Space Pirate: Harlock, Game of Thrones, and the Willing Suspension of Disbelief

For starters, we probably shouldn’t commonly leave the “willing” part out of the definition.

As an actor, a writer, and a nitpicker of stories in every imaginable medium it probably does not surprise you to learn that I have plentiful and strong thoughts on the willing suspension of disbelief. Before we continue, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page as to what that even is. Wikipedia puts it pretty succinctly:

The term suspension of disbelief or willing suspension of disbelief has been defined as a willingness to suspend one’s critical faculties and believe something surreal; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment.

There’s a lot to unpack in even that simple sentence. For starters, as you can see,  the term has two forms. One of them includes the word “willing” while the other omits it. I and many others learned it that first way but I would argue now that the “willing” part is crucial to the definition. When Game of Thrones ran into some criticism for the way it handled its penultimate episode, last season, the director responded with his own criticism of the fans. This was a mistake on his part for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that insulting your fanbase rarely seems like a wise course of action. But beyond that, he was also wrong. It isn’t the audience’s job to suspend their disbelief for whatever you put on the screen. It is your job as the creative staff to make them want to suspend their disbelief. In other words, to make them willing.

This willingness usually exists on a spectrum depending upon content and vehicle.

There is actually an interesting spectrum upon which you have more or fewer restrictions on how far you must go to convince the audience to suspend their disbelief. Consider, for a moment, whether you would willingly suspend your disbelief if a movie you were watching used obvious drop curtains and plyboard sets with frequent pauses where crew members could be seen shifting things around in order to set up the next scene.  Probably not, right? But you do that for the majority of stage plays you see and don’t even think twice about it. Why is that?

The willing suspension of disbelief also takes into account venue and subject matter. This means that a stage play is held to entirely different set of standards than a TV show or a movie. Other examples are cartoons vs. live-action, kids movies vs. more adult-themed fare, and comedies vs. dramas. I was recently watching Space Pirate: Harlock and was particularly struck by a particular moment in that film – one of the twists in that movie, actually. *** SPOILERS FOR SPACE PIRATE: HARLOCK*** In the last part of the film it is finally revealed that the earth has been destroyed by liberal application of dark matter. In real life no one actually has a clue what dark matter is or whether it even exists, but because science fiction is a sub-genre of fantasy the writers of this movie chose to re-define it as a destructive substance. We find out that sometime before the movie started the titular space pirate piloted his vessel into some dark matter, as well, when he felt regret over the part he had played in destroying the earth. However, he came out the other side with a ship that was now indestructible and had had its entire front-end replaced with a giant skull and crossbones rather than being destroyed. Imagine for a moment that that had happened in Star Trek. That franchise takes itself pretty seriously and it would be unreasonable to expect its audience to just go along for that ride as it seems patently obvious that whatever dark matter is it isn’t something that would simultaneously destroy a planet but render a spaceship indestructible and re-design the front half. *** END SPOILERS *** However, because Space Pirate: Harlock doesn’t really bill itself as a super realistic take on the genre even I, the super nitpicker extraordinaire, didn’t bat an eye when this reveal was made.

I have determined that if you disregard the complexities of sub-genre, vehicle of story, and setting there are two hard and fast rules when it comes to establishing a willing suspension of disbelief in your audience:

  1. Out-of-the-norm traits in a story must be established.
  2. Such traits must be established or foreshadowed before they become critical to the story’s climax.

Out-of-the-norm traits in a story must be established.

The Game of Thrones director from earlier also seemed to think that because the audience was willing to believe in dragons that they should be willing to ignore any plot holes or time inconsistencies that appear in their fantasy stories. As I argued at the time both here and on Twitter, story universes, even fantasies, must remain internally and logically consistent. Plot holes are still plot holes. Writers, depending on the universe they set themselves in, get to work with a certain set of pre-established rules, environments, and creatures. For example, if you set a story in medieval England and market it to a western audience you usually won’t have to completely re-establish castles, moats, forests, horses, rain, etc. Your audience will grasp these things using cultural consciousness. Cultural consciousness can be a bit of a complicated topic but for now, you just need to understand that, for example, almost everyone in America and England knows what a castle is even if they’ve never seen one in person and most of them can’t remember when or how they first gained that knowledge. That’s an aspect of cultural consciousness. Something we know about because of our culture.

Now one of the joys of being a writer, especially in the fantasy genres and sub-genres, is that you can add new definitions and re-define existing ideas that break away from the logical consistency defined by the cultural consciousness. For example, if your story is set in a fantasy variant of medieval England perhaps your moats are always populated by sarcastic mermaids. And if you establish it in your story before it becomes important to a climax in the plot, your audience will probably not bat an eye at this change. (This is also known as foreshadowing when a writer establishes something that is actually plausible both in the collective consciousness and in the story but might otherwise seem abrupt in an important reveal, later.) There are two important keys in that sentence that I don’t want you to miss, though. You must establish it. And you must establish it before it becomes important to a climax. Otherwise, you’re still dealing with a plot hole, even if it’s a fantasy story.

Such traits must be established or foreshadowed before they become critical to the story’s climax.

So in Game of Thrones up until that fateful episode the creators were willing to let the cultural consciousness define their ravens for them. What that means is that everyone perceived the ravens in the show as being identical to the everyday birds we are all familiar with. If they had really meant to include supersonic ravens they needed to be established. But even if they had chosen to establish such creatures at that moment, it still would have been a writing faux pas. When you fail to establish something like that until it becomes critical to the plot, especially as it pertains to resolving climaxes or saving protagonists, you are performing what is known as a Deus Ex Machina which is Greek for “God from Machine”. It turns out the ancient Greeks weren’t, as a whole, necessarily any better writers than the ones we have now. Some were great but others had failings. Sometimes writers write themselves into a hole and have no idea what to do to resolve the plot. It was at this moment that some ancient Greek writers would write a scene in which a god or gods would be dropped into or above the set using a machine and they would simply assign the outcomes the playwright desired regardless of how much trouble the story or characters were in. For a modern example of what this might look like we need look no further than the Mass Effect 3 ending.

