Final Fantasy XV has been a ten-year-long journey for many Final Fantasy fans, myself included, and for others, it’s been a chance to board the hype train that seems ever so popular in this current era of gaming. Regardless, the excitement for this latest instalment in the Final Fantasy franchise has been met with great anticipation. I don’t think it’s any secret that high hopes have been placed on this entry to define where the franchise is headed in the future. As a long-time Final Fantasy fan that has been waiting these ten long years I’m extremely hoping but nervous at the same time.
Final Fantasy XV follows Noctis Lucis Caelum, the crown prince of Lucis, who is on a road trip with his friends and kings guard, en route to wed his fiancée Lady Lunafreya Nox Fleuret. While en route they discover that Noctis’ homeland has been taken over under the pretence of a peace treaty and his father King Regis killed. Noctis with the help of his loyal companions is then tasked with taking up his birthright as the chosen king and finding Lady Luna.
It’s important to note that to get a full grasp of the story within the game it’s highly recommended to watch both the Kingsglaive movie and even the Brotherhood anime. I say this because the game does away with such character backstory and even world setting. Having watched these two beforehand I still struggle to fully follow what is happening in the world as a whole. The story elements of the game seem really localised to just our group of characters which leaves it feeling a lot more like a road trip movie than the dire situation they are supposedly in. As you travel between quests you’ll witness a real-time conversation between the group that serves to deepen their backstories. The idea behind this is sound but the execution, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Often important and interesting pieces of dialogue will be cut short and never to return in favour of the ever repetitive “Imperials above us!” line. These real-time interactions also appear to be completely random so you could find yourself going a very long time without hearing any. Opposed to the extremely common and repetitive lines you’ll hear during a battle and while exploring the open-world.
This barebones approach to the story really affected my enjoyment of the first few chapters of the game as the events of Kingsglaive are quickly glossed over and there is little other information to go on. This marks a very different approach to storytelling than we would usually see with a Final Fantasy game. Those opening moments of a game would usually be some of the most epic and iconic but here there is nothing. The later chapters, however, are a different story and features some very engaging story elements and I have found myself enjoying the game more and more with each passing chapter.
I feel that players will take to this game in two ways, those that want to experience the story in one go and those that are happy to spend time working through tonnes of side quests. I like to mix it up a little but I’m glad that there is a choice at pretty much any given time. There appear to be a few reasons for this, one – open-world RPGs have become very popular of late and it makes sense for Square Enix to explore this. Secondly, is the mixed reaction to Final Fantasy XIII and while a lot of people like XIII I think the general consensus is that it was far too linear. Final Fantasy games have always been linear but you’ve always been free to explore the world to an extent. XV feels like the natural progression the franchise needs after XII and XIII; while it had a great point felt like one step forward and three steps back. So however you wish to play XV whether it’s doing the story straight of the bat or taking your time to complete all the side quests, you are free to do so.
Given the game really does feature a massively vast open world and travelling from place to place could literally take hours the developers have seen fit to provide you with a car. The Regalia, and essentially your fifth party member, probably receives more attention than the story does during the opening hours of the game. There is a good selection of side quests given over to the car and I feel that the characters act in such a way that without this car they wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything. There is more customisation available to the car than your own party and while this is great for those that like to tinker I feel that some of that effort could have been used elsewhere. Regardless, it is there and I’m sure some players are happy with the level of customisation. I for one love the fact you can buy soundtracks of previous Final Fantasy games to play as you drive from place to place.
Long-time fans of Final Fantasy will notice one major change in the Final Fantasy formula here and that is the battle system. No longer do you have control over the entire party. You control Noctis only but can team up with other members of your party to perform link-strikes. The rest of your party will mostly act by themselves performing the role they have been given. The AI is not the best but works a lot better than most games of a similar nature. If you haven’t experienced this type of real-time combat and are used to the slower-paced system that older Final Fantasy titles provide then you can change the combat settings to a more comfortable option. I personally love the combat system in XV as it combines what we saw in Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core (PS4 Remaster please) and that of sister title Kingdom Hearts. Add in the warp-strike abilities of Noctis and you have one hell of a fun ride. Boss battles feel challenging and satisfying at the same time and wow do they look visually fantastic.
