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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled iFinal Fantasy XV /iand the joy of games that arrive unfinished
Screenshot: Final Fantasy XV (Square Enix)

Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?

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Video games get delayed all the time, whether because they need a little more time in the oven, or because Nintendo knows that expectations are extremely high and it can’t just slap the Metroid name on something and call it a day. Final Fantasy XV is a game that Square Enix delayed a lot. The backstory of the game’s development is far too complex to really get into here, but it started life all the way back in 2006 as a spin-off of Final Fantasy XIII called Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Almost all of that material was eventually scrapped—with some of the bones ending up in Kingdom Hearts III (again, we cannot get into it)—and Final Fantasy XV didn’t come out until a decade later. Even then, Square spent years continuously patching and updating it after the fact to fix, add, and change certain things that were either incomplete or were received poorly on the initial launch.

Playing the game in 2020, long after the downloadable expansions that fill in some plot holes, and the game-changing updates, have stopped, it’s hard not to get the feeling that—despite the years and years in development—Final Fantasy XV was never really finished. Major story beats don’t get enough room to breathe, mechanics are introduced that seem barely necessary, and seemingly important characters are dispatched off-screen, or only ever acknowledged in optional lore collectibles. It’s the kind of weird disconnect between the story it wants to tell, and the story it’s actually telling, that you never really see in big movies or TV shows. But I kind of love it for that.

The gaps in Final Fantasy XV aren’t as egregious as they were in, say, Metal Gear Solid V (which, for various reasons, left its entire final chapter, and the actual resolution of its plot, as an animatic that you could only get with the game’s special edition), but there’s something really cool about being able to see the strings in something massive like a Final Fantasy game. Every time something interesting is about to happen and the game cuts to black so it doesn’t have to animate the characters doing it, it’s a reminder that FFXV was actually made by people who did their best to get this thing out the door without sacrificing their (somewhat) unnecessarily elaborate vision.

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In FFXV, you play as a magic prince named Noctis who is tasked with going on a cross-country road trip with his bros in his dad’s giant car, and for most of the game you’re free to drive around its big open world, taking on quests to kill monsters or cater to the whims of your friends. One guy likes to take photos, and will ask if you can stop the car to get a cool shot of a waterfall. Another guy likes to cook and needs you to consistently buy ingredients or books so he can learn new recipes. Noctis himself likes fishing, and there are whole dedicated quest lines about getting new reels or challenging the old fishermen of this cool modern/fantasy world to fishing competitions.

A bunch of boys who fight monsters and have feelings
A bunch of boys who fight monsters and have feelings
Screenshot: Final Fantasy XV (Square Enix)
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Food gives you stat boosts, and you can check out your photos at the end of every in-game day for a nice look back at some fun moments. But fishing is mostly pointless (unless you like fishing, but this is a game where you can summon swords from thin air and throw them at monsters, so why would you waste time fishing?). Still, the developers at Square Enix spent time making the fishing work, rather than fleshing out some cool late-game twists. It’s a very human design decision. A soulless game development machine would ensure that the important things work perfectly at the expense of the art of it (see: the entire Call Of Duty franchise), but people chose to prioritize the fishing stuff in FFXV because it was important to Noctis as a character. And even though it’s really not, they thought it was, which is endearing.

I’ve gone on record saying I prefer games that try over games that don’t, and more than anything, Final Fantasy XV is a game that tries its little emo bro heart out. It reaches for a lot of weird or interesting stuff, and while it fails to actually grab that stuff pretty often, the fact that you can see it reaching is appealing in its own little way. You can see the incredible game that it would’ve been if it hadn’t been constrained by time or money. And the fact that the developers chose to stick to that vision, even if it meant leaving some cracks exposed, is the kind of dedication that deserves to be celebrated more often.

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