Final Fantasy Video Game Playthroughs

Square has finally solved the Action RPG with Final Fantasy VII Remake

My first Final Fantasy game was X. I didn’t have a PS2 and my first game system was an N64 so I had never played a full RPG before then. I used to go over to my friends house to play every day after middle school. I was enamored with the game; the story and it’s subversions to the traditional hero narrative blew my prepubescent mind. Yuna’s suicidal pilgrimage to defeat Sin had me hooked from start to finish. The world was also fantastic, a mixture of technology and fantasy that was so original to me. My friend and I followed this by subsequently playing Final Fantasy VII, which became another instant classic for me. The interrogation of identity wrapped up into a larger story following eco-terrorists left a lasting impact. These two games turned me into a lifelong Final Fantasy fan and deepened my appreciation for video games. They showed me what stories in games could do and had me beating the drum in the “games are art” argument back when that was a thing. I replayed old Final Fantasy games and eagerly awaited each new mainline release. Unfortunately, I’ve been chasing the high of those two games ever since. 

Square has been completely uninterested in creating traditional JRPGs since X, which has been a real shame. Their single player games focus instead seems to be on battle systems, iterating more towards action RPGs than turn based battles. This has come at an expense towards story or cohesive world building. Modern Final Fantasy games have been inconsistent; they haven’t been able to hit the highs since their original PS2 watermark. The games haven’t been train wrecks, but the new games have failed to have the same level of cohesiveness expected from this long lasting, AAA series. The new Final Fantasy VII Remake seems to be an outlier on that trajectory, a game that matches its engaging combat with a consistent and engaging story. I’ve been struggling to articulate why this game has resonated with me so strongly, where the other games haven’t. There was something at work alongside my nostalgia for the familiar world and characters. I believe it lies in where the developers current strengths are; by adapting a classic story (or at least a part of it) it removed the burden of universe crafting. The tighter geographical focus keeps the plot from being disconnected and much more engaging. They’re also working off a stellar template; the original Final Fantasy VII’s story is beloved for a reason. There’s no need for them to create a whole universe to coincide with their updated engine. The combat also just fucking rips.

Great Combat, Lackluster Worlds

Final Fantasy XII

Before Remake’s release, I had been replaying XII (more on that in a future post). I had played it back when I first bought my PS3 (that first SKU had that sweet PS2 backwards compatibility) and felt extremely mixed. It’s strange that I ended up having similar feelings from back when I first played it. It is extremely fun; the gambit system where you literally program your party’s actions is so satisfying and the MMO style combat makes it breeze by. The story by comparison, feels inconsequential at best. What starts out as intriguing political fantasy soon goes nowhere for hours on end. The characters have no interiority and feel only vaguely defined. Everyone seems to operate purely on plot momentum as they chase around random macguffins. I have the same opinion of the story that I had ten years ago; supremely surface level. There was no great subversion or even great character work at play like in X or VII.

Final Fantasy XIII

I followed up my original play-through of XII purchasing both XIII and XV on their respective release days. I had been eagerly awaiting both; they were the reason I bought a PS3 (back when XV was known as Versus XIII). They both left me with similarly disappointing feelings, but for different reasons. XIII brought back turn based battles with an added twist. Enemies have weaknesses and if you hit them with specific attacks, it would result in them being staggered (a system currently being used in VII Remake). Again, this game was very fun to play but a long on-ramp process left it feeling stagnant. I didn’t mind the linear corridors that have come to define it, but the game withheld so much of the combat tool-set under hours of game time that made it feel way too repetitive. XIII’s story meanwhile had similar angst as PlayStation-era FF games (tragic love, impending doom, fighting against larger godly forces) but without the more detailed character work (I’m told this comes in later sequels). 

Final Fantasy XV VR Prompto

XV on the other hand was a bit of a mess (I had such a good time at the beginning of the game). It is much more of an action RPG and is a bit closer in style to FFVII Remake. You control Noctus, hitting buttons to attack, guard and dodge in real time. You also have a party that you can issue commands to and team up to perform attacks. It all felt a little janky and didn’t have that deeper strategic layer. Regardless it was still fun to play traversing the open world with your buddies on a fantasy road trip. Unfortunately, the game’s story and later level design literally removes the RPG elements from portions of the game. At launch, XV had plot portions locked up in outside movies and some that were literally missing altogether (DLC would fill this in). The games transition from open world setting to more confined levels literally removed the RPG portion of the combat and made me feel like I had completely wasted my time leveling. Even before the dreaded survival horror chapter, I was way checked out. This game left me completely cold.

