Final Fantasy XV begins with pushing a broken-down car to a repair station. Well, technically it begins with a weird flash forward to what’s most likely the protagonist’s future. But the first time you can actually, you know, do anything … you’re pushing a broken-down car to a repair station. This kind of innocuous mundanity permeated my two hours with the game at PAX West, and it totally sold me on it.
Let’s start with Ignis, one of the player’s companions. Some people like to cook. They enjoy the act of it, the feeding of others, and eating their own concoctions. Ignis fucking loves to cook. Dude’s all about it. When he’s not stabbing fools, he’s thinking about his next egg-based dish. And for good reason!
The single time I sat down to camp in the game’s first area, Ignis made a gorgeous bowl of something or other out of eggs I’d found on the side of the road and other various herbs we’d picked along the way. There’s some embellishment here on my part as to how into cooking Ignis is, but I’m being entirely serious when I say that the game literally slid the dish in front of me and had me look at how delicious it was until I told it to move on.
Every single character in the party — player-controlled Noctis included — has a special hobby or skill they enjoy. Prompto loves photos, and Gladiolus is into the exceedingly broad “survival” of all things. But Noctis himself? Good news: He’s into fishing.
This is a good thing, because you’re tasked relatively early on with getting a fish for a cat. It’s not part of the main quest or anything, but there was a cat that looked hungry. So, of course, I had to feed it. That decision brought my adventure to a halt for 20 minutes.
To catch a fish, I needed to go fishing. Did I want to buy a better lure? Fishing line? Pole? Everything was too expensive, but I spent enough time hemming and hawing for it to grow dark. (I ultimately just used the base stuff as I couldn’t realistically discern what benefit there was to buying the better gear.)
Then I cast about, trying to make one of the many glowing night-time fish interested in what I had to offer. They were not. I wiggled and waggled my lure back and forth, thrusting this way and that in the water. Nothing. It would take another seven tries before I managed to even get one interested, and four more after that to hook and reel a fish in. But, I finally did what I’d set out to do.
Only I hadn’t. After returning to the cat, turns out? It wanted the daytime fish. Same fishing spot but at a different time — or at least that’s what I assume. I didn’t bother going back after sighing in frustration at my own ineptitude. I only had two hours with the game, and I hadn’t even completed the first chapter yet.
I did eventually do so, but the end of the chapter wasn’t what stuck with me. It wasn’t the characters themselves, the meandering “I’m not 100% sure why I’m doing this, but okay” plot, nor the odd combination of accents from who-knows-where on the fictional map. What stood out to me was a tiny little sign on the side of a gas pump.
See, the Regalia — the car the group travels around in — requires fuel. Like, you get out of the car and fill it up. Like a real car. At the very least, you do this the first time you fill up. (Again, two hours.) You don’t pump in real-time, but it still takes more time than just buying it in a menu of some kind. While I sat there and watched Noctis pump, there it was: a sign on the side of the pump indicating it had lead. You know, the sign that’s on basically every real gas pump in some manner.
That’s what I think back on when I think of the game now. The past several years of the franchise have focused on increasingly divorced-from-reality scenarios. Not that any specific entry has been particularly grounded, but Final Fantasy XV feels more like Final Fantasy VII and VIII than pretty much any other entry. Real life, but monsters and magic and airships. I can get behind that.