If you haven’t played Final Fantasy XV yet, then be warned, here be incidental spoilers. Yar.
Final Fantasy XV has Chocobo Racing, annoyingly fast Cactaurs and a host of amazing soundtracks – but the best thing about it has to be the food. Seriously, this is the only time that I have played a game and wanted the game company to release an accompanying cookbook. At least when Ignis comes up with a new recipe, there could be a tab actually detailing how you make everything. I’m pretty sure that I could manage to make flame roasted toast and maybe even a Cup Noodle, but would I be worried that I wouldn’t be making them in the correct Final Fantasy way. Maybe the boiling water from a Cup Noodle need to be heated by a special fire spell or something.
The other thing that doesn’t help is the food-porn photography of all the delicious meals you are about to eat. There is the odd moment with the character animation in Final Fantasy XV where it seems to cross the uncanny valley, and Noctis, Prompto, Ignis and Gladiolus look and act like real people. In Final Fantasy the food always looks like real food. Delicious real food. Playing in the evening it often presents me with delicious real food that I have no time to make. Because I’m searching out the next restaurant. Eating a Weight Watcher’s Microwavable Ocean Pie when Barramundi steaks are flaunted before me in high definition is a particular brand of delicious torture. I even get envious of the greens that the Chocobos eat too. I hate kale, but I get the sense I would love it through dogged determination if I found out that rideable birds were into it too.
The food is just one of the myriad amazing details in Final Fantasy XV. Everything in this game seems to have been realized with love. Or just the many years of development time.
Even so, the little details that I love in the game are also some of the biggest moments of disconnects for me. At some point you may set up a camp that is just a little way down from a Cup Noodle sign, sit on Coleman folding chairs while people will set a camp out of nowhere and cook you some Barramundi, a game fish from Australia named by Aborigines. It’s comforting but also weird that Cup Noodle exists throughout the multiverse. It’s also weird that just as Noctis has the power to call weapons out of thin air, Ignis seems to have the same power with tents and cooking equipment.
My friend Kat (who so happens to be responsible for my awesome Chocomog tattoo, which I got before the in-game festival, thank you very much) played through the story mode of the game pretty quickly. I’m not making the same mistake: I like this world, and I’m going to take my time in it. Doing all the side quests does lead to some odd moments though, like the weird appearance of the Cup Noodle… and the even weirder request to go up an active volcano to get an egg to put in it. Yep, no other reason to go up to the table apart from Ignis to ‘come up with a new recipe.’ Usually that’s a good thing, but even I can manage to put an egg in a Cup Noodle. You don’t have to boil it beforehand right, just drop it in there and let kettle water do its magic, right?
Another of the side quests I’ve just been doing involves me taking pictures for someone’s magazine. If your father – the king – has just been killed, and people are trying to assassinate you – the new king – wherever you go, it seems strange to get your pictures of meteor craters published in a magazine. Not to mention the fact that the person who runs the magazine might get more readers if he just published pictures of you. It also seems weird that when the fate of the world is at stake, Prompto spends so much time taking selfies. Mind you, according to the prequel stories Sqeenix put on YouTube, he was a lonely fat kid, so you can’t really blame him.
The reason that you can forgive Final Fantasy XV (or, as it should be called Final Fantasy VII times 2 plus 1) is that both the quest and side missions are fun. The problem is that Final Fantasy XV is two wildly different games in one. One is a laid back exploration game, with gentle levelling up and interesting world building. The other is a huge scale epic with absolutely massive monsters. Usually you would start with one then move on to the other. In this game, you can battle a giant the size of a skyscraper, then take time off to do some fishing. I have no idea why (not much of a spoiler alert) that Prince Noctis’ father dies right at the beginning of the game. Why? Four rich kids break down and their money can’t be used, so they have to get to the princess as soon as possible. That’s an interesting story. Then the main character’s father dies and his home city is decimated, but he’s still interested in trying out a new flavour of potato chips! I mean, it’s not like they’re Dill Pickle Pringles or anything (damn you Sainsbury’s and your American foods section -£2.50 a tube!?!)!
There is part of me that kind of loves the schizophrenic narrative. It’s a world where the potential saviour says “Forget about all the death and destruction, I’m going to spend a couple of weeks finding the best fishing lure.” At least in Zelda when Link goes fishing he finds Zora’s flippers or the entrance to an underwater dungeon or something. That’s a well-paced game. I like the open world that Noctis and his friends explore – but you’re already the most important person in the world at the beginning of the story – not someone who becomes the most important person in the world. In those terms, Prompto would have been a better protagonist. I guess someone high up thought that we had seen the story of someone struggle against adversity a million times before. What they hadn’t done was seen an entitled spoiled kid not really change much.
It just seems like a shame, so far. That’s because I’ve wanted to just wander around in the modern Technopunk meets Mad Max world of Final Fantasy since Cloud and the cast of VII changed my life 20 years ago. I just want to cruise around – and unlike VII, the story in this game feels more like it’s getting in the way of my fun rather than adding to it. I haven’t really played a game before when I get annoyed that I’m running out of repetitive side quests, because I know the story missions will be annoying dungeons or frustratingly long boss battles where you fight against a giant’s hand. That’s not going to stop me playing through the game though, even though I’m still wishing for the Barramundi steak that this game could have been rather than the Cactaur flavoured Pot Noodle (with semi-raw volcano egg) we’ve been left with.