The fan service is strong with Square Enix’s Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV. I’m convinced that the studio had trouble deciding whether they wanted to make a Noctis dating simulator or a fishing game, so it said, “Why not both?”
I played it on PlayStation VR, and while it’s neat seeing the Final Fantasy XV world of Eos in virtual reality, it failed to reel me in.
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What you’ll like
A bizarre premise
Throughout Monster of the Deep, Meldacio Hunter HQ sends you on missions to take care of a pesky aquatic daemon problem that’s been cropping up all over the land. To do this, you travel to a couple different fishing holes, catch a few trout to lure the daemons, and then fight them with a high-powered crossbow. When you beat one of them, you cast your line and reel it in, whereupon it flies up into the air and explodes overhead — for no reason — in a shower of purple sparks and chunks of filet.
The premise is delightful and cheesy in a way that I can’t get over. During each of your missions, you run into all the members of Eos’s version of One Direction — Prompto, Ignis, Gladiolus, and Noctis — and they ask you to help them out with fishing-related tasks. Well, all of them except for Gladiolus, who just says he’s communing with nature. You can also sit in his tent for some reason, which is stocked with cup ramen, because that’s a camping food in the Final Fantasy XV world, I guess? It’s hilarious and cringe-worthy, but it’s also kind of amazing that this is an actual thing.
When Noctis isn’t harping about introducing you to “the guys,” and you’re not blowing up daemon fish, you’re back at your cabin. Sometimes FFXV’s mechanic, Cindy, drops by and works on your car without any real reason for doing so. You can also participate in tournaments and play using free mode, in which you fish for however long you want.
Aside from the fish fireworks, the boss fights are entertaining. In one battle, you’re in a boat in the middle of a lake, and the fish is zipping all around you. To figure out where it is, you can use your sonar. In a few fights, projectiles like pearlescent bubbles come flying at you. It’s the only time Square Enix takes advantage of the VR.
What you won’t like
Awful user interface
The UI keeps getting in the way. In boss fights, the daemon’s health bar sometimes blocks your view, covering projectiles that are coming your way. Control prompts (such as “Press triangle to go to the menu”) and text boxes will stick to the screen and take a moment to disappear. If you happen to die during a boss battle, you can’t retry right away. Instead, you have to go to the title screen, select your save file, and wait for everything to load. And you can’t skip through cut scenes either, so you’ll have to watch those again, too.
While none of the UI issues are game-breaking, they’re annoying.
Though seeing Eos in VR is cool, the low-quality visuals disappointed me. The illusion of fishing in a fantasy world broke in its static environment. The trees and grass swayed, but the clouds didn’t move at all. I could see shadows of things popping in and out, flickering at the edges of my view. Even the cut scenes featured pop-in at times.
This isn’t exactly a graphics resolution issue, but I also experienced some moments of body horror as the game had trouble figuring out where I was. My arms would twist around into a pretzel, and I’d stare into the cavity of my own artificial neck. It was pretty groody, though frequent calibration fixed it.
Monster of the Deep does offer free modes so that players can hunt and fish as much as they please. However, it doesn’t offer that much replay value. I upgraded my fishing rod and tried a few different lures, and these didn’t alter the gameplay in an appreciable way. And the fishing itself didn’t feel good enough to hook me.
Once I’d experienced my first fish explosion and got over how thirsty all of the Final Fantasy XV characters were being, Monster of the Deep just felt like a chore. It doesn’t have a story, which would be fine if the mechanics were on point. The fishing and combat both feel tedious and repetitive. You get one weapon upgrade about halfway through, but it operates the same way as your previous one. You’re just pointing and shooting with no real strategy aside from memorizing one or two patterns of movement.
I could see someone maybe enjoying the fishing aspect of it, but in this case, still waters don’t run deep. To catch fish, you simply use your sonar to highlight their hiding spots in the water and cast your line. The whole endeavor lacks complexity, and if you’re there to see the characters, then there’s not much of that either.
Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV is out on November 21 for the PlayStation 4. The publisher sent us a code for review.