[REVIEW] Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy XV
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Available on: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One

After a well documented development cycle where Final Fantasy Versus XIII was trapped in the ninth circle of hell for a decade and managed to emerge as Final Fantasy XV, imagine my surprise when Square Enix’s latest installment in their long-running RPG franchise managed to exceed my expectations. Dare I say, I haven’t been this invested in one of these games since Final Fantasy X released in 2001.

Hell, it may even tie for my favorite numbered entry ever–because, let’s be honest, nothing will top Final Fantasy Tactics.

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Though, of course, it’s not without its problems. Despite Final Fantasy XV’s fluid and engaging combat, its drop-dead gorgeous visuals, and lovable cast of characters strengthening the overall feel of the game, its pacing fumbles quite a bit during the middle acts, a lengthy stealth chapter late in the game drags on far too long, and there’s a handful of characters introduced and removed rather quickly that we’re just expected to care about (because plot). It definitely feels like a game that’s suffered many script changes throughout the years, but that doesn’t necessarily prevent it from being a coherent and thoroughly enjoyable adventure.

At its core is a heart and a soul, a combination of emotional moments, relatable characters, and a living, breathing world that’s book-ended rather well. So let’s discuss that, shall we?

For those of you not in the know, Final Fantasy XV focuses on the pilgrimage of Prince Noctis and his merry boy band as they adventure across Eos to reunite with his childhood pal Lady Lunafreya, whom he now has an arranged marriage with, in hopes of bringing peace to their respective warring kingdoms. As well laid plans tend to do in these types of games, things go sour rather quickly and the four friends must exchange help with the locals in order to reach their destination.

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However.

If you’ve yet to watch the Kingsglaive film, I suggest you do so before playing Final Fantasy XV. The events that transpire help flesh out the game’s opening chapters quite a bit. Square Enix tried to accommodate newcomers by including scenes from the film at certain plot points, but did so in a way that doesn’t explain much. From what I imagine has to do with contract issues or copyrights, none of the footage from the film features spoken dialogue–just film clips with dramatic music as the backdrop. Sure, you can probably piece things together well enough, but again, I highly recommend watching Kingsglaive first if you have the luxury.

That being said, while plot is definitely strong in the game’s closing moments, it’s not a heavy draw throughout most of the adventure. The first few chapters are slow burns, as I spent most of my time completing uninteresting fetch and kill quests or partaking in optional monster hunts to pass the time. Certain characters are introduced and either fade away entirely or exist as nothing more than a quest giver, yet we’re expected to treat them as important plot devices. It’s as if different narrative ideas were brainstormed, coded in, and then sliced to pieces over the last ten years.

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It’s not like the plot is a wash entirely–there are some incredibly memorable and emotional moments, which rank among some of the best in the series’ long history. It’s just what occurs in between them that fails to generate much interest. Square Enix basically looked at a checklist of what fit the description of an open-world RPG and did the bare minimum, filling the world with repetitive and mundane tasks. Fetch this, kill that, rinse, repeat. It doesn’t add much to the game.

Even when the plot isn’t moving forward in interesting ways, there’s a lot of friendly banter and character building as we’re introduced to the unbreakable bond and brotherhood of Noctis, Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus. Whether they’re teasing Noctis about being scrawny or taking jabs at Prompto’s photography, it really felt like I was taking a road trip across the country with four of my best friends. They’re essentially tourists in Eos, pulling over to snap pictures, eating at roadside diners, and sleeping under the stars in makeshift camps. As an aspiring photographer, Prompto even documents the entire journey with a slew of selfies and screenshots that can be saved and uploaded to Facebook or Twitter.

Final Fantasy XV does a great job at making you believe in these characters, laughing alongside them, cheering at their successes or empathizing with their personal struggles. I’m not ashamed to admit I cried a few times. While Noctis may be a little bratty, having no say about his path in life, Prompto is right there to lighten the mood with his cheery optimism and comic relief. Acting as Noctis’ royal shield, Gladiolus takes his role and his training quite seriously. He constantly harps on Noctis for sleeping in or being lazy, and doesn’t hesitate to deliver some tough love when the future king loses focus. Ignis serves as the group’s strategist and caretaker, scanning enemies for weaknesses during combat and devising new cooking recipes to make sure they’re all well fed and ready to roll in the morning. Like any group of friends, they’ll drive each other crazy at times but would ultimately risk their lives for one another, should the moment arise.

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Aside from the very first game, every Final Fantasy before has gradually introduced new party members that would continue to fill out your roster well in to the adventure. What you see is what you get in Final Fantasy XV, though. There are two or three segments where you’re given an additional NPC to fight alongside, but 99% of the game is Noctis, Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus. This was initially worrying, but rest assured the characters are strong enough to carry the narrative through its low points and accentuate it at its peaks.

