Final Fantasy XV, the game that nearly took as many years to release as the number in its title. It’s finally out there though, free in the wild plains of the internet, and opinions so far have been pretty strongly divided. To clarify, I’ve not played many Final Fantasy games. I’ve wanted to be into the series more than I am, but I just never really played many titles, and truth be told, never finished the ones I did start. So I’m somewhere between a fan and a newcomer I guess. Given the new direction this title is trying to draw from, it wants to be both a love letter to the past, and welcoming to new audiences. So how did someone like me feel about it? Let’s find out.
Story and The Bro’s
Final Fantasy XV
Reviewed on PS4
Developed by Square Enix
So what is Final Fantasy XV about when you all get down to it. Without spoiling anything of course, it’s really about the journey. Part of what makes XV its own beast is the focus on not just the storyline itself, but the actually journey of the characters. Essentially it’s a tale about Prince Noctis with his friends and retainers, Prompto, Galdiolus and Ignis as the four leave home to see Noctis married off. Saying anything more than that really starts to go into spoiler territory, but there is certainly more at play as the friends soon find themselves pitted against an enemy empire while Noctis struggles against his birthright as the chosen king.
Thematically though, the journey of the adventure often feels more important than the actual events of the story in a sense. Be it camping, eating, questing or riding chocobo’s together, your friends are never far from your side, and it really does feel like a road trip across the land as you spend many an hour driving from town to outpost, quest to dungeon, all while the entire library of Final Fantasy’s soundtracks are on your radio. With such a tightknit team of only four characters, you spend every moment with a smaller and more intimate cast, and it really hits home when anything affects even a single member of the team.
It’s not all road trips and cup noodles though, because there will be a turning point when the game turns from open world road trip to a very focused linear narrative. The execution of which makes me feel a lot of conflicting opinions. This both ramps up the narrative and feels like an end to the freedom Noctis has been able to enjoy up to this point, both mechanically and thematically. It also feels jarring in a sense, as if it needed something to complete the cycle. As if it what it tried to do was so close to great, yet feels unfinished or too lacking. The road trip before it suffers differently, with a massive amount of content and activities, yet only a small amount of real substance in your actions. There is something I really like about the presentation of the story for spoilery reasons, but it also carries with it the largest problem XV has, just feeling…not quite finished. I like many things about the story the game delivers on though, and despite the problems it still holds together a decent enough plot with a unique focus on the journey just as much as the adventure.
Mechanics and Gameplay
Story aside though, what about the gameplay! Final Fantasy is still an at least half open world JRPG, and as you would expect that means there’s a lot to do. There are plenty of side quests to consume your time, even if they often tend to be pretty clear cut kill or fetch quests. Dungeons makes a return though in a really interesting way, becoming huge extensions of the world itself in near seamless transitions. Dungeons are now tucked away sections of content that can be a natural expansion of the world in the form of caves, forests, mountains or even secret puzzles in the landscape. That’s not even mentioning all the other activities like chocobo riding and racing, playing arcade games, exploring the world or hunting down monster contracts. On top of this there’s still each character’s personal skills and abilities to master, or their unique mechanics in the form of fishing, photography, cooking and uh…walking. In short there’s a ton to do, and you can lose hours just messing around or making Ignis shout “That’s it!”.
Enough talking around the elephant in the room though, let’s talk about the combat. One of the biggest issues people had going into the new game was the switch from turn based combat to the faster paced and action heavy fighting. This would either payoff to be the new hot thing for the franchise or satisfy all the whining fans when it didn’t pan out. So is it good? Well…yes and no. I liked the attempt at something new and faster, as they tried to give Noctis and friends a combat style that felt slick and rewarding, yet simple to execute. A lot of the time it can be just that, as you slide around enemy attacks and blink between foes unleashing a variety of combos, fluidly swapping weapons and magic on the fly as you seamlessly work off your teammates. Zipping in and out of massive monster battles while commanding your bros to unleash their unique skills and do joint combos for some massive damage and great photo opportunities.
