I’ll be the first to admit I was a bit skeptical of Final Fantasy XV, Square Enix’s latest entry into the Final Fantasy series. Based on the trailers I had seen, I had taken the popular assumption that this was a Final Fantasy made for the Entourage crowd. An epic ‘bro-venture’ where 4 guys in tight leather party it up surrounded by Chocobo’s. That paired with the lack of cohesive story I’d experienced at Gamescom left me a bit uneasy going forward, but intrigued none the less.
So, for the uninitiated, let’s do a quick rundown. Final Fantasy XV is Square Enix’s latest entry into the Final Fantasy series. It originally was slated as a spin-off named Final Fantasy Versus XIII, but with the development of FFXIII‘s sequels, the game was retooled into 15. I make it no secret that I’m not a fan of FFXIII or its spawn. The fact that FFXV could have been spawned from it had me more than a little apprehensive.
However, I’m glad to say that what I’ve experienced isn’t giving me flashbacks. There are a number of points where the two games differ, but let’s just start with the biggest one. FFXV is open world, leaving XIII’s dressed up corridors far behind. It’s long been the dream of FF fans to be able to truly explore the world’s laid out before us. To be able to see the Golden Saucer in scale, or watch as Balamb Garden skimmed the ocean would have been a dream come true back in the day. On this point, XV really does deliver. Being able to drive and walk through the world, witnessing impressive structures and fantastic beasts really blew me away playing this game. Probably my only gripe and one a lot of people are having; the driving.
You have the option of either letting a companion drive, taking a preset route, or driving yourself. However, there isn’t much difference to be found. Regardless of your choice, the car is more or less set on rails. Sure, you can crash it, but only if you really want to! It makes me wonder why anyone would drive manually. That said, being on Chocobo back is wonderful. You get to traverse the world humming along to the iconic tune. All the while, taking in the sights and levelling up your trusty steed. I’ve grown quite attached to my bird, I just wish I didn’t have to pay a rental fee to use her.
Of course, wandering around in the wild has its risks. While adventuring, there is always an ample supply of beasts to battle. This had been one of my main concerns prior to playing the Gamescom demo, as titles like FFXII and XIII had hinted at a move away from the turn based strategy of previous titles. As the market changed, Square began moving more towards action sequences over the traditional battles. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the combat system in Final Fantasy XV.
While bearing little resemblance to the turn-based battles of old, this system is satisfying to use. In combat, players control Noctis, and his companions are handled by an AI. I know, to some this is a nightmare. However, if in trouble one does not have to rely wholly on the AI not to screw up. It’s a system quite close to what we had in Kingdom Hearts, where you only control 1 character but have the option to perform certain attacks with allies. If you fall in combat, you can either use a potion or wait for an ally to help you back up. Weirdly, I actually like that idea. It really hammers home the idea of friendship and brotherhood within the story. However, I very much appreciate the option to heal myself.
Also, no offense to the other characters, but given the option, I think I would stick with Noctis in a fight anyway. According to his royal blood, Noctis is the only one who can phase in battle, allowing him to jump around the battlefield. Plus he has the greatest diversity of weapons. Really, any playstyle to want to use, be it hacking the enemy with a giant sword, shooting them from afar, or throwing magic at them, you have that option on Noctis. Wanna dropkick a crab from across the battlefield, go do it! It’ll look cool as hell and prove to be a lot of fun.
Literally the only combat downside I found is the spawn rate on certain enemies. Once you pass a point early in the story, the game will automatically send in soldiers to hunt you down. It sounds good in theory, but remember that a large part of this game is exploration. Imagine doing a quest where you have to find a proverbial needle in a haystack, but every time you try to look a battle kicks off. Thankfully, these spawns become less noticible as the game goes on, but early on they can be a death sentence to your enjoyment.
And last and sadly least, we have the story. As I said in our Gamescom vlog, this was the thing that had me the most worried. Final Fantasy has always been a series that prides itself on its storytelling. However, in Final Fantasy XV I just don’t know what to make of it. As far as background to the universe and our characters go, a lot of it is told outside the game through the movie Kingsglaive and the anime series Brotherhood. While I love the concept of expanding the world through other media I feel like this left a lot unsaid in the actual game. Players can feel quite lost as to what the motivations are behind certain characters.
Furthermore, a lot of the lore is left unsaid too. To Square’s credit, they haven’t left the player completely in the dark. But those little shafts of light come through either small snippets hidden in the scenery, or as questions asked by Prompto, who acts clueless to most things as a way of getting exposition to the player.
For example, halfway through the game, you figure out that you need to visit a bunch of gods and get their blessing. You do this so that your betrothed can perform some sort of ritual that does… something? Again, it’s never quite explained until quite far into the game. However, the players act as if they know these things. The most I’ve heard about these gods up until I had to look for them was a small astrology book in one of the towns, that I had assumed was meaningless flavour text up until that point. It’s like Square planted the information but still expected you to fill in the blanks with no context. I don’t know whether to applaud them for not just spoon-feeding the story to me or smack them for making me ask “Huh? What?” so often!
So all in all, yes! I recommend Final Fantasy XV. It’s not going to beat my top 3 in the series ( 8, 7 and 10 respectively) but it definitely shouldn’t be dismissed. In a lot of ways I think Square has been trying to find a place for JRPG’s in today’s market. How does one try to blend a very traditional, distinctive genre into a market dominated by action games? So far, with releases like XIII, they were fumbling in my opinion. However, Final Fantasy XV seems like a step in the right direction. The combat is on point, exploring the world is awe-inspiring at times and while the story might be hard to get to you can tell the thought has gone into it. Most importantly for the first time in years, I’m genuinely excited to see what’s coming next for the Final Fantasy series.