Japanese RPGs and I had a falling out around the time of Final Fantasy XIII. I used to love them. I stood in line outside my local game store for every Final Fantasy from VII through XII. But they they lost me. And as far as Western gamers go, I don't think that arc is unique to me.
This year, I played Final Fantasy XV at two behind-closed-doors, press-only events. And it turns out I kind of like it. I might not stand in line for it, but I'm definitely going to play it, and that's more than I can say for most games of this type in recent years.
A Road Trip With My Friends
Part of the reason I enjoyed it so much is that it's doing something genuinely different with this whole road trip aesthetic. It goes like this: You're a young man who's on a road trip to destiny with his closest friends. As in (most) other Final Fantasy games, you can explore the world on foot. But you can also do it in your car.
Gas stations and roadside motels and diners serve as save points and quest hubs rather than your usual fantasy villages. It's really fresh, adding a strange sense of Americana to an otherwise very alien world.
Controlling the car was unusual, in that if you just accelerate, it will mostly keep to the road without your input. But if you want to override it by pressing on the controller's joystick, you can.
But I didn't mind. It really did feel like being on the open road. No game has scratched that itch for me until this one.
The Combat, Though
So the game is soaked in atmosphere. It's a freewheeling explorer fuller of talking villagers. It's everything we missed in Final Fantasy XIII. What's the catch?
Well, it turns out one of the things Final Fantasy XIII was best at is what I like least about Final Fantasy XV — the combat. It's really chaotic. It feels like mashing buttons against infinite health bars.
And the teleporting around to certain points to get new views from which to shoot your enemies is cool for a minute, but mostly it just didn't do it for me. It's a shame, because most of your game time will probably be spent in combat, if previous games in the series are any indication.
Final Fantasy XV On PlayStation VR
I also got to play the game in VR. Final Fantasy in VR seems like an odd match, and it is. But nevertheless, the Final Fantasy XV PlayStation VR demo was one of the most immersive experiences I've ever had — at least, the end of it was. Let me explain!
The bulk of the demo was a first-person combat experience in which you can only move by teleporting to various vantage points. It was okay, I guess. It's not something I would go out of my way to play, and is is the case with most non-VR games crammed into a VR experience, I'd rather just play the non-VR version.
But there was a tag at the end of the demo, after you've defeated your enemy. It just puts you in the passenger's seat of the car, in first-person perspective, with a girl in the driver's seat taking you down a desert road. It was the most immersive VR moment I've yet enjoyed.
I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because it was such a familiar experience? Maybe it was because the only interactivity was looking around, so I didn't feel the pressure to also perform in a game at the same time? Maybe it was just because I really love cars and driving. I'm not sure, but you should definitely check it out if you pick up PlayStation VR.
As With Previous Games, It's The World That Got Me
Ultimately, it doesn't matter than the combat isn't my style, or that the only good part of the VR experience was the tag at the end of it. Final Fantasy games have always been about escaping into the world they're set in, and the two hours I played of Final Fantasy XV delivered on this far better than the dozens I spent playing Final Fantasy XIII, the last traditional RPG in the series.
That sense of the open road is something I'm already longing to return to. Maybe — just maybe — I'll get back into JRPGs again after Final Fantasy XV comes out this September.