It’s been a hell of a long wait for Final Fantasy XV, a game that had spent ten years in development before finally seeing release this year. Ever since it was revealed as ‘Final Fantasy Versus XIII’ I’d been excited to get my hands on the game, though the same could be said for the millions of Final Fantasy fans all over the world. Now the game has released with the official Roman numeral following the title, there’s an added pressure for it to deliver the same kind of thrilling RPG experience that gamers have been used to for years with the much loved series.
Thankfully Final Fantasy XV delivers another amazing adventure worthy of the name, though it’s one that Final Fantasy fans won’t be used to. The series has always re-invented itself between entries, but Final Fantasy XV really goes all out with its new focus on fast-paced action orientated combat. It started life as a spin-off and feels like one too, with the entirety of the game offering a whole different vibe that’ll at times have you questioning if you’re even playing a Final Fantasy game. It’s not a bad thing though by any means, especially since it delivers such a fantastic experience – it’s certainly a big change to what gamers have been used to with the series though…
It’s probably worth mentioning from the get go that to get fully absorbed into the Final Fantasy XV narrative you need to do more than just simply play the game. There’s the ‘Kingsglaive’ prequel movie as well as a five part anime series that introduces you to the characters, the world, and what exactly is going on. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily compulsory viewing, but I’d highly recommend it if you want to get the most out of your time with Final Fantasy XV.
Final Fantasy XV sees you taking on the role of Noctis, the young prince of Lucis who is due to marry the Princess of a neighbouring nation as a means to bring peace between the two. He has to make his way to the Princess first though and, like marriage itself, the journey is a rocky one with many trials and tribulations. Thankfully Noctis is joined by his three best friends: the hulking and strong Gladiolus, the educated and witty Ignis, and the energetic camera wiz Prompto. Unlike other Final Fantasy games though, that’s it. Whilst you meet plenty of other characters throughout the game, your party in the game is always made up of those four characters.
It’s an interesting approach that Square Enix have taken, especially when you consider that previous Final Fantasy games have offered a big range of party members for you to choose between throughout the game, so much so that you’d almost resent leaving certain characters on the metaphorical ‘substitutes bench’. Not having this choice adds a degree of intimacy to the game though, forcing you to form bonds with these characters that have been specifically chosen to share an adventure with Noctis. Thankfully the friendship between the four has already been established so there are no growing pains in-between – you head into this adventure with them already sharing memories, be them good or bad. The banter is already there too and you can enjoy the camaraderie between characters as if you’ve been there from the very start.
Of course, it doesn’t take long for things to take a turn for the worst, so the journey slowly becomes an epic adventure rather than a simple road trip between friends. I mean, c’mon, it wouldn’t be a Final Fantasy game otherwise, would it? It actually demonstrates the strong story-telling and character development in the game, with each drastic change in the storyline bringing a shift to each character’s personality. They develop as you progress through the game, showing a real ‘coming of age’ as this group of young adults embrace the responsibility thrust upon them and slowly become men. It might sound a little cheesy, but it’s a consistent theme throughout the game.
The biggest and most interesting feature of Final Fantasy XV is the combat. It’s such a change to what we’ve previously been used to in the mainline Final Fantasy games, offering something that’s more similar to the likes of ‘Kingdom Hearts’. I’m sure some fans might be a little upset by the decision to spice things up so much, but in honesty it delivers such an enjoyable action-focused experience that I’m sure it won’t take long to convince them it’s for the better. I feel as though Square Enix have been taking a much more cinematic approach to the Final Fantasy series over the last few years anyway and that cinematic touch has finally been introduced to the battle system too.
Rather than the turn-based style we’ve previously been used to in the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy XV instead takes the approach of an action battle system where you’re constantly kept on your toes. Mashing a button unleashes a plethora of attacks, whilst holding another will see you defend and swiftly dodge incoming attacks. If you press the defend button at the right time you can parry an attack too, leaving your opponent vulnerable and setting yourself up for the perfect opportunity to unleash a counter-attack. There are other things to consider too, such as attacking opponents from behind to inflict more damage. It’s pretty similar to how ‘back attacks’ have previously worked in Final Fantasy games, almost offering an homage to a mechanic that typically wouldn’t translate well to the new action-focused style of battling.
