A Final Fantasy For Fans And First-Timers
It took 3,858 days, 551 weeks, 5,555,520 minutes, or 333,331,200 seconds from the announcement of Final Fantasy XV (then titled “Final Fantasy Versus XIII”) for the game to be released. In this span of almost 3,900 days, the game underwent story changes, characters being added and removed, directors being replaced, a platform change, an engine change, and of course, a name change. If any typical game were subject to this sort of development, the resulting product would be a horrific Frankenstein amalgamation and would be a sin against humanity. Luckily, Final Fantasy XV isn’t your typical game! While the end result has some rough spots, the majority of XV is a beautiful, emotional tale with a dramatic, fast-paced combat system and a full world to explore.
Simplified Fun With An Abundance Of Heart
Many of the recent numerical Final Fantasy titles have had… complicated… stories. The games had no qualms about throwing hard to pronounce, confusing terms at the player with the hopes that it would enrich the story. Final Fantasy XIII took the crazy confusing terms to the next level with the likes of L’Cie, Fal’Cie, Cocoon, Pulse, Etro, and Hecatoncheir. The stories in the games become equally baffling, so Final Fantasy XV is a breath of fresh air with its story.
The world of Final Fantasy XV feels like a living, breathing place. Outposts and some towns are sprinkled throughout, connected via winding roadways. Cars pass you as you come and go. Food vendors share information with you, telling you where you can find monsters to hunt or good camping spots. The sunny days and bustling towns hide the darker and more tense climate that is filling the world. The empire of Niflheim have made their push into the crown city of Insomnia, and the world is dealing with an increase in daemons from the growing night and the Plague of the Stars. The last force that is stopping the Plague is Insomnia’s crystal and the light it shines. An important factor regarding the detail of world development is that you can’t just look at Final Fantasy XV on its own, but must also experience the side anime mini-series, Brotherhood, and film, Kingsglaive, to get a true picture of what is going on – for better or worse. On the plus side, though, Brotherhood is available for free on YouTube and the important scenes from Kingsglaive that directly impact the game were added via the day one patch.
The central focus is around the crown prince of Insomnia, Noctis Lucis Caelum, and his three best friends and crowns-guard, Ignis Scientia, Prompto Argentum, and Gladiolus Amicitia. At the start of the game, the group is off on a road trip to take Noctis to marry his fiancée Lunafreya, but alas, their car has broken down. From there, the trip continues on a downward spiral as tragic events plague the prince and his friends. Like any good friends, though, they stick together and each does their best to keep the others going strong. It is this bond that is one of the true highlights of Final Fantasy XV. It doesn’t try to be overly complicated just because of its Final Fantasy title. Its story doesn’t constantly hurl strange terms at you that it expects you to understand. The world is fairly modern, with features such as electricity, cars, and auto-tools aplenty, but also includes the magic and crystals that are series staples. If you are a long-time Final Fantasy fan and have played Final Fantasy VI (originally released in the West as Final Fantasy III on Super Nintendo) then many of the terms used will be familiar to you – Magitek Armor, Bio-Blaster, Autocrossbow, etc. With a good amount of plot twists and intrigue, the game pulls you along; it’s a shame there isn’t more, but we will touch on that later.
Switching Up The Norm
When it was first announced that Final Fantasy XV would feature fast-paced action combat and not a more traditional turn-based system, the internet went into a berserker frenzy. The simple fact it was more of an action-RPG instantly made this NOT a Final Fantasy game, some claimed. It would simply be a ripoff of the Kingdom Hearts system and that just wasn’t Final Fantasy! Final Fantasy is turn-based, dammit! Luckily, that sentiment died down a good deal once Square Enix released demos that allowed players a chance to try the system. As a whole, the new fast-frantic combat in XV is a highly enjoyable change of pace with one main hindrance: The camera, specifically the camera in tighter areas or areas with a high density of trees and/or bushes, isn’t handled correctly. It can get rather frustrating when you are trying to destroy a mob of enemies and all you can see are small bits and pieces of the fight between the leaves of a local fern. One of the main aspects of combat this time around is warping, the act of hurling your weapon and instantly teleporting to it, dealing damage and starting a combo. The farther you are from an enemy you warp to, the more damage done, and if you should hit it from behind you will score a further bonus by doing blindside damage. Warping around a battlefield to strike at enemies and then warping to safety to replenish your magic makes the combat continuously fresh. Building the skill to time blocks perfectly so that you nimbly dodge an attack leaving a glowing afterimage in your wake is rewarding, and parrying enemy attacks to follow up with a heavy-hitting attack of your own doesn’t get old. Noctis has access to every weapon type – swords, lances, two-handed swords, daggers, guns, tools, shields, magic, and special weapons called “Royal Arms” that drain your health upon use. The other members of your team only get specific primary and secondary type weapons; Ignis uses daggers and lances, Gladio has two-handed swords, and Prompto wields guns and tools.
