GOTY 2016: The Top 10 Games of the Year - #5

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We're excited to announce the Silicon Sasquatch Top 10 Games of the Year! After months of discussion and a marathon five-hour meeting, we've finally narrowed down the ten games that we feel best represent the best and most important that 2016 had to offer.

We'll be counting down through our Top 10 list all week, so stay tuned on Facebook and Twitter to make sure you don't miss a thing!

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#5 | Final Fantasy XV

Square Enix Business Division 2 | November 29th, 2016 | PlayStation 4, Xbox One 

Final Fantasy XV should not be a good game. It was originally envisioned as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a spin-off to what is perhaps the most-maligned entry in the series on a previous console generation, and by some accounts it had been in development for a decade.

The game was rebranded three years ago as Final Fantasy XV, becoming the newest mainline entry in the series, and also received a new director, Hajime Tabata. Aside from some shared art assets and similar plot details, it’s unknown how much FFXV has in common with Versus XIII. Given the circumstances, it’s truly remarkable Final Fantasy XV came out — period — and became  one of the best, most interesting games of the year.

Final Fantasy XV isn’t the most polished game on the list: the story is a bit of a mess (especially in the third act) and the supporting cast is relatively thin. But the attention given to the main quartet of protagonists is realized in ways very few games manage. Watching these characters, who have known each other for most of their lives, gradually reveal more and more about their personalities and relationships is satisfying and engrossing. It gives the player a sense of understanding and attachment to their party that few RPGs achieve.

The combat system of Final Fantasy XV does a tremendous job of bringing a storied franchise into the modern age. Turn-based battles appeal to a niche audience; for an RPG to find mass-market appeal in 2016, it needs to move faster. A decade ago, Final Fantasy XII provided a bit of a half-measure with its gambit system, where battles played out in real-time but required extensive logic programming on the player’s part. By contrast, Final Fantasy XIII featured an old-fashioned turn-based system with its foot on the gas, but it didn’t solve the issue of forcing players through tedious menus. Final Fantasy XV removes the ability for the player to control the rest of their party, but the variety of options available to player-controlled Noctis make up for the loss. In particularly tough battles, navigation of the environment, positioning, and movement choices are crucial. A series that increasingly relied on laboriously animated spells manages to make magic feel both powerful and dangerous, and summons are a truly rare and unique thing.

Out of combat, Final Fantasy XV’s Eos is an interesting world to explore. A mix of the fantastical and the mundane — you periodically need to fill your car with gas, an act that few contemporary open-world games ask for — Eos may be the first Final Fantasy world that I would actually like to revisit in a sequel or spin-off.

Over the years, Final Fantasy has become so focused on bombast that it forgot that, first and foremost, role-playing games need to have strong characters who compel the player to become invested in their lives. RPGs are typically some of the most time-consuming games to play, so of course the player needs more than action to stay invested. And in a series still filled with princes, crystals and magic, Tabata’s team has provided a group of characters worth spending 40-plus hours with. Square found the mark with four young men that feel real in a world of fantasy.  — Tyler Martin