Fixing Final Fantasy Fifteen
After dominating the 16-bit and 32-bit generations, Square-Enix has endured significant tumult since the turn of the millennium. In 2001, before the merger with Enix, Squaresoft made the bold decision to enter the world of Hollywood. They developed and released a full-length theatrical film, Final Fantasy: Spirits Within. The movie boasted a $137 million budget and genre defining CGI. Unfortunately, it subsequently generated a $52 million-dollar loss, and faced robust criticism for a senseless and unappealing story. That deficit nearly resulted in Enix backing out of the proposed merger. After Sony purchased a nearly 20% stake in Squaresoft, and the success of Final Fantasy X and Kingdom Hearts, Enix felt comfortable continuing with the fusing.
Over the last decade consumers have witnessed Square-Enix significantly expand the scope of their publishing endeavors. When Square-Enix published the reboots of the Deus Ex and Tomb Raider franchises the Japanese firm still faced financial problems. The complications arose largely due to the horrendous launch of Final Fantasy XIV. Originally intended to be a true competitor to World of Warcraft, the abysmal critical reception and sales performance of FF XIV was the major contributing factor of why Square-Enix reduced their annual projected profits by 90%. It also resulted in delaying the Deus Ex reboot to the next fiscal year. Once released, Deus Ex: Human Revolution was exalted for its balanced blend of stealth, shooter, and RPG elements. The storyline, which is a startling reflection of our own world’s tribulations, makes it arguably one of the most poignant properties of the last generation. Deus Ex performed better than anticipated, selling 2.18 million units during the months following its 2011 release. Square Enix, still reeling from the previous year’s missteps, faced further earnings losses, which the surprise performance could not overcome.
In 2013 the Tomb Raider reboot received admiration and approval for portraying Lara Croft as a capable, realistic heroine, rather than the sex object of the past. Additionally, the gameplay itself received equally high praise. The property was projected to launch with 5-6 million units sold. After its initial release only retailed approximately 3.5 million units the game was seen as a failure by Square Enix. The revenue hemorrhage and perceived sales failures, of the last five years, ultimately contributed to Square Enix president, Yoichi Wada, stepping down in late March 2013. That same year, entering its seventh year of development, Final Fantasy Versus XIII was rebranded as Final Fantasy XV, just four months after Wada left.
After a decade in development, Final Fantasy XV was finally released on November 29, 2016. Square Enix released Final Fantasy XV seven years after their last original initial iteration, Final Fantasy XIII, but three years after their last major Final Fantasy release, Lightning Returns Final Fantasy XIII. Square Enix’s properties have consistently demonstrated industry defining production value. Despite that quality production, over the last ten years, the Final Fantasy series has received censure for lagging behind competing properties, particularly in gameplay and world design. After the poor reception of the linear storyline and archaic turn based combat featured in FF XIII Square-Enix spent a decade of development working to ensure that Final Fantasy XV would answer the player complaints.
Why three paragraphs on Square-Enix’s sales numbers and revenue woes? Because Square-Enix has a demonstrated trend of putting all their eggs in one basket, particularly when they are the developer and publisher. I posit that they have done this with Final Fantasy XV. Square-Enix needs Final Fantasy XV to be successful. Director, Hajime Tabata, publicly stated the game needs to sell 10 million units to be considered a success. This is not necessarily indicative of how many units must sell for Square to earn a profit, but likely an internal measurement of success. It is quite a mark to achieve, considering Final Fantasy VII is the only installment to break 10 million.
Here is the problem: Final Fantasy XV needs to be fixed. The game has taken strides to modernize the series, but it still trails competitors in key areas. If Square-Enix does not catch up to modern video game expectations they will suffer. Tapping into a bit of hyperbole, they may not survive. The following is not simply a list of grievances, but also suggestions to repair faults. Square has stated they are dedicated to improving and updating FF XV through downloadable content and patches. Some of the following issues can be fixed in just that way. Unfortunately, some of the difficulties are built into the bones of the property, and the criticism of those issues are offered for potential improvements in future installments.
