Final Fantasy XV proves that genre tropes aren’t necessary to create an unforgettable world.
In the week since Final Fantasy XV released, Square Enix’s latest entry in the long-running RPG series has changed the way I look at RPG worlds. I’m hardly a fledgling virtual tourist, mind you. For nearly three decades I’ve delighted in exploring vast fantasy worlds while tethered to a controller. From my formative years spent exploring the land of Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda on my first love, the NES, to my awkward adolescence where I marveled at the floating magic city of Vane in Lunar: The Silver Star on my Sega CD, I’ve always appreciated a long stretch of virtual escapism in imaginative new lands. However, none of these worlds, as well realized as they are, has managed to grab my attention and fill me with a sense of wonder in quite the same way that Final Fantasy XV has in the 20 hours I’ve spent soaking up the game’s sprawling world of Eos.
It’s not that Final Fantasy XV’s setting is the most original out there – it’s far from it. In fact, in many ways the grassy fields and winding highways of Eos feel more pedestrian than its contemporaries. But that’s part of what makes this virtual road trip so damn captivating. Every area you explore, from the greasy garages of and even greasier diners of the game’s iconic truck stop Hammerhead to the verdant fields and boggy deltas of Duscae, are all incredibly believable, save for the alien wildlife that inhabit them. Each locale you discover seems lifted from the pages of some alternate reality travel guide. They’re so lifelike that I’d be lying if I said I didn’t share my ever-peppy compatriot Prompto’s excitement the first time I cruised in the Regalia along the winding coastal highway that overlooks the seaside resort of Galdin Quay. And I swore I felt a chill when cold rain began to pelt the Regalia, causing Ignis to close the hulking ride’s sunroof as we embarked on a long and quiet ride to our next port of call.
That’s the brilliance of Final Fantasy XV’s world. It manages to masterfully strike such a fine balance between the everyday and the exotic, breathing majesty into the mundane.
Halfway to my destination to slay some monsters who’d been ruining the crops of a local farmer, Prompto spotted a mountain in the distance and begged Noctis to pull the car over so he could share a Kodak moment with the group. I slowed my jet-black roadster and pulled over beside a gravel back road to oblige the budding shutterbug. This time spent clambering a heap of loose, sun-baked rocks with my misfit gang of Backstreet Boys impersonators to snap a selfie atop a weird rock formation felt more memorable than any of Xenoblade Chronicles’ wild alien landscapes – and that was a game set atop two titanic living worlds connected by a massive sword. What can I say? There’s an undeniable beauty in simplicity and elegance, and in that regard, Final Fantasy XV’s world is nothing short of breathtaking.
It’s moments like this that make FFXV shine like few other RPGs before it. The game abandons much of the flourish and fantasy tropes that the franchise is known for and exchanges them for a setting and cast of characters that are so believable that you become instantly immersed in the world around you. For a franchise that’s built itself on ambiguous and nearly incoherent narratives and unbelievable worlds, Final Fantasy XV feels like a refreshing change of direction that brings with it a sense of intimacy that few games in the genre can match.
Sure, it may not be as surreal as the other world’s we’ve experienced in other entries in Final Fantasy series, and it’s frankly all the better for it. The more grounded aesthetic and believable landscapes found in Square Enix’s latest adventure work well to pull the player into the world like never before. And while it pushes for a more realistic setting than previous games in the series, it still delivers just enough splashes of the surreal to enchant us before the scenic drives through its sprawling world begin to lose their allure.
Final Fantasy XV’s more believable universe may disappoint those enamored with the impossible worlds that have come before it, but frankly I think Square Enix’s gambit was a worthwhile one. Eos feels more like a bizarre home away from home than an abstract, alien landscape. It’s a living, breathing world that dares the player not to fall in love with its lifelike splendor. It’s a world that’s proven that JRPGs don’t need to be completely riddled with genre tropes to deliver an irresistible playground to capture the player’s imagination.
It’s not very often I put off saving the world, but with a world this vibrant and full of life, sometimes you just have to stop and smell the roses.
Final Fantasy XV is now available on the PS4 and Xbox One. For our full rundown of the game, be sure to read our review here.
So, have you fallen in love with the world of the latest entry in the Final Fantasy series? As always, we’d love to hear what you’re thinking. Be sure to share some of your favorite Final Fantasy XV road trip experiences in the comments section.