Final Fantasy XV: Clever Hybrid Or Diluted Identity?

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With 5 million copies sold in first week, commercially at least, Final Fantasy XV is steamrolling. So far, I’ve enjoyed my time with it. It’s a good game, and as fans of the franchise will attest, FFXV being “good” comes as somewhat of a relief. After all, between the game’s torrid development woes and, well… Final Fantasy, in general, over the past ten years, the fact that this game has come together in one single cohesive form is nigh-on a miracle at this point. But as happy as I am to finally play Final Fantasy XV, it’s not exactly setting my world on fire as such a historic game probably should be.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore the spectacle of both FFXV’s impressively large open world and the beasts that inhabit it. The combat is fun, too, and I appreciate the depth of its RPG systems. There’s plenty to enjoy, but while it hasn’t disappointed per se, I can’t deny that I’m struggling to feel the “Final Fantasy” in this Final Fantasy game. Other than some of the menu sound bites, classic recurring character names and Chocobos, I’m not sure it really feels like part of the franchise.

Maybe it’s the bewildering lack of substantial story in the game’s opening chapters, or the total absence of any meaningful introduction to the game’s four characters; two components that were always such an important part of Final Fantasy games gone by. Or maybe it’s that, minus a few hallmark JRPG tropes, at times FFXV feels like a dozen other western RPGs I’ve played over the past two years. And so, 25 hours into the game, I find myself reflecting on what it actually means to be a Final Fantasy title these days.

Right from the off, FFXV feels familiar, and I’m having deja vu traversing its very western feeling sandbox. Honestly, I never thought I’d be running around looking for dog tags in a Final Fantasy game, but here I’m doing exactly that, not once but 10 times over. Bounty hunting for money, and searching for arbitrary items, too, comprise a host of thinly disguised fetch quests – not quite as painful as those of a Bethesda game, but not far off, either.

Of course, every franchise needs to modernize with the changing times, and open world games are certainly the zeitgeist. But incorporating the obligatory check-box style game loops is a slippery slope. Sure, these mechanics are popular, but are they coming at the cost of diluting the identity of our favorite franchises?