Overall Score: 4/5
For one of my classes in Full Sail University, I had to pick a game and do an extensive review on it based on ten of the design principles from a great book called “Universal Principals of Design” by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler. I worked with a classmate so we each only did five principals and made a website for our assignment. I would post the website, but it was a student project and has a lot of copyrighted images, so instead, I will copy paste my review. I’m only posting the five principles that I wrote for, which were storytelling (which is the longest because I will be focusing on mostly storytelling from now on), archetypes, immersion, wayfinding, and picture superiority effect. Each section will explain what each principle means and then my review of the game.
WARNING: ALL THE SPOILERS!
“A method of creating imagery, emotions, and understanding of events through an interaction between a storyteller and an audience” (Lidwell, 2010). There are six fundamental elements of storytelling, which are setting, characters, plot, invisibility, mood, and movement.
This game has a lot of good within it, but one thing that could have been better was its story, mainly the plot and a little on the characters side. Based on the elements of storytelling, I’ll review the story of Final Fantasy 15.
The setting orients the audience, providing a sense of time and place for the story (Lidwell, 2010).
The world of Final Fantasy XV is one of the most beautiful ones I’ve ever seen. The cities are stunning and the fantasy world looks and feels so real. There’s an interesting balance between technology and nature that gives this world its unique look and feel. Because in this world there are desert terrains with highways, the game feels very American highway-ish for a Japanese game. But that was their intention, because in the behind the scenes videos for the Final Fantasy XV film, Square Enix stated that they used western actors for the motion capture process so that the movie felt more western and less Japanese. The American aesthetic combined with the flashiness of Japanese game design we all know and love create a very unique and beautiful world to explore.
The lore of the world is beautiful, too. Final Fantasy has always had great world building. There is always a reason for how the world works. The lore of the world and its gods are explained through comic books found in different parts of the world.
Character identification is how the audience becomes involved in the story, and how the story becomes relevant (Lidwell, 2010).
The characters in this game are fun and interesting, but they often fit within a cookie cutter role commonly seen in Japanese storytelling, at least from what I noticed growing up watching anime and playing JRPG’s. Below is a list of characters and where I see their strengths and weaknesses in terms of design.
The main character. This cool, calm, 20-year-old is a man of few words and has a resting facial expression of being in constant pain. This character has not left his angsty teen years. There’s nothing wrong with that because there is a reason he feels this way. He must sacrifice his life to save the world, and the game is basically his last few weeks to live. That’s a pretty good reason not to be in a good mood.
But where I feel this character is lacking is that he doesn’t do anything about it. He’s very reactive, having to be prompted by his retainers to do most things. The only time he makes his own decisions is when he is separated from his party, but what he is trying to do is get back together with his party. And then, in the end, he doesn’t try to find another way to save the world, he just sacrifices his life to save the world just like his father told him to.
But, I think the reason he is like that is that of how Japanese people view responsibility and duty, and it was a Japanese company that made this game, so I can’t judge too hard.
This man is the manliest man in the game. He’s tough, loves the great outdoors, competition, and emphasizing honor and duty whenever Noctis looks like he’s slacking. He’s the tank of the group and the bravest. You can pretty much judge his character just by looking at him, his muscles, his lack of shirts, and face scars.
He comes from a family very close to Noctis’s because his family has been protecting the crown for centuries, so he was born a warrior. He’s been protecting Noctis since he was a child, so their friendship goes beyond his duty to protect him.
There is almost always a character in a Japanese game or anime who is both “the smart one” and “wears glasses.” They are also found adjusting those glasses constantly. He’s also the only one in the group with a British accent, which I have no idea where he got that from (not the first time there is an unrealistic mix of accents in a Final Fantasy game). Although, when I looked it up, I saw claims that he is from a different region of the world, they didn’t specify where.
But, Ignis is the one that knows how to cook and does most of the driving. He is basically the butler of the group, which makes sense because he was Noctis’s butler growing up, picking him up from school and making his meals. His character doesn’t really go beyond his job. But there are funny moments whenever he finds a new recipe to make and he is addicted to Ebony, which is a brand of coffee, and a nice little detail about him that gives him individuality.
Prompto is the small blond one that is also the weakest and always dies. He’s like Donald Duck from Kingdom Hearts. He’s the comic relief and Noctis’s best friend. He used to be unpopular and overweight but worked out to lose it when he wanted to become friends with Noctis in school. In the game, he is the photographer and takes photos of your adventures and you have the option to save these photos or not.