Square-Enix needs to stop tagging their MMORPG efforts as canonical iterations. They also need to stop with direct sequels. Looking at it from a purely customer expansion point of view, MMOPRPGs have limited commercial appeal outside of the genre’s established fan base. That is a much larger discussion, but suffice to say, it is very difficult to recruit new players with a massive multiplayer property. A similar assertion can be said about direct sequels. It is one thing to appeal to gamers with properties like the Witcher or Fallout. Such games reference recurring characters or settings, but clearly establish a standalone story and gameplay that is easily accessible for newcomers. The Final Fantasy direct sequels are not accessible. If one had not played FF XIII, then FF XIII-2 is near impossible to follow. There is a reason that FF XIII-2 moved less than 50% of FF XIII’s sales (3.6 million), and even more evident is how Lightning Returns moved less than 15% of the eponymous property (1.1 million). Square-Enix has their hands on a lot of properties, both development and publishing, but the Final Fantasy franchise remains their flagship and it needs to recruit new customers. Square-Enix recognizes this reality. They recognize it so acutely that the opening screen of FF XV is a painfully expository statement reading, “A Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers.” Avoiding genres and sequels that do not facilitate the recruitment of new players is a key strategy that must be adopted immediately.
Character design is not limited to physical appearance, but the entire production. The highest compliment one can offer concerning the character design of Final Fantasy XV is that the enterprise is bland. The worst observation would be that the creations are unintentionally comical.
Ignis is the most palpable design. A casual suit where the worst choice was his pointy shoes. It is not much of a leap to expect the body guard, of a royal family member, to don some semblance of professional attire. His hair is the least absurd of the quartet, and one could see a man on the move easily maintaining such a style. After Ignis, Noctis is the least dreadful, but also the most boring. A black t-shirt or a black jacket with his sleeves rolled up. Below the waist he is a mixture of pedestrian and silly. Noctis sports a pair of featureless black capri pants. His hair shares the same problem as the remaining two of the quartet, in that it is ridiculous. One could not design a more quintessential anime character’s hair. It is overly complex and inexplicably survives the harshest environments and situations. Prompto straddles the gulf between the horrific and somewhat survivable designs. His personality intones the achingly stereotypical, near androgynous male character that establishes a sense of hero worship, easily confused with a crush, on the main character. His getup seems to be inspired by the late-80s American punk rock scene. There is a lot of denim, a little flannel, and shiny black leather boots. Prompto also sports the second worst hair. A clear homage to Cloud from FF VII, it is also incontestably anime-ish and overly complex. Of the main four characters, Gladiolus is the absolute worst. He is an unintentional caricature of western masculinity. Somehow sporting a mullet made it past every level of design approval. On top of that he comports himself in an open, button-up, short sleeve shirt, exposing his muscular trunk and tribal tattoos. The fact that he seems to be wearing tight leather pants is the least of the design woes. The foursome are all wrapped in black, or at the very least, dark colors. I can understand the symbolism, as the story is a tragedy, but the overt dark tones beat the audience over the head with their somber account. There is a legitimate argument that the design of the main characters are the worst of the franchise.
Although not a playable character, the absurdity of FF XV’s character design is best demonstrated by Cindy. She is introduced to the player within 20 minutes of starting the game as the solitary means of upgrading and maintaining the primary vehicle, the Regalia. The Regalia is a super car that acts as the company’s chariot throughout their adventure. Cindy is the local mechanic that installs, upgrades, and applies the various paint schemes and decals you can use to customize the prince’s ride. Cindy appears as a banal depiction of western women. Blond, buxom, a popping rear, her physical attributes are barely contained by the miniscule clothing glued to her perfect physique. Cindy executes her duties as an expert automobile mechanic while wearing a skimpy, red bikini top and a mid-drift jacket, which makes every effort to showcase her healthy cleavage. The straps of her underwear crest well above the coverage of her barely-there denim cut-off shorts. Such a get up would not be complete without thigh highs and cowboy boots. Cindy is an example of unapologetic fan service. She is voluptuous, scantily clad, and spends the game seductively leaning and bending over your vehicle. Actions that the camera is advantageously placed to capture in the most suggestive manner. There is nothing wrong with a female character being attractive, but when it is presented in such a cartoonish manner it passes beyond a tasteful depiction, a la Lara Croft, and plants itself firmly in the preposterous.
