l Fantasy XV shouldn't be good. Its story is a mess, its pacing is non-existent, a ton of side-characters that we're supposed to care about are barely introduced let alone developed, the gameplay systems are a huge change from the typical and very controversial, its storytelling is broken up across multiple media, it completely changes genres and tone mid-game and more than once, its lore is convoluted and never naturally introduced to the players, half the time I'm not sure about the motivations or even the context of my characters.
Yet somehow it's pretty fun and ends up having some emotional resonance. And I ended up happily putting 65 hours into it. That's the story of FFXV.
All my above criticisms are true. Most importantly, the game is very evidently a patchwork of different experiences the developers and writers wanted us to go through. Aside from the "road-trip" that it's primarily advertised as, there're also aspects of fulfilling an epic quest (larger in scale and sense than I think any prior Final Fantasy in presentation), a time-skip segment to hammer home the scale of the journey, leading into a post-apocalyptic final siege against the daemons. The game is horrendously fragmented, and this impacts the story a great deal. Going through the game I rarely had any full idea why my characters were on specific quest or mission. I had some broad idea that we needed to get married to Luna and maybe stop the empire, but that's about it.
But enough about FFXV's flaws, which you can no doubt find more than your fill of coverage about. I want to talk about what worked.
The gameplay is fun. Yes, it's very different from a regular Final Fantasy, almost to the point, where I'd rather they all the game something else. (Unfortunately, that would probably not be an option - a great deal of the game is about paying tribute to various past FFs, a trend which I think is just starting to get a little overdone.) The quest-loop is tremendous, and one of the reasons I sunk so many hours into the game without even needed to be pushed by a guide or promise of great loot outside of what the game tells me. The battle system, though very quirky, had a very natural feel to it, and I congratulate Square Enix for making a really fun action combat system. Warping, in particular, feels natural and incredible.
And while the story is a mess, I think the character presentation and development for the core group is actually pretty strong. I really do see strong bonds between the characters, something you rarely see in most RPGs (notable exception: Persona games). Each party member not only has his role in the party, but also in the group of friends. When they're angry at each other, you see their perspective and where they're coming from. Although the time-skip itself wasn't very well executed, I do like that it adds to the depth and length of their journey, and the in media res introduction to the post time-skip characters really adds a lot of gravitas to their journey.
I also want to say something extra about Noctis' character and journey. Firstly, this may sound odd, but I found that Noctis' and Luna's romance was actually fairly well done. Their's isn't a "we met and fell in love" kind of romance, but rather two individuals, bound up in fate, fighting towards the same goal even though they never meet each other in the game. It's a little difficult to verbalize, but there is a certain beauty to how devoted they are, even if just to the idea of each other. Secondly, this is the first Final Fantasy (XIII-LR excluded possibly) that really gives the player a sense of how strong the party and particularly the main character are by the end. Part of this is aided by the action battle-system, which allows the player to feel more viscerally the power and ability of their player-character, but you really did feel by the end that Noctis had immense power rivalling the gods.
All in all, FFXV shouldn't have worked, but somehow did. It's a oddly-woven patchwork or good and half-formed ideas, but it does come together to be a fairly enjoyable though far from perfect package. I would recommend this game to players of the franchise, old and new, though I caution an open mind. If I were to rate it, I would give it an 8/10.