*** SPOILERS FOR MASS EFFECT 3 *** 

In that game, the crew of the Normandy is tasked with gathering allies and resources to build some sort of mystery machine with undefined capabilities in order to fend off the enemy Reaper fleet. By the end of the game the machine is built and still no one has a clue what it might actually do to help preserve the galaxy – this should be reminding you of the first rule of the willing suspension of disbelief in regards to fantasy elements. Shepard turns the mystery device on at the last moment and… a simulacrum of a child appears which offers Shepard three impossibly simple choices with which to conclude the story. This seems almost a direct ripoff of the original Deus Ex Machina where a god-like being appears for no discernible reason established within the story to neatly ties up all the loose ends. It is simply adapted to the medium of video games and Mass Effect’s primary conceit of player choice. At least the Greeks had preestablished tropes of such gods doing those kinds of things in the beginnings and middles of even better-written stories when they implemented such poorly-written endings.

*** END SPOILERS ***

 

No matter the story a creator must rely on some willing suspension of disbelief from their audience. Even in something as simple as a story about a love triangle between three high school students you must convince your audience that they want to believe these fictional characters actually exist. As long as people are creating stories that need the willing suspension of disbelief they must remember to establish or foreshadow and to do it before it becomes vital to the plot. Or else I’ll come for them with mouse and keyboard and crit them with my Wall of Text.

 

Review: Titanfall 2

Is this review incredibly late? Yes. Does that make it worthless? Of course not. You haven’t heard my particular take, yet!

All around the internet the word was out. Titanfall 2 was a much better game than the original Titanfall. And the original was, allegedly, not bad. I say allegedly because I never played it because I just don’t have time to master multiplayer, these days, but I was promised the sequel had a very good campaign by multiple people I trusted. I took them at their word, and here we are.

A quick spoiler-free overview for those of you who want to otherwise be surprised: The campaign is, as you might expect from a first-person shooter, rather short. How Long to Beat says a little more than 6 hours, which sounds about right even though it probably took me closer to 8. The meat of this kind of game is supposed to be the multiplayer modes so that’s fine. I do have to say that the story was a bit…meh. If you compare it only within the shooter genre it looks a little bit better, but if you’re only here for the story you might be a tad disappointed. There is exactly one interesting character and it takes until very nearly the end of the game for him to get to that point. The gameplay, however, features some high quality shooting mechanics and the environments are richly-detailed even without being photo-realistic. There is some really terrific level design with lots of complex, though not overly-difficult movement puzzles that use Titanfall‘s signature wall-running mechanics and double jumps to great effect. At the prices it’s currently selling for I can easily recommend it even for just the gameplay of the campaign. If you’re interested in the multiplayer stuff a quick glance seems to indicate that the servers are still doing just fine with plenty of potential allies and enemies to be found.

Now come the spoilers.

Spoilers Banner

You play as Infantryman Jack Cooper. You’ll notice that’s a generic name and that’s not for nothing; my man Coop is a very generic character. Remember the whole spiel I gave you last week about how full of personality Bayek was in Assassin’s Creed: Origins and how that was totally the opposite of how many other games go? This is one of those other games. Jack is supposed to be a shell waiting for the player to fill with their own personality. He does have some generic quips from time to time, if you select them, but that’s about it.

One of the big mechanical flaws with this game is that the majority of the story is told through in-game dialog while you’re shooting at people. That makes it hard to concentrate on the plot reveals, such as they are. But it gets worse. While you’re Hanging with Mr. Cooper the game frequently gives you a chance to to choose between two dialog options – though neither of which have any effect on gameplay or story – and there is a timer. So it is particularly easy to miss these dialog choices as they will frequently occur while you’re in the middle of a frantic gunfight. You may miss the prompt entirely or simply not have a free finger with which to select it.

The one interesting character I mentioned above is Cooper’s mech. At the start of the game a Pilot tries to take Jack under his wing and train him to be a pilot, as well, but a mission comes up and forces them into duty before they can complete the training. The Pilot, of course, is killed during the fight and passes his mech to Cooper and begs him to take care of it. BT-7274, or BT as he prefers to be called, is straight-laced to a fault and provides much of the comedy. It’s a little weird that his last Pilot, Lastimosa, never tought him things like the thumbs up gesture or other human idioms but if you don’t think too hard it can still be mildly amusing at times. There is also a varied cast of wacky villains that you’ll do battle with in level-ending boss fights during several chapters but unfortunately the truncated nature of the sparse story prevents any of these characters from being fleshed out beyond a few skin-deep tropes – look, it’s a big guy with an Austrian accent! Or a crazy dude who does too many drugs! Or an ice cold woman! Oh, wait. They’re all dead. The scanty saga sells short BT’s journey from up-tight, by-the-book mech to a more human intelligence that learns the wonders of a Fastball Special and becomes attached enough to his pilot to willingly sacrifice himself for the good of his friend. Twice. The best way I can think of to describe the story is like if you cut out every part of T2 that wasn’t gun fighting but Arnie still finds his humanity by the end of the movie.

The real strength of this game, as noted before, is the level design. The most memorable level, for me, was the one in which BT attempts to guide you on a shortcut through an enemy manufacturing facility, but both of you end up getting caught and forced to fight your way through every inch of it before escaping out the other side. The factory is building small replica towns for the enemy troops to practice fighting in and Jack has to wall-run, double jump, and dodge around heavy machinery for a good 20-30 minutes while gun-fighting with a veritable army of guards and other mechs. My descriptions can’t really do it justice but the scenery is breathtaking, the combat is fast-paced, and watching all the pieces of the testing facility come together is really quite fascinating. There are some other levels in this game that are very nearly as memorable but I want to leave some of it for you to discover on your own. This level was when I realized that they really had a put a lot of time into developing unique and special levels, even if the story did get a bit of a short shrift.

The final moments of the game, unfortunately, left a bad taste in my mouth as the story broke the cardinal rule of “How to Commit a Fake Death”. BT and the Coopster are captured by the enemy mercenary leader and all hope seems lost before BT tricks the enemy into letting him fight for one last moment. BT appears to be killed, but kills enough other people and starts enough trouble that the remainder of the enemies flee. However, a few moments later, Jack is able to recover BT’s data core thingamajig and takes off after the mercenaries in one final attempt to stop them from destroying the home of the resistance. Jack’s allies drop a mech without a personality and BT is revived for another boss fight. As soon as you win, though, BT sacrifices himself again to ensure the mission succeeds and Jack-Be-Nimble survives. You’ll recall this complaint from the Star Wars: The Last Jedi review. Do not fake kill people and then actually kill them within the same movie, video game, TV season, or book – and that’s at a minimum. This moment, by the way, is not redeemed by the post-credit scene which seems to indicate that BT may yet be alive, either.