The voice acting is not poor, but the assigned accents are simultaneously so bizarre and stereotypical that they ruin any semblance of world immersion. The largest problem is the extreme variation demonstrated by individuals that were born and raised in relatively close geographic proximity. Ignis, the mannerly, cerebral, snobby member of the party produces a posh British accent, of course. Cindy somehow developed a laughable drawl that comes across as a mixture of the deep south and Texan inflections. Noctis, Gladio, and Prompto demonstrate zero accent. Though Prompto and Noctis do assume voices commonly associated with their stereotypical character roles. Promto’s sound is almost childish in its tone. Noctis is detached and morose. Gladio, in stark contrast to his physical appearance, features a non-descript manner of speech that seems completely reasonable. Throughout the game the player never encounters another character with a British accent like Ignis’. Cindy’s grandfather, Cid, is the only other character that demonstrates a hint of a southern accent, but even his is much more muted than Cindy’s silly enunciation. It is clear the designers were working to apply attributes to their characters that they felt further exemplified the individual personalities rather than developing vernacular for an immersive, believable world. It comes down to the mistake of focusing on the micro at the sacrifice of the macro.
The resultant dedication to specific character depiction, rather than immersion, is a jarring experience for the player. Situations that should be serious and somber now come across as silly. Such typecasts only appeal to a limited consumer base and alienate the larger audience. An audience which Square-Enix very much needs to entice. They need the global audience, particularly in America, to take interest in their products, or the company cannot be profitable. The puerile character design is a noteworthy turn off for gamers. One of the larger critiques of JRPGs is such stereotypical character design. This is a flaw that FF XV does nothing to shake and bluntly reinforces.
The answer to the character design woes starts simply. Avoid cultural stereotypes. The game designers should have worked to develop an immersive shared vernacular instead of applying formulaic qualities to the proposed character’s typecast. The personalities of the characters are one dimensional. There is some attempt at introspective conflict, but it seems only to be present because the writers recognized the need for character complexity at the last minute. That attempt comes across as completely manufactured, unnatural, and forced. None of the characters demonstrate any sense of moral complexity. They are exactly what they portray on the surface. No secrets, no flaws, perfectly flat. Thus, the audience is never provided emotional purchase, besides the painfully boring drive to save the world. What if Ignis was a functional alcoholic, but the stress of the current situation results in him increasing his use and becoming less functional? What if Prompto was a homosexual that had romantic feelings for someone in the party, which he knew were not reciprocated? What if Noctis was torn between his sense of duty to an arranged marriage, while being in love with another? There are countless possibilities to provide depth and make the characters relatable.
Next, inject a semblance of realism. The characters never react to the reality of their situation. At the start of the game Noctis is the heir apparent of one of the most powerful nations in the world. He is dispatched on a mission of incredible diplomatic importance, with the goal of avoiding a massive war. Somehow, he is in a black t-shirt and capri pants. He looks more equipped to apply some eye makeup and sit in the corner of a local coffee shop, angrily scribbling poetry into a Moleskine. As the game progresses it becomes undeniably apparent that the company will be involved in regular direct combat. Regardless, none of the crew kit up, and remain in the same inexplicable and impractical garb.
