Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV – Episode 1

For the record, the last Final Fantasy game I ever played was FFXII. After that, I kinda abandoned console gaming in favor of portable gaming since it was difficult to find time to actually sit down and play. And I hate myself for that because there were a good number of games that came out during the “ceasefire” that I would have given an arm or a leg for in order to play.

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And so along comes Squeenix with another publicity stunt that looks oddly familiar. Back in 2005, they produced a spinoff from the Final Fantasy VII franchise in the form of a feature-length 3D CG film and three video games. They whimsically named these in a sequential lettering sequence: AC – Advent Children; BC – Before Crisis; CC – Crisis Core; DC – Dirge of Cerberus. But unless you might have forgotten, they actually preluded all of this with an OAV entitled “Last Order Final Fantasy VII”, which basically outlines the events that led to the beginning of Final Fantasy VII.

Looking back, it was actually pretty good. I was a die-hard fan of Final Fantasy VII at the time, and witnessing the final events of Zack’s life in full animation was a joy coming from a memory that was mostly pixelated backdrops and blocky CG sprites. This time around, things are a little different. Sqeenix wants to release FIVE anime shorts, and on top of that, release a feature-length 3D CG film that works as a prequel to Final Fantasy XV.

As much as I’d like to call them out for milking the series for everything it’s worth, I have to (begrudgingly) admit… they’ve imprisoned my heart (and my wallet). I can rant all I want about how bad an idea I think this will be, but I’m pretty sure I’m still going to watch it and I’m still going to enjoy it for a bit and I’m still going to hate myself ever wondering how I winded up like this in the first place. I’m probably going to get a PS4 just to play this friggin’ game. Ay caramba.

But we’re here to talk about the anime, so let’s break it down!

Apparently, Squeenix had an announcement during it’s “Uncovered: Final Fantasy XV” event yesterday regarding the details I explained above. It was also revealed that the anime series would be headed by A-1 Pictures under the direction of Soichi Masui, who directed Chaika the Coffin Princess. Joining him are Shinichi Kurita (Death Parade) for character design, and Susumu Akizuki (Dog Days”) for music. Not a bad lineup, to be honest, but just how did the first episode fare?

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The episode opens up with a flashback sequence depicting a boy, at the brink of death, who is saved by a group of magick-weilding warriors. Quick frame shifts give us an idea that the boy was adopted by the person who saved him — the king of some empire — and then finally shifts to the present day where Noctis and his band of brothers are on a road trip to see a girl named Luna. Character building bits follow before it is made clear that the boys are being hunted. Despite efforts to evade their pursuers, they eventually engage with the enemy — robot knights from the invading nation of Niflheim. But their rally is cut short when a giant Medusa-like creature confronts them. The monster was the same one that almost killed Noctis in the past, so the episode ends with him on the war path to beat his fated enemy.

Without any background of the story, it’s difficult, but not impossible, to orient oneself with the political situation in the world of Final Fantasy XV. On that remark, it’s nice that they didn’t bother with any wordy exposition. The last thing I’d want is some narrator to babble about the world and what’s going on. Plus, it’s clear that the show is emulating the mechanics of the video game, which involves an open-world, interactive environment. Even the camp out sequence underscored one of the highlights of the game (which for this episode, seems to be “eating”). You could say that it’s a pretty effective piece of marketing for the invested gamer, but for the lay watcher maybe not so.

The animation style, unfortunately, is a little bland. Camera shots are flat and boring, and the character designs are just barely passable. The characters themselves are archetypical, to say the least. Noctis is the quiet, contemplative type — this world’s Cloud Strife, so it seems. Gladiolus is the bulky tank type; Ignis is the spectacle-clad, cool and calculative type; Prompto is the free-spirited, rowdy type. Although their wardrobe leaves much to be desired — I mean, it’s funeral black for Pete’s sake — their personalities are well represented in their own fashion styles. The spoken lines also serve as some kind of saving grace for otherwise mundane-looking character bits. It’s fun to feel a sense of familiarity between the characters — they’ve been on a long trip together, so they pretty much know each other like the back of their hands.

The music has a pleasing sense of nostalgia to it. The underlying flavor of the orchestrations has a Final Fantasy VII feel to it, owing to the use of oboe phrases and generally pulsatile hums. It’s a nod to the cyberpunk mood of Final Fantasy VII without being overtly plagiarized. The road trip is also accentuated with a lazy steel guitar country piece that undergoes a smart transition into radio music when the scene shifts to the diner. All-in-all, it’s a reassuring sign that the musical direction is strong for this work.

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But this show is supposed to be based on an an action RPG, so where is the action? Well, it comes somewhere near the end of the 11-minute episode, featuring magical swords that materialize in mid-air and clunkety 3D CG robot enemies. The CG is forgiving in that it provides that human-less feel to the droids, but the heavy-object physics was simply ridiculous. Thankfully the animation was fluid enough to make the fight enjoyable, albeit watered down by questionable framing choices. The background music sounded like generic “battle music”, which was okay I guess given its position as a video game promotion. Barring that, however, it could be called out as being cheesy and uninspired.

Overall, the show avoids any blatant advertising of the franchise and focuses on the world elements as a legitimate prequel to the highly awaited video game. And this is a good thing coming from a recent blatant marketing mess that was Phantasy Star Online the Animation. Although the execution looks a little rough, it still passes with good initial characterization and a strong musical score. I hope the episodes gain a little more polish as the show unfolds; otherwise, this is looking to be a good start to what is probably the biggest hype for Final Fantasy fans since the announcement of the Final Fantasy VII remake. And I mean that in the best possible way.

 

Episode rating: B

 

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