Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV Deep Look
Even to Final Fantasy fans that play everything bearing the name, Monster of the Deep can’t be recommended, except perhaps for RPGamers just dying to see Gladiolus in as real a form as possible.
While virtual reality is still in its infancy, developers are searching for ways to create games for this technology. It’s a new dawn for gaming, where time-honored rules about game design honed over more than forty years no longer apply. Companies are coming up with many different approaches to coping with this new reality, but Square Enix has an inventive new way of dipping its toe into these unsettled waters: a Final Fantasy XV-themed VR fishing game. While the fishing experience in Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV captures some of the relaxation that can be found at a fishing hole, the Final Fantasy dressing accompanying it could have used some more seasoning.
Monster of the Deep stars a player-created, silent avatar who works for the government of Lucis. In the story mode, the avatar is tasked with traveling to various fishing holes across Eos to exterminate monsters that are residing in each, threatening the country’s fishermen. Most of these story missions break down into two parts: some standard fishing, followed by “boss battles” once enough regular fish are caught. To reel in bosses, the player must first weaken them with their trusty crossbow. This is easily the weakest part of the game, with gameplay transitioning from a fishing simulation into gallery shooter as the player is forced to unload bolt after bolt into these massive beasts as they leap from the watery depths until they are finally wounded enough to be caught and reeled in.
The fishing itself is… well… not fun exactly, but it certainly captures the relaxing nature of the real-life experience. The so-called tutorial at the beginning of the game, little more than a few barely decipherable Ikea-like instruction icons, leaves players to figure out the intricacies of fishing themselves. The basic process involves moving the controller in a casting motion, tapping the X button to release the reel, and winding the line back in using the left joystick. Once the controls are mastered, the loop of hitting the sonar, casting out line toward fish, and reeling them in is surprisingly satisfying. Fighting larger fish, where players must manipulate the position of the rod using motion controls is engaging.
At this point, a detour into the nature of VR is necessary to explain some of this game’s oddities. For most VR games, when goggles are put on, the player is immersed in the experience with the ability to look in any direction. However, the regular PlayStation interface isn’t in VR, but instead uses what is called Cinematic Mode. In this mode, it appears like the player is looking at a giant movie screen floating in front of their eyes. In Monster of the Deep, while fishing segments are in VR, a number of the story segments are cutscenes players watch in Cinematic Mode. These scenes, often just connective tissue between missions such as the avatar driving to a new watering hole, are presumably not in VR to prevent motion sickness. Nonetheless, it shows a lack of foresight that a better narrative wasn’t crafted to fit the medium. It’s not a huge deal, but it is jarring to go from being immersed in an experience to just watching a cutscene.
Baring those times the game yank players into Cinematic Mode, Monster of the Deep allows some immersion into the world of Eos. Players can’t go anywhere; there are a handful of areas to choose from, but they are taken from the game and fans of XV will recognize them immediately. Monster of the Deep appears to be made using the same graphics engine as Final Fantasy XV, which means that everything looks exactly like its parent game, and it’s still a gorgeous experience despite the slightly lower resolution in VR. However, objects in the XV engine have a shininess to them that doesn’t translate well to VR, breaking a bit of the immersion. It’s difficult to describe, but simpler art aesthetics often look better in VR than the hyperrealistic look that Final Fantasy XV strives to achieve.
Despite the cognitive dissonance caused by the art style, Monster of the Deep still has amazing moments. There is nothing quite like walking up to a Chocobo and peering at it eye-to-eye. While boss encounters leave plenty to be desired, the scale of these monsters is stunning and there will be times when the player is darting out of the way when a boss charges. The music design is also interesting; it is fairly subdued while in the environment or casting line, but it kicks in with energetic tunes once a fish is on the line. There is also the option of picking the background music from the XV catalog.
The story interludes that star the heroes from XV are fun but unfortunately fleeting. Noctis, Ignis, Prompto, Gladiolus, and even Cindy make appearances and the voice cast for these characters returns for Monster of the Deep, adding considerably to the experience. Sitting around a campfire with Noctis and chatting about fishing was so engrossing that when he left and waved goodbye, I found myself waving right back. Unfortunately, those moments are too rare and the story mode itself too brief. Checking in at under three hours, it leaves the feeling that there should be more. Except for Noctis popping up a few times, each of the other cast members get a single mission to shine, with a few other battles thrown in to pad out the length. For the few minutes the VR story interludes last, they capture the gang’s comradery, but there just isn’t enough story to carry the experience.
The stunted story mode isn’t the only part of Monster of the Deep. Online fishing tournaments are available, challenging players with varying requirements such as catching the longest fish or the most total weight. There are also hunts where a specific fish must be tracked down and here the variety of customization in fishing gear comes in handy as the player can use lures — available to buy using in-game currency — to help track down a specific target. If a more relaxing experience is desired, there is a free fishing mode where the player can pick a secluded bit of water in Eos and fish to their heart’s content.
I have conflicted feelings about Monster of the Deep. I don’t think it’s a good game, but there are a few moments I look back fondly upon. The story is undercooked, but those short bits with Noctis and the other three work well as a bit of fanservice. Unfortunately, those instances are fleeting, truly only a few minutes out of three hours, and most of the story mode is composed of boss battles that, while having impressive scale, aren’t fun to play. If this game was more about fishing with Noctis, Prompto taking pictures of the catch, and Ignis cooking it up while the player hangs out around the campfire, it could have been an interesting experience. However, the fact that fewer than two in ten purchasers have finished such a brief story mode is indicative of its weakness. Even to Final Fantasy fans that play everything bearing the name, Monster of the Deep can’t be recommended, except perhaps for RPGamers just dying to see Gladiolus in as real a form as possible.