Sometimes it just connects perfectly and it really feels like a cohesive and fun experience, and sometimes, it does not. Especially in close spaces, it can really feel messy at times. Sometimes you just go into a fight and it doesn’t feel like any of that magic is there. It’s a fickle system, one that jumps between slick and rewarding, and a blind mess of spamming and getting pushed into the ground endlessly. Like much of XV, it feels very close to being somewhere great with the new approach, but just falls short in several ways. One of my biggest complaints is just how redundant your options feel, as you are given a pretty wide range of weapons and skills to very seamlessly play with, and yet you can absolutely just use the sword, lance and greatsword the whole game. The magic system was a fun attempt at making it feel like a more rare and uncontrollable aid, but it’s really just throwing grenades at people. All this said I don’t think it’s a bad system, especially when it comes to team work and controlling the team at an arm’s reach, while still feeling like a close unit. I just hope it gets refined into something really good if they keep going with it.
There have been some understandable gripes about the use of external sources for storytelling, opposed to just having that content in the game itself. While I don’t completely disagree with the arguments, I also have no issue with how it’s been treated. In the lead up to the release of FFXV I actually did go to the movies and watch Kingsglaive with some friends, and it was a decent enough introduction to the game and the world it takes place in. It was clearly more optional content for the interested than necessary information, and it’s even more clear as you play the game that you see the same perspective as Noctis, and Noctis didn’t get to watch the film either. It’s really been done to offer more without forcing it, especially in the case of the short anime series that is great for fleshing out the cast, but doesn’t drive any real story points pertaining to the game. I did actually enjoy both mediums and while perhaps more should have been inside the full game, the way it is honestly works just fine.
More than these, I wonder more about the effect of the constant adding and updating in store for the games future. It’s clear that Square Enix want FFXV to have a lifespan beyond a run of the story, but the methods for it seem less like additions and more like renditions. On top of adding stories for each Gladious, Prompto and Ignis, there’s also plans to add cutscenes and gameplay, changing the experience from launch to something new. I want to say that adding more feels needed, and positive, yet the idea of changing the game overtime seems…odd, and possibly corruptive of what the game is now. Unlike the options given with the movie and anime, changing the game itself over time could be for the better or worse, and I honestly hope what we have by the end isn’t something completely different. Even so, I have said before that the game needs more fleshing out in areas. Even if it comes late to the game, if extra life could be pumped into the story to fill out the world without tarnishing the game, it could go a long way to improving on what I already enjoyed. Plus, additions like the chocobo festive are pretty fun.
Music, Voice and the Rest
Worries of the future aside though, FFXV may have its problems, but it still really shines in many areas. Graphically it can be a damn good looking game, even without being on the PS4 Pro as is probably intended. Sometimes textures can catch your eye as not quite up to scratch with the best of the rest, but generally speaking the game does look amazing, especially as you’re cruising around with wide open vista’s and a stretching road to tame. Even the visuals aside though, I really have to applaud how cohesive the world strangely feels. It just feels so much like our world mixed together with Final Fantasy, blending the mostly modern with a fantasy setting. The way the world has been captured feels so perfect to me, it’s only a shame we don’t get nearly enough of it.
It really doesn’t hurt that there are some pretty sweet tracks to accompany you through your travels. Be it the epic boss fight music or engaging tracks in and out of combat, the audio is far from bad. Massive bonus points for being able to listen to just about every single Final Fantasy track from previous titles as you roam around the wilderness or drive to each destination. Add the visuals and music to smooth gameplay with few if any issues while running, camera at times aside, and that’s a pretty winning combination for all the above. The only issue that does divide people quite openly is the voice acting. To be honest, it didn’t really bother me. I get people issues for some part, and it can feel rather hammy sometimes, but generally I really thought it was fine to me. Huge props to Darin De Paul as Ardyn Izunia though, because that character stole every damn scene he was in.
Is It Good?
Final Fantasy XV is not a perfect game, but I certainly did enjoy it quite a lot. I could never shake a feeling of it simply being unfinished or rushed in parts, and you can feel the troubled development in its bones, but it still comes out as a great game definitely worth playing. In many regards this game was a love letter to Final Fantasy’s of the past, as well as trying to stand out in a new direction. Even if it wasn’t perfect, it is actually the only game in the series I’ve finished from start to end, and I certainly enjoyed not only the game itself, but the media surrounding and fleshing out that world. For both old fans and first timers, Final Fantasy XV is worth taking that road trip and just enjoying the journey. I just hope the next game doesn’t take as long to make.