SIONR: The Failure of Final Fantasy XV and a Road Trip Game Done Right

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

Peace out,



Critical Examination: Open World vs Open Levels

I’m about to make an argument that is more than a bit unpopular in today’s gaming world – open world games are really starting to suck.  It’s true.  As I was playing Final Fantasy XV, I was in awe of the beautiful visuals and the fun gameplay.  However, after a while, so much of the open world got very dull.  Why?  For the same reason that most open world games are suffering, these days – lack of stuff to do.  It’s easy to have a big, open space that has nothing in it.  That was the biggest flaw with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.  Well, that and the fact that the game was clearly incomplete.  Funny, that’s the same feeling I have about Final Fantasy XV, too.  The plot to both games was stupid in the extreme, while the gameplay was fun beyond all reason.

The simple reality is that with more and more games looking to go open world, they are sacrificing making the most of the space they have to just give the player more area to be bored.  Sure, there are the games that do it right, like the Grand Theft Auto franchise, or The Witcher 3, but the reality is that they are the exceptions, not the rule.  And both of those games have a mix of open levels to open world.

I can hear your question – what’s the difference?  What separates an open level from an open world?  It’s easy – open levels are contained spaces where things happen.  There are rigid boundaries that dictate where the player can and cannot go.  The common gaming culture says that this is nothing but making things linear, and while there is some amount of truth to that, I think people with that perspective are not seeing the bigger picture.  Just because it is a limited space doesn’t mean that it is a corridor.  Before we get into that, let’s analyze why an open world is not always a good thing, by showing when it goes wrong.

Games that do Open World wrong

The first big example – Watch Dogs.  Didn’t play the sequel.  Never will.  Was burned enough by the original game.  The original game had a vast, very tacky open world.  And like most Ubisoft sandbox games, something about that open world – it was boring.  There was virtually nothing to do.  It was the same repetitive shit, over and over again.  Without anything truly interesting to look at, the whole concept got dull almost like that.  However, then there were the internal areas.  Once you were cut loose inside of buildings or levels you had to infiltrate, using your hacking tools was infinitely more fun.  You could get through a whole mission without a single bit of violence, if you knew what you were doing.  Those were the best moments in the game.

Next up, let’s talk about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.  I actually do really like that game.  When you are doing what the game was meant to do, it is loads of fun.  Sneaking through a base, never killing a single soldier, is an awesome experience.  Sure, sometimes Quiet would blow someone’s head off because they spotted me, but that’s why I have her with me.  The base is on alert, but that just makes sneaking easier.  Now I can quietly get around in the confusion and tranq a few soldiers who just happened to be dumb.  The base levels are awesome, and make me feel like a stealth agent.  But then there is the overworld.  In Afghanistan, I’ll at least give that the overworld is fun to look at.  Hell, it’s downright beautiful.  The desert they rendered was simply fantastic.  Made me wish the entire game could have taken place there, because Africa was butt-ugly.

Speaking of games with an overworld that is nice to look at, but boring to traverse through – Final Fantasy XV.  The world of that game is sublime.  No joke, I love looking at it.  But the problem is that the overworld is really big, with not one fucking thing to do.  Sure, there are the monster hunts, and those are genuinely fun.  Aside from the nighttime ones, when you can’t see shit.  Or the wasp ones, where they spray the confusion stuff and make fighting them so much more difficult.  However, that game had the unfortunate distinction to not having many cool contained areas to explore.  Were it not for how fun the gameplay is, this game really would have fared much worse, in my eyes.

So, what have we learned?  Hopefully, that an open space means that you just have more opportunities for the player to get bored.  It’s impossible to have some massive space and have enough stuff to keep a player’s attention.  Ask the makers of No Man’s Sky how that works.  Let’s look at some games that took the open level design motif.

Games that did Open Level right

Let’s look back at 2016, and talk about Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.  This game was very linear, but was still able to use open spaces within its levels to give the player options.  Whether it be the driving segments in Madagascar that allowed you to explore a frankly-gorgeous terrain, or the areas in an action space that allow you to make use of stealth or go all-out, guns blazing, the game has lots of variety in its environments while still keeping it contained.  That was part of the fun.  Another Naughty Dog game, The Last of Us, used a similar style.  Anywhere that there was sneaking to be done, the game gave you lots of options in each level.  Each area had a ton of choke points or hiding spaces to make use of.

I haven’t played the newest iteration of Hitman, because of the episodic bullshit and the always-online DRM crap (planning on getting it when it comes out on disc so I don’t have to deal with that), but from what I was told, the use of open levels was done brilliantly.  The levels are large, and have a lot of moving parts, but because it is still a contained space, the game lets you play around within its space.  You have more tools at your disposal to get your signature kill done.  That’s smart.

Another example of doing it right is in most JRPG games like Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch or Skies of Arcadia.  In both of those games, they have a large overworld that you can explore at your leisure, but the details are vague and travel is implied to be over a period of time.  This is smart because it gives the player the chance to explore and find hidden secret areas, while having the individual levels be really open and interesting.  I have actually been missing such an overworld.  Been missing a good JRPG, too.

Both of these styles of games have their advantages.  The best example of both concepts coming together was in The Witcher 3.  That game not only had a very dynamic open world, but also very dynamic smaller levels to play around with.  It was right brilliant.  However, that game was the exception, not the rule.  Ubisoft has become the punching bag of the Internet for doing the concept wrong.  Sometimes they catch lighting in a bottle, like with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, but that game REALLY was the exception.  Developers needs to learn that it’s okay to sometimes make things linear.  Just balance it out by letting the player have more open spaces to play around it.  Linear can be good for moving the story along.  Sometimes you don’t need a huge amount of space to fuck around in.  All you need is a hallway to walk down, or a building to explore.  However, then you go to a place where the game lets you unwind and explore at your own pace.  It has to be a balancing act.

Part of me is hoping that we’re going to be stepping away from these big open-world games for a while.  It’s become not only a hassle for developers, but also a crutch for games to lean on.  After all, if you can have a huge world for players to grind and do busy-work in, then that keeps them playing for hours and hours.  Makes them a lot of money.  However, true inspiration comes from when you are able to make the most of what you have.  Open levels give players the best of both worlds.  The linearity that gives games smooth plot progression, and a way for them to feel like they have control over the pace of how they play.

What are your thoughts?  Let me know in the Comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“Choice.  The problem is choice.” – Neo, The Matrix Reloaded

Peace out,