When I sit down for my daily session of Final Fantasy XV I’m expecting one of two things: A happy-funtime road-trip adventure with my boys, or a sad, emotionally wrought meditation on the bonds of friendship. I am not expecting a horror-suspense thriller filled with stealth mechanics and jump-scares, yet that’s exactly what I got out of Chapter 13. I hate it. I hate it so much.
Chapter 13 is the point in the game where it all goes so wrong. All the goodwill banked from earlier moments were washed away in a dark, depressing dungeon in which a mostly powerless Noctis is alone and afraid, forced to squeeze into narrow hidey-holes to avoid hard-hitting enemies. I am a naturally anxious person and the stealth mechanics of Chapter 13 made me deeply uncomfortable, exacerbated by the unique setup I use to play the game.
I live with my partner who is also a gamer, and sometimes he’ll want to play a game and I’ll want to play a game but we’ll want to still be in the same room with each other to trade barbs and banter. So what’s a young millennial couple to do?
You yank your second computer monitor off your desk and set up a second gaming station in the living room, of course.
My monitor doesn’t have external speakers so the only way I’m able to hear game audio with this slapdash setup is via headphones. Let me tell you, the sound design in this game is phenomenal. I can hear everything, from the bubbling gurgle monsters make when they spawn at night, to the scraping noise zombie-looking clockwork soldiers make shambling around seeking human flesh, it’s all very vivid. It’s that latter sound that set my teeth on edge, making this final push to get to the end game that much more unenjoyable. If I want to play Resident Evil (and I don’t...ok maybe a little bit) I’ll go play Resident Evil. I don’t want Resident Evil in my Final Fantasy, that’s not what this game is supposed to be about.
That’s not to say the encounters with those enemies are tough. On the contrary, they’re trivially easy. I’m high enough level and have a decent enough pool of HP that I can just tank enemies while I wait for my only weapon, the Ring of the Lucii, to erode away their health. The fact that there’s no consequence for getting caught out by an enemy and the encounters themselves are extremely easy makes this entire sequence that much more pointless. This isn’t fun or challenging, it’s just a slog. So why is it here?
Narratively I understand it. All this time Noctis has relied on his friends to keep going. The game feels like it wants to drive home the power of friendship by isolating Noctis, taking most of his powers, and forcing him to survive on his own. The game makes the players feel that reversal of fortune by shrinking what was an open and expansive world into cramped and linear corridors. Noctis’ friends (and by extension, his power) were taken from him, which we feel by having our gameplay freedoms similarly reneged.
I just wish Square Enix came up with a less stressful way to have Ardyn taunt us that isn’t a complete departure from what the game was a couple of chapters ago. Why am I suddenly supposed to care about the increasing monster infestation? All I wanna do is get the crystal, get my bros, and get the fuck outta here, and maybe on the way out punch in Ardyn’s face for wrecking my car. It makes sense to me, then, when Prompto reveals he is not exactly who we thought, the Chocobros shrug and essentially go “Who the fuck cares, let’s get the hell out of here.” Not only is it a beautiful moment exemplary of the unbreakable bond these four men share, but it also feels like a metatextual middle finger to the shoehorned-in monster infestation subplot and its terminally un-fun gameplay.
I’m still in the middle of Chapter 13, but I’ve made it to the point where I’ve unlocked Nocits’ powers and access to Umbra’s time traveling. Back to the good world I go! Since I’m once again free to pursue my goal of collecting all the Royal Arms and upgrading the Regalia, I thought it might be time to check out the character episodes, as a treat. I started with Episode Gladiolus since that was the one that takes place earliest, and reveals no spoilers for the end of the game.
I’m already bored.
Gladio’s whole schtick of being the muscly tough-guy with a heart of gold who loves his little sister and Cup Noodles has never really been interesting to me. He’s also my least favorite Chocobro after behaving like amonstrous douche who berated Noctis for grieving mere days after his fiance was stabbed to death right before his eyes. So the idea of playing through an entire side-story dedicated to him is extremely unappealing. I had hoped whatever form the story took would make it worthwhile but instead it’s more “I am tough guy, but not tough enough, must get tougher,” making it a non-starter.
I didn’t make it too far into the episode’s dungeon before ejecting, underwhelmed by the combat and the story. After asking on Twitter what I should do, folks did say that Episode Gladiolus is worth it if only for the cool sword and the shirtless costume you unlock. But since my heart belongs to a certain bespectacled butler type, not even thirst (and friends, I have a prodigious thirst) motivates me to complete the tale. Since Episode Ignis and Ardyn apparently spoil the very end of the game, Episode Prompto will be my next foray into the character side stories.
Since we’re getting down to the wire, let me reveal my schedule for the final two days of this adventure. Since I don’t know when exactly Xbox will remove Final Fantasy XV from Game Pass on the 29th, I’m shooting to have the game and Episode Ignis and Ardyn done before 11:59 p.m. Thursday (just in case). Today, I’m going to focus on completing a hopefully more interesting Episode Prompto and collecting the last of the Royal Arms (which involves plumbing the depths of the purportedly difficult Costlemark Tower). Two days to go y’all, we’re almost there.