Two months ago, two weeks ago, Final Fantasy XV was barely a blip on my radar. The only part of Final Fantasy XV that kept my interest was the Uncovered Final Fantasy XV event that took place at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, CA. Even through its decade-long development, I was never swayed. I only wanted to go because it would be a great opportunity to network and meet new friends. Trailers that came out merely passed by with little interest to me. The start of the event was rough for me. The jokes were corny, the dialogue between the hosts felt incredibly forced and cringe worthy, and the show felt like it was just going to be another event to tune out from. Even some of my friends watching were talking about how obnoxious Greg Miller and Tim Getty were being. The slapstick humor was only being slammed on live chats during the stream. That is, until the trailer titled Reclaim Your Throne was unveiled to the audiences and streamers.

The first minute or so I just rolled my eyes a bit and live blogged, listening more instead to the music as I heard the familiar theme of Final Fantasy in the background, albeit with a remixed sound to it. However, once that passed and I heard the voice of Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine doing a knockout cover of “Stand By Me,” the classic hit written by Ben E. King, the lights had literally turned on for the game in my mind. Everything finally connected. I rewound the trailer after the show and just watched it again, and again; not only did Florence slay her rendition of it, the details being shown in the trailer were hitting so close to home. Friendship, camaraderie, being together, adventuring. Pushing a car that had run out of gas. Hanging by a campfire telling stories. These images just struck me in such a way, and it told me right then and there that Square Enix was changing its game play up in a significant way. In a way, Reclaim Your Throne is the cliché way for Square Enix to say that they’re going to take back their crown as the best of RPGs. I certainly hope they do.

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As more trailers aired, we got more glimpses at combat. The big monsters, that Titan that would make the blood of Eren Yeager boil, the vast world, all of it, similar to Final Fantasy as a franchise. It got even more special, when it showed the pinball minigame, how much fun Noctis and friends were having together playing it. The playful shove off the machine and the pangs to a childhood spent in arcades at Nickel Nickel with a sibling. Watching the crew stargazing at night, and then seeing them do things that we can all relate to: Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV showed the team at a small diner, where one of them passed off individual ingredients of a hamburger and got scolded for acting childlike. From that point on, I didn’t really care about the game play and got absorbed by the moment. I went on a massive writing spree after the show broke off. Final Fantasy XV just undid the strain that I had been feeling towards this generation, and it did in one hour what I could not grasp and feel in several years. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the event, I considered it a day one purchase and even went after one of the collector editions.

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I realized then that this event showed just how much Square Enix wanted to change their image here. I have been rather harsh of Square Enix as of late, criticizing their lack of quality with their flagship, calling it a dead and dying game franchise that has since lost its way. When it was revealed that Final Fantasy VII was episodic, I was furious. They were slapping me and many others in the face. To top that, Final Fantasy’s past several games have been rather floppy and mediocre, with some of them being considered far too linear and did not allow for any exploration. We don’t need to raise the point about Final Fantasy XIII’s trilogy; even though I find them to be nice, they just missed that spark. The unveiling of Final Fantasy XV information brought out that the game went beyond a bunch of brawny men swinging swords, and they aimed to slay the heartstrings by focusing on the team and their bonds as friends with one critical element. It showed that even with the beautiful visuals, the vastness of the world, and the epic battles with familiar faces, that it was trying to bring back what made it great in the first place: heart. A heart that seems to have become wildly lost in this industry.

This industry used to be about heart, and making great games for people to play. It used to be very inclusive to all people of many different walks of life. Now, gaming as a whole feels so cut off and mutually exclusive. Apparently, you can only be called a “gamer” if you like one console but hate its rival, or if you favor ultra high-definition experiences in flawless and stunning 60 FPS. No, you’re not a gamer if you play mobile titles. You’re just an itty bitty, filthy “casual.” Gamers get harshly stereotyped as fanboy nerds and twenty-somethings that spend way too much being angsty online. It’s so silly to hear that, because everyone should be in this together. It’s a great point because it’s the point that Square Enix wants to drive home in Final Fantasy XV: that bonding means much more than anything else and that we need to band together. Just look at those campfire scenes or the driving scenes again, and see just how much we can relate to their life. Even though it’s a fantasy, it still has a real and incredibly raw feeling to it. There is nothing wrong with that.

