The hot news today has been the announcement of the Final Fantasy XV: Royal Edition, which not only features the base game and all of the Season Pass content, but also adds a number of additional elements to the mix that some may argue should have been in the game in the first place.
This is not, however, where the ongoing saga of Final Fantasy XV ends. Square Enix is planning a second round of premium downloadable content for the game, including standalone “Episodes” themed around antagonist Ardyn and fan favourite Aranea — and who knows what else?
There’s no denying that despite its immensely troubled development history, Final Fantasy XV has had more post-launch support than any big-budget triple-A game in recent memory — and by this point is starting to approach MMO levels of updates and patches. But is this actually a good thing?
It’s not an easy question to answer, unfortunately, because there are things to consider on both “sides” of the argument. Let’s try and consider all the possible angles here.
First of all, I’d like to consider things from my perspective of having recently gotten seriously into collecting games for current-generation and “recent retro” platforms such as PS2, PS1 and their contemporaries. The short version of things from this perspective is that post-launch support, whatever form it takes, is a pain in the arse to collectors, because it makes the physical editions you have on your shelf less valuable, practical and useful, in cases like Final Fantasy XV making them next to useless from an archival perspective.
Consider this: stick a PS1 or PS2 disc in their respective consoles today and the game boots up, no fuss — assuming both the disc and console are in good condition. The physical copies of these games are effective archives of what was released to the public — in some cases such as Ar Tonelico 2, fan groups have taken it upon themselves to do unofficial patched rereleases, but for the most part, what you see is what you get with a game from a non-connected console.
It was in the PS3 and Xbox 360 era that we started to see games with “day one” patches — something which was now practical thanks to the increased availability of broadband, always-on Internet across the world. These generally weren’t a huge inconvenience — particularly in the case of the Xbox 360, which still puts all other Microsoft products to shame in terms of how quickly and efficiently it can update its software — but they did start to raise a few questions, the two main ones being what the patches were actually doing, and whether the games would work at all without them.
The latter question is particularly important from a collecting and archival perspective, because at some point in the future, the platforms on which the patches for these games are distributed will be discontinued. And what happens then? Anyone who has previously downloaded a patch for them and still has it on their system’s hard drive will be absolutely fine, of course, assuming the hard drive holds out and the data isn’t accidentally deleted — but what about the cases where someone picks up a game, keen to try it the first time, only to discover the version on the disc is actually a buggy mess not intended to be seen by anyone in that form?
Many accounts describe Final Fantasy XV as falling into this latter category, with its unpatched version incorporating a wide variety of perversely enjoyable bugs and glitches that some players have found themselves deliberately wanting to explore and investigate for themselves. But not everyone wants a game that is a buggy mess; some people just want to put that disc in and play a game that works.
All this is to say nothing of the additional pieces of free content and game mechanics that have been added since release, either; at the time of writing, “vanilla” Final Fantasy XV without any of its paid DLC has seen the addition of off-road driving in the Regalia, the ability to play through the game as characters other than protagonist Noctis, new Hunt quests, special seasonal events and all manner of other quality-of-life improvements that you’d typically only see patched into a massively multiplayer (or at least multiplayer-centric) game.
And then you have the DLC. The premium content from the first Season Pass, consisting of Episode Gladio, Episode Prompto, the multiplayer expansion Comrades and Episode Ignis, will all be provided as part of the Royal Edition alongside the patches to date — although it remains to be seen whether it will all be squeezed onto the disc or automatically downloaded. Hopefully the former.
So that’s all right, to a point — but then Square Enix went and announced another round of premium DLC, with a possible second Season Pass, and we’re right back where we started, with that Royal Edition eventually becoming as worthless from an archival perspective as the Day One edition I currently have on my game shelves. What then? An “Ultimate” edition in a year or two’s time? Will that one actually provide all of Final Fantasy XV on one disc? Who knows? I guess we’ll have to wait until “Season Two” is over to see.
So all that is a bummer for collectors, yes, but not everyone worries about these things; a lot of people out there are only concerned about the here and now, and that is a perfectly reasonable and respectable way of looking at things.
To many people today, games are an inherently transient form of entertainment like a movie you see at the cinema, a concert you go to watch live or a TV show you see while it’s airing: play it until you’re done with it, then move on, possibly never to return, in which case you may as well trade the game in or sell it if you have a physical version, or just let it disappear into the bottomless abyss of your digital software library otherwise.