Outside of the level design and story the gameplay itself is, again as previously noted, really solid. There is a wide variety of guns which do a good job feeling different while all still feeling plenty lethal. The feedback when you hit an enemy is strong and it feels really good to play. The campaign is a lot of fun as long as you don’t want to spend too much time analyzing characters – reason number 1,462 not to grow up to be like me, kids! If you just want some tight shooter action with some of the best level design I’ve seen in ages you could do a lot worse than Titanfall 2.

Bayek of Siwa is the Protagonist Video Games Need

Assassin’s Creed Origins was a very solid game, overall, but the protagonist was terrific.

I mentioned in my Game of the Year article about Persona 5 a few weeks ago that I hadn’t had a chance to play a lot of new games in 2017. One of those, however, was Assassin’s Creed: Origins, which I received as a birthday present. I streamed bits and pieces of that game as I played it and shared some video clips and screenshots from it on my twitter account as I went. If you followed along you’ll have noticed that this was still very much a Ubisoft game, with everything that entails. In case you’re unfamiliar with Ubisoft’s typical release the high points are that it had lots of weird texture bugs; just so, so many map icons begging for you to clear them, and – specifically in the case of Assassin’s Creed games – a really interesting faux-historical plot backed by an incomprehensible mess of a modern day or near-future plot.

For those of you who don’t want to read spoilers just know that Assassin’s Creed Origins does not require you to play any of the previous games in the series to enjoy it’s story. If you’re at all a fan of open-world RPGs or previous Assassin’s Creed games I can easily recommend this game. Spoilers for the Assassin’s Creed series and Origins in particular, coming up next!

Spoilers Banner

Since the bugs this time around were amusing, rather than terrifying, the biggest flaw in this game was absolutely the modern day plot. I actually defended the split stories of the original Assassin’s Creed which had you spend a fair bit of time as Desmond Miles, descendant of a famous assassin, unlocking various secrets and learning about Abstergo. His plot didn’t do much – as opposed to Altaïr’s story which had a distinct beginning, middle, and end and followed a typical video game variation of the hero’s journey where the arrogant hero loses all of his abilities and/or equipment and must earn them again – but it seemed primed to set up some interesting stuff in future games.

Plus it had Kristen Bell which is never a bad thing!

Without going into to much more detail the following games in the Desmond Miles saga improved upon the formula of the original in many ways but the modern story was not one of them. It became more and more incomprehensible, turned Kristen Bell’s character into a villain and then killed her without any discussion or a chance for the player to process it, and ultimately ended with Desmond Miles choosing to sacrifice himself for humanity in a moment that was very confusing if for no other reason than this pre-determined plot point at first appeared to be a player choice. Beyond the ending, the game was loaded with poor design decisions, burned me out on the Ubisoft mapTM, and did not provide any characters that I found interesting beyond Desmond – who, as previously noted, is ripped out of the player’s hands at the last moment. I can’t speak to any of the other Assassin’s Creed games between III and Origins as this is the first one I’ve bothered to pick up since that disastrous day.

The modern day plot in Origins, though, starts off making no sense and goes nowhere. It follows Layla Hassan and her friend/co-worker, Deanna Geary. Layla joined Abstergo because she wanted to work on the Animus project – this is the project where the devices that allow people to relive their ancestor’s memories are developed and used – but for various reasons is not allowed to do so. Because she is a genius she’s able to create her own animus machine that is not only mobile but also allows her to sample the memories of people she is not related to. By the end of the story Deanna appears to be dead, killed by Abstergo, and Layla is recruited by William Miles, Desmond’s father and the current leader of the Assassins. It sounds like I’ve skipped a lot of the joining action that makes a story come alive but that’s pretty much how it’s presented in-game. This plot and these characters are so pointless that if you go to Ubisoft’s official Origins character page none of them are even listed.

The future plot also featured the most obnoxious of the bugs I faced in the game. At one point Layla is forced out of the animus she was using by Deanna who warns her that – apropos of nothing beyond some vague insinuations that she might be taking too long in her originally assigned task to recover some artifacts – Abstergo agents have come to kill her. At this point in my playthrough I paused the game for one reason or another. When I returned I discovered that there were markers in the pause menu indicating Layla had created new notes for herself on her computer. I decided to read them before unpausing and discovered that she was writing them very upset from the death of Deanna. At that point I unpaused, confused because Deanna hadn’t seemed particularly dead when I paused, and attempted to escape the cave without killing anyone because I assumed that Layla wasn’t really an assassin yet, even if she had gained some climbing skills via the animus bleed-through effect. I got all the way outside having only killed a couple of people once I accidentally discovered that Layla had a hidden blade and assassination skills after all and could find nowhere to go. So I went back inside the cave to the animus, killing everyone who got in my way this time and then the dialogue finally triggered for Deanna to tell Layla that she can totally be an assassin now and that she should kill all of the attackers instead of hiding from them, Once I killed the final remaining attacker the cutscene played where Deanna seems to die. Of course, Layla, now that she knows that Abstergo knows where she is and wants her dead and still mourning the death of her friend, jumps back in the Animus to continue the history lesson.

Beyond even the weird story with the missing parts and the bugs there was also the problem that from the start of the game Layla complains about being ill every time she uses her animus and Deanna warns her that using it too much might kill her. You’re even given a task early in the game to take the last of some medicine that will stabilize you long enough to go back in for a bit. However, even as Layla continues to complain of feeling sick every time she exits the animus it never plays into the story at all.

So yes, the game has bugs, and it has some weird, awkward story jumps. But it also has one of the best main characters in video games I’ve ever seen. Bayek of Siwa is a Medjay in Egypt. According to Wikipedia Medjay were sometimes a kind of constabulary or investigative force and other times officials in charge of administering the Pharaoh’s lands. In the game it becomes very clear early on that Bayek, at least, sees the Medjay’s duties to be those of helping the people of Siwa and eventually all of Egypt however he can. And by helping them I mean in every way. He does everything from helping to find missing scrolls to defeating large bandit groups for any citizen who asks for his help.

