it's just grinding out experience points and loot. A real side quest is something you can sink your teeth into, with characters, a story, etc. FFXV doesn't differentiate, which means I've been shuffling food back and forth between a farm and a shop in Lestallum, thinking maybe, at some point, it'll become more than just a way to get easy experience points?! I've probably wasted hours on these meaningless quests, and at nearly 20 hours, it's draining my desire to poke around the open world the same way I was before.
And don't get me started on today's news that Square Enix is going to patch in additional story content, to better explain character motivations later in the story. It seems unlikely I'll be playing that version, as the patch isn't expected anytime soon, which is certainly fuel to the fire that Square Enix pushed this game out the door due to holiday sales, not because it was fully baked. I don't have a problem with developers making tweaks to the story in response to fan feedback, per se, but it doesn't feel great to have spent $60 on a game only a week ago—yes, I bought my own copy—and be told the confusing story might get fixed at a later date. There was probably a better way to handle this.
All that noted, can we talk about how funny this game is? Both intentionally and not? You know, like the fact that I'm currently following a quest called "Everybody Loves Beans" and the game is tossing endless and awful bean-related puns at me every chance it gets? And while the bro-centric premise had me raising eyebrows over a series that's done a decent job balancing gender dynamics, I have to admit the corniness of their quips with one another are surprisingly genuine, and they really do come across as four people who've been through a lot.
And then you have moments like this, where the open world just acts ridiculous:
Or a quest that basically amounts to a straight up advertisement for Cup of Noodles:
All of this goes without touching on the genuinely enjoyable combat, how weird and cool it is to explore a Final Fantasy world in a car, and a million other tiny details that have made Final Fantasy XV my most pleasant surprise this year, right next to id Software's Doom reboot.
I'm having way more fun with Final Fantasy XV than I could have predicted, to the point that I quietly cancelled my pre-order for The Last Guardian because I wanted to keep playing. You're weird, 2016!
Hey Patrick, Mike,
Yes. Let's absolutely talk with how this game is goofy as hell. Even when the jokes don't work, I can imagine the crew all groaning at what a bad pun Prompto just made—and sometimes, they actually do groan, so that helps. Other times—as in the bean quest—a character will directly address the absurdity. "Perhaps procuring beans isn't a princely venture…" wonders Ignis, moments after taking that bean quest. That sense of humor is a real differentiator.
I'm not going to spend much time here weighing in on Cindy, largely because I don't have the time for a nuanced take that goes beyond my gut reaction. While I totally get why people have problems with her—and have for years now (another reason I'm not weighing in: I already have)—I'm also just more interested in how the game is handling gender in a larger way.
Even after disaster strikes and Noctis is thrown into his real quest, the game feels like a bachelor party road trip. Or, maybe more accurately, it feels like a movie about a bachelor party road trip. The world of Eos is dotted with women, and I can't help but think that in the summer comedy version of this film, Prompto would hook up with Cindy and Ignis would wind up falling for the Sania, the biologist. The game thus far (in my first 12 hours or so) is dotted with women, but they remain peripheral—you do quests for them, you get rewards, and then someone in the group goes "Wow, she's really adjective."
My hope, though, is that this will change soon. Iris, who you mentioned Mike, has started taking a role in the story. While wandering around Lestallum together, she explains that the whole town is built on the back of women (who are the only ones allowed to work at the city's power plant). I'd buy that she has a crush on Noctis, but I don't think that makes her a less valuable or interesting female character (if anything, Noctis comes across like a stick in the mud while around her). Crushes are fun! And her lingering glances are coupled with the sorts of looks that communicate that, frankly, she knows exactly how fucked her situation is. I'm curious to see how her arc plays out, and what other sorts of characters join the fray as the game continues.
Speaking of Lestallum, Last time I wrote to y'all, I talked about how happy I was to make it to Lestallum, the market town towards the center of the game's continent. I'm a few more hours in, and the travel to and from the town has made me realize something new about why I like open world games. In the past I've written and spoken about how the best open worlds allow player action and expression to slam into the game's systems in entertaining, challenging, and surprising ways. (This is the thing we normally summarize as "emergent gameplay.") Sometimes, in my defense of open worlds, I cling to this argument and forget something else they do well: scale. But FFXV won't let me forget that.
Traveling to Lestallum westward, from the desert around the Hammerhead garage, through the dense woods of the Duscae wetlands, and finally past the massive fire-y "disc," communicates not only the size of Eos, but also its variety. I love slipping from one biome to another, sometimes with natural change (like slowly climbing steppes as you approach mountains) and sometimes man-made (like the man-made tunnels that connect a handful of places together.) At its best, the game weaves music into this shift in location—just climb down from Lestallum's power plant to its open-air markets, and listen listen as a horn section gradually joins the lonesome guitar. It's rad, y'all.
There are two frustrating things about FFXV for me right now, though. First, I have no idea if any of the stuff I give a fuck about goes anywhere! Will the plot ever acknowledge how this simmering war between powers affects the larger world? FFXV's main story seem so much more interested in places you haven't been—this is a game that includes massive military action on your home city without ever letting you become bonded to it. I want them to give me something to care about in the parts of Eos I actually play in. Someone threaten to raise gas prices or something, c'mon!
The second frustrating thing is… the controls. I made a mistake, guys. I looked on the internet for guidance and the internet told me that I should definitely use "wait mode" (which pauses the game to let you make tactical decisions whenever you aren't moving) and/or control layout C (which shifts attack and dodge onto the triggers). I can tell that those are better and I feel smarter using them, but I'm playing way worse. I can't quite get the rhythm of it, my fingers keep looking for commands that just aren't there, and I haven't gotten higher than a D ranking in "finesse" since changing. Help me. Please. Someone. (Also, fuck off Square-Enix for not including a permanent way to turn the lock on button into a toggle. I hate having to do that at the start of any battle. (And hey, also, you know what, this magic system isn't super fun! It's neat, I like crafting things (also, wait, a little guidance wou-
Okay, I'm rambling. There are a lot of little things that bug me about FFXV, buut the truth is that whatever complaints I have, I started writing you this letter at 4 AM, after wrapping up "just one more quest" about a dozen times. I'm way into this. For once, when I say that "i'm going to try to find the time to play more of this game," I really, truly believe that I will.