Final Fantasy XV Goes Old School to Keep Relevant
The new installment of Final Fantasy XV opens with a glimpse back at where it all began.
The latest demo features the beginning of the full game, which arrives November 29 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. A brief flash-foward scene shows older versions of the game’s protagonists battling an unidentified enemy in a burning throne room. Then the screen goes black. Two paragraphs of text appear. I expected a typical loading screen providing gameplay tips. But the text felt familiar. The first paragraph prophesied a war between dark and light. The second told of four heroes embarking on a quest. And then it hit me. This is a blue screen.
That would be the Blue Screen of Text that appeared at the start of the first three Final Fantasy games on the NES. Rather than opening with a customary title screen, the series traditionally opened with a tight bit of story that set the scene for what was to come, usually ending with a reference to the warriors that the player would take charge of.
The series abandoned this in favor of a show-don’t-tell approach. Final Fantasy XV updates the idea. The screen is black, the text didn’t slowly roll in, and it didn’t feature the usual music. But longtime fans of the game know what developer Square Enix was going for.
Final Fantasy XV wasn’t done aping the opening of the game’s first chapter. The opening scene placed me in what looked like the flash-forward’s throne room, occupied by a king who is the father of the main character Noctis. He charges our Noctis and his buddies with a royal quest: deliver Noctis to his nuptials in a neighboring kingdom.
This is the classic RPG opener, used in Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Ultima, King’s Quest, and any number of others. It’s fallen out of favor, so Square Enix’s use of the “king’s errand” represents a clear intent to return to the origin of role-playing games and make Final Fantasy as culturally relevant today as it was then.
A benefit to this approach is it leaves no confusion as to what is going on, which wasn’t always the case with more recent titles in the series. Players zip forward a bit in time after the four protagonists take their leave of the king, and find that they’ve grown entangled in the most mundane of buddy-movie conundrums: Their car breaks down.
They push it to a gas station where they meet mechanic Cid and his granddaughter Cindy, who for some reason repairs cars while wearing a bikini. Leaving the car in their hands, the crew runs into the nearby desert to start killing monsters and leveling up. It’s a fast, fast jump from the onset of the story to the start of the gameplay, and you begin having fun with little ado.
I didn’t have much time to play Final Fantasy XV during my demo at the Tokyo Game Show, so there’s not much to say about its gameplay. Final Fantasy XV is a pivotal moment for the series, which enters its 30th year in 2017. I can’t say whether the latest installment can revive the series, but what I saw in Tokyo convinced me that the desire to do so is there.