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I’ve said many a time that the industry has stagnated, and has had so much negativity over the past few years. Looking at the recent issues with Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch, how singular fan feedback led the development team to take out something that felt menial, or how the group calling themselves Gamer Gate forced out a Nintendo of America public relations employee for her opinions, or how gaming communities only focus on the elitist aspects of gaming where only 60 FPS and 4K resolution are considered acceptable, it only paints the picture that this industry has lost itself. I don’t care that Pokken Tournament runs sub-720p. It still looks absolutely phenomenal and runs without hiccups and provides hours of fun. If anything, I’m glad that Nintendo is sticking to their guns and kind of avoiding this whole console war thing, because their games are the ones I’ve still been playing the most; I’ve already since sold back my PlayStation 4 to a friend since it saw little action. I tried getting hyped up for Star Wars Battlefront but that failed miserably. The Wii U, on the other hand, sees very frequent usage with Twilight Princess HD and Pokken Tournament. Even the Nintendo 3DS sees action with Fire Emblem Fates, although I’m going to have to mention that I dislike the fact that it was split up into three different titles. These games all had heart, though! Gaming used to have heart, it used to bring out quality titles where we could play together with friends. Now, if we head online, we hear children screaming foul obscenities over the mic. We have that, and we have titles that strong arm its consumers and loyal fans into paying more for less with downloadable content and micro transactions, or for the edge in battle. Games are rarely complete out the door these days; they require obscene 15 GB patches on release day just to function properly. The industry has cut so many corners, and the sad part is consumers will still pay for them.

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When I look at Final Fantasy XV though, now, I’m seeing a completely different side of both the game and of Square Enix as a whole. I can see just how much Hajime Tabata wants this to get off the ground. A crucial element of Final Fantasy XV is the Regalia, the car that Noctis is given from his father Regis. Apparently, in Japan, when the father passes down his car to the son, it’s a big deal. I didn’t know that! It’s a big deal for the son to take his first rides with the father, and it’s a cultural element in Japan for the father to introduce and explain the different elements of the car to the son. This was a point that Tabata wanted to show to the world, as it was a childhood experience he held dear.

Packing the whopper news that popular stars Sean Bean, Lena Headey, and Aaron Paul are going to be playing starring roles in the feature film Kingsglaive is just icing on the cake; it’s showing a new universe being created in the Final Fantasy XV timeline and driving home the point that friendship means a lot in this game compared to most other titles. Square Enix did its job right — they’ve made a believer and a highly probable customer out of me, and in one hour, give or take. Sure, we can point fingers and say I fell into the hype of the press event, where people were going wild over these announcements, but the end result is the same. I’m actively considering throwing my hat back into the ring for this generation. Square Enix won this round, and it all started with the vocals of Florence Welch. What it really told me, though, was that the key to gaming and finding that heart again was in music.

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I’m a musician myself, having been playing the piano for over sixteen years to date. It’s my personal creative outlet that allows me to freely express myself similar to writing on this site and other publications. When I’m feeling happy, my songs become more upbeat; in contrast, when I’m miserable and stressed, the songs become much more brooding and filled with angst, like a frustrated child smashing away at the keys. I find the auditory experience to be just as important as the game play itself because it sets the tone for a particular moment. When my Managing Editor Morgan Lewis interviewed video game composer Tommy Tallarico, one question was brought up about what makes music so special to some people. Tommy gave a brilliant answer. I’ve provided the question as context, below:

Morgan: You know, I grew up listening to video game soundtracks throughout my entire childhood up until adulthood — well yeah, I’m an adult now [laughs]. It’s kind of hard to grasp. Why do you think video game music, specifically video game music, resonates so much with people? Because the response that Video Games Live receives is astounding, and people just eat it up and they love it.

Tommy: That’s a great question. I think the reason is is that when you . . . well first of all, when you hear video game music it kind of takes you back to when you were a kid. It brings you back to a time when you were younger, it brings back all these positive, fun, cool memories, right? So that’s one reason. But I think the most important reason, which really differentiates video game music from any other music in the world, in the history of the universe, is that when you play a video game, you become that character, and when you’re that character, the soundtrack, the music that is being played in that game, it becomes the soundtrack of your life. So that’s very different than film and television. When you watch a film, you watch Raiders of the Lost Ark, and you hear that music, “dun da da daa, dun da dun”, that’s Indiana Jones’ music. But when you’re playing Zelda and you’re playing as Link, or you’re playing these games, Warcraft, whatever it is, Skyrim; that becomes your music. That’s your theme because you’re the character, so people get very emotionally attached to video game music moreso than any other music in the world.

