First of all, a game’s development time or how long the fans waited for it should not be taken into account when reviewing the final product. I just had to get that off my chest right from the jump; for the rest of the review, I want to focus on positive suggestions and thoughtful analysis of what it means to review a game like this. Final Fantasy XV is certainly an interesting and ambitious game, one that made me reconsider the way games should be reviewed, or at least the way open world RPGs should be written about.
My History With Crazy Hair, Giants Swords, and Crystals
For context: I fancy myself a Final Fantasy fan, but not a hardcore one. Final Fantasy Tactics is my favorite game of all time; however, it differs quite a bit from the rest of the series. Every Final Fantasy game is a little bit different and the thing that seems to be constant is a focus on narrative. I play these games for their story first and the battle mechanics/strategy second, with exploration coming in dead last. So a giant open world, which is usually overwhelming for me, can turn me off because it usually means sacrificing some of the narrative or at least changing the way the story is told. This had me a bit nervous when considering purchasing Final Fantasy XV.
Despite all that, I pre-ordered the game in June 0f 2016. Like many others, I had been looking forward to Final Fantasy XV for years, yet I had an uneasy feeling about it in the back of my mind. I went on with my life, playing other games, not thinking much about it and then found out it would be delayed. Bummer. It would be released at the end of November instead and then, while waiting an additional two months, I lost even more interest. Normally, I only pre-order a game when I’m absolutely sure I will love it and want to buy it on launch — and that was mostly true for FFXV. But then, a few days before the Nov 21st release date, I started watching reviews on YouTube. I watched quite a few, but the ones that really stood out were IGN and Gamespot. It wasn’t that they were bad (or good either), but just that they seemed to confuse me even more.
Both IGN and Gamestop gave FFXV an 8/10. That’s not perfect, but still pretty solid by anyone’s definition. The only problem is… numbers mean nothing. It’s awfully hard to qualify a subjective, narrative-driven multimedia experience with an arbitrary digit. That is why a game’s number score should be looked at as more of a summary that compliments what the reviewer said in the full text/video. The thing is, though, the complimenting videos for these reviews are full of negative comments that conflict with the score. Now let me be clear before going any further: I am in no way complaining about the score Final Fantasy XV received, and I would likely also give it an 8 if I were to assign it a numerical score. What I do want to talk about is what IGN and Gamespot were missing and why you shouldn’t put too much stock in these types of review.
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Second Thoughts and Eventual Affirmation
So after watching those reviews, I started to think that I should just let my Gamestop deposit go and not pick up the game. In my mind, I would actually be saving fifty-five dollars, not losing five. The reviews told me the game was disjointed; they said the combat is fun but the story isn’t too great. They said it didn’t feel much like a Final Fantasy game. Furthermore, they discussed the “numerous” technical issues such as camera glitches and frames-per-second slowdowns. None of the reviewers seemed to be too impressed by the game, yet they still gave it an 8/10. Perhaps it was the decade-long wait that was clouding their judgment? I was confused — was it worth getting or not? The gameplay I was seeing in the videos didn’t seem to be for me at first; I don’t care for active battle systems. Nearly everyone seemed to agree that they enjoyed the “bromance” aspect of FFXV and they appreciated the focus on male friendship, something that isn’t explored much in video games, but the same people said the characters were flat and often annoying. Wouldn’t those two things sort of be at odds with one another? I thought so. They also said the story, like most JRPGs, is a bit cliche; though, I expected that to some degree.
Then, Nerd Much? co-creator/writer Liz Bernstein said she was loving it and I should definitely go pick it up. I didn’t really ask any questions because I knew at that point I was just going to have to play it and formulate my own opinion. After all the reviews, gameplay videos, and fan speculations, Liz’s suggestion was all I needed to give myself permission to finally run out and buy Final Fantasy XV. I got so hung up, as I often do, obsessing over a relatively simple decision. But the point is this: the reviews didn’t help and instead complicated things. It’s not IGN, Gamespot, or their writers’ faults, though. They are both huge publications with very busy writers. They probably don’t have too much time to record longer reviews and people don’t necessarily want their reviews to be too long anyway. The problem isn’t necessarily the length but the way we typically review games, especially in this genre. I’m suggesting we rethink what we do/don’t consider when tabulating that all-important score.
Here at Nerd Much? we think of our number scores as a shorthand for whether you should buy a game, rent it, wait a while, or run away from it. In my opinion, the most important thing to consider when evaluating a game is the experience it delivers. Most can agree with this, right? Then, as reviewers, we should write about our personal experiences with a game. We should spend less time thinking about how many hours it takes to beat a game and more about how enjoyable those hours were. The only way I can think of to convey the quality of hours played is to actually walk the reader through what you personally experienced and how you felt playing the game. Consider the popularity of “Let’s Play” videos on YouTube. Those are very personal experiences, and people love watching them. So what exactly constitutes a game’s experience and how do you walk the reader through it the way I’m suggesting? Well, I’ll explain with my own mini-review of FFXV, showing you what I would like to see as a reader.
