After reviewing hundreds of video games across multiple generations, very rarely can I say I am ever truly surprised by a title. Sure, there are the occasional black sheep that stick out from time to time, but after playing so many titles any gamer develops an intuition that can separate the wheat from the chaff. Lo and behold, Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV is that diamond in the rough that entirely blew me away, despite my luke-warm opinions of the source material, the VR medium as a whole, and (generously) an uncaring opinion of the genre as a whole.
Before going into this review, I feel like I should qualify my opinion. Many people who visit DualShockers do so because of our meticulous coverage of all things Final Fantasy and specific writers’ penchant for Square Enix titles. I am not one of those writers. I played roughly 15 chapters (and something like 50 hours) into Final Fantasy XV before moving on from the story and I’m frankly not sold on the multi-medium development plan that has surrounded the series.
In short, if you are looking for a Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV review from a bonafide Final Fantasy super fan, I’m not your guy. Instead, if you want the perspective of a run-of-the-mill PlayStation VR owner with a loose understanding of the characters in the original game, I’m your man.
Originally planned as a Prompto shooting-based VR game, Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV rose from the game’s ashes only earlier this year. Unlike the first planned title, Monster of the Deep focuses on the surprisingly in-depth fishing minigame from Final Fantasy XV, allowing players to go from locale to locale in Eos to catch fish. Many people — myself included — will end their reading there. It’s a fishing VR game.
But let me assure you, Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV is so much more. The game is a full-bodied immersion, from start to finish, in the world of Final Fantasy XV. The game starts up with you creating a fairly-detailed protagonist through a character creation. Once you’ve molded your persona, you get caught in cataclysmic title wave in a fishing trip gone horribly wrong. Fan-favorite NPC Cindy, always the reliable helper, shows up and brings you back to your cabin, fixes up your car, and sets you on your journey to clear the bountied daemons from the ponds, lakes, and rivers across Eos.
While Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV‘s narrative fits squarely within the archetype of a spin-off or filler story, it is one with a surprising amount of thought and depth. While hunting down daemons in ponds, you will come face-to-face with some of Final Fantasy XV‘s favorite characters. This ranges from main characters like Noctis to the (nameless?) fatherly-like fisherman who aided Noctis in the game.
But what about the core gameplay? The fishing aspect of Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV is probably the most immersive and seamless control scheme I’ve played in VR. Using the PlayStation Move controllers, players are able to cast their line with a flick of their wrist, and reel the line in by grabbing the reel handle and rotating your arm. While all of that sounds so obvious, it is almost amazing how simple and relatable concepts are made difficult or unapproachable in virtual reality games.
In order to find the pools of fish, players can use a handy item that acts as a sonar. For a limited time after use, the nearby fish will be illuminated in the water, as well as a target area to aim your lure. After hooking a fish (with a quick jerk upwards), you reel the fish in, all the while managing the tension on the line by switching the direction of the rod.
In the main storyline, players will spend time at these fishing holes catching fish (and the rare strange objects or Cactaur) until a gauge fills up. Once clearing the pond of enough fish, a purple fog rolls across the lake and a daemon version of a fish appears. Players will then swap out their fishing rod with an explosive crossbow, and begin shooting at the daemons until wiping out their health bars completely. Each boss will have their own individual move set: one will inch closer to you until you manage to rapid-fire shots at it enough to knock it back into the water, others may multiply themselves with illusion versions with you having to figure out which one is real. Finally, after depleting the daemon’s health bars, players cast a line and reel in the enemies — thus clearing them from the bond and claiming their bounty.
This gameplay loop feels both rewarding and addictive. So long as you were able to master the perfect cast, you will be stuck in a “one more fish” mentality before noticing hours have gone by.
“…I would get lost in a few docks and simply forget that I was playing a game with a ten-pound headset covering my eyes.”
Beyond the daemon fish storyline, players can take part in a tournament mode where you will go head-to-head in fishing competitions with characters of Final Fantasy XV. While the story mode aims more towards the actual monster hunting component of the game, tournament asks the player to catch the most (and largest) fish in order to best the others in the tourney.
Also available is a hunt mode where, instead of daemons, you head to local fishing spots to get more notable fish — 0ften requiring a switch up of tackle and line to handle more arduous fishing mechanics. Finally, there is a free fishing mode for a more relaxing experience. Without any goals or missions, you can kick back, cast your line, and enjoy the beautiful scenery of Eos.
And the atmosphere may be one of the biggest draws to Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV. While Eos was beautiful in Final Fantasy XV, it is downright stunning as a VR environment. Sure, the PlayStation VR still isn’t the optimal hardware and the tech has its limitations, but I would get lost in a few docks and simply forget that I was playing a game with a ten-pound headset covering my eyes. And isn’t that the best compliment you can give a VR game?
And while virtual reality still feels like the wild west of game development at the moment, often filled with experimentation and often unsubstantial experiences for the price point, Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV is one of the first games on PlayStation VR that feels complete. Bringing immersion, an impressive tie-in story, addictive gameplay mechanics, and a control scheme that simply makes sense, the Monster of the Deep is a fully-actualized experience — even of those who’ve never touched Final Fantasy XV.
This isn’t to say that I don’t have my gripes with Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV. The PlayStation Move controllers — while absolutely perfect for fishing — feel a bit clunky when trying to navigate through menus. I typically kept a DualShock 4 nearby for quick access to a directional pad.
On top of that, there is an odd mixture of VR and theater-mode cinematics peppered throughout the game. Instead of a pure VR experience, you will witness a few different cutscenes from the third-person in “theater mode,” so to speak. None of it is bad, per se. It just feels strange to have the encompassing environments shrink down into a small rectangle.
Last but not least are some staggering wait times paired with the lack of a quick “retry” option for certain modes. While the load times themselves will typically only last 20 seconds, it becomes a tedious exercise when you have to go back to your cabin hub-area, return to the same place you are at, and sit through another bout of cutscenes and dialogue. Sometimes you waste a good 2-3 minutes, where a “retry” option after getting second or third place in a tournament would alleviate it.
Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV has its own virtual reality quirks, but the game is much more than the sum of its parts. Monster of the Deep may be the first PlayStation VR game that I would recommend across the board to anyone with the hardware to play it. However, anyone who has played a good amount of Final Fantasy XV will get more out of the experience than others.