Eventually you unlock the ability to summon weapons all around you, letting you fly and strike all around the battlefield in a lethal dance. While you aren’t able to directly control your party members (yet), you can call on them to use attacks once a bar fills. These attacks level up and become incredibly strong; eventually, you are able to even have them break the damage cap of 9,999 damage. Your Crownsguard will also assist you in performing link attacks when conditions are met, from attacking an enemy’s blindside or parrying a large attack. These link attacks can easily turn the tide of a battle when executed well.
Leveling up is done this time around via the Ascension Grid system. By gaining AP (Ability Points) through fighting, camping, cooking, traveling, etc, you can purchase a number of boosts and improvements for your party – new abilities for your party members, additional equipment slots, improved spell power, and so on.
You have a large number of offensive options in combat, which makes the battles frantic and exciting to play. The 3 elemental spell families of Fire, Thunder, and Blizzard make their return in a new and utterly devastating way. Spells are now crafted by combining elemental resources that you can find throughout the world (similar to draw points from Final Fantasy VIII). There are four main spells that you can create this way: Fire spells (Fire, Fira, Firaga), Thunder spells (Thunder, Thundara, Thundaga), Blizzard spells (Blizzard, Blizzara, and Blizzaga), and random cast spells that will unleash a random combination of the other three. Most of the spell combination and experimentation comes when you begin to mix catalysts into your spells. These catalysts add additional properties such as poison, stop, and multicast to that specific spell mixture. This can be used to incredibly powerful effect; a number of times in my playthrough, a well-crafted spell would obliterate an enemy mob in no time at all. I would even go as far as saying the magic is too powerful in this game. The visuals on the spells are no joke either, as spells will fill the screen with flames and embers scorching the ground, or blinding snow storms freezing foes and allies alike. There was more than one occasion where I used a spell on weak enemies just to see the beautiful spell effects again.
A number of the mainstay summons return after long absences from a main (non-MMO) Final Fantasy title, this time called Astrals, and they have never looked more grandiose and intimidating. In order to avoid spoilers for those that have remained steadfast against watching trailers, I won’t mention specifics, but I will say that you have never seen or experienced summons to this scale before. It is unfortunate, then, that the numbers of summons in this game is smallest the series has ever had (since summons were introduced) and it is a real bummer. Gone also is the traditional way of summoning them; it’s been replaced with random appearances for each summon, each when specific criteria are met and only in certain locations of the world map. Each one is entwined with the story’s narrative, though some are more well done than others. Even so, when they do decide to lend their aid to the party, the sheer power and spectacle with which they appear make them jaw-dropping highlights of the game. They also obliterate any enemy or mob that you are fighting. Instant-win button.
Final Fantasy games are also known for their mini-games, with highlights including the Gold Saucer from Final Fantasy VII, Triple Triad from Final Fantasy VIII, and the head-scratching, luck-based Tetra Master. Final Fantasy XV introduces the pinball style game, Justice Monsters Five. It’s not overly deep or complex, but you can win some moderately beneficial awards from it – though it is certainly not the best (or worst) the series has offered. Chocobos also make their return in XV, letting you ride and level them up as you travel the countryside, or even race them! With each title, the more realistic they look, and the more I wish that genetic engineering was to a point where we could make living breathing Chocobos already! KWEH!
Small Story, Big World
The story of XV, while engrossing and interesting, doesn’t last anywhere near long enough. A common complaint of many players is that the last third of the game feels rushed – a statement that I agree with. It is the shortest modern Final Fantasy in terms of story by far, but I did still find it to be a good story. So good, in fact, that I just want more. I want to know more about the backstory and reasoning behind the main antagonist, and I want to get a better idea of what is going on in the Niflheim Empire. It is in these areas especially that I felt far too little information and exposition was given, which is a shame. I am hopeful, however; from recent statements from the game’s director, they will be adding more story and character details because they hear the fans. I know the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy gets its fair share of hate and that the subsequent sequels were simply there to try and fix issues people had with the original title, but I would love a XV-2. I want a game that really fleshes out the tale of Noctis’s father, King Regis, and the quest he took 30 years prior to XV.