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A Mini-Review of Final Fantasy XV
After watching a few introductory cut scenes, I picked up my controller and readied myself to finally control the game so many of us have been waiting years to play. Final Fantasy XV was here and I was ready to slay monsters and ride chocobos in style. I have to put the hardcore adventuring on hold, though, because my band of brothers has to first push our broken down car to the nearest gas station. Boring. Or so I thought. I apathetically tilt the analog stick forward and something amazing happens: I become completely engrossed and emotionally invested in a menial task. The music swells as the main cast of characters starts pushing the car, together. Florence Welch starts signing a hauntingly beautiful rendition of “Stand By Me” while Noctis, Prompto, Gladio, and Ignis begin talking. They joke with one another and I immediately begin to understand their rapport. The music fades to the background while their conversation moves to center stage. Suddenly, I don’t even mind that I’m barely doing anything — I’m really invested in pushing a digital car. Before this nice opening moment overstays its welcome, the camera pans up to the sky to reveal the words “Final Fantasy XV.” The music fades out. The screen goes black. Now I’m sure, before even battling the first few enemies or talking to an NPC, that buying FFXV was a good choice.
From what I can tell after putting twenty hours into the game, Final Fantasy XV is full of moments like this opening scene. It is a game replete with experiences that are hard to explain and are only truly understood by playing. When I was younger and tried to convince my friends of a video game’s greatness I would invite them over and let them play it for themselves (not watch me). Before that, I would first have to pique their interest by telling them a story of the game. That story never contained a bulleted list of what made the game objectively “good.” I would tell them the story of my personal experience with the game.
So now, many years later, if I was trying to get my friends on the Final Fantasy XV bandwagon I would tell them that a couple hours after the car pushing scene, I accepted a quest to hunt a giant Behemoth. Then I would tell them that I actually had to fill the gorgeous looking Regalia with gas before setting out on my journey, and I stopped halfway because I didn’t want to hurt a Prompto’s (a completely fictional person) feelings by not pulling over to take a group photo. I would go on to say: I got to the area where the beast was grazing and actually felt nervous. My heart rate rose. I led my group of friends through a tunnel while the Behemoth lurked outside. We pushed onward then suddenly Gladio pulled me back, saving all of our lives because at that very moment the beast stuck its giant eye inside a cracked part in the tunnel and almost saw me. When we got to the other end we fought a couple of Sabretusks while heading for the lair. Nearly at the cave, we came upon a foggy, ominous field full of rocks. Our group had to use stealth and track the Behemoth. I probably wouldn’t tell my friends that I actually had to restart this part twice because I got too excited and the Behemoth spotted me. I would skip to the third time when we finally reached our destination and engaged in a boss fight that we were severely under-leveled for. Final Fantasy XV‘s new magic system is what ultimately led to our victory as I was able to throw Multicast Fire flasks and light oil drums on fire as a means of significantly weakening the Behemoth. Eventually, Gladio, like usual, landed the final blow and we were victorious. We headed back to the tipster to receive our reward and found that we now made the town safe enough to start renting chocobos — which I immediately did because, again, Prompto really wanted to.
If the Shoe Fits…
So this is what I mean by “experience.” If I had read an entire review that was similar to the paragraphs above then I think I might’ve been convinced. Focusing on the narrative of personal experience with an open world RPG like FFXV can encourage others to go out and create their own stories with the game. Reviews like this can simplify the decision of whether or not to buy a game. A reviewer shouldn’t stifle the personal quality of their writing because playing video games, especially RPGs, is inherently personal. What we should do is try to put the readers in our shoes as early evaluators. Then it’s on each individual to decide if the shoe fits. Perhaps if I was able to try the proverbial shoe on for size and get a feel for it by connecting with a review in a way that would ultimately convey the experience of Final Fantasy XV, then I would have never considered forfeiting my deposit. I may have even gone to the midnight release.
But instead, I felt conflicted; which, to a degree, was my fault. I did not write this borderline hypocritical (I do write about games and give them numerical scores after all) “thinkpiece” on FFXV and game reviews to point fingers or accuse my peers of anything. There is a place for four-minute IGN/Gamespot snapshot reviews, another place for fifteen-minute critical analyses from Angry Centaur Gaming, and a final place in the middle (which ought to be brightly illuminated and admired) for contemplative Easy Allies assessments. Rather than assert any of these are somehow “wrong” or “less than,” I’m simply suggesting we welcome another type of review, one that is an introspective meditation on the reviewer’s personal experience with a title. Now, of course, this style of video game review may not be for everybody or apply to every game — for the record: I have just as much love for deep, mechanics-driven games with no narrative or exploration — but it is an alternative that I would personally appreciate much more than assessing a work of art with an empty integer.
How’d you feel about Final Fantasy XV and/or its reviews? Let us know all of this and more in the comment section below.
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