Pre-cursor: I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Final Fantasy XV and think in many ways it is a beautiful entry in the series. Also, mild, mild spoilers...
Every Final Fantasy game leaves a lasting impression, individuals all have their favourite entry in the anthology, however there is always a general critical consensus about each game, one which becomes woven into the title’s legacy.
Final Fantasy XIII was deeply criticized, not by initial reviewers but by the subsequent playerbase and then in turn, game journalists.
The thing is, XIII also had a deeply flawed story (like XV) however, the problem of the linear corridor design of the game seemed to supersede that. SE took the criticism of linearity and corrected it for XV. The result was a resounding praise from players and critics alike about opening up the world of a FF game.
However, they have failed to understand how to deliver narrative. I say this as someone who studies narrative design and implementation for a living. SE must (and they already have based on the priority of their next update) focus on building more rich, coherent and powerful narratives.
The narratives need not be brilliant, but they must make sense and have a driving force. Were I them I would look to Western writers to help write their next game, because whatever they’ve been doing since FF 12 has made little sense in terms of storytelling.
The thing SE seems to have forgotten is that their games are not popular because of cutting edge graphics alone. I think the company believed the ground they broke in FF VII was due to technological prowess, but the series’ potency and its attractive nature has always to me, been its narrative design combined with its study of human nature.
FF is at its best when we are examining characters in meaningful ways while also experiencing an epic story.
I can argue we have an excellent set of characters to work with, but when it’s time to get down and experience the driving plot, a lot is missing.
XV has every ingredient in place for this to work. It has an excellent cast, a great world, a lot of lore to draw from and a number of tropes and totems available to be able to tell an excellent story. The idea of the Lucii, the Astrals, the royal arms, the King and the Oracle, the covenants, the plague of stars, the daemons and imperial conquest- the ingredients are all here, but what has been cooked is less than satisfying.
I believe this game will always have “narrative” as a designated weak point.
I fought to get every bit of info I could- I read all the books, the notes, Cosmogony, talked to all NPCs, listen to every radio, read every item description, watched the anime and companion film- I’ve put in the work.
But still, I’m left with gaps, with a feeling that this could have been told better, that the exposition and dramatic beats could have played out differently, that Noctis could have said or asked more in pivotal conversations. At times, I felt like Nomura sketched out his plot with Tabata and Tabata was unable to take it and turn it into a deeper set of narrative scenarios.
I always worried about the story of this game, because I’ve played all of Tabata’s games and one thing he has always struggled with is narrative execution. He simply doesn’t know how to make a great cutscene.
The hope is, the company takes the fans advice and doubles down on story for their next game like they did with open world in this one.