Post Script

Snap­shots over sto­ry­telling: why FFXV’s pho­tog­ra­phy is key to its ap­peal

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Cho­sen ones, dark vi­sions, crys­tals, an­ces­tral relics, dae­mons and sac­ri­fices: de­spite its con­tem­po­rary lean­ings, Fi­nal Fan­tasy XV’s plot runs the gamut of JRPG clichés, and ex­cept for a cou­ple of sur­prises, it does very lit­tle new with any of them. It’s dis­ap­point­ing, but it’s not as ru­inous as you might think. In any JRPG, the over­all story mat­ters far less than the peo­ple with whom you’re mak­ing the jour­ney. A party whose com­pany you en­joy is half the bat­tle, and that’s a nail Square Enix man­ages to hit squarely on the head.

Cen­tral to this is an idea that at first seems to be lit­tle more than a mi­nor de­tail. Plenty of other games have pho­tog­ra­phy el­e­ments, af­ter all, but the dif­fer­ence here is that you’re not the one call­ing the shots. Rather, it’s the ebul­lient Prompto who’s con­stantly on the look­out for photo op­por­tu­ni­ties; he’ll even oc­ca­sion­ally en­cour­age you to stop the car so that he can take a group snap in front of a land­mark or a par­tic­u­larly strik­ing vista. In one side mis­sion we find our­selves stand­ing on the shore of a lake, tempt­ing a colos­sal beast to draw nearer so that he can cap­ture the per­fect shot.

You might well find th­ese asides un­nec­es­sary – in which case, you’ll be happy to learn that for the most part they can be ig­nored. But Prompto also takes shots in­vis­i­bly as you play. As you set­tle down for the night, you’ll be able to flick through them: some are taken at fixed mo­ments in the story, but most are gen­er­ated from the day’s ac­tiv­i­ties and will thus vary greatly from player to player. You can even choose to give Prompto the abil­ity to take self­ies dur­ing com­bat, deny­ing your­self a po­ten­tially use­ful sup­port op­tion for the sake of more in­ter­est­ing pic­tures on the cam­era roll. Oc­ca­sion­ally, a photo will be over­ex­posed or poorly framed, but that only adds to the il­lu­sion that they were taken by a hu­man be­ing. And, as Prompto’s skills level up, he’ll un­lock new fil­ters which are smartly de­ployed to add greater vis­ual va­ri­ety to the se­lec­tion.

None of this has any mean­ing­ful im­pact on how the game plays, but it’s ab­so­lutely cru­cial in es­tab­lish­ing the over­all tone. It grounds the more fan­tas­ti­cal el­e­ments and helps make the group more re­lat­able. Who hasn’t found them­selves in a group crowded around a friend or fam­ily mem­ber’s phone screen, point­ing and laugh­ing as they scroll through their cam­era reel af­ter a hol­i­day or a mem­o­rable night out? Later in the game, the pho­tos achieve a sur­pris­ing poignancy: as Noc­tis is sep­a­rated from his friends, they rep­re­sent a look back to hap­pier times.

From staged snaps to more in­ti­mate, un­guarded por­traits, you can save your favourite shots to an in-game al­bum, and by the time the cred­its roll you will have cre­ated an ex­tremely per­sonal doc­u­ment of your time with the group. It’s a handy way to re­call mo­ments that your brain might have eas­ily dis­carded over the course of 40 to 50 hours – though it’s a pity that what you were do­ing at the time is rarely quite as in­ter­est­ing as Prompto’s pho­tog­ra­phy makes it ap­pear.

Yes, in a game such as this, with the heft and sweep of an epic, pho­tog­ra­phy might ap­pear to be a tiny, in­signif­i­cant fea­ture. But whether you bed down for the night in a tent or spend a few gil to stay in a road­side mo­tel, this seem­ingly mun­dane rou­tine works won­ders in deep­en­ing your con­nec­tion with the group. As you sift through the pho­tos, the oth­ers will oc­ca­sion­ally re­mark on in­di­vid­ual shots, and while there’s the oc­ca­sional bit of good-na­tured rib­bing, you’ll more of­ten hear them praise Prompto for the qual­ity of his pho­tog­ra­phy. It’s a re­minder of how in­fre­quently we see games de­pict male friend­ship with­out laps­ing into hol­low machismo. What a rare treat to play a game where men are al­lowed to bond over self­ies, rather than shot­guns.

Fill­ing up with petrol is one of sev­eral mun­dane rou­tines that be­come oddly en­dear­ing, not dis­sim­i­lar to shav­ing and show­er­ing in Deadly Pre­mo­ni­tion. Was Ta­bata tak­ing notes dur­ing Sw­ery’s GDC talk on love­able game de­sign?

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