Adapting an Existing World Allows the Combat to Shine

Final Fantasy VII Remake Combat

So why after nearly a decade of disappointment am I finding Final Fantasy VII Remake so engaging? First, the combat is just so fun. VII Remake feels like the combat that XV was searching for. You’re controlling characters in real time (hitting square to attack, R1 to block, etc) while filling up a meter (ATB) that allows you to issue commands for abilities and spells. Best of all, you can switch between all of your current party members. Each character has a unique ability set and unique movement; for example Aerith has long range attacks and is slightly slower and stiffer, while Tifa is all about moving and punching fast. Switching between characters and activating abilities is crucial to winning fights. Much like XIII, enemies have a stagger meter that you slowly fill by attacking or using elements they are weak to against them. This game is also vastly more difficult than the preceding games; exploiting enemies weaknesses is key to winning and keeping your party alive. The end result is a tight balancing act as you juggle all the different plates to guide your party to victory. It feels like the culmination of their previous combat ideas and the ultimate ideal of what they’ve been trying to achieve. Square has finally cracked how to craft action RPG combat.

Final Fantasy VII Remake Hoodlum

The story and world also proves to be similarly engaging. The template established by the original game gives them plenty of runway to expand and tweak plot elements. Since the game only takes place in the city of Midgar, the developers are free to embellish on parts the original skimmed over. This focus on one location proves to be a huge positive; this is the most cohesive level design they’ve done in ages. It’s especially interesting to see how they’ve expanded characters. Tifa particularly feels like a much more well defined character than in the original. Aerith’s expanded role allows her time to tap into her playful energy and is so much fun every time she’s on screen. The AVALANCHE members also have great extended characterizations, especially Jessie. Her side plot towards the beginning of the game adds a lot of pathos to a character that formerly barely existed. Barret meanwhile is the only letdown; he seems to swing hard between racist caricature and enigmatic leader.

Intriguing Adjustments

Final Fantasy VII Remake Avalanche Graffiti

The plot enhancements prove to be simultaneously engaging and beguiling. Remake is not interested in keeping things strictly 1:1. People who have played the original will notice new antagonistic beings (dementors) that pop up in scenes and physically drive characters toward VII’s plot points. There also added hints at major characters that never appeared in the original’s Midgar section. Remake seems to be aware that people know those original story beats and wants to play with your expectations. It’s fascinating to see them commenting on the original story from within the game. It makes the game feel more singular; it takes the original parts and lifts it into a stand alone experience. 

I’m excited and mystified to see where things go from here, which is a strange idea for a video game remake. We’ve come to know remakes as being more of a fresh coat of paint on the original game, but this game wants to take things in a more decidedly original direction. I’ve seen lots of comparisons to the Neon Genesis Evangelion Rebuild movies; what started off as a straightforward retelling diverges significantly from the source material. What’s most surprising is that I’m excited again for new Final Fantasy’s. The joke here is that I’m not necessarily excited for “new” Final Fantasy, but if Square can keep things feeling as fresh as they do in Part 1 it will be worth it.

Final Fantasy Video Game Playthroughs

Final Fantasy XV: or How I Learned to Ignore the Flaws and Love the Mess

I decided to set up camp at the uppermost corner of the map as night had set and there wasn’t enough time for me to finish my quest. Before I could finish the day, Gladiolus stopped me to ask if I wanted to go fishing in the early morning and try to catch a rare fish. These one on one character opportunities (called “Tours”) don’t come up very often and offer good in-game bonuses, so I decided I would join him even though I’m not particularly fond of the fishing mini game. We ran down to the river in the early morning and the game announced that if I did not catch the fish in question that I would fail the tour and be sent back to camp. I spent almost an hour of game time fishing attempting to catch this mystical fish. I literally drained the entire lake of fish (something that wildlife conservationist would not be too pleased with) without catching the goal of this mission. After slowly realizing that the game had set me with a mission with no way to successfully complete it, I quit fishing and was given a failed screen.

This bug with the fishing tour is a good summation of my time so far with Final Fantasy XV: I have encountered a number of things that feel unfinished or unpolished that can be downright infuriating but yet I continue to find immense enjoyment in it. I seem to swivel on my position on the game every other day from being enamored to attempting to write it completely off. I decided on Thursday that it would be ok if I didn’t finish the game and give up, on Friday I sunk three hours in it and left hungry for more. As I pass the 20-hour mark of time played, I find the game hard to recommend but a joy to play.

