The best case Sony can make for PlayStation VR, its PlayStation 4-compatible virtual-reality headset, is that it can bring games to the medium that other VR hardware manufacturers can’t. At E3 2016, Sony showed off a bevy of exclusive VR demos for tie-ins to some of gaming’s biggest franchises, including something called the Final Fantasy XV VR Experience, a VR tie-in of sorts for the upcoming action-RPG. Unfortunately for fans, the demo does not offer the adventure or excitement one might hope for from a virtual Final Fantasy.
The Final Fantasy XV VR Experience is not really a game, per se.
Final Fantasy XV: The VR Experience is not really a game, per se. You take control of the pistol-wielding Prompto, a member of the FFXV protagonist Noctis’ group of friends, to fight a Behemoth, a large, horned beast and one of many recurring fixtures of the Final Fantasy multiverse. As Prompto, you back up the rest of the FFXV party by repeatedly firing your pistol at the Behemoth until it dies. Shooting the beast’s head and tail does more damage than hitting its body, so there is an incentive to aim precisely at moving targets. That said, the creature is gigantic, and you can definitely just mash the trigger to victory.
You can warp to specific points around the level, marked with a blue crystal. If the Behemoth comes after you, you may have to use the warp to dodge out of the way of its attacks. In general, however, the experience feels like a facsimile of a video game: It isn’t entirely clear that anything you do would affect how the demo behaves.
With actual mechanics and a firm win-state, instead of an ending, the experience is certainly slightly more game-like than many of technical demos shown to demonstrate the capacity of virtual reality headsets, such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Plus, it’s still possible that FFXV VR may eventually offer something more.
Members of the development team told Digital Trends that this fall, the game will not launch alongside PlayStation VR, which will come out shortly after Final Fantasy XV, and that the E3 demo may not represent the final product.
That said, as a technical showcase, the demo paints a damning picture of the PlayStation VR headset’s ability to compete with its rival headsets. Compared to the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, the PlayStation VR running off the current PlayStation 4 simply cannot support the resolution to make the experience look real. Though the animation runs smoothly, every character was marred by ragged, pixelated lines reminiscent of a mid-era PlayStation 3 game, far from the cutting edge of VR, or even console gaming.
After the fight, the game asks you if you’d like to take a drive. When you say yes, you’re placed in the passenger seat of a convertible, sitting next to Cindy, Final Fantasy XV‘s female version of Cid, a supporting character who appears in a new form every game. It’s basically an opportunity to test the headset distraction-free. Looking around the car showed the headset’s very capable head-tracking, which allowed for a great sense of space. You could lean back, and look underneath the back seat without the headset losing track of your position. However, the sequence’s implication — that demo-goers would jump at the opportunity to ogle a blonde in a mechanic’s jumper — felt awkward, to say the least.
With the PlayStation VR launch coming in October, the time for tech demos has past. At best, the Final Fantasy XV VR Experience is a neat tidbit for die-hard fans who happen to own a PlayStation VR headset. At worst, it’s a misleading attempt to juice PS VR pre-orders by exploiting our dreams for what a virtual Final Fantasy could be.