Also separating itself from Final Fantasy’s traditional history is XV’s focus on fast and fluid real-time action, as opposed to the series’ menu-surfing, turn-based roots. Pressing or holding the attack button unleashes a series of combo attacks that can be changed by tilting the left analog stick in different directions. You can arm yourself with things like swords, guns, and polearms, with each having their own attack patterns. For instance, titling back on the analog stick while attacking with daggers causes Noctis to leap backwards while throwing knives at his target from a distance, but the same action with a greatsword triggers a devastating charge attack that cleaves large groups of surrounding enemies.

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Noctis can equip four different weapons or spells at a time, switching between them on the fly using the d-pad. It was nice having a variety of weapons at my disposal, in order to swiftly deal with enemies by exploiting their given weaknesses. Combat is largely satisfying, particularly once I got the hang of “phasing” through attacks and using Noctis’ ability to “warp” around the battlefield in order to close the distance or take shelter for some much needed healing. Warping is a key part of combat, allowing you to instantly teleport to the enemy’s location while also dealing a chunk of damage that can potentially stagger a foe, or even destroy one of their appendages. There’s a lot of learning involved, knowing when it’s safe to attack, when to block and parry, dodge roll, or warp out of harm’s way, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Each of the characters have their own respective skills that can be unlocked in one of the game’s many skill trees. These skills (referred to in-game as techs) can be manually issued in combat, which is helpful when you need Gladiolus to dish out a strong attack or have Ignis scan an enemy’s weakness and apply that effect to Noctis’ weapon. Skill trees work as you’d imagine, where killing enemies awards AP, which can then be spent on a variety of passive upgrades, abilities, and combat enhancements that assist in personalizing your play style. Want to strengthen your magic or dish out fancy air combos? There’s a tree for that!

One of the most interesting aspects of Final Fantasy XV’s combat is how it handles magic. Rather than being innately conjured by an individual, Noctis’ powers allow him to craft magical spells by siphoning energy from elemental sources and combining them with catalysts to a myriad of consequences. This can lead to interesting results, like a lightning spell that can apply poison or stop, a fire spell with a chance to multi-cast five times, or even an ice spell that multiplies your experience gained tenfold. However, friendly fire rules are always in effect when it comes to elemancy and I had my fair share of mishaps with some pretty dire conclusions. Crafting a spell called Failcast wasn’t just a clever name, I guess.

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Graphically, Final Fantasy XV is captivating both in terms of character models and environments. I was often reminded of the worlds of Final Fantasy XII and XIV, especially in the earlier chapters when Noctis and company make their way through the desert landscapes of Leide. The visual aesthetic remains true to the fantasy RPG feel of the series, but also takes modern liberties in its portrayal of vehicular technology, cellphones, rural cities, and domesticated pets. It blends fantasy and reality in a way that doesn’t seem as far-fetched as the medieval approach of earlier titles, or the sci-fi nature of VIII or XIII.

The food also looks fucking amazing.

The game frequently rides the wave of nostalgia, be it Prompto’s humming of the Final Fantasy victory theme after a battle, or the group name dropping the NES classic King’s Knight and quoting Star Wars. While driving around in your vehicle, the Regalia, you can listen to a plethora of tracks from OSTs of the earlier games. Your playlist can even be expanded by purchasing CDs from vendors scattered throughout the world. There was just something surreal about playing a game I’ve waited ten years for while cruising around, listening to the Cosmo Canyon theme from Final Fantasy VII. Not only was I thinking about this brand new adventure, but I was reminiscing about the time I’d spent with some of my favorite games leading up to XV. Music has this way of triggering certain memories and while I was already having a great time exploring Eos, that enjoyment was exponentially increased by these constant reminders of my enjoyment in the games that came before it.

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It’s been difficult putting in to words what made Final Fantasy XV so special to me. It wasn’t always interesting, but I was always interested–if that makes any sense. I felt for the characters, I was invested in their story, and I had a great time exploring the world around us. I grew to love Prompto’s funny quips and empathized with Noctis’ inability to outwardly express his feelings. Having worked with my friends on various occasions, I understood Gladiolus’ struggle of knowing when to be a friend and when to be the boss, and the hurt feelings that come with the territory.

Toward the end of the game I went through our folder of Prompto’s photographs and quietly sobbed alone in my room. I remembered saving all 130 of them. From the journey’s beginning pushing our broken down Regalia to Hammerhead, how excited Prompto was at Wiz’s Chocobo Farm, or one of the many nights we spent camping under the stars, I’d been through a lot with these guys and I didn’t want our journey to end. I wasn’t ready for that closure just yet.

