I confess I’m not really the outdoors-y type. The closest I’ve come to the wilderness is a day trip to Yosemite and a few picnics held beneath the towering redwoods of Muir Woods. Yet when I was asked to try out a new virtual reality fishing game, I lept at the chance. Not because I suddenly fancied myself a top-tier angler. Rather, because it’s a Final Fantasy fishing game, and the prospect of reeling in aquatic specimens while hobnobbing with Final Fantasy XV’s “fab four” (Noctis, Prompto, Ignis and Gladiolus), seemed too enjoyable an opportunity to pass up.
Thus, for the next 7 hours I cast my line into various watering holes around Eos, hunting “Daemon” fish and conversing with familiar Final Fantasy XV characters also out for a day of piscatory fun. Was it enjoyable? Well, it certainly caused a ripple of excitement (I could practically reach out and pet the giant Catoblepas in front of me!), but I’m hard pressed to say it really hooked me. (I’m so sorry. Fishing puns were inevitable.)
The premise is simple: you, a nameless hunter with an impressively customizable avatar (you can change your face, skin color, outfit, and even cover your arms in sleeve tattoos) are charged with reeling in demonic whoppers terrorizing the local ecosystems. To do so you drive your little Nash Rambler (beep! beep!) from a tiny fishing cabin in the woods to familiar FFXV locals and use a sonar device and fishing rod to reel them in.
There are four fishing modes available to play: free mode, where you can sit and fish at your leisure, Hunter mode where you track down specific fish like Lucian Catfish and Jade Snakehead for a reward, tourney mode where you test your skills against other fisherman by seeing who can catch the most fish within a time limit, and story mode where you battle huge, aggressive fish with a crossbow before reeling them in–by the way, it IS possible to actually die in these encounters! For some reason I wasn’t able to access tourney mode for my preview, but I will say out of the modes I could access, Story Mode and its crazy fish battles was the most fun since it kept me on my toes and avoided the slight repetitiveness of hunter and free mode.
What wasn’t always fun was the actual fishing mechanic itself. I tried fishing with both the Move controllers and the regular DualShock, and in both cases my results varied. Sometimes my trusty rod would go exactly where I wanted it to and I felt like the world’s greatest fisherman. Other times I felt like an idiot because a flick of the wrist either sent my rod into outer space, parts unknown, or absolutely nowhere. I admit I’ve never been fishing in real life and fishing in Final Fantasy XV isn’t meant to be super easy, but I’m not sure it’s fair to make me struggle this much when I just want to have fun.
It doesn’t help that there’s also some serious jank that held back my enjoyment. Never mind that when I turned around I was sometimes greeted with a headless avatar. Or that sometimes my virtual arms looked like that had been yanked out of their sockets and tied together in a bow courtesy of Brock Lesnar. Those things are actually pretty amusing. When I tried to grab my sonar device or reel in my line during a boss fight only for my hand to whiff right through both, causing me to either have to reboot the mission or die, that was a problem. The good news is Square Enix promises to fix some of these bugs with a Day One patch, which will hopefully take the frustration out of the experience.
Keeping It Reel
But it’s not all bad! In fact, in a strange way fishing wasn’t even the highlight for me. It was being immersed in a Final Fantasy world through the VR headset. I was deeply impressed with the level of detail given to both the water effects and the design for each individual fish (oh, how the colorful scales gleam in the sunlight!). Inanimate objects like rocks or clothes on a laundry line sometimes looked flat and grainy, which was a little disappointing, but thankfully character models look really good.
In fact, I fully admit to fangirling out the first time I saw Noctis reeling in a fish next to me (he looked like he was RIGHT there!) or came across Gladiolus on his own fishing expedition. True, Eos’ most famous citizens only say a few vapid of encouragement (“look at the size of that thing!” Noctis chirped excitedly after I caught….an empty can), but I still liked hanging out with them. And it’s also pretty cool hanging out in a diverse array of fishing locations, even if there’s really not much in the way of exploration since maps are minnow-sized.
Monster of the Deep isn’t a deep-sea dive in terms of gameplay, and I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anyone who isn’t already a hardcore fan of Final Fantasy XV. But as a fan of the game myself, I definitely smiled more than I frowned, even with the glitches. I suppose you could say it…reeled me in.