Final Fantasy XV had a long road getting here, originally being announced as Versus XIII and supposed to come out on the PS3, the game has had a troubled development. At one point, then game director Nomura even considered making the game a musical. There was plenty scepticism going around before the release of this game and there was every possibility of it being a disaster. I am pleased to report that after finishing the story mode, the game is far from a disaster.
The latest entry in this long running franchise has you playing as Prince Noctis who is on a road trip to get married to his betrothed, the Lady Lunafreya, as part of a peace deal. So he sets out with his retinue and friends. Prompto, Noctis’ happy go lucky and energetic school friend who is also the photographer of the group, the baritone voiced Gladiolus who is stern muscle and Ignis, who is the straight and narrow intellectual type. Noctis himself is also quite moody at times, but he is not without a sarcastic sense of humour.
Once you first get control in the game, it has Noctis and his party pushing down their broken down car and the crew are having banter and joking about it. Then, a Florence and the Machine cover of Stand By Me is played. It is a rather strange way to start the game, but an endearing one. Of course, things soon go awry and Noctis with the help of his friends are on an adventure that involves riding chocobos, hunting monsters and gaining the blessings of the deities so that Noctis can defeat Niflheim and reclaim his throne. This main plot, without spoiling anything isn’t terribly original but it is more often than not, incredibly well told and with it’s core cast of characters, aided by very good performances are elevated and the emotional payoff is tremendously executed. The pacing of the narrative is also quite tight as I completed it, without any real rushing, in about 26 and a half hours. This alleviates the typical bloatedness of campaign length that traditional JRPGs have a reputation for, but this by no means means I’ve done everything. There is plenty of post game content of difficult dungeons and bosses in typical Final Fantasy fashion.
As to the game itself, this is the first mainline entry to the series which has not used a turn based or pseudo turn based combat system. Instead, this is a real time hack n slash type system that includes a tactical menu for potions and issuing of commands for Noctis’ friends to perform special attacks that are unlocked through the levelling system called the Ascension grid. This grid is separated into multiple categories, such as exploration, combat, teamwork and so forth, so there is plenty of ways to choose how to build the party.
Back to the combat itself, I have seen some reviewers compare this game’s combat to the Devil May Cry series. And whilst this game’s combat certainly is comparably flashy in appearance, it does not have the same depth. Landing attacks amounts to essentially locking on to and enemy and holding circle to combo and pressing triangle to warp strike, whilst also changing weapons with the d pad, holding R2 to open up the tactical menu to access potions or to command special moves from the party. You can also press square to dodge or block attacks. So it is much more simplistic and doesn’t have terribly much depth in terms of the mechanical mastery of combos and the like, but the game is presented and balanced in such a way that it somehow remains engaging and often challenging. Still, I would’ve preferred just a bit more depth to the combat and making it a bit more like Devil May Cry by opening up opportunities for juggles and other moves. Boss fights, especially towards the end are all parts challenging and lengthy, but never frustrating and feel constantly exciting and epic.
Each character also has their own speciality. Noctis, for example, has a rather simple but relaxing fishing minigame, Prompto acts as an automatic posed screenshotter for you, Gladio is a survivalist whose level is increased by resting at camp fires and levelling this up allows increased loot pick ups in the field. Ignis is the chef of the group, whose cooking from ingredients found (such as fish caught by Noctis) or bought create dishes which act as buffs. Characters also only level up once you find a place to rest.
As for the exploration, the game takes an open world approach, but not in a sandbox Grand Theft Auto kind of way. The first comparison that comes to my mind is The Witcher 3. You can go wherever you want when you want, but the open world acts as more of a framework and connective tissue for the narrative. Still, it is a very impressive world, with a tremendous sense of scale, such as the fight against the Hydraen or being in the centre of the Disc of Cauthess. However, the driving mechanic is rather on rails and restrictive, but the piloting of chocobos are fun.The day night cycle also plays into the game too, with night time giving rise to the daemons, which are more powerful monsters, so you don’t want to be too far from a rest location in the wilderness.
As to the side quests, most of them that I have done have fallen into either the categories of monster hunting, which are usually fun and a good challenge or fetch quests, which are usually quite routine. There are some that are base infiltration or optional high level dungeon crawls. These side quests aren’t terribly impressive and don’t typically have much in the way of narrative drama, so they don’t run the risk of overshadowing the main story like what occurs in some contemporary western action RPGs these days.
As for the aesthetics of the game, well this game is beautiful. The original soundtrack is excellent as always and while cruising in the regalia,you can play the music from old Final Fantasy games, which is an added bonus. The visuals are also quite tremendous in motion too, with excellent lighting at at all times, the glowing of the meteor and the gigantic geological arches in Duscae, the wetlands of the Vesperpool or the Venetian inspired Altissia and much more locations, the game has a nice variety of environments. It has an art direction that has an eclectic array of influences fused with the creatures and overall style of the Final Fantasy series, as well as being technically impressive too. On the technical side, there are aliasing issues sometimes and the texture filtering and LOD is not always the best. The game also runs at 30FPS, which is stable most of the time and never drops to a level that is persistently detrimental to the experience. On the whole, it is a pleasure to look at and I’d love to see how much further an eventual PC release could take it.
Every time you boot the game, a screen comes up saying ‘A Final Fantasy for fans and first timers.’ With this series, I would not consider myself either of those. But even with this game’s quirks and flaws, the legacy of it’s troubled development and the expectations that come from such a release; Final Fantasy XV is an absolute joy to experience and comes highly recommended.