An Aesthetic Review of Final Fantasy XV

I have long been a fan of video games, and since I’ve been playing them since I was a child, I can safely call myself a gamer.  As a gamer and an artist, I would argue that videos games are the newest art form medium.  While some games have tapped into this potential, the majority of the video game industry is not necessarily aiming for that.  However, this does not mean that many games are not pushing technical boundaries and that the graphics in games have been getting better and better over the years.

The most recent game I have finished is Final Fantasy XV, released November 29, 2016.  Final Fantasy is one of the biggest franchises in the video game industry.  Personally, one of my favorite things about Final Fantasy games is the art direction.  They always push the graphics towards realism, even though the characters take their stylistic design from anime, and have beautiful, expansive landscape vistas, often with improbable geographical features that are still convincing and add to the fantasy world building.

Final Fantasy XV is no exception, and is visually incredibly stunning.  Throughout the whole game, which is roughly about 60 hours of play time, I was continually impressed by the graphics, and the lighting in particular.  One of the mechanics of the game is that it continually changes between day and night.  The sun and the moon move across the sky and have a real impact on the light, shadows, and color tone of the scene.  The main characters even have flashlights attached to their clothing for night time that behave exactly how you would expect them to in real life.  Now, if you have not played many games, this might not seem like a big deal, and attention to detail like that is becoming more common, but most games choose to keep lighting static because lighting is quite difficult to render realistically.  Final Fantasy XV renders it so realistically it can be easy to forget you’re playing a game, not watching the cinematographic cut scenes.

The four heroes of FFXV, driving across the country in the Regalia

Much of the game the four heroes spend a lot of time going from quest to quest in their car, called the Regalia, and the success of the lighting can most easily be seen on the car.  The reflections on the car change as you move the camera angle, as the day moves from morning to night, as you drive through tunnels or under street lights, and as the weather changes.  There are also distinct differences in the lighting effects on the metallic body of the car and the hard pebbled leather of the interior, and the softer leather seats.   In all of these changes, you would think you were looking at a real car under real lighting situations.  It is abundantly clear that the graphic artists spent a very long time studying and replicating or modifying models from real life, down to the all the tiny details that make it come alive on screen.

While the attention to detail is most evident in the Regalia, the artists on the team took that same dedication to all the other visual aspects of the game.  The characters’ skin has veins under the surface, differently colored elbows, and they get visibly wet when it rains and dirty when they have not rested for a while.  A variety of clouds billow through the sky and release rain.  Water in ocean waves and rivers behave the way you would expect in life, complete with reflections, glinting sun, fish, and sand and rocks at the bottom.  The cinematic cut scenes are even more impressive with their graphics, lighting, and attention to details.

Now, I did find flaws with the game itself.  As a player, it seemed that the developers focused more on exploration and world building than they did on the main plot.  I do appreciate and love having lots of side quests and exploration I can do, but I would have liked the ending of the main story to have a stronger resolution and for more of the main plots points to have happened on screen.

That disappointment aside, the game is still quite fun to play.  As always, the latest Final Fantasy is at the forefront of graphics, created by what must be a team of excellent art directors and graphic artists.  It is well worth it to see the wonderfully visually stunning and immersive experience the game provides.

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