While the story may not take very long to complete, far more of your time will be taken up by the intimidating amount of side quests, hunts, and dungeons available. I have friends that have spent as much time exploring and doing quests in the first three chapters of the game as I did in completing the game and doing some exploring too! Missions that appear to be one-offs can turn into entire quest lines and small stories themselves, with interesting and quirky characters of their own. The dungeons and bonus dungeon you unlock after beating the game are some of the most fun and well-designed dungeons I have played in an RPG. One incredibly smart decision by the developers was to not take away the player’s ability to explore once the game’s plot becomes more linear and story driven. Aside from occasional moments, you can always return and resume your exploration, questing, and hunts. Had this not been the case, you would be seeing a lot more fans with pitchforks out there, wanting to see this game burn. The game is even incorporating a New Game+ option soon, though it is not out at the time of this review.
A Perfect Blend Of Visuals And Music
Final Fantasy has always been a series that pushes visuals, both to its detriment and benefit. The fifteenth entry is no different, and boy-oh-boy does it look good – which is incredibly important, as you will be doing a lot of looking at it as you drive from one location to another. The vistas you will see as you ride along are gorgeous and breathtaking. You will see moving mountains, glowing magical meteors, vast oceans, cities floating on the water, and eerie dungeons with who-knows-what lurking just outside of the light. The days fade into nights, with stars speckling the skies as far as you can see unless a rainstorm brings clouds and blots them out. Lucky for you, though, you always have a tent handy to camp out under the stars, with Ignis preparing some of the most delicious food you have ever seen period, in a game or not (it’s a nice bonus that it improves your stats too!). I could go on, but it wouldn’t justice to how good the game looks. It really is something you need to see for yourself.
To complete the package, though, the soundtrack needs to hold up, too – and it does. The music does a perfect job of capturing the scene it’s attached to, with sweeping, fast melodies during tense moments and somber serenades in the darker, more emotional areas. A personal favorite of mine is Apocalypsis Noctis. The battle theme is catchy and fast, pumping you up for battle. The updated Chocobo theme returns with the same silly and fun chords. I seriously doubt you will hate the music, but if by some remote chance you do, well you’re in luck too; you can acquire soundtracks from the previous Final Fantasy titles that you can play as you cruise or walk around (at the start of Chapter 3, buy the MP3 Player from your Regalia’s store to listen to tunes when you aren’t in your car). I found myself playing the world music from the previous games just for a spot of nostalgia and to mix things up. It always put a smile on my face.
A Flawed But Still Beautiful Gem
I loved Final Fantasy XV, but it is not a perfect game. It isn’t even my favorite Final Fantasy title. What it is, though, is a fantastic entry in a series that has suffered a bit of a decline over the past decade. While a majority of the game is very well done, there are some things that hold it back and somewhat tarnish it. The interaction between the four main protagonists is great and you can relate each one to a member of your own group of close friends, but some plot threads are not explored deeply enough and other characters drastically need to be fleshed out and explored more. The world is rich and full of stuff to do, but the story feels rushed right when things really explode and pull you in. The combat is incredibly exciting and a rush, but the camera can leave you exasperated. There was only a single part of the game that I genuinely did not like and that was Chapter 13. However, Hajime Tabata has come out and said that they are aware of many players’ issues with this area of the game and will be tweaking it and making improvements in a later patch. With extensive DLC in the works for this title ranging from special chapters where you play as Prompto, Ignis, and Gladio, to an online multiplayer mode, to possibly even creating your own character, you can tell Square is putting a lot of love and belief in this title. I for one cannot wait to see what comes of it and I think that after a long night, a new dawn for the Final Fantasy series is peaking over the horizon.
- Noctis and his buddies have a lot of heart (even though they look like a boy band)
- The new combat system is addictive and exciting
- So pretty and sounds amazing
- Great plot twists and emotional moments
- So much side stuff to do!
- Camera during combat hinders the otherwise great system
- Chapter 13. All of it.
- Rushed story in the final third
- Side characters need more fleshing out