Initial Release Date: November 29, 2016
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4 (reviewed)
Publisher: Square Enix
Final Fantasy XV has defied its vaporware label to finally find its way onto current consoles. The game features many departures from the traditional Final Fantasy formula, injecting the traditional turn based system with a Kingdom Hearts action focus. While the game fails to excite with its questing system and loading screens, the silky smooth combat and likeable cast make it a joy to play.
The player must guide Prince Noctis of Lucis through the open world kingdom to match with his betrothed Lady Lunafreya. Noctis is accompanied by his faithful retinue of Prompto (old friend), Ignis (advisor and cook), and Gladious (traditional bodyguard). The quartet makes their way through the huge world in the Regalia, a nifty black convertible.
Final Fantasy XV’s story can be viewed through two lenses: one through the game standing alone, and one as an experience augmented by both the anime and movie. Obviously there is a quite a bit more clarity when the anime and movie are seen in concert with the game.
I started the game and then watched the anime and movie around Chapter 2. I have to say it made an impactful difference in my understanding of the story. I highly suggest watching the anime (free on YouTube) and the movie (Amazon) before or while playing the beginning of the game.
It’s not quite clear who the real enemy is at first, as you start the game without a firm understanding of the political alignment between the involved kingdoms. Watching Kingsglaive helps remedy this issue.
The narrative is really driven by the retinue accompanying Noctis. Each has their own personalities (and fighting style) that are slowly revealed through questing and the banter during the travelling sequences. Again, the anime series is a big help in learning where the characters fit into the story, as well their personal backstories.
The open-world aspect does fit nicely with the “road trip” atmosphere the game attempts. However, I felt like the world building missed a bit of the majesty and mystery the Final Fantasy games have often included. Some of the bosses were unique and interesting, but some also fell flat or were fleeting in their impact on the game.
Ultimately, I think the actual story of the game (once I finished it) was interesting and had cool themes. However, I think the actual presentation was a bit muddled, and could have been handled better. The movie and anime definitely helped flesh out some of the story, and once everything wrapped up after the final boss, the actual plot came together a bit. Just seems like that should have been the case in the sequence leading up to the event, not after.
Final Fantasy XV manages to introduce a slippery smooth combat system with a generally bland and unengaging quest progression system. Luckily, the combat system is good enough to carry the game through its misgivings on the quest side.
The quest system is very basic. You find a quest hub, normally an individual at one of the rest stops/stores/merchants, and they give you a quest which goes into your quest log. The log directs you to the area in question, and most of the time, it’s simply to kill a certain beast, or fetch some item.
Despite this monotonous system (which reminded me of MMO’s in many ways), I desired to keep going. I wanted to get through the quests, and was excited to get to new hubs. I credit this strange mismatch of desire with the combat system.
The combat system revolves around free-flowing combat, with Noctis able to freely switch between types of weapons, magic, and items. The retinue fights alone, much like Goofy and Donald in the Kingdom Hearts series – you never control them directly (but can equip them as you see fit).
The combat is action-based, a departure from the FF tradition of turn-based battles. Timing is important, and Noctis can speed away using a short-range teleport ability. Switching between weapons, attacking in concert with allies, and getting the dodges timed right makes for a fun and interesting sequence against all levels of foes.
The combat also has a “wait mode” function, which pauses the combat for a certain amount of time, giving the player time to size up the situation. During this time you can scan enemies to reveal their weaknesses, switch weapons, or prepare a specific attack. Wait mode helps alleviate the Kingdom Hearts moments where you have to awkwardly navigate menus in the bottom of the screen mid-combat.
Stat progression also has several layers of nuance. The characters have the traditional level system (which can be abused quite easily) as well as their gear, Ascension abilities, as well as each character’s unique out-of-combat ability. The Ascension abilities are sphere grid like, where you spend points to upgrade certain aspects of the characters. The out-of-combat abilities have ancillary effects, like Ignis’ cooking giving buffs, or Gladious picking up items after a fight.
While the combat may seem smooth as butter, the travelling and loading was like sandpaper. Loading from quick travel or between areas took an awfully long time on PS4, and really hurt pacing. I normally don’t pay mind to loading times, but you are traveling often enough (via fast travel) that the loading screens stick out. You are also required to sit through the car ride before you can quick travel, but in these instances you can accumulate bonuses, hear the characters talk, and take in the scenery. Loading screens are just boring.
Following the Final Fantasy tradition, the music and sound in the game is solid. I caught myself just listening to the main screen music on more than one occasion. Further, you can choose your radio stations when you are in the Regalia, and can “upgrade” the music by buying the traditional soundtracks at the merchants throughout the world (note: with ingame currency, not a microtransaction).
Graphically, the game certainly has its moments, although, as mentioned above, it felt like there could have been much more. The game had a huge development time and went through different iterations. However, I suppose I expect a little more woo in a Final Fantasy game. For instance, the game was spot on when entering Altissa for the first time, showcasing the awesome city, great graphics, great presentation. This is then marred when walking through a lifeless plain, and then interacting with a quest giver whose voice does not match the facial expression. A little rough in spots.
Replayability will likely increase, as of the time of this writing the DLC is still in the process of rolling out. There is several end-game dungeons to explore, as well as a certain gigantic boss that takes some post-story work to build towards. However, I will note that just mainlining the quests will have a player complete the game rather quickly. Completing the sidequests and doing a bit of exploring should be pursued, lest you complete the whole thing in 15 hours (short for a FF game).
Final Fantasy XV is a game with some glaring deficiencies and missed opportunities, but with the unique ability to keep me captivated for over 50 hours, and hungry for more. The story is there, just roughly presented. The combat is high on fun, while the quests are bit bland. The game manages to pull together through its downfalls, and puts together a solid experience overall.
-Bland quest system
Total Score: 8.0/10