Final Fantasy XV
By now you should probably have heard a good little bit about the 15th numbered installment in the epic Square Enix series Final Fantasy. If you haven’t, let me take a moment to enlighten you on the insanity that this game is. In 2006, Square Enix began development of a game called Final Fantasy Versus XIII but due to the reception of Final Fantasy XIII‘s sequels, Square made the decision to rebuild the game as Final Fantasy XV. That brings us to this game, right here, that you are reading this review for. Do you know what happens to a game that has spent 10 years in development hell?
Well, let me start out by saying that Final Fantasy XV is quite unlike any other Final Fantasy game I’ve ever played, and I’ve played them all. The combat system is much more hack and slash than any game before it and this open world that you explore feels incredibly expansive yet restrictive at the same time. I’ll go into much more detail in a few, this isn’t going to be short.
Final Fantasy XV tells the story of Noctis Lucis Caelum, the crown prince of Lucis. The game starts out with his dad, King Regis, sending him, his best friend and retainers on a road trip so he can marry his childhood friend Lunafreya Nox Fleuret. This is done so that the nations of Lucis and Niflheim can know peace and Noctis can realize his destiny. So the four chocobros jump in Regis’ sports car and drive off on an adventure. It’s an interesting start to a Final Fantasy game. Everything feels carefree, there’s no early introduction of a villain before you play and it is presented as a bachelor party with swords and guns.
However, soon after the adventure starts, the events in the movie Kingsglaive happen, which detail how Niflheim topples the crown city, Insomnia. They also kill the king and his bodyguard, who happens to be Gladiolus’ dad. When they try to destroy the whole city, the king’s strongest warrior sacrifices his life to kill the general of the Niflheim army. All of this has a lot to do with the story but isn’t even mentioned if you don’t watch the movie. They just assume you know. Oh, also Ravus gets his arm burned off because he tried to wear the Ring of the Lucii. No worries, he never addresses this again. He gets a new arm too.
So, back to the story, right? Nope, you need to go and watch the YouTube anime Final Fantasy XV: Brotherhood at this point. This is because the anime will teach you about the main characters. You learn that Noctis is so withdrawn because of an attempt on his life when he was little. Prompto was Plumpto and lost weight so he could keep up with Noctis and be his best friend because Lunafreya asked him to after he saved her dog. We find out that while he’s a dutiful servant to Noctis, Ignis strives to mold the prince into a king worthy of legend and also cares for him as a friend. Finally, we learn that Gladiolus wasn’t a huge fan of Noctis but after an event where Noctis saved his sister, he began a friendship with him. Important stuff, right? None of this is discussed again in the game, but it is alluded to a few times. You won’t know what is going on if you didn’t see the anime though.
Now you go back to playing the game and you get introduced to some guest characters and the tone of the game changes considerably. Now you are on a quest to save your homeland and defeat the evil empire. Along the way you meet a few members of the empire, including the Chancellor, Ardyn Izunia. Ardyn comes off as a decent guy but is a total dickbag in Kingsglaive, so you will know he is bad news if you saw the movie. It also ruins the shocking reveal that he’s the big bad. None of this matters because you won’t see any other active members of the empire ever again. There’s a cutscene and that is it.
Finally, there’s a time jump, which the game already told you in the opening. You fight the darkness, kill the bad guy and then save the world. Sorry I spoiled the story for you but it’s actually that trite. I kept the real juicy stuff out for you to discover but there’s so many plotholes and parts of the game that are removed for DLC purposes of God knows what else that you will find yourself asking why a character does something so many times.
The story is lame at the very best.
All this so far and we haven’t even spoken a lick about if the game is fun or not. Well, short story, yes it is quite fun. The game fills itself with a surprisingly enjoyable combat system that uses a hack and slash system in contrast to the old ATB systems of old. You completely control the flow of battle and can move around the battlefield and in and out of combat as you see fit. This is quite nice, even if it is a huge departure from everything we’ve basically known in a Final Fantasy game up to this point.
Combat itself is simple, yet has quite a few nuances that can be adapted by veteran players. Noctis can bring four weapons into combat with him, including magic flasks. At any point in or out of combat, Noctis can change weapons to modify his attack patterns and can also teleport around the battlefield with his bloodline ability. The other three members of the team don’t offer as much flexibility outside of being able to equip two weapons that they can specifically use. Outside of using battle skills on command, they are completely AI controlled. Usually the AI is fairly competent and won’t pose an issue, but there are times where the game has your friends doing anything other than being helpful. That kind of sucks because Noctis can take some punishment but he’s no meat shield, like Gladiolus.
