One of the bigger surprises at Sony's E3 keynote was that Final Fantasy XV — the massive, long in-development RPG — would be getting support for PlayStation VR. Immediately I had dreams of riding a chocobo and petting a moogle in a virtual fantasy world. But, based on the demo I played here at E3, the reality is a bit less exciting. It turns out that FFXV in VR looks a lot like classic arcade shooters like House of the Dead.
Playing the VR experience is exceedingly simple. It's a seated affair, so you don't have to worry about moving around too much, and you only need to use two buttons on the PS Move controller. One lets you warp around the level; the other is the trigger for your weapon. You point at where you want to go or what you want to shoot, and you push the appropriate button.
The demo puts you in the role of Prompto — the blond, gun-wielding member of the FFXV foursome — during a battle with a giant monster. While your friends get up close and slash at it with swords, you hang back and shoot it from afar. There isn't all that much strategy involved: you simply shoot as fast as possible, and move when the beast charges at you. (Actually, you don't even need to move, as the monster doesn't really do any damage when it attacks). If you hit it in the head, it'll die a bit faster; if you warp up to high ground, it can give you a slightly better perspective. It takes just a few minutes to get through the whole fight.
It's a fine, if short, example of a VR light gun-style game, but it doesn't feel particularly Final Fantasy in any way. There are lots of things FF fans would want to see from a VR experience, and it's hard to imagine "generic shooter" is near the top of the list for any of them. Given the beautiful, expansive world the game takes place in, some sort of exploratory aspect would've been much more interesting. (The demo does end with a scene where you ride in FFXV's slick black luxury car, but it lasts for only a minute or so and is completely non-interactive.)
There's always the chance that the VR experience could be fleshed out by the time it launches. A Square Enix rep told me that it's unlikely the VR element will launch alongside the main game in September, and it will probably end up as some type of separate DLC add-on. In its current form, though, it's hard to muster much enthusiasm for the VR element. There are a lot of things to be excited about when it comes to the next Final Fantasy — the huge world, fast-paced combat, and even the driving — but the VR experience is missing all of that. The dream of a virtual reality chocobo is still just that.