You know Square Enix spent too much money making Final Fantasy XV when it releases a standalone angling spin-off for PlayStation VR. The Japanese company’s peculiarly malleable role-playing game has cast its net wide, but Monster of the Deep may just be its most successful diversion yet – even if there are inconsistencies in the package that will give you pause before fishing for the funds to pick it up.
Lifting the character creator from the recently released multiplayer expansion Final Fantasy XV: Comrades (look out for the Noctis-branded Candy Crush clone soon), you start out by building your avatar and heading out on a lakeside hunt. But when a literal monster of the deep attacks your boat, you must rely upon the under-dressed but fortunately proportioned Cindy to take you back to the log cabin hut that becomes your base of operations.
Essentially, you’re on an angling espionage mission, tasked with luring out the daemonic sealife that have been causing chaos in Eos’ choppy waters. There’s a reasonably robust storyline that sees you taking on missions and engaging with some of Final Fantasy XV’s most famous characters, and while it does mostly feel like fanservice, all of the voice actors reprise their original roles and there’s a definite novelty to seeing them in virtual reality.
The game looks stunning, it has to be said. The developer’s done a brilliant job of ensuring that each individual lakeside feels alive; Chocobos will greet you as you teleport to different fishing spots, while various other fauna flit around outside of your peripheral vision. Each backdrop is unique, and while the game does seem to be using some kind of filtering technology to lower the texture detail when you’re not looking directly at an object, it’s a convincing trick.
Navigation around the small environments isn’t great, but it’s the fishing that will take up the majority of your interaction time, and it works well. Casting can be hard to judge and is the most difficult system, as you flick the PlayStation Move over your shoulder and try to release the line at the optimum angle to hit the stretch of water that you want to. But once you’ve got a bite and you’re reeling in a fish, everything works extremely intuitively.
The motion controls can be a little bit swimmy, but when it all clicks together you can almost smell the sour stench of pond life in the air. The irritation, then, is reserved for the interface, which is inconsistent and cumbersome; switching between different lures is tedious, for example, as is navigating the in-game shop. The title also has a tendency to switch from virtual reality to 2D scenes, which really breaks the immersion – particularly in cut-scenes.
But there’s much more to this than you may have bargained for. In addition to the four or five hour story mode, you’ll also find free fishing options, as well as hunts and even online tournaments. The asynchronous multiplayer format seems like a great idea on the surface, with rotating timed events netting participants prizes, but its structure is a little too convoluted for its own good, and we were unable to really judge whether we’d done well or not upon entering.
To be honest, there’s more fun to be had simply standing by the lakeside and leisurely catching some carp. The story missions see you filling up a meter before triggering a set-piece battle against a whopper, where it mixes rails shooting with regular reeling, and these provide a nice spectacle even if they aren’t massively mechanically engaging. But we enjoyed simply soaking up the sights and sounds in the free fish mode, where you’re free to imbalance Eos’ aquatic ecosystem without any conservation regulations.
The wonky motion tracking and cumbersome menus may leave you reeling, but Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV is not the gimmicky gag that many expected it to be. This is a hearty package with a surprising amount of meat on its bones, and it’s a feast for the eyes in PlayStation VR. Cut corners like 2D cut-scenes do break the immersion somewhat, but relative to expectations, this is way better than it has any right to be.