Final Fantasy XV
PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Ten years is a long time to wait for anything, let alone a video game. After all the hopeful moments and painful letdowns, it can be hard for any video game to live up to the hype that surrounds it. Well, for any game that isn’t Final Fantasy XV at least. Square Enix’s latest entry in the long-running series isn’t perfect, but it manages the incredibly difficult task of being relevant for Final Fantasy fans and first timers alike, after so much time in development.
Despite the series’ JRPG roots, Final Fantasy XV’s story departs from the vast majority of recent Final Fantasy titles by being mostly easy to follow. That’s mainly because the game traded political complexity for the emotional bonds of family and friendship. FFXV follows prince Noctis and his friends Gladiolus, Ignis and Prompto, as they travel across the lands searching for Noctis’s betrothed Lunafreya, and a way to bring peace to the kingdoms. The events of the tie-in movie Kingsglaive (which you should probably watch before playing the game) then force Noctis to take on an evil empire and find his own way into becoming a king.
The story is a textbook example of European folk-lore brought into the modern day, keeping it inline with the franchise’s history of creating fantasies that are set within reality. Where the game truly shines in terms of story, however, is the endless amount of side quests to complete. Where the main story line can occasionally feel one dimensional, the side quests breathe life into the environments and people that populate the world. In the tradition of most RPGs, the quests start out with a seemingly lame mission that requires you to harvest food, take pictures or catch frogs, but then snowballs to these huge adventures.
One of the greatest strengths of Final Fantasy XV is the incredible depth of gameplay customization. Cosmetic choices give players the opportunity to help Noctis and his friends to grow out of the whole Japanese boy band look (unless you’re into that kind of stuff). However, these do absolutely nothing to boosts their stats or abilities. The real fun comes when you play around with the weapons. The game’s arsenal includes swords, greatswords, polearms, daggers and firearms. On top of all that are the shields, machine weapons and amazingly useful Royal Arms.
The Royal Arms are weapons of past kings in Noctis’s family, and players discover them by going dungeon-diving, looking for royal tombs. The entrances to these tombs are guarded by a ridiculous amount of ridiculously high level enemies, but the reward is a powerful new weapons, but they do come at a cost as you’ll sacrifice your maximum health just by having them equipped, forcing you to think wisely before using them.
Each class of weapons plays a little differently, with its own strengths and weaknesses, but the good news is that the enemy AI can counteract your attacks in surprising ways, creating a sort of ballet as you battle. Final Fantasy XV replaces the previous formula of turn based combat with a more fluid real-time mechanic. The new mechanics lean away from button mashing western role playing games and leans towards the calm act of holding down a particular button for combos or hitting it at the right time.
Magic has also received an overhaul in this entry. In earlier installments, magic abilities were used through magic points (MP), while in FFXV magic is crafted by harvesting deposits of elemental energy. From there you can create the magic spells of Fire, Blizzard and Thunder by forming three or more elemental energies. Using these spells is like unleashing the powers of Mother Nature herself on your enemies. Blizzard causes a freezing storm to engulf the area, Fire is essentially a grenade you throw that explodes into beautiful and deadly flames, and Thunder unleashes a lightning bolt that rains down from the heavens, stunning enemies. Ultimately, the magic in this game feels more like a form of alchemy than a magical force, but it’s still very useful and very, very pretty to look at.
The one slight disappointment in the environmental gameplay is the car, called the Regalia. Although it offers a smooth and efficient way to get around, it’s just really boring to drive it. The Regalia just requires you to hold down the right trigger until you arrive at your destination. Even when you are on a mission to follow someone in your car, all you do is hold down the right trigger, so what’s the point? Plus, the chocobos are much more fun to ride around on.
All in all the game is a very fun experience that really feels like the culmination of ten years of development, but unfortunately, the result was not a 100% perfect game. For example, the in-game economy is so broken that by the time players finish the initial quest line “The Pauper Prince” (originally featured in the Episode Duscae demo), players will be so familiar with how to make money that they’ll never be in need of it again. I mean, I once spent some ten thousand gil stocking up on potions in the middle of the game and didn’t run out until I actually completed the main story line.
Them there’s the camera. Almost all of the issues with the camera would have been solved if players had total control over it with the right joystick. Unfortunately, the developers chose to give you partial control, which forces certain perspectives in battle and other cinematic moments. A lot of times this results in the camera going inside of rocks and bushes that block your view of the action. If too many enemies are on screen at once, the camera will shoot up into the air, attempting to let you see the entire battle. That isn’t really helpful, as than navigating around the battlefield becomes rather difficult. The camera is perfect when it’s under your control or during cutscenes, but becomes a nuisance when you and the game have to fight each other for control.
Another thing you have to keep reining in are your road trip buddies. When left to their own devices Gladiolus, Ignis and Prompto will only let you down. All it takes is for you to take your eyes off of them for a moment, and next thing you know they have no health or MP and starting crying out for a revive. The good news is that so long as you babysit them and utilize their Link-strike abilities, you can then rally them to do some real damage and work as a team.
Final Fantasy XV offers probably one of the greatest presentations from any video game released in 2016. The levels are not only intricately detailed, but incredibly stable. There is little to no issues with lag and even then it mostly occurs when there are huge amounts of enemies on screen. The character design has the traditional flair of the Final Fantasy games but with a more modernly tasteful approach. It’s also impressive to see who each individual city within the game has its own style that permeates its culture, while still maintaining the feel that everything belongs in the same world. The audio carries you deeper into the game, as the orchestral soundtrack swells whenever you run across wide open landscapes, only to seamlessly transition into a city’s theme. The sound design brings the physical world to life by surrounding you with the sounds of the forest, city or beach, while also intensifying the feeling of battle as your Fire spells explode on an enemy and thunder cracks in the distance.
After ten years of waiting for the fifteenth installment in the Final Fantasy franchise, fans were rewarded with a well-designed, well-balanced and well-rounded experience. Much like the development, the game does occasionally stumble as it comes into its own, but that doesn’t change the fact that square Enix delivers one of the greatest games they have ever made with Final Fantasy XV.