There are no easy fixes for repairing the established vernacular and lack of character facets. It seems unlikely Square-Enix can repair such deficiencies with DLC, but they can fix the appearance issue. Square-Enix should provide a free download that allows for new character gear and appearance. Gladio needs to have a shaved head, period. Not to the skin, but tight. Provide Noctis and Prompto with hairstyles that do not require a weekly perm to maintain. The styles do not have to be pedestrian or militant, but something reasonable. Give Prompto a faux-hawk. Give Noctis short, neat hair that grows longer as the adventure progresses. Immediately provide realistic combat gear. Gladio and Ignis are military / secret service types, assigned to protect Prince Noctis. At some point they would recognize the situation and decide that maybe, MAYBE, the savior of the world should not be fighting against hardened enemy troops or monsters in an Affliction shirt. Provide a combat kit. Do it, Square-Enix.
Ultimately, if Square-Enix desires to truly catch up with their competitors, they need to provide what has become an industry standard: character creation. Let players generate their own, unique, personalized avatar in the same manner as Mass Effect, Fallout, Skyrim, and most of the modern blue chip RPGs. Customization and personalization is a key game component that immediately generates player buy-in. Catch up guys.
The last few iterations of Final Fantasy storylines have become increasingly confusing. A convoluted and unintuitive narrative is another stereotype, associated with Japanese productions, which spurns newcomers. FF XV exemplifies this trope more than any other Final Fantasy game before it. Immediately after beating the game I searched the internet for, “FF XV ending explained.” The final two chapters of the main quest are almost impossible to follow and introduce absurdly frustrating gameplay elements. Apparently, the writers and director wanted to present an ending that was open to the audience’s interpretation, but the final product is so convoluted that the audience does not even have the necessary awareness to formulate an interpretation. When a player invests the time required in a production like FF XV they want satisfaction. A short, confusing, nebulous ending is not only exasperating, it is prohibitive.
Nuanced storylines are welcome, particularly in an RPG, but convolution cannot be mistaken for complexity. I can grasp that, at its core, FF XV is a tragedy. A sorrowful story of loss is perfectly acceptable, but the impact of such a mournful narration can only land if the audience knows what is at stake and what is being lost. Beyond that the audience must have investment in the fates of the characters. That complaint returns to the poor character design detailed above. The developers have communicated that they are looking at patching the main quest, but the deficiencies in the story is one of the issues I hinted at above as being in the bones of the production. It would require significant rewrites to generate character buy-in and moral gradience. I would prefer that, rather than trying to repair FF XV’s story, Square-Enix focus on ensuring that the eventual Final Fantasy XVI catches up to modern video game storytelling. At this point the shortages of FF XV’s narrative should be considered a sunk cost.
The previous complaints were focused on larger production issues that would be difficult to repair in FF XV, but will hopefully be answered in future installments. The next variables that I will be discussing are a collection of smaller transgressions that I refer to as player irritants. Player irritants are specific gameplay mechanics or elements that are either unnecessarily difficult to employ or are inadequately developed or implemented. These elements should be relatively simple to fix with game updates.
The battle camera in FF XV is surprisingly poor. It almost seems as if the developers refused to reference the lessons learned by other developers that generated an active battle system and decided to go it alone. First and foremost, Square-Enix needs to institute the ability to center the camera behind Noctis quickly. In comparable battle systems this action is achieved by clicking the right thumb stick. Currently that action is mapped to pulling up the map, which is fine, when not in combat. During battle clicking the right thumb stick should immediately center the camera behind Noctis. It is stupefying that this mechanic is not already implemented. Fix it.
The next issue also falls under the umbrella of combat. When facing multiple enemies that have several target points, it is standard that there will be locations lock on to and focus your attack. FF XV does provide the ability to lock on, but that ability is tied to the combat camera, which we have established is sub-par. The lock on function will fluctuate between available targets based on the combat camera and the movement of the enemies. Thus, it can be very difficult to maintain a lock on a specific enemy or weak point. Additionally, the ability to cycle through available lock on points in nonexistent. The inability of players to permanently maintain a lock or cycle through focus points is well behind other games that employ a similar active combat system. Currently the lock on capability is enabled by holding a specific button down, and a lock on cycle function does not exist. This is, again, a simple mechanic to fix. On the Xbox One the lock on function is defaulted to the right bumper. This function should remain, but the ability for the lock on to fluctuate between available focal points, based on the camera and enemy movement should be removed. The lock should remain static. Additionally, the ability to cycle through lock on points should be enabled by tapping the left bumper while the right bumper is still being activated. If Square-Enix rectifies the issues with camera centering and lock-on mechanics their decent combat system will evolve into a great system.