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Final Fantasy XV isn’t perfect. Hell, it’s not even the game I thought we’d get ten years ago, but it’s definitely one of the most engaging, enjoyable, and memorable experiences I’ve had with the series. There’s an old saying about it not being about the destination, but rather the journey, and I can’t think of a more appropriate way to express my adoration. Plus, it just feels good to be so positive about Final Fantasy in this day and age.

The series means a lot to me, as I’m sure it does to many of you. Was it worth the ten year wait? Absolutely.

Walk tall, my friends.

***

*So where’s the final score? There isn’t one! I spent a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if the game is worth your time and money.

Full disclosure: This review was done using a PlayStation 4 copy of Final Fantasy XV that I paid for myself. While I’m sometimes given games to review, I pride myself on providing unbiased opinions to fellow consumers, along with constructive feedback to hard working developers and publishers. Whether or not I pay for the game is completely irrelevant.

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33 thoughts on “[REVIEW] Final Fantasy XV

  1. Between when you vanished in our conversation and when you told me you posted your review, I managed to get through what I’m guessing is the chunk of Chapter 5 and I can’t wait to continue the journey. (Correction as I was typing this I finished the chapter) This wasn’t the game I was expecting when it was announced and while I miss certain aspects like Stella, the game has more than made up for it so far. I can’t wait to continue it.

    You’ve pretty much hit it spot on for me so far. I look forward to reaching the ending of this journey and discussing both the ending with you as well as writing up my own review. Hell I may see if Paul wants to do a ‘Decade in waiting’ podcast after I play TLG too.

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  2. Fantastic review! You make FFXV sound like an epic journey I want to embark on soon. I was skeptical about this game at first. Honestly, the trailers I watched made them seem like one of those annoying boy bands, lol. It’s good to know they form a strong brotherhood. I was also entertained by the pictures Prompto put on your Twitter feed. :)

    I’ve only completed FFX, FFVII, and platinumed the entire FFXIII trilogy. My gaming goal for 2017 is to focus on the Final Fantasy series, and FFXV is now next on my list after I’ve complete FFIV.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really is all about the journey and the bond between the characters. They’re not annoying or cringeworthy, though you’d never guess from the screenshots lol. Hopefully you enjoy it and I didn’t get your hopes up for nothing!

      I’m focusing on FFXV’s post-game stuff right now with the idea of platinuming it, but I’m in no rush now that the story is over. I just unlocked the flight upgrade for the Regalia and I still have tons of optional dungeons and the giant world boss, Adamantoise. Lots to do, lots to do.

      Once I’m through with World of Final Fantasy I’ll probably finish up the PS4 port of VII (casually platinuming as well) and then start on the XIII trilogy or the HD remasters of X and X-2. I’ve played very little of XIII and absolutely none of X-2 or LR. I’ve also never touched X-2, so either way it’ll feel like something new.

      The story is a bit on the darker side, which reminded me a lot of Type-0. I’ve already gotten all 1000G achievements on Xbox One, but I picked up the PS4 version really cheap just in case I wanted to play it again for the platinum. I’ve been really tempted.

      Thanks for reading and commenting =)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I love stories with closely connected characters and epic journeys so it sounds like I will really will enjoy this game. Don’t worry, I won’t blame you if I hate it, haha.

        Honestly, XIII-2 and LR really didn’t need to happen, but I was pleased to see more of the awesome Lightning. I found LR has a really steep learning curve, but it’s really enjoyable once you get the hang of it. Normal difficulty mode was way too hard for me when I started. It was a neat mechanic to be able to make creatures “extinct”. I’m also not a huge fan of the 13 game day time limit, but I worked with it easily.

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        1. I didn’t care for the whole end-of-the-world time limit in Majora’s Mask either, but ended up loving the game, so I guess I don’t *hate* timers if they’re decently implemented. I remember trying the LR demo and liking it a lot, but getting my ass kicked lol. I stopped playing XIII after learning Paladin on Snow and getting Fang in the party. Everyone kept telling me that learning how to use Paladin correctly was crucial and I was apparently too dumb, haha. Maybe next time.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I thought I’d hate the 3 day timer in Majora’s Mask too, but I didn’t find it bad at all. Especially after playing the Song of Time backwards to slow things down. I was horrible at LR at first. At least every time you fail to save the world, Lightning’s stats get carried over to the new beginning so she starts off stronger making things easier. In XIII, I saw Paladins as “tanks”. I wasn’t paying attention to strategy at all, haha. My 3 favorite characters turned out to be the best ones to use apparently. Fang was my tank Paladin/Commander, while Lightning kicked ass and Hope healed everybody. It got me through the game relatively easily.