Despite the fact that Prompto is the weakest one that always dies, I found him to be the strongest character in my opinion, at least out of the group. He’s the only character we get some backstory on without having to play the DLC or watch the anime, and you didn’t have to watch the anime to understand where he was coming from on the motel roof scene (I saw the scene before watching the anime). He finds himself as always being the “sidekick” character, so he is self-aware of his weakness, and he shares this with Noctis and the others once or twice, but they always reassure him that he is a very important part of the team. In my opinion, even though he might have been the most useless in terms of gameplay, Prompto is the most relatable in terms of who he is as a character.
The antagonist of the story, and one of my favorite ones at that. Ardyn was a fun character to watch and listen to. He had a certain style and attitude that made you underestimate him for a second, but then you realize he’s actually immortal and super powerful. His personality is very different from everyone else’s and he seemed to be the most real out of everyone. There isn’t much about his history revealed, besides that he is of royal blood and that he’s immortal. But his goal is clear. He wants to be king, and to do that, he must defeat Noctis.
The reason why he’s one of my favorite antagonists is that I didn’t expect him to be it. I knew he might have been one of them, but I thought the emperor of Niflheim would have been the final boss, but no, he was just a pawn. Ardyn was the main antagonist the whole time! His voice and dialog made him because he gave off the vibe that he didn’t seem to worry about Noctis defeating him, so it just makes Noctis (and myself at times) annoyed and angry because it seems like he’s untouchable. And he’s actually funny, which is nice.
I wanted to like her, I really did, but I felt nothing for her. She seemed very headstrong and cared about the people of the world, but the game did almost nothing to make their audience care about her. She grew up as Tenebrae royalty and became an oracle at a very young age. She is also Noctis’s love interest. Part of his quest to become king is to meet Luna in Altissia and marry her.
She dies before the wedding, though, because Ardyn kills her. But I think one thing that could have had me like her more is if we saw her and Noctis interact as adults, and not just to say goodbye in a dream like they did in the game. I wanted to see Noctis and Luna meet for the first time in years and have a touching moment or something. But no! All they give us are flashbacks to when they used to spend time together as children!
The game failed with this character. All they did was make a saint you couldn’t relate to.
I liked Iris more as a love interest. You actually get to spend time with her during a part in the story. She is Gladio’s little sister and is just a bit younger than Noctis and obviously has a crush on him. But she knows he’s engaged so she doesn’t do much about it. The reason she likes him so much is that he helped her find her way back to her brother when she got lost in the palace garden when they were kids.
She reminds me a lot of Kairi from Kingdom Hearts. Looks like her, too, just darker hair and clothing. But don’t let her small frame fool you because she is from the same warrior family as her brother. She has some tricks up her sleeve and even helps you in battle during that time in the story she is following you around. At the end of the game, they hint at the fact that she became a powerful demon hunter, but didn’t even show it. I would have liked to see that.
Cindy is another character I liked a lot because she was beautiful and confident, and yet dedicated to her work and always willing to help the king whenever they ask. The only thing I didn’t like was the way she dressed, because who shows that much skin as a mechanic? That just sounds dangerous. It seems like the designers dressed her like that just because, and it doesn’t have anything to do with her as a character. I wouldn’t care about her outfit otherwise. I have mechanics in my family and even in the summer they would wear jumpsuits, maybe their arms would show, but that’s about it.
Her personality doesn’t seem to fit the outfit either. She’s driven and “married to her work.” I would imagine someone like that would dress more appropriately for a mechanic job with sharp and heavy tools.
Cindy’s granddaughter and former retainer of Noctis’s father, King Regis. Cid wasn’t much of a major character but he helped further the plot and makes you stronger weapons. His character was portrayed very well, even though he had less screen time than most. He was an old, somewhat cranky man that could tinker with things and invent stronger weapons. Beyond that, there isn’t much known about him.
I would go over some more characters but there are a lot of them and I tried to choose the most important ones.
If you need a quick recap of the story, here is a link.
This game is a tragedy (not as in bad, but the ending is sad). Noctis and his friends, Lunafreya, Ardyn, and King Regis are all dead by the end of the game after the world is saved. There is nothing wrong with that, but I still think this story was lacking in many ways.
Overall, the story wasn’t too bad, it just had a lot of missing pieces, and a lot of those pieces came in the form of DLC, an anime, a movie, and another game called A King’s Tale where you play as King Regis. And because all of these forms of media give out new information, if you haven’t seen any of it, some things within the main game don’t make any contextual sense.
