When I think about fishing, I think about relaxation: chilling out somewhere beautiful in the sun, watching the shimmering water, waiting for fish to bite. Admittedly all of my real-life fishing experiences took place in the rain-drenched Highlands of Scotland and were absolutely horrendous, but video games are about escapism. I hadn't read much about Monster of the Deep, the Final Fantasy XV-themed VR fishing game, before playing it, so I assumed that would be the vibe.
There are certainly moments of calm, but the majority of the game is actually about luring demon fish-monsters out from the depths and then shooting them with a crossbow, which is somewhat less gentle than I'd expected.
Monster of the Deep's premise is straight from the weirdest corners of fanfiction.net: you, a monster-hunting angler, run into Noctis whilst fishing, and he invites you back to his campsite to get to know him and his pals better. The story mode is structured around missions where you must head to various picturesque FFXV areas and catch a bunch of different fish in order to lure out the resident monster. It begins with such a showdown, after which your unconscious character is rescued by Cindy, who as ever is dressed most inappropriately for the occasion. From there, you get hunting contracts that open up new fishing areas as you go along.
The main thing that prevents Monster of the Deep from being truly relaxing is that it's frustrating to play. Casting your line – a fundamental mechanic in, you know, a fishing game – is extremely annoying and unpredictable using the Dualshock controller. You have to hold down X, then pull the controller back and flick it forward again whilst releasing the button. The lack of finesse meant that, most of the time, my line either plopped into the water straight in front of me or sailed far into the distance; no matter how I refined my movement I couldn't find a predictable level of control.
This makes sense, because the motion sensing in a Dualshock 4 is not enormously sensitive. It's not really up to fine-tuning how far you cast a fishing line. It took me about twice as long as it should have to even get through the tutorial, and after 90 minutes I still couldn't cast predictably. There is an "easy cast" option that helps a little bit by taking away the X button and letting you cast with motion alone, but it's still annoyingly imprecise. Once you've caught a fish, you reel it in by rotating the left stick; it made my thumb hurt after a while.
When you're not fishing, you're having conversations at your cabin, in your car or whilst scoping out a fishing pond. Movement, outside of the fishing portions, involves the VR-standard point-at-a-place-to-teleport-to-it method, so you jump about between static points. You can also move the camera in increments. It all feels really janky in practice, and I had to frequently re-centre the screen because the game got confused about where my hands where. There's also a disappointing absence of interactive stuff outside of the fishing: most of the novelty of VR hinges on using your hands to open drawers and pick stuff up, but in my cabin and in the car I couldn't flick any switches or open any boxes or play with any of the objects lying around the place. There's also no option to turn off subtitles, which appeared too close to my eyes in my field of vision for me to read comfortably without a nauseating adjustment of focus.
At £24.99, it's disappointing that Monster of the Deep feels this rough. It plays like a first foray into VR, without any of the comfort features that some other second-wave PSVR titles like Blood and Truth are bringing to the table. Two missions in, it was difficult to summon the enthusiasm to keep going, even though I'd been looking forward to sinking back into Final Fantasy XV's world and reacquainting myself with the characters in a chill setting.
As in Final Fantasy XV itself, the dynamic between Noctis and pals is by far the best thing about the game. I was gritting my teeth through the actual fishing so that I could enjoy just hanging around with the boy band. These scenes brought back great memories from last year, when I spent a week on the couch doing nothing but exploring Final Fantasy XV, a weird and sometimes shambolic game that nonetheless is one of my favourites of recent years.
Monster of the Deep definitely feels like you're a participant in someone else's fanfiction, but I'm down with that. If only the actual fishing was fun, and the VR controls were more finessed, I'd want to spend a lot more time in it.