The main part that gets me, though, is that with music, you particularly become the character. I finally got it tonight. As Tommy said, when you play a Zelda game, and when you’re Link, that’s your “link” to the game. That’s your music and your personal theme. It’s such an immersive factor and an incredibly overlooked one; it’s why I personally make a habit to spend a chunk of time talking about the composition of the music in a video game when I review them. For me, unconsciously, music is the portal to what makes the adventure special. And that is what brought me crashing headfirst into the amazing vocals of Florence Welch, and to an extent what made me suddenly love Final Fantasy XV. It wasn’t the friendship that sold me. I see it now, after all of this. It was the music, and deep down it’s what’s continued to sell me and shape my opinions on video games. It doesn’t need to be as brooding as a classical music festival to be considered a “great” musical atmosphere. Music is interpreted in the ear of the beholder, and can mean different things to many different people. It can be both brooding and wildly exciting, too.

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This feels cathartic to me. It’s strange, given that I wanted to cover the event at first only out of obligation. I’m glad that I got to cover it, and I’m even more glad that I finally found an answer in this generation of games as to what made things click. Final Fantasy XV, of all things, brought out the thaw. It feels wonderful, let me tell you that. This entire time, I wanted to know what made gaming click with me, and tonight’s show gave me the answer I have long been seeking. Come on Square Enix, please don’t mess this up. The vast and beautiful world you’ve built over the past decade, the nostalgic pang of friendship and camaraderie… don’t lose that aspect and you may just find a consumer who will find a reason to buy himself a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One again.

  • meer

    Hey Brandon, I loved your article. I’m 22 years old and the past 2-3 years you could say I have been struggling with my ‘gaming identity ‘ .As I play video games or see what are the latest news I find myself not enjoiyng them as I once used to .part of me is holding on because I believe there is something magical and different in them , but the other part is tired of the same video game objective (e.g defeat enemies , bosses or collect items and move on with the game). The last game that I was completely engaged into was the witcher 3 . and before that I just picked up a game because GameTrailers recommends it and give high praises for it (now they are called EZA).Anyhow I tuned into the FF event just because I was free at that time.And I have to say I’m cautiously excited ( as well know how the last one turned out). I feel that right now video games are just getting upgraded ( better graphics etc) but the other parts of the game are overlooked. and yeah I know VR is coming but Im not excited for it.

    • Hi meer! Exactly! I want that sense of wonder, that sense of being “wowed” by a game. I see a lot of games just sticking to the same old concept time after time, and while it earns money, it just doesn’t move the industry forward for me. I’m the guy here who cares very little about how graphics look and care more about the experience that games deliver. VR is trippy (personal experience) and definitely an acquired taste!

  • Anubisseesall

    great article, and something I myself have struggled with as a gamer for over 20 years. For me last gen was the breaking point, I enjoyed it less then ever before as the games became less creative and heavily online focused with endless patches to fix things that should never have been broken. The soul of this industry seemed to have died and took the creativity, passion and wonder that so many games of old were always imbued with. Modern games in the same genre (not just RPG’s) felt empty and lacking. I can honestly say I feel better about this gen, and my PS4 especially after seeing the passion Square is encouraging their employees to put back into a series that for me was always one of the corner stones of why I played in the first place

    • As a writer, I take these comments to heart and really appreciate them. Thank you for taking the time to read my article, and I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who seems to see the current trends as problematic. 🙂

  • My most anticipated game of this gen, and I’ve never played a final fantasy game in my life. Episode Duscae was amazing. Can’t wait

  • Hugo Sit

    Thank you for the great article.
    At first I was like, is this one of those articles that was paid by SE to praise about the game for marketing purposes? well, whether u r or not, I agree on most of ur points. Especially the point on gaming needs to have heart nowadays instead of squeezing money out of gamers.
    U can tell SE is getting really ambitious, but it’s a different kind of ambition. It almost feels like SE is ambitious on recreating the long lost good old days feeling of being in an RPG game urself while ur friends are sitting beside u watching and laughing. That special bond.

    As I kept reading I figured u wrote this article with heart. U wrote everything that I have been wanting to say to the ppl who has been picking on the games frame rates and resolution, well, the visual whores.
    Thank you very much. I really appreciate this article. Great things will be great, to ppl who knows how to appreciate it.

    • Hi Hugo, thanks for the great feedback. I really appreciate it! See, that’s what I want my website here to do that nobody else does, and that is write with heart. When I see Square’s ambition, I do see that genuine desire to create an RPG that can be praised like it was back then. I think that XV might just knock it out of the park on this one with the movie and anime series.

      Hope you keep coming back to us and participating with my community. 🙂 We’d love to have you as a regular. 🙂