As you travel the world, you have the option to do it on foot, by chocobo or in the Regalia, the aforementioned sports car that the king gave Noctis. The Regalia is the best option when you are simply looking to get from point a to point b as you can have Ignis drive or chose to drive “on rails” yourself. Chocobo is faster than on foot and you can level your chocobo up to assist you in combat as well. This method is handy when you need to go off-road but don’t want to have to deal with enemies all that much, since the chocobo can outrun most threats. This option allows you to get on or off as you see fit as well, so you can pick up all sorts of treasures across the world as well.
When you are in the wilderness, you can find camping spots that will allow you to recover your health, clean up and have a fresh cooked meal from Ignis. The meals that you can have Ignis make will add benefits to the team with all sorts of bonuses. This is a key part of making the game easier and is actually quite fun to use when you get to learn all sorts of cooking recipes. Turns out that the design team made each meal too out on camping trips.
As there are plenty of weapons and abilities to play around with, I can’t say that there are too many points in the game where I actually didn’t have fun playing it. Cities are huge and fun to explore but the population within the world seems to exist just so you don’t feel like you are all alone. People all just stand around and never do anything. It’s immersion breaking but something that becomes more of an annoyance as you visit bigger cities and towns.
Each character levels up whenever you rest and the experience from using their special skills will be tallied as well. Ignis has his cooking skill, which is leveled up by cooking and making recipe discoveries. Prompto is a photographer and will snap pictures that you can sift through each night and save your favorites. Gladiolus will level his survival skill when you camp at a camping spot and discovers treasures across the world on foot. Noctis loves to fish, I don’t know why but he does and you can play a fun fishing minigame that is actually well executed.
There are a few mechanics that are added into the game at the end that really open the game up. These include an airship (I’ll never tell), and a secret dungeon that relies on Dark Souls-style platforming. There’s also a few cool things that allow you to backtrack, so you can tie up any lose ends from doing quests or completing monster hunts.
Overall, this Final Fantasy will go down as one of the most fun when it comes to gameplay. There’s a lot of upside here.
Presentation is something that this Final Fantasy gets 100%. The world, towns, enemies, astral fights and so much more are beautifully executed. The soundtrack is awesome and makes the game that much more entertaining. You can walk through a city like Lestallum and if you have ever been to Bahamas, you can feel the similarity. Altissia looks so inspired by Italy that I’m almost surprised that Square didn’t include a leaning tower.
Something that makes the game’s presentation so much more memorable is Promto’s gallery of pics at the end of a day. While he does an absolutely fantastic job of capturing moments in combat and during important key moments, he also captures landmarks and cityscapes much like any normal tourist would. More often than not, you find yourself looking at old pictures and recalling when it was taken.
The soundtrack does an absolutely fantastic job of setting the mood. In the most Final Fantasy moment in the game, Noctis goes super powered and beats up a god. Now, that’s cool by itself but the soundtrack makes the moment. There’s a few moments like this where you almost want the scene to last longer so you can continue to take it in.
There’s a lot that Final Fantasy XV does right. As a matter of fact, if this was a game by any other studio, I’d be excitedly telling everyone that this may be one of the best RPGs of all time. However, this is a Square-Enix game, a studio that knows exactly what is needed to create a masterpiece.
Final Fantasy XV is no masterpiece, it’s a fantastic experience and I absolutely do recommend it but if you were going to put the game head to head with games like Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy X or even Final Fantasy VII you would see that among all the things does well, it drops the ball in the most important parts. Character development and story.
From all we’ve seen up to this point, it appears that we’ll see more development of characters within the DLC. While that is good to hear, why should I have to buy more game just to understand the characters better? Why should I have to watch two movies to have an idea what is going on between chapters? Square says they are patching in some more story, but I can’t help but wonder why they took it out to begin with.
On merits of being just a video game, it’s quite good. Being a numbered Final Fantasy title, XV is a good game that could have been great. In the end it feels like the script for Versus XIII was kept but the gameplay was turned into something totally different. There’s an odd disconnect that shows up far too often. When the game’s midboss is a guy you never fight and the villain is someone you feel more sympathetic for than anything else, someone dropped the ball.