Rather than being equipped with just the one weapon, Final Fantasy XV allows you to switch between weapons on the fly with each direction of the d-pad assigned with a different piece of gear or magic. There are certain weapons that are useful against particular enemies, so sometimes you’ll find yourself swapping regardless of what you might find yourself used to – it’s not always a case of simply using the most powerful weapon you have with enemy weaknesses playing a big role in your choice of weapon. Magic attacks are assigned to the d-pad too, so you’ll be able to quickly flick to the likes of thunder, blizzara, and firaga on the go. The action-like approach of the game means you’re able to aim magic attacks this time around, with magic actually playing a strong tactical role in battles – you could have flames scouring around the battlefield for a set amount of time for example, harming anyone that comes in their way. The elements have never been so dangerous and it works so well in-game.
There are other unique mechanics too such as Noctis’ ability to warp, something that can be used as a combat function or as a practical way to recover. Noctis can aim at an opponent and launch at them in a warp attack, unleashing decent damage and eliminating range between himself and an enemy. It can also be used to teleport around the map or even warp to specific recovery points where you can watch the battle unfold as your MP receives a welcome boost. Overuse of MP causes exhaustion, putting Noctis in a weakened and more limited state. It emphasises the importance of resting up, so the warping elements of battle play a much more important role than simply taking out foes.
I’ll admit that before playing the full game I was a little concerned about the battle system. When I tried the multiple Final Fantasy XV demos I enjoyed what I played, but it didn’t have the same vibe I was used to with turn-based battle systems. I’m an old school Final Fantasy fan, it just didn’t feel right. However, after putting so many hours into the game and its combat I’m converted – I love it. It’s incredibly fast and action-packed, bringing with it a hectic feeling of excitement that’s incredibly cinematic too. I’ve often dreaded random encounters in previous Final Fantasy games, yet this time around I eagerly anticipated battles and actually went out of my way to pursue them. Whilst turn based battles will always have a place in my heart, the quality of combat in Final Fantasy XV has me excited for the direction the series is taking.
There were many complaints with how linear ‘Final Fantasy XIII’ felt, though that’s certainly not an issue with Final Fantasy XV. You get to travel across wide open areas that wouldn’t be out of place in an MMORPG, whilst the car also gives you a competent albeit underwhelming mode of transport to explore this world with. Each area felt inhabited too and you never quite know what you’re going to discover, giving the world of Eos a real living, breathing vibe.
There are plenty of side quests to take part in too, as well as mini-games including the likes of ‘Justice Monsters V’ (pinball) and fishing. There’s so much to do and whilst the side quests typically consist of the menial tasks you tend to find in Western RPGs, their presence is appreciated. Final Fantasy XV didn’t feel as long as its predecessors with the main story alone taking between twenty five to thirty hours to complete, so having this wealth of extra content certainly made it more bulky. It kept me coming back for more – I really couldn’t get enough of the game.
If I had to pick out something I didn’t like about the gameplay though it’d be the levelling up system. You earn experience points as normal during combat, but you can only level up when resting. This means you won’t get more powerful as you progress through dungeons for example, but only when you’ve hit a campsite. The game has been designed to cater for this, but still, RPGs offer a sense of progression and not being able to reap the rewards of that immediately left a sour taste in the mouth. It may just be me being fussy, but it was a nuisance that stuck with me throughout the game.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call Final Fantasy XV one of the most stunning video games available on console right now. Whilst characters and monsters are well designed and animated, the world they inhabit looks marvellous too. There’s a real sense of beauty to be found within the game at every corner you turn – even driving down a vacant highway is a sight to behold thanks to the stunning vistas that surround you.
It’s not just the way everything looks though, but the attention to detail too. Battles are full of special effects that really make them stand out, especially when magic is involved. You can actually see the glistening effect of ice attacks on characters during battle after an attack is finished – this isn’t just a case of simply seeing some fancy attack, but it actually affects the environment and the characters in it too. It really is phenomenal.
I always had a few concerns for Final Fantasy XV leading up to its release, but now I’ve finally got the chance to fully complete the game I’ve realised there was nothing to worry about. What we have is an RPG that has completely re-invented itself, in turn offering an experience that’s more action-packed than ever whilst maintaining an amazing cinematic feel that ensures the series’ storytelling roots remain untouched.
I’m not sure if it’ll tick all boxes for every fan out there, but for me it got everything right. The intense combat, the intimate storytelling, the stunning visuals; it all amalgamates into an epic RPG experience that lives up to the Final Fantasy name. It might’ve taken a long time to arrive, but the wait was worth it – Final Fantasy XV is simply one of the finest RPGs I’ve ever played.
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 29/11/2016
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One