FF XV provides a series of enjoyable and lucrative side quests where bounties are offered regarding monsters that must be hunted. Upon completion of the hunts the player is rewarded with money and useful items. Each hunt provides progression that culminates in an increased hunter rank which opens additional hunts. The construct is a very enjoyable and rewarding collection of side quests. The problem is that the player can only accept one hunt at a time. If they are currently obligated for one hunt and accept a different hunt the previous hunt is canceled. This means that the player must take a hunt, complete the requirements, and turn it in before they are provided the ability to accept an additional hunt. The result of this mechanic is enforced inefficiency and a waste of gamer time. There are scores of hunts available, and hunts only spawn the requisite target when the mission is accepted. It is understandable that the developers do not want the player to generate an obligation of too many hunts for reasons ranging from quest maintenance and processing requirements associated with generating the targets. Regardless, it is ludicrous that a player cannot accept anything past one hunt. Limit the number of hunts that can be embarked upon, but let the player grab a reasonable amount so they can efficiently hunt without having to impose several load screens or impose lengthy travel animation. Square should allow players to accept up to five total hunts simultaneously. Patch it.
FF XV employs a day – night mechanic that affects quest availability. There are both main quests and side quests that demand action during the night rotation of the game. FF XV does not provide the ability to wait. This results in significant loitering time before a player can proceed regarding their desired quest. This is ludicrous, and easily rectified. For god’s sake Square-Enix, patch the game to provide a wait option.
Quest design is extremely vital in determining whether a game is enjoyable to play. FFXV’s quest design fluctuates between being manageable and utterly dated, particularly regarding the side quests. Unfortunately, many of the quests fall on the side of being archaic. The worst quests require a player to travel to a location and then execute an area search for a nondescript indicator of a desired item. Some of the area searches are readily obvious while others required a significant investment of time to trace. Area search quests are extremely difficult to execute. At best, such quests minimize the irritation of running around aimlessly and provide some level of player prompt and world immersion. A fine example of such a mechanic would be the quests in the Witcher 3 where Geralt’s heightened Witcher senses allow him to visually track as scent. The worst version of area search quests only provides a two-dimensional circle of where the point of interest could be in a three-dimensional space. The latter is what FF XV delivers as a standard. Such a mechanic is well behind and functions only to increase the required play time to complete at the cost of gamer enjoyment. Square must avoid archaic quest mechanics that are more a chore than an enjoyment to execute.
There are limitations where the player can save the game. Some of the limitations make sense. One cannot save the game during combat, which is sensible. But, there are instance like events where the player is unable to save. Some of the dungeons provided are extensive and require hours of effort with either limited or no ability to save. In the Final Fantasy games of yore, the player was dependent on save points or being in the open world map to record their progress. There are no save points, per say, in FF XV, but in practice they certainly exist. Some of the dungeons provide camping locations which will save the game if the player uses the camp function. But, if the player wants to stockpile experience until they can stay at an experience boosting lodging location they are out of luck. More importantly, this is a waste of gamer time. Without the ability to save, at any time, the player becomes dedicated to the play or is obligated to wasteinvested time if an external obligation comes to call. Of all the gamer irritants, this is the most unforgiveable. Immediately patch the game and allow the player to quick save at any time they are out of combat.
When Noctis and company are exploring a dungeon, they gingerly proceed at an excruciatingly cautious walk. The only way to advance faster is to sprint which is limited by the stamina bar. This gameplay mechanic makes dungeon exploration unnecessarily arduous. Forced walking in a dungeon is inexcusable. This travesty requires only a simple fix. Allow Noctis to move at the same pace he would in the open world. Patch this tomorrow Square.