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            1. Feel free to ask me anything! :) I must warn you though, my memory is horrible but I’ll do my best to help, haha. My only clear memory from that game is how badass Lightning was.

              Oh, I actually think they are called Sentinels not Paladins now that I think of it… Paladin was one of Snow’s weapons, I think. You may want to rethink taking my advice, lol.

              Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review.

    FF15 just doesn’t interest me. It doesn’t make me want to go out and buy a console for it. If I want to play a third person/open world RPG I’ll just stick with The Witcher 3. I’ve watched an entire playthrough of FF15 already and wasn’t impressed with the story. A outside source should not be required to understand the story in this game. I shouldn’t have to watch a movie to understand the game.

    FF15 does look good though. If/when it comes to PC I’ll definitely get it when it’s on sale because it I think I can have some fun with it. I just don’t think it’s worth a full $60 investment.

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    1. Different strokes, my dude. It definitely feels like a Japanese developer’s first take on an open-world RPG, that’s for sure. A big part of the story is connected with the characters through their banter out in the open world and during camp scenarios, even their quips in combat, which is something you just don’t get watching the story play out. But I do agree, Kingsglaive shouldn’t feel like required watching and having watched it beforehand I can honestly tell you that the story isn’t as fleshed out in the opening chapters. They should have just included a digital voucher or something with the game.

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  4. Nice review. I’m glad to hear they pulled it off. It sounds (and looks) like they took more than a few pages from Kingdom Hearts’ book with this one. And I understand your emotional response. You should have seen me when that thing happened with Agro in Shadow of the Colossus. Yikes.

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    1. SotC and Ico are both emotional roller coasters, haha. I don’t know if I’m emotionally prepped for The Last Guardian, but I got it for Christmas.

      It definitely doesn’t feel like Kingdom Hearts, since the AI partners are actually useful and the combat doesn’t feel clunky. Though I guess it could feel a bit like Kingdom Hearts-meets-Crisis Core, with a mix of action and menus to use items and issue tech skills.

      There’s clearly some problems, but they’re on the right track. I expected much, much worse after spending a decade in development hell.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great review! I must admit I’m of the mind the series seemed to go off a cliff after part 7. Plot holes. Making terrible changes to menus. Tidus. (OH GOD! That awful laugh, and whining.) But I’m obviously in a vocal minority because all of these games seem to be eaten up by fans no matter what. With this one, even though I knew I wouldn’t likely get into it, I was concerned about the combat changes for friends, and fans I knew who would.

    Every trailer, and every new revelation made this game look like it was going to be a straight up 3rd person action game. With a dash of RPG elements in it. A far cry from what Final Fantasy has always been. Honestly, at that point I wouldn’t have been surprised if they merged with Ubisoft, and called it Final Far Cry Fantasy. Go back, and look at some of those teasers, and you may see where I’m coming from.

    From your experience though, it seems they’ve really just gone the route of Ys, and made an action RPG. Then merged it with the vastness of Western RPGs. Which actually does sound compelling. It makes some changes to get newer people to check it out, but not so wild that it ceases to be Final Fantasy. Which could potentially give the series the jumpstart it needs with lapsed fans. People who think ANY change to the formula won’t jump on mind you, but those who bailed after 13’s hours of hallway exploration just may give it a shot. As well as some folks who may have never tried a large scale JRPG.

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    1. 7 was full of plot holes too =X. Remember it needed two game spin-offs and a movie to fill the gaps? haha.

      It’s definitely an open world action RPG, which is bound to turn off traditional fans. But fans complained that XII was too open and different and then complained that XIII was too linear and familiar. All FF games are linear, for the most part. The world map is just an illusion of freedom, since you always end up going to the same towns in the same order. XIII was definitely heavy on the corridors and then opened up dramatically later on, but there’s a theory that it’s mean to empathize with the characters–if you haven’t played XIII, each of the characters are given a “focus” that they have no choice but to complete, thus pushing the player through linear corridors is the same feeling the characters have about their lack of freedom. Once that part of the story is over, the world opens up. Makes *some* sense, I think. IX was a very traditional FF game as well and worth checking out if you fell off after VII.

      After spending 40 hours with FFXV though, despite some glaring flaws, it was an excellent game and a nice step in the right direction to freshen up the series. If fans want more traditional JRPGs, there’s always Dragon Quest and Persona, or Square’s own Bravely Default/Second and I am Setsuna. If those games don’t sell, I don’t see them funding a traditional turn-based FF any time soon.

