I just finished an impressively terrible game.
I’m a longtime Final Fantasy player, which is to say that I played the oldest ones when they came out and eventually wandered off but continued to halfway pay attention to what they’re doing. This particular game has convinced me that it’s no longer even worth halfway paying attention to (even though I still have this vaguely embarrassing urge to pick up The Zodiac Age)
There came a point in the game where I knew it wouldn’t turn into something I liked, but I wanted to finish it anyway solely because it was so mind-blowingly bad that I wanted to see how deep the suck went. I wasn’t disappointed. At some point I plan to write a full stream-of-consciousness summary of the entire game just so I can preserve the memory while never playing it again. In the meantime, I’ve decided my elevator pitch for “don’t play this game” is the Malboro boss fight.
To set the stage: This comes in Chapter 10. Chapter 9 ended with, among other things, one of your party members (Ignis) becoming blind in an injury that happened offscreen. This doesn’t stop him from continuing to stay in your party; he just walks really slowly and your other party members complain if you walk too fast for him to keep up.
This chapter’s primary mission is to find an underground tomb. Actually finding the tomb is relatively unremarkable, but then you find the entrance is guarded by a recurring Final Fantasy monster, the Malboro:
This actually had a lot of potential. The Malboro is unusually difficult in virtually all its incarnations because of its status-effect-granting Bad Breath. This in turn lends itself to Final Fantasy XV’s action-based battle system (as opposed to the turn-based systems of earlier titles) by giving the player a reason to avoid being in front of it while still trying to damage it. The problem comes when you completely empty its health bar.
The game tells you to “Flee from the malboro and regroup.” It’s hard to appreciate just how bad this advice is without also understanding a bit about how the combat normally works in this game. Final Fantasy XV uses an action combat system. But it still wanted to preserve the Final Fantasy feeling of distinct, overworld encounters. So all enemies have an encounter zone. This isn’t a radius around the enemy’s current location, but an area on the map where the enemy must be fought. If you ever run out of the zone, the fight immediately ends and the monster heals to full health. If a monster knocks you out of the zone, the fight immediately ends and the monster heals to full health. If the monster’s AI causes it to wander out of the zone and you follow it, the fight immediately ends and the monster heals to full health.
So, in this fight, you get a popup telling you to run away. You run out of the zone on purpose thinking that’s what the game told you to do and…the boss fight immediately ends and the monster heals to full health. If you’re like me, you might realize you did something wrong but not know what. So you start the fight again, get the Malboro down to zero health again, and notice that even if you “kill” it multiple times it won’t die.
The boss is healing every time, but you aren’t, so at some point you may even get desperate enough to go back to camp at the other end of the dungeon, then come back. While your blind party member hobbles the entire time. After “killing” the Malboro a dozen or so times, you may finally give up and look it up on the Internet. The Final Fantasy Wiki says that “When out of health again the player is prompted to flee to the marked spot slightly right of the tomb’s entrance to trigger a scripted ending to the battle.” The Final Fantasy Wiki is a liar.
The spot you need to run to is nowhere near the tomb. It’s practically on the opposite end of the cave from the tomb, while also being on the opposite end of the entrance to the boss arena. It’s very easy not to see it at all since it’s not marked on your minimap and in a nondescript corner of the cave that you have no real reason to even be looking at unless you were lucky enough to be facing the Malboro from a specific direction. When you stand in the Designated Running Away Spot, Ignis decides to throw a magic spell in a cutscene and now you can suddenly beat it by doing the exact same thing you did the last dozen times. As far as I can tell he just casts a Fire spell in the Malboro’s mouth, something the player already may have done during the fight, but since Ignis believes in himself now the game will let you actually finish off the boss.
This last part becomes a regular feature of the endgame: bosses that inexplicably get their health bars back and battles being “won” in cutscenes. One boss actually gets “killed” in a cutscene, heals back to full health, then immediately fights you again so you can beat up on it until it dies in a different cutscene to a different character. This fight isn’t just bad, it’s a bellwether for the rest of the game’s bad fights, which is practically all of them.
This sure is Game of the Year material. I didn’t say Best Game of the Year.