For example, after saving Prompto from Ardyn, he reveals that he is from Niflheim and that he was a clone that could have potentially been used to make a demon, and that’s why he was able to unlock a door with a tattoo on his wrist.
The game didn’t hint this at all and this revelation came out of nowhere. The DLC for what happened to Prompto while he was gone from the group didn’t come out until way later after the main game was released, so there was no way to know that or even hint at it before it happened.
I wished we could have seen a part where Noctis and his father have a heart to heart before he left, even if it was just a flashback, I would have been happy with that. But instead, their goodbye seemed rushed and one-sided. King Regis obviously seemed like he was going to miss his son, but Noctis seemed like he just wanted to leave. Despite his character, I found that disappointing.
We didn’t see or even find out how Ignis went blind. It’s just not explained until the DLC comes out.
Same for Gladio's new scar. He just doesn’t tell his best friends about his epic, manly adventure.
We have no idea what Lunafreya has been doing besides healing people’s injuries and talking to the gods, but we see none of that. And while we’re on the topic on Luna, why didn’t we see her and Noctis meet one last time before she died? I felt ripped off. That might have saved Luna as a character for me, but no. The plot did nothing to make me like her. Sure, she was objectively a good person, and the flashbacks were cute, but the entire point of the first half of the game was to marry her, and Noctis couldn’t even see her until he dreamed of her saying goodbye after she died.
What a letdown.
It’s never explained why Noctis was stuck in the crystal for ten years while the whole world fell into darkness. Like, why ten years, though?
We didn’t see what happened to the emperor because he already died for some reason. We see what happens in another DLC.
And there isn’t much backstory on Ardyn, which was disappointing because I liked him as an antagonist.
These are all the main points I wanted to address that were lacking, but to end on a good note, I’ll also list some plot devices I thought were good.
I liked that we got to meet and spend significant time with Gladio’s sister, Iris. I liked her as a character and it was fun to have her in the party. I wished there was a way to keep her.
I liked the small scene on the roof of a motel where Noctis and Prompto have a heart to heart because Prompto had doubts about himself. I thought it was such a cute scene to learn about them and the history of their friendship. As someone who didn’t watch the anime first, I didn’t really need it to know what was going on in this scene. I wish the rest of the game was like that.
Ardyn, in general, was a great antagonist with a polar opposite personality to Noctis that brought flair to his part of the plot.
The world and its lore was well thought out and detailed. It felt very real as if I could visit a real place like it. And the gods that rule it were awesome.
And overall, the plot wasn’t bad, it just had too many holes in it for me to call it good. And this is just with the main game, not counting all of the other media surrounding it. But not only that, but there were too many moments of disappointment, which are the examples above.
The awareness of the storyteller fades as the audience focuses on a good story. When engaged in a good movie or book, the existence of the medium is forgotten (Lidwell, 2010).
This is essentially immersion. The audience’s immersion shouldn’t be broken, even in a fantastical world like Final Fantasy. The awareness of the storyteller should fade.
This game does a pretty good job of that in general, which is explained in the Immersion section below.
Music, lighting, and style of prose create the emotional tone of the story (Lidwell, 2010).
Despite some of the weak character design and the “okay” plot, the game did a great job in setting the mood. With mood, designers aim to manipulate the audience’s feelings with tools like music, lighting, and prose.
Square Enix has a lot of money, so they had an entire orchestra do their music, and as always, they have outdone themselves with the music. It’s always appropriate with what is going on in the story. The voice acting is also great, as well as the very detailed facial animations that most games lack. All of these things helped set the mood for the different parts of the story.
The lighting overall is very dark for most of the story, which works for a tragedy. Because of this, and the fact that the main characters wear all black, the game often focuses on the character’s faces and their dialog during cutscenes.
In a good story, the sequence and flow of events are clear and interesting. The storyline doesn't stall (Lidwell, 2010).
Besides times where you have to grind to get to the next segment of the story, the plot seems to move along just fine, despite the slow beginning. But the beginning is slow for a reason because once you leave for Altissia, there’s no turning back, at least in the story (unless you call Umbra).
Despite the fact that I judged this game’s plot and its characters harshly, the game is still a lot of fun to play because of everything else in the game. The gameplay, the side quests, and the end game content keep you wanting to play, despite how you feel about the story.
Archetypes, in short, are “universal patterns of theme and form, resulting from innate biases or dispositions” (Lidwell, 2010).