I mentioned in that Persona 5 article that while most open-world games make side quests feel tacked on and as if they interrupt the story Origins does a really good job keeping good pacing despite having so many side quests. It also actually makes it make sense, in this game, for the protagonist to want to do them. Yes, Bayek is on a quest to avenge his son. But he knows that this quest will take him weeks, months, or maybe even years. He still strongly sees himself as a Medjay – a person with the strength, skills, and a requirement to help even the poorest of his fellow Egyptians and Greeks with anything they need – and so it makes sense when he pauses in his quest to track his enemies to investigate a nearby, unrelated murder or to help some kids save their kidnapped guardian. Bayek was a protector and helper long before he was a revenge seeker and no amount of desire for that revenge is going to keep him from trying to improve the lives of those he comes across while he’s at it. This internal drive is so strong for him that when Cleopatra tries to recruit him to help her seize the throne from her brother, whom Bayek already hates, she doesn’t offer him wealth or fame but instead offers him the title of Medjay of Egypt – an opportunity and the authority to officially help the citizens of his country with all of their problems

Bayek is also a terrific protagonist because of his passion. He feels he must help people. He loves his wife, Aya, more than anything. He misses his son deeply and strongly. He exhibits bone-crushing sadness, righteous fury, and a ready smile throughout the course of the game. Bayek’s emotions are so strong and so real – helped by some great animation and a terrific voice performance by Abubakar Salim – that his charisma cannot be matched by any other video game character I can name off the top of my head. Many player characters are purposefully made into blank slates so the players can insert themselves into the persona but Ubisoft skipped that idea entirely and the game is all the better for Bayek’s enormous personality and charm.

The final really powerful thing about Bayek is that while he achieves his goals by the end it is an entirely melancholy achievement. Bayek of Siwa wanted his son’s soul to rest, but he also wanted to bridge the gap that had grown between him and his wife because of it. That didn’t end up working out for him as once their revenge is complete Aya realizes that neither of them can ever return to Siwa or the lives they once led. She now wants to dedicate her entire life to righting wrongs and protecting their people from The Order – the group of animal-related jerks who brought about the death of their son, Khemu, and started this story. She knows there is no room in this future for their love and deep down inside Bayek knows it, too. She recruits Bayek as the first member of her new group so that they can continue their fight in the shadows and together they form the Assassin’s Creed. Games almost always end triumphantly; the hero saves the day and everyone leaves happily. There are plenty of other games that end on sadder notes, but this can often make the player feel cheated. They did everything right and wonder why that couldn’t be enough. One example of this was in the game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. I won’t go into details, but the ending of that game struck me as patently unfair. It felt like there should have been a way to have my cake and eat it too with a happier ending. In contrast Origins’ ending feels inevitable thanks to the strength of the story and characters it is built on. Bayek won’t be able to be with his true love but he will be able to continue helping people (this works narratively and with the intended gameplay flow; with this ending it makes narrative sense for the game to dump you back in for the rest of the side-quests you may have skipped and the coming DLC.) He can’t bring Khemu back, but he can still laugh over a beer with his friends. It’s not a happy ending, but it isn’t necessarily a sad ending, either; it’s just the ending he, Aya, and the player earned. Because it’s clear that only this chapter of the story is ending, those who want to believe can easily see a future where Bayek and Aya find a way to be together as man and wife again, too.

Bayek of Siwa is the best designed character of any game I’ve played in at least the last five years. He’s perfectly designed to fit the setting, the story, the gameplay, and to appeal to players of almost every variety. Maybe Ubisoft doesn’t know how to make a game where ships don’t randomly float into the sky but they really hit gold when their writers came up with Bayek. I can’t wait to see them and other game studios create similarly mesmerizing characters in the future.

FtHE’s Game of the Year: Persona 5

A nearly perfect single-player, story-driven video game experience.

I guess we should start off with the caveat. I couldn’t have picked The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Horizon: Zero Dawn or tons of other games for this award, this year, even if I wanted to. I didn’t play any of them. I have played only three games that were released in 2017: Persona 5, NieR: Automata, and Assassin’s Creed: Origins (that is a lot of colons in video games, this year, sheesh!) Now I have serious doubts that I would have chosen any other game because I’ve heard some stuff about Zelda that turned me off and about HZD that sounded dull. Maybe the new Mario game would have interested me, but I don’t have a Switch so that wasn’t happening either. These flaws might not prevent these from being very good games, but it would prevent them from being my Game of the Year.

Persona 5, so far as I can tell, is a nearly perfect example of what a game can be when equal attention is devoted to gameplay, story-telling, and character design; a modern example of what blending them all together toward a unified goal can achieve. The characters are all interesting including heroes who are realistically goofy teenagers. The conflicts the game introduces are all things that people and teenagers are facing even in the real world, today, which gives it a strength in being able to connect with its audience. The gameplay fulfills the fantasies of many teens – and adults – who wish that problems were simple enough to be punched or stabbed away while also advocating for the power of strong, interpersonal relationships and a willingness to put yourself out there for others.

The visuals are top notch in part because they completely eschew the modern trend toward photorealism in favor of a unique, bold style. People have even tried to invent awards just for the menu system which is colorful and flashy but never distracting; in fact, it uses the flash to guide players. The combat gameplay is finely tuned and polished; of course, it absolutely should be considering Atlus has beeen doing variations of this system for literally decades. Even the non-combat gameplay manages to be incredibly engaging and, it bears repeating, everything in the game works together to form a cohesive whole. For example, ***small spoiler (jump to the next paragraph to skip it***, shortly after arriving in Tokyo the Protagonist has to take the subway to make it to his first day of classes. The game forces you to navigate this subway trip manually the first time and it is a very confusing experience as you try to navigate one of the hub terminals of Tokyo to arrive at the school. This makes sense from a character perspective – of course a 17-year-old kid who has never been out of his comparatively tiny town is unused to navigating a massive subway system. It also contributes from a gameplay perspective, giving players an opportunity to really familiarize themselves with the navigation system and forcing them to endure this confusion with the protagonist which allows for greater empathy/a stronger bond to him.

Atlus also provides some pretty excellent value in this game. I spent approximately 140 hours playing it and I did not even do everything there was to do. Many players will probably spend less time but that will still end up being closer to 80-100 hours and, in direct contrast to the current trend of AAA, open-world RPGs very little of that will be spent in pointless fetch quests or ticking things off of a map. 95% of this game is spent doing things that directly impact important characters or story points. For even more value there are several free costume and item DLCs available for players to go along with the paid ones.

However, the most ingenious part of the design of this game is the conversation system. For starters, it’s designed with every bell and whistle you could imagine. While you usually can’t directly skip over conversations because user input is frequently required you can fast-forward over them to your next dialogue choice. Didn’t mean to fast-forward? Open up the conversation history with the press of a button and you can see everything every conversation participant has said so far, including options you didn’t select when given choices. You can even replay the voice acting from this menu. But the best part is probably the implementation of the dialog choice system.