The reason post-launch support is such a big thing today is a specific attempt by developers and publishers to keep this type of player invested in a single game for as long as possible, and ideally for them to keep pumping money into it. If a player keeps playing one of your games for a long time, after all, it’s a better return on your initial investment — particularly if you can charge those players money to do different things with, say, graphical assets that already exist — and a longer period of time before they start demanding something completely new from you.
At the same time, the growth of online, free-to-play and mobile gaming has conditioned a lot of modern gamers to expect ongoing post-launch support even where it’s not at all necessary. By this point, I’ve lost count of the number of games on platforms such as Steam, the App Store and Google Play where I’ve seen members of the public mark games down for “not being updated for a long time” — even when it’s extremely obvious that the developers of the games in question consider their projects to be complete.
Final Fantasy XV is in a slightly awkward position in that its troubled development process was very much public knowledge by the time the game finally hit store shelves, and moreover it was obvious that the version we got on release was not quite as fleshed out as the development team would perhaps have liked, even with its day-one patch. This meant that post-launch support was pretty much expected for the game from the outset — not just in the form of the DLC chapters, but in the form of free updates for the main game, too.
Where Square Enix and the Final Fantasy XV team should be praised is in their commitment and dedication to the project. It would have been easy for them to just release the game and be done with it — it would doubtless have been a great weight off their shoulders. At the same time, however, we’re talking about one of the company’s flagship franchises. To release a half-baked mainline installment would not sit particularly well with either the fans or the stockholders, especially after the high-profile failure and rebirth of Final Fantasy XIV had proven two things: firstly, even a series that had been such a fixture of gaming for so long wasn’t invincible, and secondly, that even the biggest disaster can be mitigated.
Vanilla Final Fantasy XV wasn’t a disaster by any means — indeed, as the Cover Game features here on MoeGamer will tell you, it was a highly enjoyable game and an interesting evolution of the Final Fantasy formula, firmly in keeping with the series’ reputation of constantly reinventing itself — but there were things that even the most dedicated of fans admitted it could have done better. And, over time, it’s gradually been tweaked, poked and moulded into a form where it is now actually doing a lot of those things better. And then, when you’re done with playing (or replaying) the main game, you have all the DLC — including the surprisingly substantial affair that is Comrades — to plough through, with the promise of more on the way.
The big question, though, is when will Final Fantasy XV truly be finished? Or, cynics may ponder, if it will ever be finished?
The danger Square Enix has at this point is for the game to become a constant presence that they’re unable to move on from because its most devoted players are continually expecting and demanding new content. Despite the multiplayer component added in Comrades, FFXV as a whole is not an MMO in the same way as its series predecessor, and thus there should probably come a point where the team behind it says “no, we’re done now” and moves on to something else — if only because everyone will want a Final Fantasy XVI at some point.
The other risk is saturation and the public eventually tiring of it. This happened to a certain extent with the three games of the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, which almost certainly plays a big part in why those games are looked back on so negatively by many people, even despite the positive critical reception XIII had on its original release. By the time Lightning Returns came out, all but the most dedicated of Final Fantasy fans were tired of the titular protagonist and wanted something completely new from the series — and not everyone was into the idea of the online adventures of XIV, either. We’re not quite at this point with Final Fantasy XV just yet, but the longer we keep seeing additional content being added to Final Fantasy XV, the more significant this risk becomes.
Has Final Fantasy XV gone too far with its post-launch support, then? For me, personally, yes, it has; I passed that point a long time ago, and all I want now is some sort of “definitive edition” I can put on my shelf to revisit in 10 or 20 years without having to worry about downloading patches, updates and DLC from what could potentially be a non-existent online platform by that point.
At the same time, though, I don’t speak for everyone, and while it’s still viable for Square Enix to do so, there’s no reason for them not to continue providing Final Fantasy XV enthusiasts with what they apparently want.
I just hope that them doing so doesn’t cause their other projects — most notably Kingdom Hearts 3 and the inevitable Final Fantasy XVI — to end up in the same situation as XV did. There are a lot of lessons to be learned here, and I hope Square Enix takes the opportunity to reflect on them.
More about Final Fantasy XV
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