This game definitely has its archetypes. The boys fit their roles pretty well. But I couldn’t help but notice that these guys are very similar to other characters from previous Final Fantasy games and other Japanese media.
Noctis is the calm and cool one who gets all the girls without even trying, and yet, he’s never interested. Sounds just like Sasuke Uchiha and his brother, Itachi, from Naruto. He even looks like them.
Gladio is the big and strong one with a sense of duty and manliness. Sounds like Terra from Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep.
Ignis is the smart one with the glasses. Watch any anime and there will be at least one character like this constantly adjusting his glasses. Extra points if he has a British accent.
And Prompto is the smallest, weakest link between blonde hair and the funniest jokes. And one thing I’ve noticed in a lot of anime and Japanese games is that it’s always the small blonde guy that’s the weakest and the comic relief.
Despite the fact that these characters are borderline stereotypes and kind of cliche, they still felt like real people while playing the game with their fluid dialog and watching them grow within the story.
Immersion is when you focus on whatever you are doing so much, that you forget the real world and get lost in whatever activity is in front of you.
This game does a great job of this. Because the world of Final Fantasy 15 is so well thought out and detailed, it’s very easy to get lost in what you’re doing in the game. But there are different elements to immersion, so let’s go over each one.
Challenges That Can Be Overcome
This Final Fantasy is not as hard as previous Final Fantasy games, so it is much easier to go through the world and not feel stuck. Even if you’re stuck in a part of the main story, you can go off and do side quests that have their own stories until you are strong enough to get back to the main story. It also helps that the game is open world, so you’ll never be stuck in one level because you can’t go back to previous ones. You’re almost always able to go back into the rest of the game world and do whatever you want.
Contexts Where a Person Can Focus Without Significant Distraction
This wouldn’t be the game’s fault per se. This all depends on what is going on in the real world. I would suggest waiting until you have time to sit down and play for at least an hour before trying to play this game.
Trust me, loading will take up at least ten minutes of that time.
Clearly Defined Goals
The game always lets you know what you’re supposed to do next in terms of quests. It’s labeled on the UI and the mini-map labels which way to go so you never get lost.
Feedback in this game comes in multiple forms, so I’ll give an example. Let’s say Noctis loses significant amounts of health. Not only will his health bar go down in the UI, but the controller will vibrate, and his character animation changes from normal to limping because he is injured. Even his retainers will start yelling his name because they notice that their friend is dying. In terms of rewards, they come in the forms of money, items, and experience points. Once you go to sleep at a campsite or a bed, you can level up from all of your progress.
Loss of Awareness and Worries of Everyday Life
I can only speak for myself on this one. This definitely happened to me almost every time I played. So much so that I had to stop myself from playing whenever I had something I was supposed to do because I would forget I had to do it and it would cause me more stress.
A Feeling of Control Over Actions, Activities, and the Environment
Because of the fluid control scheme of the game and the kind of powers you have, there is a sense of control almost all of the time. Because of Noctis’s warping power, it’s easy to navigate through the open world environment or to escape battles with monsters you underestimated. The controls, in general, are solid. The only thing I can say is that because the jump button is also the action button to read signs or open doors or something, you often find yourself jumping everywhere by accident if you are not close enough to do the action.
A Loss of Concern Regarding Self
This also wouldn’t be the game’s doing per se. This is when the player forgets to eat or sleep. This has actually stopped me from eating or drinking anything for hours. But that depends on the person.
A Modified Sense of Time
Hours could feel like minutes in this game. It doesn’t help that it has its own day and night cycles, so you might not realize how much time passes in real life until you look away from the screen.
So, speaking from personal experience, the game is quite immersive. The fluid controls and dialog as well as the freedom to go wherever you want (as long as you’re strong enough), plays into that. There are a couple of rare moments where the characters break the fourth wall on purpose, and that could break immersion, but the game uses it for comic relief, so it’s appropriate. Overall, this game did a great job in trying to be as immersive as possible.
Wayfinding is the process of using the spatial and environmental information to navigate to a destination (William, 2012.)
This is an open world game, so wayfinding is super important because we don’t want players to get lost while playing the game. This game makes it very easy to find your way, mainly because you can mark where you want to go on the map and the mini-map will be marked so you know which way to go. But there are different stages to wayfinding, so let’s go over those.
This is when you can determine where you are. Designers should think about identifiable landmarks or signs that could help the player determine where they are.