Mass Effect popularized the idea of branching conversations which allowed for users to make their own dialogue choices based on some snippets meant to indicate the tone of the response. This complicated system worked pretty well for two games but eventually broke down when it came time to end the trilogy. There were so many choices that branched in so many directions it was impossible to keep up with when it came time to conclude the story. Persona‘s system, first of all, reduces player confusion by having the exact, complete text of the choices available at the time of the choice. Persona 5‘s system also doesn’t really attempt to branch at all. Instead it changes the tone of conversations – and therefore dictates the personality of the protagonist – but eventually circles them back around to where they would have been in the first place. This allows for Atlus to create a game that will still be unique for most players, the ultimate goal of Mass Effect, without creating the crippling problems that attempting to change wide swathes of the story or character intentions had in that game.

Just for variety there are a fair number of dialog options which can affect how much your friends like you, dictating the speed of relationship progression. None of them make them hate you or like you less or abandon you entirely. So you can’t really screw things up like you could in some BioWare games. Some might worry at how interesting the game can be given this reduction of scope but it works out a lot better for the story and characters given the limitations of today’s technology. It’s a smooth middle path that neatly avoids the potential pitfalls of giving players too much freedom to write a cohesive story and giving them so little that they feel trapped or bored.

The story absolutely benefits from this linearity. It’s nearly impossible to effectively tell a story in open-world games. For years developers have struggled to help players strike a great balance between stopping to do side quests and actually progressing the story. Whether or not you’ve written a terrific campaign it can get lost in the weeds and lose its sense of urgency if a player turns around and spends hours ticking items off of a map. Even if you think you can strike that balance it ends up being a bit odd, tonally, when you go out on a quest to collect some frogs for a researcher even though it means you don’t immediately answer Gondor’s call for aid. One game that suffers for the decision to go open world, for example, is Final Fantasy XV. That game has a dual identity as a sandbox game starring a quartet of good-looking, good-hearted dude-bros wandering around the countryside and the skeleton of a very interesting main story. But because it is split between the two the sandbox gets abandoned partway through and the story never gets filled out.

(For what it’s worth, Assassin’s Creed: Origins does a great job fixing the tone problem with its side-quests by designing a protagonist to be someone who helps out people great and small as a matter of both personality and occupation. It makes sense for him to take temporary breaks from his quest for vengeance in order to help a poor scholar retrieve his scrolls or to search for a missing child. So it can be done, but it takes a lot more thought or time than many are willing or able to put into their games, these days.)

Despite the linear story, Persona 5 still gives players lots of freedom; you typically have several weeks to complete main quest stories during which you can complete side quests, participate in a large number of hobbies, or work an after-school job. But because of the way the story is structured these moments fit in with the tone as well as representing activities you might actually expect characters with these personalities and experiences to want to do. For example, a character might suggest that exams are coming up and it would be wise to take a break from fighting evil for a bit to hit the books. Other times if you have  completed a main quest before it’s deadline all you can do is wait to see what the fallout is. That’s a great time to build some lockpicks in your bedroom or watch a rented DVD. With so many choices and with such interesting characters to talk to it rarely feels like the game is restraining you from really exploring the world around you. The sense of urgency is maintained by regular conversations with your party members about the stakes of the mission and a good dose of the feeling that life must go on, even under all of the dire threats these high-schoolers face.

The game isn’t perfect, of course. Perhaps the most annoying flaw is also the one that got the most meme treatment: Morgana’s constant prodding to go to bed. Most in-game days are spent in class all morning, followed by an opportunity to do one thing that afternoon, and another that night. If you choose to dungeon crawl that’s usually the only thing you can do for the day but otherwise you have lots of options. During periods of special events or between-quest-story-telling, however, you frequently cannot do anything except watch the story progress, even if seems like the events of the day should leave one or more of those time slots available. Instead, Morgana will insist you need extra rest to force you to progress to the next day’s story. These periods are usually great for the massive story and character hits that get thrown at the player but they’re also frustrating for the lack of player input. The trade-off that most video games aren’t willing to accept is that you’re just going to have to sit there and watch the story unfold for a bit before you can resume participating more actively. If the player is heavily invested in the story of the game, this can be a worthwhile payoff. If they’re not then it makes no sense to have it. Atlus is determined to tell a worthwhile and interesting story with their game so they took that gamble. If you’re as big into stories as I am this is entirely worth it for Persona 5‘s quality effort.

My biggest beef, however,  is actually with the decision to block the built-in software for recording and taking screenshots for the entirety of the game. When I discovered that my PS4 has these functions built in I was finally able to get into recording and streaming for fun. There are still thousands of people out there with their own capture cards so blocking recording on the PS4 doesn’t actually prevent gameplay from being uploaded to social media. The only people Atlus are actually preventing from sharing are the people who can’t afford the capture cards. It’s unfair, it’s unreasonable, and most importantly it’s ineffective at achieving their stated goal of preventing spoilers from leaking out. Especially since the game has been out in Japan for over a year and for the rest of the world for several months. Stop blocking the built-in capturing, Atlus! And everyone else, for that matter!

In a world where video game developers have gone from completed single-player games to cutting out story DLC to adding in multiplayer modes to unbalancing multiplayer modes in order to encourage loot box gambling it is refreshing to see a company that shirks all of that to deliver a focused and completed game. If you’ve been dying for a video game with above average gameplay in its genre and a terrific ability to tell a quality story in a fascinating world about interesting characters I cannot recommend Persona 5, my 2017 Game of the Year Award Winner, enough.

From the Hawk’s Eye: Final Fantasy Type-0

Spoilers: It’s not very good.

The time has come to talk about Final Fantasy Type-0. If you’ve been paying attention to my twitter, YouTube, or a couple of the early posts on this site you’ll know I’ve been slowly working my way through this series as a Let’s Play for a few months now. You’ll also know I haven’t been particularly enjoying it. There comes a point in every gamer’s life where they have to ask themselves, “Do I really want to keep playing this game?” I’ve already asked that to myself about FFT0 at least a dozen times. The answer, every time until this time, has always been a resounding, “I guess?”

I’m very much a completionist. There are very few video games I have ever purchased that I didn’t beat, even if I didn’t enjoy them much, because I wanted to see how the story ends. The problem with Final Fantasy Type-0 is that I am approximately halfway through the game and I still neither understand the stakes nor care about any of the heroes. You should recall from previous posts that I dictated that TV shows and movies have three mediums through which to engage their audience. This is true of video games with stories as well, though you’d swap out “visual story-telling” for “Gameplay and everything that entails.” That aspect is obviously even broader and deeper since it even includes the graphics/visuals and so it’s easier for a game to just rely on that aspect – no one plays Minesweeper for its mesmerizing story or its memorable characters, after all – but still can keep the overall idea relatively simple.

