I remember being in Grade 10 of high school when me and my mates first gathered around to discuss one of the most impressive games announced at E3 in 2006 – Final Fantasy Versus XIII. While at the time I was expecting to have the game in my hand a few years from then and playing it on my PlayStation 3 – as you would already be well aware – things didn’t turn out as expected. After many years of waiting, which included a name change, console generation shift and noticeable deviations from the initial plot – Final Fantasy XV arrived on store shelves only a couple of weeks ago.
There are two different ways I can look at Final Fantasy XV, given the hype and, in some respects, longing which has been built up over the years of promotion. The first is when taking into consideration the game against others of its genre… “Is this a great game?”. In this respect, I would certainly say it meets many of the criteria for being a “great game”. However, it becomes more of a conundrum when I ponder if this is a game that has been worth waiting eagerly for such a long time for since its first public unveiling. I am more hesitant to say “yes”, as the concepts at least teased in the earlier years were a little more appealing to me personally in terms of setting and plot than what eventuated. That being said… it is what it is, and what could have been is no more (that we know of).
So how did my judgement of Final Fantasy XV fare? Keep reading to find out!
While this is just my personal opinion, I have always preferred video games that offer a strong plot which doesn’t cautiously guide you through an experience, lest you end up being confused or have to do a little bit of reading into things. While this is what won me over to some of the very story-heavy games such as Xenosaga I and Xenosaga II (which I recently revisited) in the past, to me it is more often than not about the creative team getting that balance between meeting the demands of those looking to be committed to the story and those looking for a good time. Final Fantasy games have often met that demand, offering a story which has a lot of depth to it should you wish to dive into it – but also offering something RPG fans can pick up and just enjoy. Claiming to be a “Final Fantasy for fans and newcomers alike”, Final Fantasy XV is no exception to this.
Final Fantasy XV takes place both during and (mostly) after the events presented in the CGI feature film Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, which first screened across Australia a few months back. Following separate events to those encountered by King Regis, although not without the intrigue of the war between competing nations Lucis and Niflheim, Final Fantasy XV instead shifts the attention to his son Noctis Lucis Caelum. Joined by his retainers Gladiolus Amicitia (the bodyguard), Ignis Scientia (the tactician) and Prompto Argentum (the buddy), the four set their course to the capital city of Altissia, where Noctis is due to marry his fiancée and childhood friend, Lunafreya Nox Fleuret. But a series of events quickly turn their relatively simple road trip into one which is full of political intrigue, risky combat and potential destruction.
While there is a lot of quality in the mix as you work through the game’s fairly standard length main storyline, the actual quantity you receive will depend on how many hours you wish to invest in the game. Final Fantasy XV takes an open world approach to gameplay, meaning there are many characters littering the world who are more than willing to give the young price some Gil in exchange for his efforts. While like all open world games there are quite a few forgettable characters – there are many others who have had clear time and effort gone into their development. For these characters, no matter how brief you meet them, they have their own personalities, distinct voice acting and more – leaving more of an impression than a quest giver usually would. The gameplay and small stories I encountered while partaking in side quests, on more than one occasion, saw me deviate from the main story for hours at a time.
Since releasing Final Fantasy XIII-2, Square Enix have been rather restrictive about the number of main party members each numbered game follows. XIII-2 had three (Serah, Noel and Mog), Lightning Returns had just the one (Lightning), and now Final Fantasy XV has four. While I did enjoy the vast number of (sometimes) conflicting personalities that earlier games offered, keeping this number small, and having all characters active on-screen at once, in my opinion has allowed the writing team to hone down and provide ample time to develop each main character properly, while leaving enough time to sufficiently develop its secondary cast. Opting to go with four characters worked well for Final Fantasy XV, with each character receiving ample attention – and hopefully more in their upcoming DLC packs. While the overarching story put a heavy emphasis on developing Noctis, each of his companions was well incorporated into the story, and in their own individual way made their own mark on the tale which enriched the overall experience.
But despite all of this, I wouldn’t say the experience was flawless. For one thing, a lot of tbackstory to the events of Final Fantasy XV are hidden away in the feature film Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. This isn’t a bad thing if you already own a copy of the film or picked up a limited edition copy of the game, however I found it certainly helped from the start to know about events that had already happened and were already happening. Plus, given the action involved in the film, it would have been quite enjoyable to have taken control of Nyx Ulric during his series of events.
In addition, while the story was enjoyable overall, I wouldn’t say that my first impressions were particularly spectacular. Running around a fairly sparse landscape to repair a car didn’t really do it for me, especially when compared to the openings of other Final Fantasy instalments. Having many slow moments, particularly in the early hours, didn’t help either.
Design / Music / Voice Acting
Although nondescript plains may be one of the first things that await players when they begin their journey in the world of Eos, the game soon unveils many beautiful vistas and lush environments spread throughout the large playable world. Character/enemy designs are also of a high standard, and although they can sometimes be lost in a frenzy of a fight, character animations and special effects such as magic are for the most part solid, with minimal slow down at the worst of times (although as always, experiences can vary).
I wouldn’t say that Final Fantasy XV has any particular highlights in its soundtrack. Despite this, I would say that Final Fantasy XV offered a well-rounded tracklist, which had something appropriate for pretty much any scene thrown at the viewer. Those who do want some classic Final Fantasy tracks in-game will fortunately not have to fork out for downloadable content. Service stations across the game world have CDs available for purchase with GIL, which allow Noctis and co to enjoy tracks of past games when travelling. Considering such journeys may be several minutes in length, it can be quite enjoyable jamming to the classics while the environment passes by. Also, even after all this time, theme song “Somnus” is still somber yet beautiful.
