Final Fantasy XV Review – A Fantasy Based on a Reality
Platform: *PS4/Xbox 1
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: November 29th, 2016
Final Fantasy. Whether you like Japanese video games or not, and whether or not you even play video games, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of this franchise somewhere. Each numbered entry typically takes place in a new explorable world and always gives a new cast of characters. It’s been a long time coming since the previous single-player main entry Final Fantasy XIII, and it’s been ten years since this game itself was announced under the name of Final Fantasy VS XIII.
Final Fantasy XV revolves around Prince Noctis and his best friends going to meet his bride to be Princess Luna, the oracle. While they are childhood friends, their marriage is actually a political one as with their marriage, the war between the Kingdom of Lucis and the Empire of Niflheim will end.
The first half of XV takes place in an open world, uniquely presented in a road-trip style. Said open world is mainly a large interconnected road with some dungeons to explore and resting areas in-between. For the first hour or so, your car is broken down so you don’t have access to it, but once you do, the world opens up pretty quickly. The second half isn’t open world and sadly becomes pretty linear. Although it should be noted that you have multiple opportunities to go back to the open world if you so choose to do so. Once you’ve gained full access to the open world though, the game is at your fingertips. In your car, a destination is never more than a few minutes away; the alternative is to just fast travel there with a very negligible amount of cost involved. Keep in mind, though, that Ignis doesn’t like to drive at night and will always warn you that it’s dangerous to go out at night, as powerful monsters lurk about.
For an open world game, there’s a lot to explore if you decide to walk around; yet at the same time, there isn’t much to do. The main component of side quests the game has are hunts. These are pretty simple tasks of “defeat X in this location.” Since enemies don’t drop money, it provides an easy method to get some. Other than that, there are some other quests which ask you to find an item. Some you might already have, others are specific to the quest itself. There will be times where you’re wandering around and you’ll hear a cry for help. Other times, when you’re driving around, Prompto will want to take a picture of the nearby view. As said before, there are dungeons to explore as well with a very large portion of them being optional. These optional dungeons are more post-game material than to be done during the main game unless you feel like you’re up for a challenge. Doing these early in the game is absolutely out of the question however.
The game honestly isn’t all that hard if you play it smart. When it comes to battles, there’s not much to it. You can either press or hold the attack button. There’s also a lock on so you can target an enemy or a specific part of one if they’re a large enemy. Using the analog stick to position yourself while attacking is a huge plus and may also provide extra damage as well. One can also hold down the button used for defending. In doing this, you don’t necessarily guard with defense, it’s more of you warp out of the way of an attack. This can’t go on indefinitely, though, as it costs MP to do so. If you’re ever in danger and there is a warp point where Noctis can hang on to his sword, you can use it to recover lost HP. While hanging from your sword, if you’re locked onto an enemy, you can perform a warp strike for massive damage. If you run out of MP for some reason, look for cover and hide behind it and you’ll recover some quickly. The game doesn’t provide you with magic the way a normal Final Fantasy game would either. Instead of learning the spells, you have to gather the elements and synthesize them. Sadly though, it’s only electric, fire, and ice spells that you’ll be crafting here. You can entrust a flask of the magic you made to a teammate to use as their secondary weapon, but from my playtime the AI wasn’t good at using them so I hoarded them for myself. Be careful though as magic has Area of Effects that can also damage your allies, so spamming it isn’t really an option. In the first half of the game, or generally in very open areas, while simple, the battle system works wonders and feels great. On the other hand, if you’re fighting in a corridor, you’ll be fighting the camera more than the enemy which is a huge pain to deal with.
In a way, the game gives you and your allies two sets of health bars. One is your actual health, and the other is what you can recover back whether it be by regenerating your HP or by using a potion. If you so happen to run out of HP, you aren’t immediately dead, as your partners can revive you (and each other) if they get to you before your secondary bar goes down to zero as well. Even if all of your allies were goners, and you lost as well, the game gives you ample time to let you use a Phoenix Down to prevent a true game over. Truth be told, this combined with how much normal potions heal, there was never a need for me to go out and buy anything better. I got through the main story just fine on Phoenix Downs, normal potions and whatever I could find in the world. Now, if you want to go into some of the dungeons, I would suggest bringing some better items, but potions definitely heal way too much for the amount you can buy them for.
Your friends make a huge difference in battle. Sure I wouldn’t give them magic to use, but that’s because their primary weapons are more than enough to work. All of your allies have two sets of weapons to choose from. Gladious has his broadswords and shields, Ignis, his knives and lances, and Prompto, his guns and machinery. Noctis is actually a specially case, as he can wield every weapon in the game and has two weapon types private to him, short-swords and Royal Arms. Every dungeon you visit has a Royal Arm lying in wait at the end of it; they’re so powerful you actually lose HP when you land an attack, so be careful. Eventually, you’ll be able to ask your teammate to perform a special attack in battle, and whatever weapon they’re holding will affect which one they do. They can’t perform it if they don’t have the right weapon type to do so. However, if they’re holding their secondary weapon in the second slot, then all is well.
Outside of normally leveling up, the game actually has has something known as the “Ascension System.” With it, everyone has the ability to further improve their stats, their special attacks, and even learn new attacks, as well as support moves. You learn these skills by gaining “Ascension Points (AP).” These points are gotten by doing a specific task in a battle when the (rare) occurrence arises, or when you finish a chapter. Once that’s done, you can spend those points to get them easier such as camping out, fishing, or performing certain attacks in battle.
Final Fantasy has always defined the JRPG genre with top notch graphics, storytelling and music. This game had a wonderful soundtrack since, while in the car, you could actually listen to the soundtracks of previous games. The tracks native to the game weren’t so bad either. Although, the normal battle theme making every battle sound like a giant epic wasn’t to my taste after the first few hours of hearing it. The graphical fidelity of the game itself is great. While being made in tandem with Square’s new engine, the game looks better and runs better in some places than others, but that’s not the biggest deal in the world since some of it’s highs are very high, while its lows still look great. The game’s story, sadly, is not as grand. It’s not exactly serviceable. The story goes by so quickly with so many details missing or crammed in at random moments that it feels more like an outline of a story than the real thing. What makes things worse is that with the game being the sequel to the movie Kingsglaive, some character’s motivations aren’t even the same as they were then. In-fact, one would think they were completely different characters, which is baffling. Overall, the outline of the story itself is fine. It’s just how they told it wasn’t all that great.
As a longtime Final Fantasy fan, XV was something I’ve been waiting for, for a very long time. I was in middle school when it was announced. Now, I’m an adult, and after the disappointment known as Final Fantasy XIII, this felt like it was going to be a breath of fresh air. Instead, it’s the same thing but different. Different, but the same. In XV, the characters were actually likable and the game is a blast to play (when the camera wants to behave.) On the other hand, the story is a mess and the overall experience of the game janky. It’s pretty funny really. While XIII was a well polished, and well put together game, the boring gameplay and numbing narrative didn’t help. Whereas here, the game is fun, albeit not as well put together and has a nonexistent story. In their own right, both are very solid games, but for what franchise they’re a part of, both come off as lacking. However, Final Fantasy XV is definitely a step in the right direction. Sure, the game made it nearly impossible to get a game over with, the camera needs work, and the story is severely lacking to a point where it could’ve probably needed another year to properly produce itself. But, what’s there is a something decent. Focusing on and fine-tuning the gameplay felt like a good trade-off if the game couldn’t fully develop itself in time for it to come out.