Final Fantasy Type-0 fails in all three categories even more than The Defenders did. Every character in the game is a two-dimensional prop or caricature. Unless they’re just there for exposition. No one seems to be making any decisions much less any rational ones. The story is given no context for its existence, the world is never defined, and therefore it’s impossible to understand the stakes. If I can’t understand the stakes I certainly can’t feel them. The graphics and animations are as terrible as you’d expect from a mobile game converted to a handheld game converted to a PS4 game except that Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded looked way better than this.

The world doesn’t even feel complete. I’ve barely met most of the major players and have no idea what anyone’s intentions are. It starts off with a few fairly unique concepts but doesn’t ever explain them or do anything interesting with them. For example: there are powerful demigods who can do certain things based on the kingdom/crystal/god they’re associated with known as l’Cie. There are apparently Primus l’Cie and Secundus l’Cie who have different kinds of powers. The Primus l’Cie are forces of nature and destruction while the Secundus l’Cie operate through other means to be far stronger than most other mortals but nothing like the scale of the Primus. They’re supposed to be powerful beings but the main cast defeats a Secundus l’Cie in the first hour of the game. There’s no indication, to this point halfway through the game, as to what the powers of a Secundus l’Cie are – the one you defeated may have made a robot stronger but maybe just piloted an already strong robot? Same thing for the Primus l’Cie – the only time we saw two in action there was a flash of light and then a crater. Did one or both of them die? Is that what would happen every time? What would one Primus do if they weren’t contested by another? Who knows and who cares, apparently.

If you’ve watched the videos I think I’ve barely ever stopped complaining about the gameplay for 5 minutes. There are 15 playable characters each with unique mechanics but the game pretty clearly would have benefited from being a bit more specialized. Only a couple of those characters feel natural to play and a lot of even the shared game mechanics are clunky, awkward, and frustrating. One of the key mechanics of the game is the collection of a special energy known as Phantoma from fallen enemies as you lay waste to the battle field. This allows you to harm remaining enemies, replenish your mana, and boost magic spells in between fights. However the control for this mechanic is the same as whatever your basic attack is mapped to. You can only collect the Phantoma if you remain locked on to the fallen enemy after you kill them – there’s supposed to be a mechanic to lock on specifically to the closest fallen enemy but I’ve never managed to make it work – and it slows your character from a run or jog to a walk and prevents them from performing any of their skills or dodges until you either break the lock on or harvest the Phantoma. Also you have to stop pressing your attack button for a second until the game realizes you’re targeting a fallen enemy and performs the switch. It all adds up to be frustrating from every conceivable angle and not remotely fun.

The other problem with having so many characters is that the script was written in order to give each of them occasional lines to remind you that they are there and what their personality quirk is. But because there is so little personal story-telling and dialog in the game that’s literally all you get. There is no advancement of character, no depth to them, and it’s impossible to form a connection to any of them. You see more dialog from the high up leaders of the Dominion of Rubrum – the name of the country the heroes hail from – but they all so clearly have hidden agendas which are neither revealed nor logical in the way they have been portrayed that it’s impossible to understand or care about them, either.

All those things add up to a game that doesn’t really deserve to be completed. Add to this the fact that setting up everything to record, edit, and post these videos requires planning and forethought that exacerbates any frustrations I’m currently feeling with the game and you get a scenario where I am no longer interested in bothering with it. The thing is, I am still a completionist. So I am going to attempt to finish the game. But I’m going to stop screwing around with side missions – I can always use the log-off leveling exploit if I need more experience – and just power through the story, though I’ll do all the conversations I can find because that’s the closest I’m going to get to enjoying this game.

Also because I’m a completionist I hate to just stop posting the videos. So I’m going to attempt to stream the game when I play it, anyone who really wants to see what happens next can follow along on my twitch. I’ll have my mic set up but I probably won’t talk much unless someone else is around to converse with because by this point I think I’ve said just about everything that needs to be said about the game. As far as my YouTube channel goes I’m not going to quit streaming entirely, this time. For starters Episode Ignis has come out and that’s the FFXV DLC I’ve most been looking forward to so you can expect the first episode of my playthrough of that, tomorrow. When I run out of that I have another, much shorter game I intend to do: The Order: 1886. I’ve heard good things about it’s story with the primary complaints being how short it is. Given my troubles with NieR: Automota – a game I ended up loving to death once I stopped trying so hard with it – and FFT0 a shorter game is probably exactly what I need to do, right now. After that I have picked out another longer JRPG adventure, but this time it’s going to be a game I have played before and enjoyed so hopefully it will be a much better experience for all of us involved. I will be playing the HD Remake of Dark Cloud. I don’t want to say too much more about it – I have to have something to talk about while I’m playing, after all – but this was definitely one of my favorite games growing up so I’m very excited to check it out in HD. I will, of course, continue to post Final Fantasy Record Keeper boss fight strategies and examples as I invent them, as well. I may even eventually go back and do some strategies for the Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance bosses I recorded footage for but never edited into videos.

So that’s it for this post. I know this ended up being as much of a post about updated plans as anything else but I needed to get that stuff off my chest in written form and, much like The DefendersFinal Fantasy Type-0 didn’t really earn the right to be finished and reviewed properly. It’s a very bad game and if I was even an iota less the completionist than I am I wouldn’t finish it at all. Honestly, if it doesn’t shape up a little when I start playing through it a faster pace, it still might not get done. Thanks for reading, watching and whatever else you like to do around here. Have a great day and I’ll see you next time!

Revisiting NieR: Automata

Not every really good RPG got to be in the running for GOTY.

If you’re at all nerdy enough to bother with reading this blog you’re probably aware that The Game Awards happened on Thursday night. Now, of course, I didn’t watch them because I am simultaneously too lazy and too busy for awards shows. But I did track who won which awards. Or, at least, best RPG, best soundtrack, and Game of the Year because those are the awards I actually care about a little bit. I was pleased with the first two but not so much the last one. I’d love to tell you why I don’t think Legend of Zelda should have been the Game of the Year but the truth is I didn’t even get to play the game. All of my opinions of it are based on the things I’ve read about it online – I’m sorry but a system that both forces me to give up my favorite weapons and requires awkward inventory shenanigans on a regular basis does not sound fun. But, ya know, I didn’t play it so I could be wrong.

