Final Fantasy XV
An awesome road trip for old fans and newcomers
I have a long and storied past when it comes to the Final Fantasy Games. Growing up with the Nintendo Power magazine, I knew about and drooled over Final Fantasy 2(IV) and 3(VI) for SNES, reading all the articles on these games numerous times. However I, like many western folks, found my first real taste of these worlds in Final Fantasy VII.
Final Fantasy XV is not Final Fantasy VII. The two games are so very different in so many ways that you can’t compare them. And you shouldn’t. In fact its difficult to compare most of the Final Fantasy games to each other mostly because each game tries to be different from the last. They don’t just build/subtract like most game series, instead they try to do something different with each game, and yes sometimes it doesn’t work out all that well. I could rant all day about how much I hated Final Fantasy XII and how making FFXIII so damned linear and mostly boring was a step backward for the series, never mind suddenly pushing so many sequels. For a long time I was looking forward to Final Fantasy Versus XIII because it sounded like something new. When they decided to change that to Final Fantasy XV, I was wary, because in my opinion, the games were getting worse and worse. Still, I preordered it because, if nothing else, I am a Final Fantasy fan.
It may sound cliché, but Final Fantasy XV is like a breath of fresh air in a stagnant series. The first game that could be considered truly open-world, instead of leading you by the nose like most of the other games it lets you do your own thing at your leisure. Do you want to do the main quest? Go for it. Side-quests for loot and experience? Sure. Exploration? Sure—to an extent. You can explore most if not all of a given area, but it does take a story quest to bust through that first outpost and widen the world up a little. I can’t say for certain if every outpost requires a main quest or if you can do it yourself, I haven’t played that much into the game.
I’m not going to touch a lot on the story here. First, I haven’t played too far into the game and still have to discover much of the story. Second, I am sure that the story is complex and convoluted, much like any Final Fantasy game, and it’s not something I want to spoil for myself nor anyone else. The basics are simple, however. You play as Noctis, the prince of some country or something that’s under siege by a stronger country. You and your three best friends go on a road trip to go and get married to your arranged bride that you’ve known since childhood.
The gameplay is smooth, Noctis responding quickly to most button commands (on the PS4 anyway) without much delay. I did find issues with the combat camera at times. It usually swings to try to stay behind Noctis and when fighting in an area with bushes or lots of leafy trees it can be hard to see what’s happening with the foliage in the way. The other issue I had with combat is one that I find in most action-rpg combat games: When trying to dodge or move while Noctis is still in motion, nothing will happen. He has to finish the strike or movement before your next button press will be properly registered and he’ll start dodging or moving. This isn’t a constant thing and can easily be overcome with proper timing and everything, but it was something I found a little frustrating.
Another wonky issue is scaling to the player’s level. After the first chapter, when you’re travelling by foot airships filled with enemy soldiers may show up to try to kill you and your friends. While these battles weren’t too hard when they first showed up, these enemies scaled quickly up to just past my current level. The number of enemies that show up in addition to how strong they are and how tightly grouped together they tend to be makes it very difficult sometimes to take them out without loosing a party member or two. They haven’t killed me outright yet, but there have been some close calls. Leveling up too much with side-quests before doing the story quests can also result in those story quests feeling much too easy, but that again is a problem you see in most open-world RPGs and is something the player has to choose to embrace or defy. Ostensibly you could proceed through the story quests without touching the side-quests, I think, then use the side-quests to bump up a low level. When I play a game like this, however, I have a tendency to do every single side-quest I can before moving on to the next story quest so I am massively over-leveled. This also means it takes me forever to move on with the story.
The actual road trip itself is surprisingly fun. Whether you’re driving yourself or letting your friend drive, the conversations, radio with classic Final Fantasy songs and general sight-seeing makes it worth it not to spend 10 gil to fast travel and instead enjoy the view. Even more worth it is unlocking an ability that grants AP during long road trips, making them even more useful.
That brings me to an interesting point about this game. When you first start it up it declares “A Final Fantasy for fans and newcomers” and it does not lie. A person who hasn’t touched a Final Fantasy game in their life can pick up this game and enjoy it immensely. An old fan can do the same easily, enjoying reimagined mechanics taken from other games, small inside jokes that don’t need to be understood to be funny, and a world that’s reminiscent of all of the old games mashed together.
The enemy country uses Magitek armor in combat, bringing up memories of FFVI. The Sphere grid from FFX makes a comeback in Ascension, using AP to unlock abilities and perks. Elemancy, Noctis’ ability to draw and bottle magic from sources across the world map is very reminiscent of FFVIII’s magic-drawing system, and the battle scenes are fast and frantic like they were in Final Fantasy XIII, looking much like something out of a movie but with much greater control. Of course, like the more recent games you don’t outright control your party characters, instead they run autonomously until you decide to tell them to use certain skills that can be switched out as the player likes. Each party member has access to two weapon classes and different abilities. Noctis has access to all weapons types but can only equip four weapons at a time. These weapons can be switched quickly in the middle of battle, and the equipped weapons can be switched in the menu even during battle. If you’re having troubles with the combat speed you can turn on Wait mode, which freezes the action when Noctis is standing still, giving you a chance to breath and decide what to do next. The Wait bar doesn’t last forever though. Also, a quick warning, if Noctis is getting shot or reacting to an attack, the game won’t go into Wait mode. With three gunners shooting at him and he’s taking damage, you need to get clear to get that breather.
The only other negative thing I have to say about the game is mostly its lack of female characters. The main party is the four boys, and so far I haven’t seen a woman join our party yet. There have only been three named women featured in the game, Noctis’ bride, a woman who worked for the royal family, and Cindy, Cid’s granddaughter and the obligatory sex-appeal of the game. (like Tifa and Lulu before her) Cindy is the mechanic that takes care of the car and sends the Prince and his friends on side quests, but they designed her as such an over-the-top, big-breasted, heavy southern accented, fan service drone that its hard to take her or her role in the game seriously. It’s surprisingly disgusting and I honestly hate going back to her all the time to hand in quests or buy upgrades to the car because I can’t stand the bubbly, bouncing, subservient crap that they clearly thing all the men playing this game want to… enjoy themselves to. That is my biggest criticism of the game: the lack of real, believable, women. There is no way outside of a fashion calendar a female mechanic would wear an outfit like that.
But if that’s my only real criticism, then I think it’s safe to say that this game is definitely on my must-play list. If you have ever been a fan of the Final Fantasy series, this game is definitely worth a try. If you maybe rather play something like the Witcher 3, or Fallout, or even Skyrim, this game could still very much appeal to you. If you’re unsure about it, being burned by Square-Enix before and not sure if you can trust again, give it a chance. See if you can try a demo (And not that platinum demo bullshit, a proper demo of the actual game), or pick up the game for cheap. It’s well worth it.