Final Fantasy XV Review
Originally announced as Final Fantasy vs XIII just over 10 years ago, Final Fantasy XV has gone through a lengthy development cycle. Having been stuck in development hell for years, constantly changing elements, disappearing from public view for years at a time and enduring rumours of cancellations before eventually using a Phoenix Down to rebrand itself into the game that it is today. Now that is has finally dropped, its time to find out – has the overly long gestation period resulted in a gem, or a disaster of Duke Nukem Forever-like proportions? Read on to find out…
Final Fantasy XV revolves around the Crown Prince Noctis and a group of mates who happen to be doubling as bodyguards. After leaving his nation’s capital Noctis and company journey onwards to meet and marry his bride to be in a far off land in a marriage of state of sorts to cement an alliance, whilst doing what blokes do and enjoying one last road trip/extended bachelor party along the way. Before too long however, they learn that the evil empire of Niflheim emperor has attacked and taken over the capital and by extension his kingdom. Thus the story becomes one of reclamation as he and his crew change tune, opt to gather Noctis’s princely powers from his ancestors before attempting to recover the throne… and of course, saving the world in the process.
As with the prior core Final Fantasy titles, Final Fantasy XV divides its gameplay between world exploration, story exposition and combat. In terms of world exploration, Final Fantasy XV is really a game of two parts, the first area of the game consists of a massive open world in which you can adventure, camp out under the stars every night and hang out with your digital homeboys road trip-style. This eventually gives way to a shorter, linear passage of gameplay leading to the game’s ultimate climax.
Final Fantasy XV’s open world is vast, encompasses a wide range of exotic environs ranging from swamps to a volcano, and is home to townships, rest stops, cities, farms and numerous challenging dungeons in which to venture to fight powerful boss monsters. Players can explore the world by sticking to the roads in the Regalia, the crew’s automobile, which can be pimped out with new accessories and decals and can even play the soundtracks to previous Final Fantasy games if you purchase them from the various in-game shops that stock them. Alternatively, if the car isn’t your style and hoofing it is out of the question, after a short side-mission early on in the game, players can earn the ability to call and ride Chocobos freely throughout the map.
The game’s open world features a large amount of side-content to keep players busy. Players will be able to pick up numerous side-quests across the world map and although the majority of these are quite repetitive – kill X number of monsters, find X item, reach X location and take a photo, catch X fish, etc. the four friends, their constant inter-group banter along with the game’s entertaining combat system makes them not only tolerable but actually enjoyable. Each settlement that you come across will usually feature a restaurant which can be visited with numerous monster hunting side-quests available to be undertaken and by completing these and working up your Monster Hunter level, addition, more difficult hunts will unlock. There is an abundance of these monster hunts and completing them all will take a significant time investment.
Unfortunately, around 2/3 of the way through the game’s story (which comes far too early for a Final Fantasy game, mind you) players embark on a more linear path through the final quest chapters. This latter stretch of the game is by far the least enjoyable part of the experience and although the game’s final chapter is nothing short of spectacular, the lead up to it feels somewhat rushed and at its lowest point places a powerless Noctis in a jarring stealth, almost horror genre-like gameplay segment which is agonisingly long and the opposite of fun. Once you finish the game’s story however, you are able to venture back into the open world and continue to explore and side-quest tot your heart’s content.
Final Fantasy XV’s combat system works nicely into the open world setting. When fighting enemies, unlike previous Final Fantasy titles, players will no longer be ported off into a small-scale instance to take on the enemies outside of the world itself, but rather will now do so in real-time in the world provided. The fighting system feels somewhat akin to those you might find in a Tales or Kingdom Hearts title as players are given freedom to move about the battlefield, choose their targets freely and avoid/dodge enemy attacks. The combat features a tactical menu which when open, time comes to a stop so that players can utilise items or issue commands to other party members. Rather than a group as is customary in Final Fantasy games to this point, in Final Fantasy XV players control only a single character – Noctis during combat.