A game I did play, this year, was NieR: Automata. Some of you will probably know this because you can see on my YouTube channel that I started to do a Let’s Play for the game, spent a great deal of time complaining that it made no sense, and then abandoned it. The thing is, I didn’t abandon the game. I just stopped recording or streaming it. I continued playing it, fell in love with it, beat it, and then sat around and thought about it for at least a week before I felt like I was ready to move on with my life.

NieR: Automata was not a finalist for Game of the Year. In a different year, perhaps it could have been, but there were just too many great games released this year. It does a lot of really good and really interesting things – much as I suppose fans of Drakengard and the original NieR games expected. The combat is a boat load of fun. This remains true even when you become completely over-powered only a third of the way through the game, something most games wouldn’t be able to get away with. The characters are fascinating even as you play through nearly the exact same story twice from two different perspectives before things advance again. The biggest complaint I can muster for the characters is that some of them don’t get nearly enough screen time for how interesting they were and it feels like they’ve got a lot more backstory to fill in than we actually get to see; part of that, of course, is due to the sequel nature of this game. The story arcs are fairly predictable, but the details are very unique and incredibly fascinating – remember when I said before that stories don’t have to be unique to be interesting? This is an excellent example of that.

The music, of course, is amazing. It won the award for best music at The Game Awards for a reason and the one repeated compliment I had for it during my videos was how great the music was. I have a habit of walking around my office building at my day job while everyone else is taking a smoke break. One day as I was preparing to do that I booted up the NieR: Automata soundtrack on my phone and listened to it as I walked. It felt like I was transported to an entirely different world, but even more so. The experience defies words but it is absolutely something that will stick with me for a very, very long time. For weeks after I beat the game I listened to the variations of the ending theme found in the official soundtrack. Rarely have I heard a song that offers such sadness, hope, and beauty. The song fits the themes of the game like a glove and it’s always a joy to see composers and game designers able to match like that.

But the most impressive thing NieR: Automata does? Side-quests. There are a variety of these that boil down to escort missions, collectathons, or kill-a-handful-of-enemies just like you’ll see in the majority of RPGs. The difference is that every single quest comes with a purpose. In the vast majority of modern RPGs, especially Western RPGs but we’ve seen it creep into JRPGs as well, side quests exist merely to hit your sense of achievement buttons and allow you to grind experience and materials in a way that is more than just “kill ogres until you get tired.” The reasoning for them is often incredibly flimsy – Noctis, Prince of my kingdom, go take random pictures of a thing for my magazine! Shepard, toughest and most badass commander in an allied military, go mine some platinum for me! Altaïr, master assassin, you must race me to prove that you are the best. They do little or nothing to advance the plot, characters, or world in any meaningful way. NieR: Automata does all of the above, frequently all at the same time.

Let’s talk about the side-quest Amnesia. Mild spoilers ahead, of course. During your playthrough you can eventually come across a red-headed, female android in the ruins of the city. She tells you that her best friend was murdered and that she has a damaged pod with her friend’s final moments on it. She asks you to investigate and help her find the killer in order to exact revenge. After you complete the investigation it becomes apparent that the killer is none other than the woman who asked you for help in the first place. It turns out she was a special E-Type Unit (which stands for Execution, the Android spy/assassin class) and had infiltrated a resistance camp to keep an eye out for traitors. This work had forced her to kill her best friend but she was so upset about it that she erased her own memory. Confronted with the knowledge again she recalls the events and goes insane, right in front of your eyes. This moment advances characters first in that it actually gives the quest giver some character – she legitimately cared about this person and wanted your help. The dialog is written such that you can tell how motivated and distraught she is.You can empathize with her and feel disgust, pity, fear or any of a wide variety of emotions as she confesses to the murder she was ordered to commit and slowly loses grasp of her sanity as she realizes this is what her life has been. It advances the player’s understanding of the world: android’s can betray their orders, they can go insane, and there is a special class of android that exists only to kill other androids who don’t behave as they should – even when those androids are their best friends. MAJOR SPOILERS in the following text DO NOT READ IT IF YOU HAVEN’T BEATEN THE GAME: It also foreshadows events and character developments for the two heroes; at the end of the game it turns out that 2B is more correctly named 2E and has been repeatedly killing 9S for years every time he figures out that the YORHA project is a scam.

Most of the side quests are like this. There are some which are bland in comparison. There are also quests which maybe don’t tell you anything about the world, characters, or plot but they still raise interesting questions for the players. Each side quest has been obviously and carefully crafted to do something specific, though. That’s a rare level of care by a developer, these days.

So, no, NieR: Automata maybe couldn’t be game of the year, this year. But it was still a fun and thought-provoking JRPG with an interesting story and terrific gameplay, stand-out visuals, and one of the best video game soundtracks I’ve ever heard. The best part about the score winning at The Game Awards is that it brings fresh attention to the game; it came out at the same time as several others that were or will be Game of the Year contenders with most outlets: Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wind, Persona 5, and Horizon: Zero Dawn and anything that will direct players to give it a chance now is a good thing. If there were an award for “Best use of side quests in an RPG”, however, NieR: Automata could have won handily.

Final Fantasy XV’s “Story” DLC Problem

Final Fantasy XV’s DLC is significantly worse than the main game.

SPOILER WARNING – I will be going into detail about a few of the story beats in Final Fantasy XV and it’s downloadable content (DLC). Since the DLC mostly takes place toward the end of the game’s timeline, some of these reveals are pretty important to the story, such as it is.

Let’s start with this: Final Fantasy XV is a perfectly acceptable game. It has gorgeous visuals, fun protagonists, and a cheerful, dapper villain who ranks among the most entertaining the series has ever produced. It has it’s flaws, to be sure – and those flaws do keep it from being great – but it’s still a perfectly acceptable game worth spending a bit of time with.

So how did Square Enix fail so incredibly badly with their story DLC?

Before the game even came out Square announced that there would be at least 4 story DLC releases: The Holiday Pack and an episode titled and featuring each of Noctis’ three traveling companions. There was also announced an “Expansion Pack” but it’s unclear if that will contain more than the ability for on-line co-op play if and when it ever comes out. So far three of these DLC have come out: The Holiday pack plus Episode Gladiolus and Episode Prompto. While the main game is, again, perfectly acceptable and improving all the time with patches that add content the DLC is pretty much garbage. How did this happen?

