Final Fantasy is a series of many great highs and the few unfortunate lows. First started all the way back in 1987, the Final Fantasy series has seen growth and change with the climate of the gaming industry much like many golden oldies like Metal Gear, although that was always backed by Hideo Kojima while Final Fantasy seemingly switched directors and writers more times than an HBO series. So when Final Fantasy XV landed in 2016, after almost a decade of hype and anticipation, many expected the game to be on equal footing with the likes of VI and VII. I can assure you, it really wasn’t, but XV might actually be my third favorite in the entire series given how much time I sunk into it along with the emotional impact it had on me. So why was Final Fantasy XV the best game of that year?
To start, one has to understand the rocky history of the development of XV. What first began as a mere extension of XIII, titled XIII-Versus, the game had seen several facelifts throughout the years before eventually becoming a standalone adventure. Noctis and his merry group of Japanese boy band members have always remained in tact, and it seemed one theme had stuck through the decade: brotherhood. This was beautifully illustrated in the final product as you really got invested in the group. They were friends, but most of all, felt like a collective family that fought together, ate together, and… I guess slept together but in different tents or rooms of course.
Final Fantasy XV began with just that; a broken down car and the witty exchange of dialogue and banter between the guys. It was a surprisingly mellow but effective way to begin the game, not opening itself up like an overblown romantic fairy tale of the past. Instead, Square Enix graciously humanized its central characters, each with a distinct personality and fighting style that easy to get behind and relate to. It made every adventure in the massive open world all the more rewarding to experience, not because of the XP or new abilities you would obtain, but because this constant theme of camaraderie between the blokes always felt natural and not forced. You grew attached to them, just as the game intended you to, and it definitely added layers and dimensions to each fight – something that was severely missing from previous iterations that tried too hard to force romantic subplots or contrived stories.
Besides the feeling of belonging you got with the travelling boys in leather, you also were gifted with some of the most epic, standout moments from any Final Fantasy game I’ve ever played. The standouts were definitely battles involving the deities which would later become summons, such as the jaw-dropping battle of Altissia and your first encounter with the Adamantoise. These grand-scaled battles were given weight by the emotional bond with the characters, and instead of being a shallow fight to the death, it was an intense and very emotional battle of survival.
Final Fantasy XV is not without its flaws, but it comes few and far between across this 40+ hour journey that lands more of an impact than any other game in the series, save for VI and VII. Many critics who were initially harsh on the game I believe may have missed the point. Unlike previous FF games, this wasn’t a game about the inevitable end, it was a game about humble beginnings.