Although he’s the only controllable character, Noctis is no slouch and packs some pretty nifty abilities into his overcoat. He wields a set of spectral weapons that in addition to dishing out damage, enable him to perform short-range teleportation which can be used to perform deadly warp strikes on unsuspecting enemies or more defensively to phase away from enemy attacks. Players can equip up to four different weapons or magic spells at once and can switch between them on the fly to determine enemy weaknesses and chain together attacks. Between combat, players can draw elemental energy from crystals littered around the world and from this stored energy can synthesise their own magic spells (this is incredibly useful, but the game barely introduces you to the process or mentions it at all). Additionally, once you have be encountered them in the story, players will also be able to occasionally summon Astrals – godlike creatures to come and bail them out of tough spots with some truly epic looking area of effect attacks.
As players have taken up residence in Noctis’s shoes for the duration of the game, it’s no surprise that the majority of the game is spent in the presence of his three bodyguards, each of whom has their own unique traits. Gladiolus, in addition to having an awful name and refusing to button up his shirt will provide you with the opportunity to spar and undertake combat tutorials at camp. The bespectacled Ignis, complete with a British accent is the group’s cook who will whip up food at camp to confer various stat boosts and buffs upon the group of the next day of exploring. Finally, Prompto is the somewhat annoying complainer (don’t worry he’ll grow on you) who will take a series of screenshots throughout the day and present them as photographs before resting for the night, allowing you to pick and choose which to keep in your journey’s photo album. Noctis himself is able to fish at various marked fishing locations, catching food for Ignis’s recipes and completing fishing side-missions.
As an RPG, Final Fantasy XV features a pair of character progression systems to increase the power of their characters to make subsequent battles easier and to take on harder enemies. Players can increase each character’s level by accumulating experience points, this will result in small increases to base stats and increase the characters’ power incrementally. Players are also able to accrue AP points which can be invested to unlock various upgrades. The AP upgrades appear in a series of grids similar to Final Fantasy XIII‘s Chrystarium or Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid, each of which is associated with a group of similar improvements. Among these include perks ranging from extra damage in battle, stat boosts, additional combat moves for the group, reducing damage taken, unlocking additional accessory slots as well as a range of perks to increase AP/Experience accumulation and duration of buffs from food consumption. It’s a good system that provides a decent spread of abilities that will take even the most hardcore of players a very, very long time to max out.
In terms of presentation, Final Fantasy XV is great. The game features a great musical score with excellent music both in battle and out alongside some decent voice acting (although Japanese voices with subtitles is most definitely the way to go) and amusing dialogue. The visuals are likewise well done and the open world features impressive draw distances and a nice assortment of well detailed and designed locales. The game features a large roster of re-imagined versions of returning monsters and with an array of new ones along for the ride and each being finely detailed and animated, the Final Fantasy series’ deadly flora and fauna have never looked so good. Much the same can be said for the NPCs and main characters who, except for a few lip-synching issues with dialogue are excellent.
Although Final Fantasy XV is a good game, it really does embrace some mediocre elements. For a Final Fantasy game, the story is quite disappointing and in addition to being relatively short, it is also blemished by several plot holes and outside of the main four, the game contains naught but one-dimensional characters. The character lip-synching issues can also prove to be a little jarring at times. Almost everything post the open world starting area is linear and undercooked, with a brief whistle-stop tour of several world points mentioned by other characters in passing (these are just begging to be fleshed out and explored further) which ultimately gives way to a lengthy, unwieldy sequence in chapter 13 where the game is flipped on its head, and not in a good way. The side-quests in the open world area are also incredibly repetitive and really don’t try too hard to change things up from the standard RPG contemporaries. Yet, despite all of these foibles, the game remains incredibly enjoyable and makes these less than stellar inclusions easy to ignore.
Despite the repetitious nature of the open world side-quests/ monster hunts and quite a few plot holes, Final Fantasy XV is a lot more fun than it should be. With this title, Square-Enix have managed to deliver a game that is a joy to play along with a group of characters who are fun to travel alongside, listen to and laugh along with. And ultimately, Final Fantasy XV is just that – an extremely enjoyable game with a serviceable story and some truly memorable characters that is backed up by a solid, entertaining battle system and plenty of optional content to keep players with controller in hand well after the credits have rolled.
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