ROLE PLAYGROUND | Looking Back on Final Fantasy XV

Was it Good? Was it Bad? Eh. It's Hard to Say.

Final Fantasy, one of Square Enix's flagship series, has definitely had its ups and downs in the last few decades.

We've had classics like FFX really make their mark in the gaming world even though it didn't age all that well. And then we've had really big stinkers - coughcough FFXIII coughcough. So, with its latest installment, Square decided to change it up with the latest installment Final Fantasy XV. A slightly more western approach than the series has taken before, and it does work, just not all the time.


In Final Fantasy XV, you take control of Noctis Lucis Caelum - a prince who is getting ready to get married and take his place as the king of Lucis. However, before the nuptials can take place, his kingdom is ambushed by an evil empire. Noctis and his friends, a band of merry (and also very sad at times) men, must travel around a vast open world and save the kingdom at all costs.


The game has a lot going for it. Its graphics and character design have taken a much more contemporary approach that the series hasn't had since Final Fantasy VII. It has also taken a much darker visual tone than previous titles, which gives it a more realistic feel. It has its high fantasy elements, and while it doesn't always fit, it is integrated into unique world (well, unique for Final Fantasy). Its open world environment also serves the design elements well - it feels fluid and expansive and very similar to our world in some ways.

Then we have the battle system - a hack and slash, fluid system that ditches the turn-based system entirely. It's not perfect, but it keeps the game interesting. Instead of having a set kind of spell that each character can learn, you must craft them and you can even run out of them. I prefer this kind of system - because it keeps the game fast-paced and I feel like I'm doing something. A turn-based game is too slow for me, nowadays, unless they really change things up with the format. So, I'm glad FFXV took a step in the right direction.


Now, here's the thing. It has got the looks and there's something there, but there's also a lot of nothing. The story never really excited me as much as everything else about the game. It was weak - and while the characters were a high point, they were squandered on a story that needed much more development. A prime example of this is Lady Lunafreya. Supposedly, she is the other main protagonist of this game. Although, she's barely in the actual game.

In previous FF games, a character like Lunafreya would appear in the party and she'd fight with your team. In this game, she spends most of her time separated from Noctis and sending notes to him. And then, when we finally meet her, she is killed. And her death isn't even that sad, because I barely knew anything about her. Did I miss something? Maybe. But I played the whole game - and she definitely wasn't written to be a protagonist. And that sucks.

She is one of many examples of the weakness of this game's plot and its poor use of characters (don't even get me started on Cid and Cindy).


Final Fantasy XV isn't that great. It could have been, if they'd worked harder on it, but in the end it falls short. It's fun, but it's fun in the way that fireworks are fun. They're flashy in the beginning, but after a while, they're just loud and obnoxious.

Shann Smith is a lover of video games and has played them since he could hold a controller. He is a freelance writer, playwright, screenwriter, and also writes the Video Gay-Mer column on Popdust.


VIDEO GAY-MER | What is homoeroticism?

And does it fit in this genre of entertainment?


It's not really gay, but it's definitely gay adjacent. And I don't know if it has any place in gaming or modern entertainment outlets.

Homoeroticism is something that's existed in art for a long time - it's a way to show homosexual love but also not be super blatant about it. It arouses the feeling of gayness without actually being outright gay. Wikipedia says that it focuses more on the temporary desire and less on the actual identity. In video games, homoerotic is used as a tool to queerbait it's LGBTQ+ fan - serving them queerness in piecemeal and never following through. And while it was a necessary precautionary style in the old days - it definitely has no place in modern art forms - especially gaming.

It's very difficult to separate what the difference between queerbaiting and homoeroticism, and the difference lies in the history. In the old days, it was usually against the law to be openly homosexual, so you had queer poets and writers who would create these different allusions to queerness in their works.

Jean Broc's Death of Hyacinthus is definitely what some would consider homoerotic.

However, nowadays that kind of thing doesn't fly - and for good reason. Homoeroticism, nowadays, is used by straight people to bait queer people into a false queer narrative otherwise known as queerbaiting.

Why does it not have a place in the landscape anymore? What's so terrible about not having characters be explicitly queer but having queer moments? After all, isn't it more interesting? Isn't there a mysterious allure to the constant wondering of, "What if?" No, and using this style to manipulate queer people is a dangerous thing to do - as it often strips our experience away from us in detrimental ways.