Retaining the English voice cast from the “Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae” demo from a couple of years back along with many new cast additions, I think the voice acting in this game was of a high standard. Ray Chase worked well as the quiet and withdrawn yet friendly Noctis, Chris Parson’s voice suited the guardian-like Gladiolus, Robbie Daymond works as the playful mood-setter Prompto, and Adam Croasdell pretty much delivers what I would expect based on the looks and role of “Tactician” Ignis.
While I do get why Final Fantasy games have opted to take a more active-time approach to its battle system, I find myself missing the turn-based battle systems of yesteryear. Even though I do enjoy a heated battle where a split-second decision can mean the difference between coming out of a battle scathed or unscathed – I personally prefer each character having a purpose (to at least some degree) and a game rewarding (potentially) lengthy sessions of strategising in order to defeat a challenging boss. While initial previews back in the day left me excited about its potential, Final Fantasy XV still hasn’t convinced me about this style of battle system, even though it does bring some solid concepts to the table.
Reminiscent of an MMORPG, players are placed in a world which is teeming with monsters, all of whom can be battled without any transition by either party approaching the other. In battle, outside of commanding them to use special skills, players have no control over Gladiolus, Prompto or Ignis – who are all controlled by occasionally temperamental but otherwise generally acceptable AI. Instead, control is exclusively given over Noctis, who has a couple of distinct skills for when in battle.
Unlike his companions who can equip a main and sub weapon, Noctis can equip four different types of weapons or magic, which he can summon at will. One swipe could be with a sword, and the next a job with a spear. Should he be in danger, he can also throw his weapon at a selected nearby point, warping him to safety. From a distance he can also use “warp strikes” to perform a quick charge attack at enemies far away.
The battle system itself is approachable, and from my perspective meets the claim that this is a “Final Fantasy for fans and newcomers alike”. However, while the system does shine when you’re put up against dangerous foes and forced to make use of every ability to survive – against standard enemies I often found battles tedious – especially when simply holding the circle button performs a combo chain and square performs an auto dodge.
In other Final Fantasy games, experience points are automatically given to your character at the end of the battle or following the completion of a quest. This long-running tradition receives a interesting overhaul in Final Fantasy XV, which while frustrating at times, does pose a conundrum I am glad to see included. Although each battle will see you accumulate experience points, the only way to actually have these points assigned to your character is through resting. The conundrum is that you can opt to rest at a makeshift campsite which will see Ignis cook up a meal (providing a stat boost for the next day) and assign characters all their accumulated EXP, or you can forgo the meal and stay at a hotel, which will cost GIL but provide a (sometimes) significant EXP modifier.
The conundrum is all the more devious when it comes to the open world system. Imagine defeating a large wave of enemies, gaining plenty of EXP, but finding yourself far away from a hotel. Furthermore, the sun is going down, and far more dangerous enemies frequently lurk around at night. Do you decide to pitch a tent at a nearby campsite, or risk receiving a GAME OVER by journeying to a nearby hotel for that modifier? Furthermore, since a character’s maximum health is reduced every time they are downed in battle, would the quartet survive a journey back to civilization even in the light of day?
On the note of the open road/world, while towns can be far and few between, there was often no shortage of things to do while travelling to the next story destination. Eateries often provide a number of hunts for players to do against (occasionally) strong foes, while each settlement often had quests with small stories attached to them. Granted many quests came down to “Travel to X”, “Defeat Y”, “Collect Z of A”, “Talk to B” or any combination of the four, they were offered and delivered in a way which I found saw me quite happily doing side quests for hours at a time.
With an open world to navigate, you can opt to take the wheel yourself and travel from Point A to Point B. The system is unfortunately very restrictive, making it more or less impossible through normal gameplay to do off-road driving or anything other than normal civilized driving. As mentioned in the music section of this review, I personally left the driving to the AI, whilst I enjoyed the views and classic Final Fantasy music.
A few of the standard Final Fantasy systems have also received a slight overhaul for Final Fantasy XV. Magic for example is no longer an innate power given to a character, but rather needs to be crafted through the crafting ability elemancy – which combines elements (fire, ice and electricity) and items to generate limited-use spells, with potentially nasty friendly fire AoE effects at the beginning. While I found myself preferring melee weapons most of the time, being able to craft an overpowered magic attack meant I always had at least a risky contingency plan if all else failed. For those who like playing as a “Mage”, I unfortunately don’t envision a magic-oriented Noctis to be all that practical.
In addition, character development is not only done by levels, but through the ascension system. By acquiring AP through regular gameplay, players can assign accumulated points to one of eight trees, each of which contain various nodes corresponding to different perks: Armiger, Combat, Exploration, Magic, Recovery, Stats, Teamwork and Techniques. While I recommend going into this system based on your personal play style, there are some promising guides emerging about which are the best options to go with. There is nothing particularly in-depth or special about this system, but it works well enough in giving players some control over the development of their characters.
Final Words on Final Fantasy XV
After a decade of waiting since it was first announced to audiences in 2006, it is great to see that Final Fantasy XV is finally available for purchase – and is more or less an enjoyable game which I felt encouraged to play through from start to finish. In many aspects from the aesthetics and sound to providing an engaging cast of main characters, it succeeds. However, there were a few areas where it underwhelms, in particular its somewhat simplistic battle system and its slower pacing for the first few hours, which didn’t leave me with as strong a first impression compared against the one I have now.
and now the wait begins for Final Fantasy XVI… or at least the upcoming post-launch DLC.
A review copy of Final Fantasy XV was provided for the purpose of this review.