If there was ever a title worthy of scepticism in the Final Fantasy franchise, it’s likely the spinoff that Square Enix will be launching on PlayStation VR later this year. Final Fantasy 15: Monster of the Deep is a bizarre extension of the constantly expanding Final Fantasy 15 universe that sees players take on the world of fishing, the favorite hobby of Noctis, the prince of Lucis and protagonist of Final Fantasy 15. If the premise sounds strange, that’s because it is—Final Fantasy 15: Monster of the Deep is new territory for Square. The fact that the game will also debut as a VR title, a medium that has had its execution widely criticized by players thus far, makes it all the more risky for Square to pursue.
These concerns quickly evaporated once we put on the PlayStation VR headset and found ourselves transported to the first environment in Final Fantasy 15: Monster of the Deep. The game is positively gorgeous, a faithful recreation of the world of Eos that was so captivating in Final Fantasy 15. The fishing hole we found ourselves in had an abundance of flora and fauna present to enhance the feeling of immersion that is so crucial to VR’s success, and as we stood there, listening to Prompto explain the necessities of pursuing a hobby with passion, it was easy to buy in. Monster of the Deep doesn’t ask that you take it seriously, just that you keep an open mind, and it rewards players who are able to do so.
While some VR games suffer from an inability to transplant the normal gameplay characteristics of a given genre into the new medium, Monster of the Deep, and fishing in general, are perfect fits. The control schematic is simple and engaging, and simulated fishing is quite a bit more relaxing than we had expected. While the game’s music ramps up a bit when players finally hook a catch, it’s still a relatively easy-going experience, tasking players with everything from reeling the rod after a catch to gently placing the fish inside a cooler, to be cooked by Ignis later.
One of the biggest appeals of Final Fantasy 15 was the narrative’s decision to focus heavily on the relationship between Noctis and his royal guard, comprised of Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto. Monster of the Deep doesn’t make the mistake of forgetting how much people cared about those four by the end of Final Fantasy 15, thankfully. Players are treated to a campfire after a successful mission, and seeing Ignis cook in VR, surrounded by Prompto fiddling with his camera, Noctis brooding, and Gladio doing something while looking particularly muscular is a nice treat. Monster of the Deep captures the charm of the group without beating players over the head with it, and we could see this game being a go-to for gamers who just want a bit of relaxation and entertainment after a stressful day.
Final Fantasy 15: Monster of the Deep isn’t just about kicking back, though. The game also features boss fights with huge denizens of the deep, which require different tactics than the usual fishing escapades. These “battles” are like a mixture of the combat from Final Fantasy 15 and the fishing mechanics of Monster of the Deep, and despite that sounding like a complete mess, the experience is quite pleasant. Despite never being truly threatened by the fish in the same way one would be by a menacing boss in a regular JRPG, the boss segments still have the right amount of tension to make them memorable and exciting.
It has been a rocky debut for VR technology in gaming, as far as reception is concerned. While there have been a few standouts, the technology hasn’t managed to feel like more than a novelty rather than a necessity, and its high price tag means a lot of gamers haven’t really gotten on board with it as a possibility yet. Final Fantasy 15: Monster of the Deep isn’t going to change that mentality single-handedly, either, at least as far as our hands-on session demonstrated. Square Enix’s spinoff is a step in the right direction, though, one of the first examples of light-hearted VR software done right. Hopefully, the bizarre combination of high fantasy and fishing will become a blueprint for the way other studios approach VR as well—but if not, Final Fantasy 15: Monster of the Deep will certainly be worth a deep dive when it releases later this year.
Final Fantasy 15: Monster of the Deep releases for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR on November 21.