The most apt and brutal takedown of the Final Fantasy series of recent years is just two words: required reading. It was the equivalent of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in high school. Just dry, unpleasant, melodramatic prose that never quite goes anywhere and doesn’t exactly aim to do so anyway.

To an extent, it earned some byes. It single-handedly cemented Japanese RPGs in the West with Final Fantasy VII and then further established the then-original concept of brooding protagonists (and ridiculous/ridiculously cool weapons) with Final Fantasy VIII. But then as the years and Roman numerals lingered on like a fingernail you forget to clip, it also began to similarly establish the worst tendencies and tropes of the genre.

But here we have Final Fantasy XV, a game somehow ten years in the making. Ten years of atrophying respect and relevance (and, probably, reverence) for anything it had accomplished since 1987. Somewhere in that meandering decade, though, they found it. They figured out how to make a modern Final Fantasy that, for once, didn’t feel like required reading.

There’s a jubilance that past entries were wholly missing. The entire road trip conceit opens up so many possibilities, and the game then takes the next necessary step to take advantage of its many options. The characters are unique and flawed and fun, not least of all because of the writing which paints them as all those things and more.

They build on a mood and atmosphere that end up being a sort of celebration of the fact that maybe somewhere in the middle of development, the studio knew they were working on something enjoyable, something that would actually bring pleasure to people. Enough pleasure, in fact, to land it at the number eight game of the year.