Developer/Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PS4, Xbox One (Reviewed on PS4)
Release Date: November 29th, 2016
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a decade since this game was first announced as Final Fantasy Versus XIII. What’s even more unbelievable is that it’s managed to finally come out! Does this former spin-off title deserve to have the brand recognition of a mainline Final Fantasy? Or did it spend too much time in the oven for its own good? A lot of it could be described as janky, but Final Fantasy XV is still a fun romp.
The story of Final Fantasy XV starts out with a bit of preamble. Prince Noctis and his Royal Guard set out from Insomnia, the capital of Lucis, to Tenebrae. Here, Noctis is to marry Lady Lunafreya, the Oracle, as a sign of a peace treaty with the nations of Tenebrae and Niflheim.
Things don’t go as planned, however. While Noctis is en route, Niflheim’s magitek army invades Insomnia, murdering the King, conquering the city, and declaring the soon-to-be newlyweds dead. To reclaim his throne, Noctis needs the power of the Gods and former Kings to drive Niflheim out of his kingdom.
With that, you get the broad extent of Final Fantasy XV’s story. The main plot tends to sit on the back burner as you explore the world, and that’s fine. If it was any more in the forefront, it would hit the absurd peak that the XIII saga occupies.
Still, the story feels like Swiss cheese, with many aspects reflected in other Final Fantasy XV properties like Kingsglaive and Brotherhood. So much so that the stellar FMV that plays during Chapter 1 is just ripped from the final act of Kingsglaive.
The story’s strengths lie more in the characters; more specifically, Noctis and his buds. Their interactions are strong and never get old, especially since besides select quips their lines rarely repeat. It’s simple, but compelling. For others, characterization gets exponentially worse the less relevant they are to the story.
Even then, there doesn’t seem to be a good balance of characters. Too much emphasis can be placed on unimportant characters when the opposite happens to important ones. Lunafreya’s lack of presence in the story is bothersome, and the first thought I have when a character dies should not be “Who?”.
One thing that has a lot to do with my interest in the main party is the voice acting. Noctis comes across as mellow and quiet while not being too brooding. Ignis’ tone as the responsible adviser comes across nicely, even in his goofy moments. Speaking of goofy, Prompto hits that note very well and also captures that in his photography. Gladiolus is probably the weakest voiced of the bunch, but he’s still high quality.
Voice acting isn’t the only good part of Final Fantasy XV’s audio. The music is also great as expected of a Final Fantasy game. The inclusion of other soundtracks to listen to while driving also adds some variety.
You’ll be doing a lot of driving about, as the world of Eros is not only huge, but rather beautiful. The first region of Leide is pretty dull as an opening desert area, but the beauty picks up significantly once you get to Duscae. The amount of detail in all areas of Final Fantasy XV is astounding with little asset overlap.
Enemies also have some great designs. Your regular monsters litter the landscape with some intriguing wildlife designs. Daemons have more recognizable classic designs like goblins and bombs.
Other aspects of Final Fantasy XV’s visual design are a bit iffy. Tonally, it feels like a mishmash of styles; with flashy FInal Fantasy, modern real-world architecture, and older vintage American diners. In some ways these fit well together, but most of the time the visual shift feels out of place.
With the size of the game and how good it looks, I expected this game to suffer tremendously with visual hiccups or poor performance. Luckily, the game runs pretty solid. As expected, it has its taxing moments that drop the framerate, but it usually runs at a stable 30 fps.
There are some frame pacing issues that cause jittering, but it’s by no means the worst offender on the PlayStation 4. Load times are also fitting for a AAA open-world game, peaking at 1 to 1½ minutes on initial load. There aren’t actually any loading screens when you travel around normally, but they do show up when fast travelling.
As with any RPG of this scale, Final Fantasy XV has a lot to do. Let’s start by the system second to the narrative; combat. Breaking away from the pseudo-real-time combat in Final Fantasy XIII, this game has full action combat through and through.
While the input is simplified with holds instead of individual presses, combat has some considerable depth. Attacks can be altered by position and weapon type, which can be switched on the fly. Dodging consumes MP, but timing it right lets you parry and can help break through enemy defenses.
Warping allows you to attack from a distance or teleport away to recover. Changing your weapon also alters the effect and timing of your warp strikes. Magic and healing have been relegated to consumable items. Elements and spell types can be crafted and are determined by what elements you infuse.
Noctis is the only character you control, but you do get assists from the other party members with special attacks. Noctis also gets access to the Royal Arms and Summons. Royal Arms deal much more damage than standard weapons at the expense of draining your HP. Summons can be triggered outdoors and under certain conditions for devastating blows.
Exploring is another big factor of Final Fantasy XV’s gameplay. However, except for the smaller zones, traversing the open-world is tedious. Driving is really the fastest way to travel and fast travel is unlocked after reaching select spots. The downside to driving is that you’re forced to stick to the main road, left sitting and twiddling your thumbs for minutes as you auto-drive.
Walking on foot is even worse since you have limited stamina and your jumping is short at best. Once you get Chocobos, off-road traversal is much more tolerable. Besides going off-road for quests, there’s not much treasure to find by going off the beaten path. The treasure you do find seems to be in random drops on the ground, with the only items getting fanfare being the Royal Arms.
Talking to people at diners in settlements unlocks points of interest on the map, like resource spots and campsites. Campsites and hotels are a big factor in your progression. In Final Fantasy XV, experience is tallied as you defeat enemies and complete quests. However, you have to cash it in by sleeping in order to level up.
Sleeping at campsites gives you the ability to cook meals, which can grant various buffs. On the other hand, sleeping in hotels gives you an experience multiplier to level up fast. The optimal way to progress is to grab and finish as many low-level quests as possible, wait a few days to really rake in the experience, then cash it in at a high-class hotel for huge boosts.
One staple aspect of Final Fantasy games I didn’t expect to see here was the return of dungeons. As you would expect, these crevices in the open-world are instanced zone with special enemies and bosses. However, there is one gripe I have with some of the bosses and large enemies.
With large enemies, these tend to feel like flailing twigs at a stone wall. Even if you’ve done the grinding necessary to be overpowered, it doesn’t fix its core problem. Camera issues combined with unclear telegraphs means that you can easily start running on auto-pilot, downing health items and hoping for the best. In many cases, it didn’t feel like I won fair and square.
With the breadth of the world and gameplay features being enough to fill a whole half of my review, it’s clear that this game has a ton of content. While I’d normally complain about a game with so many features being jack of all trades, master of none, it doesn’t seem appropriate here. The gameplay flow isn’t nearly as gripping as Xenoblade Chronicles X for me, but something about this game just keeps me coming back.
At the same time, it takes a lot to get invested. At least 5 hours stand between you and a truly open-world that feels fun to explore. Even after that, little annoyances and later story chapters may leave you frustrated. If you can get past that, this game has some stuff going for it.
Final Fantasy XV is janky. Its story has plot holes, characters rarely get fleshed out, and technical issues in control make for frustrating moments. Once I start playing, though, I have a hard time putting it down. Something about it is just downright fun to play. If you’re on the fence or have a passing interest in picking this up, I can’t recommend it. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of the series that’s open to new ideas, give it a shot!