It’s no mystery that I view Final Fantasy XV as a game with a good idea, but a bad execution. The problem is that the game devs decided that they were going to go the typical Final Fantasy game route and make it about saving the world. Failing to realize that what drew people in was the theme song that was horribly misused in the actual game. This game was marketed as Noctis and his friends going on a road trip in a fantasy world that is very similar to our own. And I think that was a great concept. If they had just gone all the way with it, that game could have been one of a kind. For a while now I have been thinking of how this idea could be done correctly. Let me share what I came up with.
For starters, there cannot be a plot outside of the road trip. It would have to be a very small story. No saving the world. Maybe thwarting some threats that are posing a danger to the places that the party comes across in their travels, but that’s it. You can even have the world’s politics play a part in it, but that has to come secondary. It’s just an element of setting, not a core plot element. But it should still be a part of things. After all, you want the world to seem believable. If the game’s world doesn’t feel like one that you can live in, then it is not doing its job in immersion. However, none of the choices you make in a road trip game can affect politics on a large scale. Maybe you can change a village or town or even part of a city’s mind about your group. Maybe make it some kind of ethnic conflict. But at the end of the game, the politics are what they are and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Next up, the stuff where the car is basically driving itself and you are just along for the ride actually didn’t bug me. However, in order to do this concept better, I have some tips. First – make a larger music selection. Give the world some personality. Make radio stations that play various kinds of music and add to the world by injecting some diverse opinions into the mix. Maybe have one station who is very much a friend to your characters nation and political views, while having another that is very much opposed. Run the gamut of political ideas, all while having lots of music that makes you feel like this is a real place. Not just stock music options and soundtracks to other games. Hell, the didn’t even do that right. I mean, if you’re going to get soundtracks you can buy, why not have the whole thing? And why not make it like when you are making an iTunes playlist and pick the songs you want to hear? So many small details about this game that could have been done better.
Second – ditch the open world. I am honestly getting tired of huge worlds that feel like there is no one living there. Instead, why not make it so you have large levels at various places in the journey? Open levels on your journey, rather than vast spaces that feel like not one person has ever lived there. Since you are traveling in your car, that would allow you to make the set-pieces of driving and taking in scenery, characters talking, and the ambiance that much better. However, too many games have vast open spaces that are just so boring. I may be in a minority here, but a game that did this concept flawlessly was Uncharted 4. Instead of being one massive open world, they allowed you to explore large contained areas at your own pace. For a game about a road trip, with the idea being characters exploring what they come across, that seems much more fitting.
Third – immerse your character in the world. Take a few cues from Persona 5. Let your characters buy food at the restaurants they come across. I wanna be able to buy their world’s version of a juicy burger at the gas station diner. Or have some fancy meal at an upscale restaurant in some tourist trap city. Maybe even take in a bowl of ramen or whatever the noodles of that world are. Little touches like that go a long way. When I am chilling at a hotel room or something, let me watch movies, read books, of something else that gets me involved in the area. Maybe have doing that stuff help your character level up stats or something. Give some incentive for taking the time for this. Persona 5 had hilarious rip-offs of big movies that were terribly acted on purpose, but it was still so fun to do because you had fun laughing at the ridiculousness of a Batman knock-off talking about desserts. Give the player incentive to learn about the world.
Fourth – side-quests, and don’t just make it busy work. Have party members want to do stuff in towns, or developing relationships with random npc’s leading to bigger payoffs with fun missions that can either be difficulty challenges or give you special stuff. Take some cues from The Witcher 3 and make the side-stuff just as interesting as the main stuff.
Finally – make the game feel like it’s a story about the group on the road trip growing as people. A kind of coming-of-age story. Maybe make them a touch older and have some ideas about the nature of growing up and having to be adults.
Final Fantasy XV had a solid concept, it just didn’t go all the way with it. More than anything, that’s what frustrates me as a gamer. A wasted good idea is the very worst, and too many games are guilty of it. But what about you? Agree or disagree with my assessment? Let me know down in the Comments.
Until next time, a quote,
“I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me.” – Walt Whitman