Final Fantasy XV wrecked me.

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Noctis, Gladiolus, Ignis & Prompto.

*Spoilers for Final Fantasy XV and Far Cry 5 ahead, though I’ll try to keep it vague.

I’m one of those: I hadn’t played a Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy VII, a game that came out 21 bloody years ago (good grief, I’m old).

I remember being irritated by the sheer number of games that felt like stop-and-slash fests — walk a few feet, get jumped by bad guys. Fight bad guys, take down bad guys. Walk a few feet, get jumped by bad guys… it felt relentless. I’ve been walking around for years with the idea that I’d just burned out on “that type of game”. It’s why I held out against Persona 5 for so long (and I wish I hadn’t).

Besides, after FF VII, there were other things to play. That was when first person shooters started really getting not just good, but great: Quake 2 was released later that year, Half-Life landed in 1998, System Shock 2 in ’99, and Deus Ex in 2000.

Thief: The Dark Project was also released in 1998, and that game utterly consumed me for some time. I would park Garrett in a pitch-black corner of some room for half an hour (or more, honestly) at a time, listening to the guards’ footsteps and planning my way forward. In retrospect, Thief was really just preparing me for my future Assassin’s Creed addiction. Clunky and buggy as it was, it really resonated with me. I wanted to be the thief in the night, the assassin in the shadows. As much fun as it is to charge into battle guns blazing, there was something even more satisfying about slipping past the bad guys and taking them unawares.  Thief was also the first game that I ever had dreams about while I was playing it. Night after night, I kept dreaming that I was sneaking through shadows while something was hunting me. It happened again with Thief 2: The Metal Age, only that time I was dreaming about stained-glass windows and plants growing through me. It was seriously disturbing.

Dreaming about games is pretty rare for me, though, at least as far as I’m aware. When I started dreaming about Final Fantasy XV, I knew I was in trouble.

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I had no intention of playing it. It wasn’t even on my radar. I took note when the Royal Edition was released, mostly to point it out to the spousal unit as an oddity. Final Fantasy didn’t look like Final Fantasy any more, which was vaguely intriguing, but I had too damn many other things to play.

Then I started prepping for my vacation, which almost always means, “I’m going to stay home and play video games for a week straight.” I don’t always actually do that, but that’s usually the intent. This time around, I built some furniture, rearranged my gaming room, added strip lighting to my console space, read a couple of books… and noticed that the FF XV Royal Edition was on sale on PS4. I bought it on a whim, and it ended up utterly consuming my time off.

This was not what I’d intended to do. Not even remotely. If anything, I’d planned to play God of War. As of right now, I have yet to even start God of War. I also needed to finish Far Cry 5. I was ready for the end game, but kept piddling away my time doing other things, just enjoying Hope County. I knew there was a thing about the end of FC5, and I managed to avoid any spoilers… but I also had a pretty good idea about what was going to happen, and I wasn’t eager to see if my theory was correct.

Instead, I decided to try out FF XV purely on a whim, and it wrecked my vacation. Hell, it wrecked me.

I loved it. Sure, there were some annoying bits. It took me a while to get past the hair, because what IS IT with Final Fantasy and hair? The guy with the best hair is the guy with the mullet, for crapssake. It also took me a lot longer than it probably should have to really get comfortable with the combat… and sometimes the camera was just gaaaaahhhhh… but I loved this game. It wasn’t about a war. It wasn’t about impending doom. It was about four friends on a road trip. That was how the game sucked me in, and it was how it kept me there. And, ultimately, it was how the game destroyed me.

I finished it two days before my actual vacation week ended, and for those last two days, I could hardly muster up the energy to do anything else. I was too bummed out. Too depressed. Too genuinely regretful about the entire experience. I spent over 70 hours in the game, and it felt like I’d rushed it. Like I should have spent more time in the open world bits. More time just enjoying the company, before everything truly went to hell. I really wish I could go back and do it again for the first time, and maybe just never get to that last act. Just run around the open world forever with Noct, Gladio, Prompto, and Ignis. They can be lost boys forever.

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I can’t remember the last time the ending of a game bummed me out this much. There have been others, but I’m having a hard time remembering what they were.

On the very last day of my vacation, I made myself finish Far Cry 5, and that was really stupid. My theory was correct, and it ended exactly the way I was afraid it would. Which was another bummer. Not as much of one, and definitely a different kind of bummer, but it was another downer ending that I really didn’t need just then.

There is a big difference, though. Far Cry 5‘s bummer ending(s) are bummers because they’re just kind of… wrong. No matter which you get, it all feels senseless. Pointless, even, like why did I even try, then? All these people died for this?

FF XV‘s ending, on the other hand, is a bummer because ultimately, it’s the right thing. It’s what has to be done. It’s about people growing up, accepting responsibility, and sacrificing for the greater good. It’s the right thing to do, but that only makes it all the more awful, because it means that you have to let go. You have to say good-bye, no matter how much you wish you could find another way. It might be about saving the world, but it just feels like losing a friend.

I’d recommend Far Cry 5 for everything you can do in Hope County outside of the main story missions. They’re not that bad, honestly; I know a lot of people hated the plot in general, but aside from the ending, it really didn’t bother me that much. Even the can’t-avoid cut scenes/interruptions that the game forces you into weren’t that bad. Kind of annoying, yes, but you get past them. There’s a lot of fun to be had just trekking around the County, hunting and fishing and flying helicopters and doing weird side quests.

But I’d recommend Final Fantasy XV as just a damned good game, not in spite of all the feels, but because of them. I will add one warning: when you get to Altissia (finally), do NOT proceed with the “negotiations” until you’re absolutely certain that you want to move on, because at that point, the game switches from open world to a fairly linear progression that you can’t escape.

Definitely play the companion DLCs, too, because they fill in some blanks and flesh out the story. There’s also some benefit to playing them at the proper point in the story. After reading some non-spoilery advice, I decided to play the Episode Gladiolus and Episode Prompto DLCs in-line with the main campaign; basically, there are times when Gladio and Prompto leave the party for a while, and playing their respective DLCs right after they rejoin the party tied it all together. The Episode Ignis DLC is a bit weirder, as it’s more spoilery and can mess with the ending, so I’d wait to tackle that one until after you’ve finished the game.

Prompto’s thing is taking pictures. Every night, whether camping out under the stars or crashing in a hotel room, you get a chance to look through the pics he’s taken that day and save the ones you want to keep. You can take pictures with your own camera, too, or grab screenshots, but Prompto’s pictures were so perfect that it gave me an idea.

He takes a lot of selfies, and you pose for the occasional group shot, but the rest of his pics look like what you’d see from any amateur photographer on a road trip. Sometimes, they’re great. Sometimes, they’re terrible — too dark, cut off, badly framed — exactly how half of my vacation photos usually turn out. I decided to start collecting pics with the vague notion of putting together an album that chronicled the entire journey. It was a moment of pure nerd insanity that I ended up both appreciating and regretting. It feels like I doubled down on the depression, because now I can look back at happier, more carefree moments… knowing that they didn’t last.

The photo album thing happened, but I ended up leaving out a lot of pics at the end. I tried to eliminate anything that was too spoiler-iffic, but there are definitely some pics in there that will give you an idea of what happens (assuming you don’t already know). Looking at them now is really just kind of painful. Almost like it really all happened, and…

Seriously, screw this game. I’m going to spend the rest of my life playing The Sims. At least then, nobody will mess with my head. I’ll be the one doing the messing. I will. I WILL.

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