      But man… how rad would it be for them to go all out and pixelize the next FF as a retro-inspired RPG with a midi OST and no voice acting? If they could do that and deliver a story with a world and characters as strong as IV and VI… that’d be so, so cool.

      FFXV is certainly not as expansive and immersive as something like The Witcher 3 or Dragon Age: Inquisition, but it definitely turned out much better than I thought for a game stuck in a decade-long development hell lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. After such a protracted development it’s funny that FF15 and Last Guardian come out at around the same time. The food you showed does look tasty, but I would feel bad eating it if the meat is from a cute Chocobo.

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    1. Haha, no chocobo meat dishes in XV, so worry not! I posted on twitter that it felt so surreal holding The Last Guardian in my hands after 10 years, let alone to be able to play both TLG and FFXV a week apart. What are the odds? Plus Nioh has been in development forever and that’s releasing next year. These are some crazy times.

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  7. So many Latin based names hehe. Well you’ve convinced me to at least add it to my to-play list. No telling when I’m going to play it though. Even discounting the older games on older systems, there are a lot of new/newer games in the way. After WOFF I promised a certain Lightning lover that I’d delve into FFXIII. Am I hearing right that FFXV actually took the place of FFXIII Versus or something along those lines or are my streams crossed? Either way great review! You’ve managed to at least partially sell it to a stubborn curmudgeon who was determined to never play it :p

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    1. It was supposed to take place in the same mythos, like how Final Fantasy Type-0 did, back when it was Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Once it was rebranded as FFXV that whole idea went out the window.

      Whenever you do decide to play it, I hope you enjoy it. It’s definitely one of the best in the series, at least in my opinion. And hey! Looks like we’ll be playing through XIII around the same time! That’s my agenda once WoFF and The Last Guardian are out of the way.

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      1. I really hope it’s a refresh/restart for the series! I haven’t really enjoyed a Final Fantasy story wise since X haven’t played XIII yet so can’t speak on that.

        Where are you in WOFF? I just saw you were online and sent you a quick message! I might hop back on tonight when my husband’s done with Destiny since I’m off tomorrow. I did a whole bunch of Mirage imprisoming since I miss a ton from before. I had no idea the quests in the Girl’s Tearoom opened up more Mirages to catch. Like FFXV WOFF has a after game stuff, too. I pretty much ignore my responsibilities and play Final Fantasy all day :D

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        1. I just got to Pyreglow Forest. I saw the girl’s tea room opened up and there were two quests, but I wasn’t sure how hard they’d be and just passed on them both for now. I did buy the Warrior of Light’s Champion Medal and equipped him and Sephiroth. Right now I’m just using a checklist to catch all the mirages in Pyreglow before moving on. Might just grind a bit too, since I can usually use Mu’s Subdue to take things down to 1hp if their prismtunity just requires physical attacks and low health.

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          1. I spent a few ours there trying to find a Cactrot again. I had one, but didn’t have the ability to catch one, and of course when I did have the ability, one never showed up. I’m hoping they appear in the coliseum. You have to have a No Escape ability otherwise they’ll run away from you. I need to use Subdue more. I forget about that!

            With the Tearoom, the one good thing is once you open up a quest it’s open. So even if you die, you won’t lose out on the Arma gems you used to open it. Oh, and I didn’t realize this, but you have to go back and select the completed quest again to collect your award. I had NO idea you didn’t just automatically obtain it.

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            1. I have no idea how the hell you’ve managed for that the-long. Like just reading it I can tell how the-annoying she the-is. It’s like “WHY DID YOU THE-GIVE HER JAR JAR BINKS LIKE LANGUAGE??!!!” I have it in Japanese with English subtitles, which takes the edge off, but I agree with what you said about that making you more tired to read it. Decisions decisions, but I’d want the-murder her :p

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            2. I’m about to switch it to Japanese, since I did download the VO pack this time… but I actually like the VOs for the Mediums/Champions and the two siblings. It’s just… the-Tama. The-Tama has the-broken me.

              What the honk?

              Liked by 1 person

            3. I’ve heard everyone else in English because most tutorial videos have them like that, and I could deal with them. I haven’t heard Tama yet lol. I’ll have to look for it.

              Omg his terrible puns are amazing, and the description of some of the Mirages. I think the Dualizard was “it likes to rap but when it spits poison into the mic it melts.” Then the tongue-in-cheek references of the series to itself.

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            4. It’s so damn clever. I love when series can make fun of themselves. I can be super picky about my parody. Sometimes it goes too far and is far more malicious than necessary, but well done parody is such a gift, and when it’s self-done/tongue-in-cheek, it just adds to the experience.

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