This game doesn’t do a bad job of this. There are sometimes where I get confused as to which gas station I’m at, but sometimes that happens to me in real life, so I don’t know if it’s me or the game. But usually, you can tell where you are because there are defining characteristics of each location. Dungeons, towns, and cities have their own unique look to them, and there are a lot of different kinds of terrain, like deserts and forests, grasslands, marshlands, beaches and volcanic areas. When you are in the middle of the wilderness, it will be difficult to figure out where you are without looking at the map if you’re just logging in again, but whenever you are at important locations, like a town or a city, you can easily tell which one you are in because of signs, landmarks, or architecture.
This is when you choose your route to get to your destination. To keep players from getting lost, designers should minimize navigational choices, provide signs or prompts, or indicate the shortest route.
The game does this for us for the most part because whenever you are driving the car automatically (as in make Ignis do the driving) he automatically chooses the fastest driving route to your destination. During dungeons, there is almost always only one way to go unless it is one of those dungeons where they make you solve puzzles so you have to go all over the place.
Certain side quests or dungeons will use the environment to lead you to your destination. For example, in the Deadeye hunt, there are knocked over trees and broken branches as you track the giant monster to find its lair.
There is also the world map you can use to make your own shortcuts and you mark your own waypoints to help with direction so you never get lost.
This is when you make sure you are still going the right way after making your route decision. This and the previous step go hand in hand. To keep a player from going off track while on a route, designers should consider thinking about setting clear paths, leaving behind breadcrumbs, and having visual cues of progress, especially for longer routes.
Since this step goes hand in hand with route decision, most of what this game does for this step is already covered above.
One thing I can mention though is that when Noctis and his friends are on long drives to wherever they are trying to go, there are obvious visual cues for their progress. Sometimes their fluid dialog is a part of that, and the player can even play some music so they aren’t completely bored during the road trips.
The name is self-explanatory, but this is when you can easily recognize your destination. When doing this step, designers should make dead ends at destinations and make sure that the destinations have clear and consistent identities.
In this game, when it comes to the dungeons, usually there is always the same thing at the end of it. A tomb of one of Noctis’s ancestors. They all look the same save for the weapon he’s collecting, and once you get there, there is nowhere else to go but out of the dungeon.
When it comes to the game’s final destination, which is the throne room within the city of Insomnia’s royal palace, there is nowhere else to go except the final battle, and it definitely has its own identity since we see it in the beginning of the game and in future cutscenes.
This game covered the wayfinding design principal pretty well based on looking at the different steps. I can tell you, I’ve never gotten lost in the game unless it’s one of those hidden dungeons that purposefully don’t have a map to add a challenge.
Picture Superiority Effect 5/5
The Picture Superiority Effect is the simple fact that pictures are remembered better than words.
Final Fantasy XV’s story is not very long compared to their other games, but it is very easy to get caught up in side quests or to get stuck in a place you’re not strong enough to beat yet. This could cause you to forget what happened in the story so far by the time you get back to it.
Prompto is a photographer and takes photos of your adventures throughout the game. Not only are there random selfies and funny pictures of Gladio sleeping in the car or of glitches you didn’t notice before, but there are photos of major plot points within the story, as well as important side characters you might forget about.
If you as the player decide to save those photos, it could help you remember the story so far if you haven’t followed it in a while.
The funny pictures also build the characters a bit, making them seem more real and relatable. This could have been a feature cut from the game, and it wouldn’t do much to hinder the game as a whole, but I’m glad it was left in there because it made the characters seem more human and made me as the player feel like a part of the adventure.
There are times when Prompto asks Noctis/you as the player if you’d like to pull over for a photo op. It could be a landscape or a group photo in front of landmark or something like that. You have the option to choose to or not, but if you choose not to, you can always go back to it because each photo op becomes a side quest.
In one of the updates for the game, players were able to have their own cameras so they could take pictures themselves. I had a lot of fun with this. There are even photo competitions where players could take their own photos and hand it in to see if they win.
Prompto takes pictures of new dishes he hasn’t seen before that is found in the world, funny selfies, Gladio when he falls asleep in the car, Ignis driving, fun times at the campsite, beautiful landscapes, and many, many more. I would end this segment with a list of my favorite photos from my playthrough, but I’m still learning how not to violate copyright.
Final Fantasy XV has become one of my top favorite games. I still play it from time to time just to explore the world some more because it’s that much fun. Despite my criticisms, I’d give this game a four out a five rating and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who loves open world RPG’s.
Lidwell, W., Holden, K., & Butler, J. (2010). Universal Principles of Design, Revised and Updated: 125 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach through Design.