Square-Enix sought to re-invent the travel system associated with open world gaming with the Regalia, which we touched on earlier. The Regalia is such a major component of the game that it is almost a character in and of itself. The unfortunate reality is that the Regalia is a misfire that results in yet another regressive gameplay element. Like other open world games, FF XV does allow for fast traveling between locations the player has already visited. Like other open world games, FF XV requires that the player arrive at unvisited locales via traditional means. The difference that Squre-Enix has introduced is the Regalia. In games like the Witcher 3 or Skyrim the player is forced to traverse the world. In such games the player must actively travel the world. While this can be time consuming, the mechanic offers something that is imperative to gamer experience: freedom of movement and liquid decision. Whether on foot or horseback the gamer is provided the opportunity to decide which path they will take, and to deviate from that path should they desire. The most paramount mechanic that the Regalia removes is choice. When traveling via the Regalia players are forced to participate in an unavoidable animation that can last several minutes. This happens several times throughout the game. On occasion, it provides a venue for storyline critical dialogue, but often it is a featureless animation. This reality is a huge problem for FF XV. They have effectively removed player choice and interaction from a key feature of gameplay: exploration. Freedom of exploration is a key requirement in an open world game. A key requirement that is mechanically denied the player in FF XV.
Courting the same spirit of archaic design, but at a different venue, FF XV employs frustrating puzzle mechanics in their dungeon offerings. This is realized in several of the levels, but none is more dreadful than that of Costlemark Tower. Not because there is some great evil hiding within the depths, but because the great evil is in the journey. Costlemark Tower is a dissertation on irritating, archaic, anti-player puzzle mechanics. The primary riddle of the instance is an unintuitive, grueling, lengthy, punishment. Costlemark asks the player to solve multiple iterations of a blind, block pushing maze. As Noctis and company make their way through the maze, if they take a wrong turn and push an incorrect block, they are committed, with no recourse should they wish to double back. Players are forced to push blocks through to the end of the maze, which then spawns several high-level enemies that must be defeated for the puzzle to reset. Challenging puzzles are welcome, but there must be some sense of problem solving available for the participant. Costlemark Tower provides none of this, it is pure trial and error. Couple that with the fact that players cannot save during their lengthy effort and one cannot help but be sympathetic to newcomers feeling turned off by the game and franchise.
There are also several poor platforming mechanics required to complete dungeons. The primary offender is the contextual prompt. The foursome may come across what looks to be a dead end, but the player simply was not close enough to the skinny, non-descript ledge to cue the button prompt. Ledges are not the sole offender dependent on the contextual prompt mechanic, there are also tunnels, precarious crossings, and ascendable cliffs that offer zero indications. These contextual prompt platforming events are boring, time-consuming, and fail to enhance the gamer experience. After hitting the prompt button the player simply holds the control stick in the direction required and waits for Noctis to finish his slow shimmy across the ledge, or whatever obstacle was impeding him. The combination of forced walking, contextual platforming, bad puzzle design, and an inexplicable inability to save results in the average dungeon experience being arduous, unrewarding, and unenjoyable. The latter being the cardinal sin of gaming.
Missed Gameplay Opportunities
There are gameplay elements which require significant exertion while providing little demonstrable payoff for the player effort. Interestingly, the programmers clearly showed great exertion in developing these elements, but the elements are superfluous in their implementation.
The first example of these unessential variables are the unique skills associated with each member of the quartet. Ignis can cook meals that provide temporary bonuses. Gladio randomly finds items after battle. Prompto takes photographs. Noctis likes to fish. The only skill that provides noticeable value is Ignis’ cooking ability. When camping Ignis will cook a meal that the player selects based on available recipes and ingredients. The meals provide a temporary bonus to the team once they break camp. Although the bonuses can be significant, their progression is regressive. There are over 100 different meals that he can make. The visual depiction of the meals is impressive, but as the player increases in level dishes lose their viability. In the end, there are only a handful of recipes that are worth the effort. The remaining skills do little to significantly impact the gamer experience. Gladio’s collection skill levels passively and represents itself only as a quick message, post battle, saying he has found an item. Prompto’s photography skill is purely aesthetic. Noct’s fishing skill is almost exclusively a non-factor. Any advantage he generates is linked to Ignis’ cooking skill. The idea of having a unique skill is a good concept, but considering how much effort is required to raise these skills they should provide more impact. As they stand in their current iteration the skills only appeal to gamers striving for completion.
