WIRED would love to be presenting you with our review of the 10-years-in-the-making RPG Final Fantasy XV, the sort of timely analysis you may be seeing elsewhere on the internet this lovely November morning. However, for reasons unbeknownst to us, the game’s publisher Square Enix declined to allow WIRED to review the game in time for its release. This practice is becoming increasingly common, and while we can only speculate as to Square Enix’s reasoning for leaving us out of the review fun, we’re happy to do so: perhaps our willingness to call it like we play it (and maybe even mourn it–twice) doesn’t fit neatly into their hopes for glowing release-day accolades.
But we are nothing if not resourceful. Putting several top mathematics experts on this problem, we ascertained that the best substitute with which we could provide you today would be reviews of Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy V, which you should be able to add together to create a review of Final Fantasy XV. As far as we know. But enough dillying; let’s render some judgments!
Final Fantasy X
As one of the first killer apps for Sony’s then-new PlayStation 2, Final Fantasy X represented several technological quantum leaps for the series. It was the first to feature fully-rendered 3-D environments rather than pre-rendered static backgrounds, lovingly rendered and enthralling to explore. It was also, thanks to the expansive DVD format, the first game to feature voice acting, which added a new layer of realism to the cast of characters.
Of course, these big moves were not without their drawbacks. The low-fidelity, pre-rendered locations in previous games meant that the developers could more easily create a massive world for players to explore freely. But Final Fantasy X was more of a series of smaller, linear missions, and you never quite felt that mastery of the environment that came with being able to travel anywhere. And while the voice acting was generally well-done, there were still some cringeworthy moments in the English translation.
Final Fantasy X+V
X: Lavish graphics, memorable soundtrack. V: Revolutionary gameplay freedom.
X:Narrow, linear progression. V: Ugly ‘upgraded’ graphics.
Drawing on Okinawan culture, Final Fantasy X had a unique, colorful visual aesthetic that gave it its own identity, distinct from the blend of medieval fantasy, steampunk, and sci-fi that had defined the previous games. And the soundtrack, from soft piano melodies to hard-rockin’ battle music, is still considered one of the series’ best.
You can buy Final Fantasy X in a combo pack with its sequel Final Fantasy X-2 on Steam or PlayStation 4, with a high-def graphical upgrade.
Final Fantasy V
Originally released in 1992 on the Super Famicom in Japan, Final Fantasy V was infamous amongst RPG nerds at the time because no English-language version was available for many years. Turns out that linguistic and geographic barriers were hiding a real gem of a game. While the series’ fifth entry didn’t have a fantastic storyline (it was barely more than “there is a very evil man, let’s beat him up”), it made up for it by giving players an unprecedented amount of freedom to choose how they approached it.
You could re-spec any of your characters whenever you felt like it, with no penalty. Wish your Dragoon was actually a White Mage? They can change their profession on the fly. But even better, if a character spent time as a White Mage, they could permanently learn healing spells, and then if they were to switch to a Samurai, they’d still be able to use those spells even though they were now a katana-wielding armored battle tank.
This freedom to craft your party any way you pleased was a liberating experience that makes each playthrough of Final Fantasy V almost a different game. You can play the original (with a really bad English translation) on PlayStation platforms, or buy a new version with better writing but ugly “upgraded” graphics on Steam or mobile.