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Final Fantasy XV continues to grow in strange ways with mobile and VR spinoffs

Hands-on with Pocket Edition and Monster of the Deep

Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition
Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition.

Final Fantasy XV is a game, but it’s also the center of a steadily growing universe. Even before the long-awaited RPG made its debut last November, it was preceded by a feature-length CG movie and a five-part anime series. Since launch, we’ve seen a number of updates, multiple story expansions, and a handful spinoffs. Like most blockbuster games nowadays, FFXV is a title that lives well beyond its initial release date.

As we approach FFXV’s anniversary next month, it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down — though it is moving in some curious directions. One, Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition, completely reimagines the game as a cute, streamlined game on mobile. Another, Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV, takes the surprisingly fun fishing mini-game from the main game and turns it into a bizarrely satisfying virtual reality experience.

Neither of these games are obvious expansions of what FFXV is; after I wrapped up the campaign I didn’t immediately imagine fishing in VR or replaying the experience on my iPad. But despite their differences, they do say a lot about what FFXV really is.

Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition
Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition.

The upcoming mobile game, called Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition, is billed as a “retelling” of the FFXV story. Essentially it’s a smaller version that keeps the core of the main game, but squeezes it into a package that will fit on your phone. And that smaller version looks quite a bit different than its console counterparts. For starters, Pocket Edition sports a new chibi art style, with blocky, cartoonish characters that manage to evoke the feeling of the original, high-definition designs. Noctis is still brooding, and Prompto is still adorable. And while their faces are devoid of expression, you still get a good sense of their feelings and personalities, as the game is fully voiced.

The gameplay itself is similarly stripped down. You move around the screen by tapping where you want to go, and combat is a mix of taps, holds, and swipes. If you select an enemy with your finger, Noctis will attack automatically, and you can parry by hitting an on-screen prompt at just the right time. You also have the option to warp around by holding your finger anywhere on the screen. I only played through a handful of battles, but they felt fast and satisfying, and surprisingly similar to the console version of FFXV.

But where the mobile edition really differs is when it comes to scale. The original FFXV was a huge game, a mostly open world where you could run around and explore pretty much wherever you wanted to. On mobile, things are dramatically smaller. The world is divided into a series of discrete areas, and often you’ll simply be transported from one area to the next as the story requires it. (That said, there are still lengthy rides in Noctis’ shiny black luxury car.) In some ways it feels like Pocket Edition trimmed a lot of the fat.

All of these changes make Pocket Edition a very different experience compared to the core FFXV, but the most surprising thing for me was how familiar it all seemed. The game still tackled all of the same story beats, and many of my favorite moments were still there. No matter how cute he looks now, Ignis is still obsessed with finding new recipes, and it’s still absurdly charming when he does. Really, what the mobile version does is make the game more digestible. It strips back the more game-y parts, but keeps the story and charm.

Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV
Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV.

This lighter version of the game makes a certain kind of sense, and it could make for an ideal entry point for new players who want to experience the world without the grind that comes from a massive RPG. Final Fantasy XV’s entry in VR, however, is much stranger. Monster of the Deep is essentially an arcade fishing game set in the FFXV universe. That isn’t totally crazy; after all, lead character Noctis’ favorite pastime is fishing. And the core of the experience feels great. Using the PlayStation Move to reel in a fish, yanking the rod as it struggles, is very satisfying. You even get to drop your catch in a net afterward.

This being a Final Fantasy game, things also take a turn towards the fantastical. At the end of my demo the fishing rod transforms into a crossbow, and I had to weaken a massive dragon / fish hybrid before I could catch it. There are also plenty of FFXV-specific elements. Enthusiastic photographer Prompto will snap a pic of you wearing a VR headset while holding your catch, and at the end you can sit around a campfire just hanging out with the boys. It’s all very sweet, though I’m not entirely sure who the game is for. It’s a fun diversion, but it doesn’t feel a lot like FFXV, nor does it seem like there’s a lot of depth to it.

Really, what these two games represent is just how scattershot the budding FFXV universe is. One is a smart way to introduce new players to the game, while the other is a strange arcade fishing game. The same can be said of other upcoming FFXV ventures. A PC version of the game makes a lot of sense, as does the steady stream of new story episodes for the base game. But does the realm of Eos really need a massively multiplayer add-on? Similarly, one of the upcoming mobile spinoffs — called King’s Knight: Wrath of the Dark Dragon — is actually a remake of a Square Enix game so old it predates the Final Fantasy series. Now it’s updated with multiplayer support and FFXV trappings… for some reason.

If there’s a method to the madness, it’s not exactly clear. Then again, FFXV itself was a chaotic mess that somehow came together in the end. It’s only appropriate that the expanded universe is similarly strange.