The greatest example of a missed gameplay opportunity is the reimagination of the magic system, referred to as Elemancy. Magic can be extremely powerful, but the reality is that it is not necessary to progress. Elemency, like the character skills, does not provide immediate value. Furthermore, the non-magic abilities of the characters are not only more accessible, but immediately more useful. The leading problem with the use of magic is that practice results in friendly fire. This is hugely problematic, particularly in the early stages of the game when healing items are less available. Why in the world would a player want to use an ability that hurts everyone while abilities that offer the same damage, with no friendly fire damage, are readily available? Additionally, spells must be crafted and the amount crafted is finite. This system hearkens back to the much-maligned draw system that was used in Final Fantasy VIII. Furthermore, crafting the most powerful spells in the game requires tremendous effort. It demands the use of catalysts to unlock the most powerful attributes of Elemency. These catalysts are represented by treasure items that the player can gather or earn from killing specific enemies. Magic attack power is beholden to leveling the Elemancy ability through a leveling tree by spending AP. AP is a limited resource that is separate from experience points. It is the same resource required to unlock many character’s combat abilities. Combat abilities that provide immediate pay off, do not result in collateral damage to friendlies, and do not require catalysts. Elemancy only demonstrates its value if the player intends to pursue the optional high end side quests. Otherwise, the system provides little value, compared to other combat options, for players that are not interested in completion.
Summons have been a staple of the Final Fantasy series for decades. Final Fantasy XV attempts to demonstrate how powerful these deities are by making the act of summoning an important event. FF XV arguably has the most cinematic summons in the history of the series, but unfortunately the pageantry does not indicate their value. First, the actual mechanics of summoning are confusing and frustrating. Like the dungeon context prompts, summons present themselves in the same manner, only when specific criteria have been met. These criteria are largely unintuitive and never clearly explained to the player. After 130+ hours in the game I can honestly say that there are some summons that have conditions I have never achieved. Even worse, the summons are not effective against high level enemies. Understand, I am not referencing bosses, but standard enemies. I have called a summon in against a high-level hunter bounty only to see the enemy life bar fractionally affected. Because the requirements for summoning are so stringent, not easily accessible, mechanically unsound, and often inconsequential there is little use in them. A player cannot dependably plan to use them. As a result, summons occupy the same space as character skills and Elemancy, in that they are largely superfluous.
Although not a gameplay element the city of Altissia is an in explicable waste. Like the visual depiction of Ignis’ 100+ meals, the programmers clearly put in serious effort into creating the location. Unfortunately, Altissia is merely a stepping stone during a lengthy linear portion of the storyline. The tragedy surrounding the city is not that anything is poorly executed, but that its potential is not fully realized. Altissia should have been a major quest hub included in the open-world portion of the game. It is not. Sadly, it is another component, like Elemancy, like character skills, which show great potential but are wholly unrealized.
At its core, Final Fantasy 15 is not a broken game, but it includes broken mechanics and unrealized ideas. It does improve on archaic systems from previous series iterations, but not enough to pace its modern competitors. Worse, it reinforces tropes and stereotypes that have been common criticisms of JRPGs. If Square-Enix hopes to achieve the level of properties like Witcher 3, which moved over 20 million units, they must seek a comparable gamer experience. The only way this will occur is if they rapidly modernize and appeal to western audiences. The largest issue that Square-Enix must answer is storyline and character development. I could write a ten-page dissertation on the poor story, and maybe I will later. Without character complexity, there is no player buy-in. The characters and their motivations, although existential within the world, are not at all engaging for the external participant. Square-Enix must answer the story line and gameplay issues if they hope to compete with modern western RPGs.