Final Fantasy XV Is a Hard Look at the Generation Gap

A changed game for a changing world. How Final Fantasy XV takes a hard look at gaming's generation gap...

The generation gap is a lot like the cliffs in Looney Tunes. The longer you go without staring at one, the longer you can keep from falling in. 

Eventually, however, you’re forced to look. You start to notice things that somehow feel odd to you. A new social network appears that requires you to enter your social security number to register. Presidential debates are relayed solely through emojis. Yet another childhood television show is being turned into a summer blockbuster.

The view is scary enough to ensure that most people stave off looking for as long as they can. Final Fantasy XV doesn’t seem to suffer from this fear. It stares at the void of the generation gap harder than any game that has come before it.

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Not long after we are introduced to the principal heroes of Final Fantasy XV, there comes a moment when Prince Noctis is being lectured by his father on the steps of their castle. Even with the audio turned down, the clash between the two is evident. Noctis’ father stands in full armor with his old-world home behind him. His world…his generation is one that we’ve known in previous Final Fantasy games. 

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His son is a complete contrast. Clad in leather and insignia-branded apparel, Prince Noctis’ adventure features a stylish car and an open highway. He is a child of the future and his world is the one that will only continue to expand. 

This contrast is key to the plot of Final Fantasy XV. Throughout the game, we are introduced to aspects of the king’s world that are often referred to as relics. Noctis is tasked with collecting the weapons of his forbearers in order to defeat his enemies and ascend the throne. Early into this quest, he radiates a feeling of reluctance that initially seems confusing. Isn’t such a journey the born duty of every classic Final Fantasy hero?

Noctis isn’t like the other Final Fantasy heroes, though. His reluctance to ascend to his destiny is based in part on his greater desire to be free of such burdens. When Noctis is at his happiest, he’s cruising with his buddies. He’s casting a fishing line and hoping for a bite. He sees himself as more than just another tool to save the world, unlike his forbearers.

How ironic that his forbearers likely thought the same of those that came before them. If there is a difference between Noctis and his ancestors that goes beyond the superficial, it’s that the options afforded to Noctis make it so that destiny must come screaming at him like a pack of outlaws before he is ready to accept his calling. It’s what makes him the perfect vessel for a game that forces the player to acknowledge that they are in a similar situation.

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There is an identity crisis in the design of Final Fantasy XV similar to the one that Noctis endures. The game combines the style of Final Fantasy as it has existed until this point with a bit of what it could be if it were to adapt to certain conventions of modern gaming.

The Final Fantasy that was lingers throughout the game like a specter. It can most often be found in pockets of the game’s world, such as the soundtrack where nearly every classic franchise song resides, but it also contributes to some of the game’s more substantial elements. Final Fantasy XV is very much a classic JRPG in many ways. It’s still a Final Fantasy game that features crystals, Cid, airships, summons, and many other series elements you might consider to be iconic.

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Perhaps that’s why more modern elements of the game stick out like they do. The real-time combat, the wide-open world, the linear moments of cinematic storytelling…these are all icons of someone else’s game. They are the features that have come to define the modern era of the medium. They are the product of evolution. In that sense, they are the future.

To even recognize the disparity between these two ways is to acknowledge the generation gap. For some time now, gamers have been getting older without many people bothering to talk about it. There are people who still play video games today who have witnessed the entirety of gaming history, and far more who have seen a significant portion of it. The art of game design has progressed so much in that time that it has expedited the speed at which the gap has formed.   

It’s why nostalgia is such a powerful force. There are plenty of games willing to cater to the older side of the gap. “Games really were better back when you were younger,” these games boldly claim. For a small price, they offer comfort and the assurance that you are right. It would have been easy for Final Fantasy XV to go this route. If it had billed itself as a classic Final Fantasy experience, it would have been embraced by a legion of arms spread wide open.

Instead, the game tries to show that the old and the young can coexist. By taking a little from both sides, it forms a medley that intends to show that the two sides of the gap don’t need to stare at each other across a distance with angry eyes. Maybe in doing so, we’ll find that the gap isn’t as large as it seems.

The attempt is noble, but the results are mixed. There are times when Final Fantasy XV is able to gracefully alter between modern and retro, but more often than not, the idea of updating a JRPG with modern conventions just comes across as a midlife crisis. It even features a brand new sports car.  

Sometimes, however, we need to endure an identity crisis in order to find ourselves. Final Fantasy XV attempts to break away from the series’ comfort zone and, in doing so, it ultimately ends up forcing the franchise to take a long hard look at what it has become. Because of this, it will eventually find a way to endure.

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With a little luck, Final Fantasy XV will inspire everyone who plays it to take a similar look. There is a new generation gap forming. It’s growing in society, and its growing in gaming. As scary as it may be to acknowledge the gap, it’s even worse to pretend it doesn’t exist. The better option is to try to build a bridge and establish a middle ground rather than committing to the idea that one side must be declared the winner. Even if you fall, who will ever dare say that you didn’t attempt to do something rather remarkable?

It’s strange to consider that Final Fantasy XV should have been released almost 10 years ago because it just happens to be the most relevant look at where we are and where we are going.

Matthew Byrd is a staff writer.