As with a lot of the later Final Fantasy games, there is a system in place that allows you to further upgrade your characters outside of the standard levelling system. Throughout the game, you’ll be awarded Ascension Points (AP) which allow you to unlock varies abilities from a range of different categories such as Techniques, Teamwork and Recovery. You can gain AP through a range of different activities ranging from battles to quests and you’re free to spend them how you wish. The depth level of this system doesn’t quite much those of earlier titles but it does allow you to customise your experience of the game to match the way you like to play.
Another addition in this game is the use of Skills; each character has a skill that they partake in which you can level up throughout the game. Serving as kind of a mini-game with a purpose these skills allow you to learn how to cook, in the case of Ignis, which when coupled with camping can give you important stat boosts to help during battle. Gladiolus’ Survival Skill will gain you varies items as you traverse the open-world and Prompto’s Photography Skill doesn’t really give you anything but is used in a few side-quests and can give you an excuse to see some stunning scenery. The skills are really just there to give our characters more depth to their slightly weak personalities but are a fun distraction regardless.
If there is one thing that the Final Fantasy franchise has become known for since its jump from Nintendo to PlayStation, that is pushing the boundaries of visual capabilities. There’s no question that Final Fantasy XV looks absolutely fantastic and I had no doubt that would be the case but I can’t help but feel amazed. It is easily one of the best-looking games of the current generation and it would appear that they have finally bridged that gap between cut-scene quality and in-game quality and it’s glorious. That’s not to say the game is without its issues as I have encountered a number of graphical irregularities. The camera angles being a particular bane, as I have found Noctis to disappear in the environment on a number of occasions. Battles that take place within dungeons and other tight spaces are particular nuisances with the camera whizzing around trying to see what is happening when there just isn’t the space to see.
Much like the visual aspect of Final Fantasy games the soundtracks are iconic and memorable. Final Fantasy XV’s soundtrack while not quite at the level of some previous entries is still a great accompaniment to a very enjoyable game. I will say that I feel like the soundtrack wasn’t given as much attention as I would have liked though as there is hardly any scene where the music felt really impactful. That’s not a knock on the music itself but the way in which it has been used. In previous titles, every iconic scene was accompanied by an iconic and impactful piece of music and I feel that XV doesn’t have that.
Overall while I have been really enjoying my time with Final Fantasy XV I can’t help but feel that it has been released in an incomplete state. There are numerous issues with the game, that I have personally and from others, I have seen online. It would appear that Square Enix recognise this fact and have recently put out a statement on some pretty large and extensive updates they plan to release for the game. Firstly, I feel that this is an admission by Square Enix that the game is not in a complete state and it’s my opinion we are essentially playing a beta version. Secondly, the fact that Square Enix has come and laid out a plan of intent this early does show that they have faith in the game and are putting in the time and effort to bring it up to scratch which is great. This does mean though for all the players who have already completed the story and for those currently playing that the game itself could be a very different game come when all of these updates have been fully implemented.
Now in terms of this review I can’t help but feel a little cheated by this, these are not mere DLC content but features and story elements that should have been included in the initial release. I do however understand that Square Enix must have been under a great of pressure to get the game out after such a long development cycle. The fact that these updates are coming is reassuring but it does mean that I will need to replay the game, which I have no issue in doing, to receive the full story and features. I don’t know how many people will go back and replay the game once these updates are available and there is still the question of whether these updates will even fix the issues they are intended to fix. Either way, this is the current state of Final Fantasy XV and for what we have I’m happy and enjoying my time as are many others.
Final Fantasy XV no doubt has its issues and it’s far from perfect but it is one of the most enjoyable games of the year. The game opens with the statement “A Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers” and this could not be truer. The much needed and natural change in gameplay should definitely attract new players and fans alike. The planned updates should give players a sense of ease with regards to how well the game will be supported in the future. It should also give players even more reason to return after they have completed it. Give the sheer amount of content packed into the game is definitely a worthy investment and will keep you entertained for many, many hours.