In previous articles, I talked about the danger of a game like Life is Strange being touted as a queer video game, when it was clearly queerbait-y at best. It is a prime example of a negative use of homoeroticism to entice it's players and make them believe that they are having an honest-to-God experience. We are given a kiss and a strong friendship and it gives us the idea that these characters are definitely queer - they have to be - but we are never given confirmation.

We are left with an unfulfilled feeling, because a "What if?" is no longer enough. And yet, Life is Strange is still incredibly popular. It's still considered by many to be a positive representation of queer women. Why is that? It's because we're starved, all throughout history we've been given nothing but homoerotic images and subtext and led to believe that that was enough. So, we grew complacent, and we cheered at the slightest nod in our general direction.

It's hard to say if homoeroticism still has a place in modern media like film, television, and especially gaming, because the politics around everything are so tricky. Is it possible to just evoke the emotion without giving an audience the follow through? Can something survive on tension alone? I don't think so, because nowadays, queer people don't want piecemeal. They want the full experience.

The evocative depiction of a sexually ambiguous character or a beautifully sculpted man or woman is no longer enough.

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ROLE PLAYGROUND | God of War grew up and I'm here for it.

God of War was the pinnacle of the hyper-violent male fantasy in video games, but now it's grown up and tackled the mistakes of it's past in this beautiful treasure of a sequel.

The God of War series has always been such a crazy thing to me. I've always been a lover of Greek mythology, and the series definitely takes some liberties. There's also the gratuitous violence (which isn't a big deal), the weird sex mini-game (which is disgusting), and serious overshadowing of the plot - which should have definitely been much more of a focus. The original games were meant as more of a power fantasy than an actual story with compelling characters.

I was surprised when I first saw the trailer for the new game. Not only was it atmospheric and toned down - evoking more of a Last of Us kind of vibe. There was still that trademark gore, but it lacked the gratuitous nature of the original series. Instead, it looked like it helped paint the bleak and violent picture that Nordic mythology usually paints. The story also diverged from the original, in the sense that it played more of an active part in how the game. It's not a two-dimensional vehicle for violence with some random bits of sentimentality thrown in between.

Of course, there's a lot you can get from a trailer. The final product... totally lived up to the hype.


In God of War, you play as Kratos, decades after the events of the previous series. Your wife has died, and you are burning her and taking her ashes to the highest peak in all of the nine realms. Along the way, you encounter various enemies and even a few allies. It seems Norse gods don't like outsiders, and Kratos, being the Greek God of War, is definitely an outsider. Oh, and you've got a son that you have to take to the top of mountain with you - and you're struggling really hard with being a father.


Where to start? The gameplay is a dream - it's simple, action-packed, and gory in this perfect way. Instead of having a third person camera hovering over the entire battlefield, you are over Kratos' shoulder. You are forced to pay attention to the battlefield and use everything that you had - otherwise you'll die. And it's not just bosses that are difficult, even draugrs - the common mob - can kill you in the very beginning of the game. But the game does give a lot to play with - you have a shield and a powerful axe that you can modify.

Plus, you have Atreus, your son, who fights with you and actually helps. It's crazy, because I'm so used to AI being basically useless in battle, but Atreus is useful.

All of this serves the story really well. As you fight these gods, and work with Atreus, you are going on a very personal journey with Kratos. Early on in the game, you are told that your wife has passed away, and Kratos doesn't know how to be a father. Throughout the game, you see his attempts, and it's heartbreaking. Unlike the previous games in the series, Kratos' family trauma is front and center, and we are forced to experience the consequences of his past and his fear that he'll break his son.

It's poignant and beautiful and completely changes Kratos as a character, or adds to him. And that's what makes this game so great.


The difficulty is punishing at times, it's almost Dark Souls level. I tried playing the game on normal and I struggled hard. Difficulty is great, but I wasn't expecting it from God of War - I appreciate it on some levels, but it also makes enjoying the story even harder. But, this is the only really bad thing I've encountered.


God of War grew up. It's no longer this weird, intense bastardization of Greek myths. Instead, it's a thoughtful exploration into the dangers of toxic masculinity and the struggle of being a single father who feels totally unequipped to actually be a father. It's beautiful, difficult and fun to play. It's definitely worth the $60 asking price.

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