Final Fntasy XV Cindy Feminism Sexist
Taken from

My problems with the game started at the very beginning of the game with the first female character, Cid’s (in case you were wondering if this is a Final Fantasy game) Cindy. This plucky female repairwoman has a positive attitude and is more than capable of earning her keep in the garage. She also wears very little (read: tiny scraps of) clothing. She wears a tiny button up (for maximum cleavage) and Daisy Duke style jean shorts that look like they shrunk in the wash. Apart from her character design, the game seems intent on making her an object. Every time you fill up your car at her gas station, she gives your car a full strip tease car wash (for every other gas station, Noctus is just shown leaning against the car). The characters in game all talk about her looks further cementing her role. This is made all the more irksome by the surprisingly large role she plays in the game, so her questionable character design is thrown at the player often.

Cindy also is one of only five female characters that I have met so far on my journey.  Gender diversity is lacking with only one really strong female character having been introduced. I am also not completely convinced that one of the main four characters couldn’t have been a woman. The game has made no case for why the main cast had to be all be male. They don’t all even begin the story as really close friends, with only Prompto being Noctus’ buddy before their trip (Ignis serves as council and Gladiolus as guardian). Final Fantasy has a tradition of strong female characters so this aspect seems especially overlooked.

Final Fantasy XV Characters Nerdist
Taken from

Final Fantasy XV also struggles with larger scale game design issues. After the introductory chapter, the player is set loose in an open world that is full of optional side quests to complete. A lot of this side content ends up being incredibly dull. Most quests have you running to fetch certain items for NPCs only for you to return these to them and be given another identical mission with a different location on the map. Very few end up with tangible rewards that make your time spent feel worth it. Hunts, side missions where you are tasked with defeating tougher monsters, are much more exciting in comparison and lets you delve into the surprisingly engaging active battle system. The game here too creates another irksome issue by only allowing you to take on one hunt. So you’ll have to keep going back to restaurant owners once you have completed one hunt to receive your next one.

The main quest’s in comparison vary wildly. While they are usually the most engaging missions (and the most traditional in terms of Final Fantasy design), they also serve to show Final Fantasy’s general lack of polish and cohesive game design. Main quests have you doing everything from completing dungeons to infiltrating bases. The variations in gameplay can be refreshing, but they don’t always work out. Dungeon crawling is much more in Final Fantasy’s wheelhouse and the sneak mechanics feel janky and cumbersome in comparison. Especially in a year where games have played with gameplay variations to great effect (Titanfall 2’s campaign), these tweaks fall especially flat. The main story is equally flawed as well. Your campaign to free your home from invading forces changes greatly over the course of the game’s chapters. Story’s points that were the main mission of chapter 2 are moved to the side quests by chapter 7 as new goals are set often with little in game explanation. Usually the loading screen in between chapters is used to explain the new goals rather than having the characters organically move the plot along. Major points in the plot often feel irrelevant by the next chapter. One point in particular has the empire cutting down on the open world only to have the next chapter lift this completely with little explanation. Cut scenes, where previous modern Final Fantasies showed impressively rendered story points, are used as flavor text and are usually kept to small snippets. They are also jarring as they seem much more like cuts removed from the Kingsglaive movie rather than actual scenes designed for the game.

Final Fantasy XV Combat Screen
Taken from

I could continue on for several more paragraphs documenting continued faults (some quick hits: the camera enjoys shooting bushes in combat rather the characters, the main quartet of characters are not incredibly interesting, and a special shout out to Dino for his atrocious Boston accent) but yet I am still incredibly drawn to the game. Riding around the open world on chocobos makes for a great compliment to traversing and questing in the game to the more static (but faster) travel in the car. The day/night cycle keeps things fast paced as you race to finish your quests before camping by nightfall. The combat is fast paced and is a genuine joy to play especially when you’re facing tougher and larger enemies. It is a testament to how incredibly positive these aspects of Final Fantasy are that they can outweigh the many weak points of this product.

Having waited 10 years (!) for this game to finish production, I could still be running on my long awaited anticipation to play the game. It seems mind boggling that this game feels very rough and unfinished for such a long production time. These rough edges lend it a certain charm however, as you often don’t see this level of design variation and lack of polish on big AAA releases. I couldn’t give this game a complete recommendation (especially as I approach what I hear is the more linear part of the game) but I am nonetheless having an incredibly good time playing Final Fantasy XV.