Cut content or bad storytelling

For many people the first question about story DLC is whether that DLC was actually cut from the main game due to time constraints or simple greed. This is a very important question for the Final Fantasy XV DLC because probably the biggest flaw with the DLC is how it fits into the timeline of the story.

The Holiday Pack takes place in some time that is both undefined and seems impossible. During the course of this DLC Noctis roams the city of Altissia with only Carbuncle for a companion. Players of the game will recall that the city is destroyed very shortly after Noctis arrives and that he is never both conscious and without his companions except for when he is participating in a particularly boring and sloppy boss fight. So it doesn’t seem to fit into the timeline at all and is perhaps some pointless fever dream of Noctis’ sometime after Chapter XIII.

The companion episodes take place during clearly defined times – Episode Gladiolus takes place during Gladio’s departure from the party in the main story and Episode Ignis takes place after Noctis accidentally throws the titular hero from a moving train – but that doesn’t really improve much because while they have timing in-universe their story timing is abysmal.

We learn from his DLC that during Gladio’s departure from the party he went into a deadly cave to prove his strength and/or to earn some more. (Which is a dumb idea to begin with, but if you want to hear more about that, check out my YouTube video on the subject.) At the end of the DLC he returns to his friends and claims to have found that strength along with a new katana. Anyone who has played through the game, however, knows that he didn’t have that katana with him and never really talks about or displays this new strength again.

In Prompto’s DLC we learn the dark truth about his past. He is not a natural citizen of Insomnia or even Lucis. He was originally born in Niffleheim but raised in Lucis without telling anyone else. As it turns out a general/scientist of Niffleheim experimented with babies and demons to create the Magitek Troopers our heroes face throughout the story. And Prompto was one of those babies who was kidnapped/rescued by some Lucian spies, though they never told him. This prompts – no pun intended – an existential crisis in Prompto who now believes himself to be a threat to his friends. That is until Aranea shows up and convinces him to suck it up and choose to be a hero anyway.

Two “timing” problems here: most obviously is that Prompto is thrown from a train and somehow ends up in a snowy, mountainous landscape that I don’t recall ever being seen from the train. He then manages to not only catch up to his friends but pass them so he can be captured and tortured for some period of time. Before his final capture he somehow finds some cold weather gear, tromps through the snowy wilderness on foot for some undefined amount of time, passes out, gets captured, escapes, hides out in a cave, optionally wanders around the wilderness with a companion and a snowmobile for some period of time that can be lengthy, invades an enemy stronghold, and then finally sets off for Niffleheim on his snowmobile.  There doesn’t seem to be enough time for all of those things to happen while Noctis and company make 2 quick train stops.

The other problem is that the “big reveal” of this DLC has already been told to anyone who completed the game. In the main story of Final Fantasy XV toward the end of Chapter XIII Noctis finally finds Prompto strapped to a chair and Prompto, from the perspective of anyone who has not played the DLC, confesses to being bred in a lab to become a Magitek Trooper seemingly out of nowhere. This reveal didn’t work in the original game because there was absolutely no foreshadowing to it and it doesn’t change how anyone acts outside of Prompto becoming a bit more subdued after the revelation – something that might have been expected given everything else that’s happened and will happen, anyway. It further doesn’t work in the DLC because anyone who has beaten the game – which are the vast majority of the players who are going to try out this DLC since, like its fellows, it is locked away in a separate sub menu and so can’t be seen through the normal course of events – already knows what he is going to find out about his past and the emotional impact is completely drained from it.

If you’re looking for a good example of how to fit new story elements into your game through story DLC look no further than Mass Effect 2. In that game BioWare added multiple characters and story missions after the game had been released, but the elements they added were both time and gameplay independent. There was also more to the DLC than the new characters and gameplay elements, they added on small bits of interactions in original areas and quests for the new characters throughout the game to make them feel like they were integrated into the story all along. It also helped that you played the story DLC the exact same way as the main game instead of hiding it in an extra menu option as Square Enix did.

Square Enix doesn’t know or understand the strengths of their game

 Few would argue that the game’s biggest strengths are the relationships between the four main characters and the fun of the fast-paced combat – especially teleporting across the battlefield and destroying your enemies with a variety of weapons and magics as Noctis. It’s also called a role-playing game for a reason: it features all of the components of an RPG. Most notably for the purposes of this discussion characters gain experience, items, and equipment from quests and battling enemies that allow them to grow stronger and expands the gameplay.

Each of the DLC stars only one of the four main characters – Noctis, Gladiolus, and Prompto respectively – which means they lack the charm the game gets from the party interactions and the obvious affection they all share for each other.

They also lack the quick combat featured in the main game – The Holiday Pack is mostly a series of mini-games and only two of them feature any sort of combat whatsoever, while those moments are still pretty fun, it’s probably too little. Episode Gladiolus features the hulking bodyguard and thus features slow combat with a focus on massive sword swings. Episode Prompto attempts to jerk the game into being a third-person shooter and fails miserably with clunky mechanics and poor design choices.

The DLC also lack a lot of primary RPG staples. There is no experience to be gained, no skills to learn, and no new equipment to find and use – unless you count the small variety of guns Prompto picks up and misuses as he flails about his story. Even then you find all the possible weapons fairly early and the rest of the content is just spent picking up whatever weapon you come across as it will likely be the one most suited for the next area.

Episode Prompto also appears to have been shipped out the door in an extremely unfinished state. As previously mentioned the lynch pin of this DLC – third-person shooter combat – was both clunky and unsatisfying. But beyond even that it was a bug riddled mess. There were tons of graphics clipping issues, enemies frequently became stuck for no apparent reason allowing them to be killed with no effort, and on more than one occasion an enemy would simply fall through the ground leaving no way for Prompto to escape combat to interact with his environment. This was eventuall resolved by running far, far away so that the enemy would despawn and allow the story to continue.

Given that the DLC ignores the few things that saved the main game from it’s problems is it any wonder that it’s rated so poorly? While the main game features a solid 81 rating on Metacritic Episode Gladiolus managed only a very disappointing 51. The Episode Prompto DLC reached an uninspiring but surprising 70. It would seem some reviewers were favorably impressed enough by the amount of content that was available with the inclusion of a lot more space and side quests than was available in Episode Gladiolus to ignore it’s other shortcomings.

Square Enix can bring back more of the charm of the character relationships, tell a story that players don’t already know the ending to in an interesting way, and return to the high-quality combat of the main title in their future DLC. If they do so, they can still salvage some fun and send Final Fantasy XV players off with some hope for the next full-game installment.