When what would eventually become Final Fantasy XV was first announced to be in development my younger brother could barely wrap his head around simple platformers and now ten years later here is able to easily work his way through the mechanics in the latest entry in the well-known Final Fantasy series. After a period of time that many fans thought the game would never be released, Final Fantasy XV has finally hit shelves but did this long development time churn out a worthwhile game?
Set in the world of Eos Final Fantasy XV’s story begins with the prince of the kingdom of Lucis, Noctis leaving the capital city with his friends Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto, as they head off to what is meant to be his wedding to his fiancée Lunafreya the princess of Tenebrae. It is clear that things are dangerous in the world right now but your father the King sees Noctis off with a smile while peace talks with the hostile nation of Niflheim are meant to take place while he is away.
As one would expect, and should know unfortunately given the way that the story is actually handled in Final Fantasy XV, these peace talks quickly fall apart and Noctis learns that his capital city and father have fallen to the Niflheim Empire. With an entire army and the unknown standing in front of them, Noctis and his friends begin a journey in an attempt to restore the world and reclaim what was once yours.
Now as I briefly mentioned, there is are a number of unfortunate aspect about Final Fantasy XV’s story and those who have seen the wide range of multimedia Square Enix released for the game beforehand should be prepared for that to be an issue. While not entirely necessary, large events that are meant to tell parts of the story are secreted away in the Kingsglaive movie or in trailers that have been previously released. In fact, the main way that players learn about what happened at Noctis’ home is through a soundless video taken directly from the film while the characters themselves only hear word of it through a newspaper before attempting to see things with their own eyes.
In fact, thanks to the design of the game, with the first half being designed as an open world style title that allows for plenty of exploration and side-quests to be taken, players will find that the story is handled incredibly vaguely during these parts before the second half of the game narrows the focus down onto the main group and tries to tie things together in an often unsatisfying fashion. That being said, there are some major highpoints throughout this part of the game as well as numerous events that take place that are truly astonishing to see, though don’t expect any unpredictable twists or even memorable side characters as many will simply vanish with no fanfare.
In fact, if it wasn’t for how likable and charismatic the main characters in this story happen to be then it wouldn’t work nearly as much as it does. During the time you can spend in the first half of the game, and boy is there easily more than twenty hours of content just to mess around with here, one would think that this is simply a journey of friends in a fantasy realm. One that is so well-crafted that the world feels genuinely alive around the characters as they travel between various locations, mess around, or simply chat in the Regalia while driving to the next area.
The well-crafted interactions and believable dialogue expand these four characters into ones that carry the entire load of the game on their backs and manage to do so successfully as these fantastic characters wade through the unimpressive story.
While the story may be rather disappointing more often than not, the actual gameplay mechanics are generally far more enjoyable albeit a bit different than fans may expect. The combat system in Final Fantasy XV is almost entirely handled like an action RPG with combat taking place in real-time. Rather than coming across random encounters that place the player into a separate screen, enemies will be visible in the world and will be immediately engaged when they catch sight of Noctis. These battles can be fled simply by running out of the encounter zone if you happen to find yourself overwhelmed, which is entirely possible in some occasions as you may be fighting one group of enemies only to find soldiers or new foes spawning in, with rare battles being prolonged into three stages as the party fought standard foes, soldiers dropped from an airship, and then giants that had spawned from the ground as night fell.
The combat mechanics themselves are unfortunately a bit shallow in most regards but this simplistic nature also makes it incredibly enjoyable and while it might take some time to understand, once you get the hang of things players will be able to handle most encounters. Noctis can dodge and parry attacks, use warp strikes to charge enemies from a distance or escape to a safe vantage point and recover health and MP, and issue orders to his AI companions to use various skills that can be followed up with an extra attack. Things such as blindside attacks, that see the player circling around a foe to strike at their back, and blindside links allow players to take advantage of their foe’s size as a weakness and the terrain.
It is worth noting that since your companions are almost entirely AI controlled in standard combat that they will occasionally falter. For the most part they are able to handle themselves well enough and make correct use of the skills they are equipped with, but if you do happen to go down in combat, it is usually completely random whether or not your teammates will actually come to help you up or if you’ll be left shambling around the battlefield in an attempt to escape danger.
One thing that really helps set Final Fantasy XV apart is the way that combat experience and experience points earned from completing quests are handled. While players earn a set number of points from the aforementioned tasks, they are not actually applied to the characters. Instead these points are banked until the next time the player chooses to either rest at a sleep point or camp in the wilderness. Sleep points tend to cost extra money but can reward the player with bonuses to the total amount of experience gathered so far. This means that at the cost of spending quite a bit of Gil, which is something that can be rather hard to come by at times, players can boost their total by a set amount depending on the location.
On the other hand, camping in the wilderness is free and rewards the player with AP but no boost to the gained experience points. Camping spots do allow players to have Ignis cook certain meals depending on what ingredients are on hand and these meals tend to add various boosts to attack, health, and even experience gain depending on how many ingredients are needed to cook it. In fact, one of the best elements of this game come from how natural it feels to prepare for a long haul in combat. Since each character’s total available health is lowered any time they are downed in combat and the only way to restore it is through sleeping or using an elixir, the best way to gear up is to get a full night’s sleep, eat a hearty stat boosting meal, and then set out to take down your target.
Another benefit from campsites tend to be the magic wells that tend to be around each area. You see, unlike standard Final Fantasy titles magic in Final Fantasy XV must be crafted using “elemancy.” The reason for this is explained in loading screens and this allows players to hold up to 99 points of fire, electric, and ice, elements that can be fused together to create spells. Spells are then equipped in similar fashion to the weapons that Noctis can summon, with four being available to swap between in battle, but the way they are cast tend to be problematic.
Not only are spells limited in number depending on the number of magic flasks the player has but they are thrown like grenades, and until you get the upgrade that removes friendly fire, these AoE spells damage everything in their path though usually your party will suffer the consequences far less than your opponent. One thing that is interesting to note that players can immediately make magic as powerful as they need it to be, by dumping massive amounts of elements into a single crafting recipe and even combining an item with it to enhance the affect, but generally players can choose to focus mostly on the main combat if they feel underwhelmed by the magic system in the game.
Previously I’ve mentioned AP as well as upgrades and that comes into play with the Ascension trees. AP is gained when you level up, camp, or eventually unlock nodes that reward AP for doing things such as taking long drives, fishing, and more and these points are spent to help build up your characters. While a few of these are put into strengthening the base stats for the party they are also able to unlock various skills and new abilities that help make them more capable fighters. While not a very in-depth mechanic, it does give players a decent amount of freedom though it is quite evident that certain nodes will require quite a bit of grinding.
Outside of the standard combat and completing main quests, the side quests are unfortunately rather uninspired in nature as players will quickly find that they are almost entirely fetch quests or ones that involve slaying a large number of monsters. Taking part in the fishing mini-game is a fun alternative that can help the player earn some cash as well as certain ingredients though the driving aspect of the game may disappoint some who were hoping for more freedom in this regard as it is almost an entirely on –rails affair that keeps the car stuck to the road no matter how much you try to veer off.
Visuals & Audio
While players may initially spend most of their time in Final Fantasy XV in the starting desert area as they explore everything available to them, traveling into the lush forests and unique areas in the game really show how beautiful this title can be. The world may not have many full cities that players can explore, in fact most locations consist of only one or two buildings, but the wilderness and dungeons that can be explored are quite exciting to see.
The fluid combat rarely sees a drop in framerate though players may notice that the title does feature some unfortunate pop-in with some enemies appearing out of thin air, and not on purpose like some do at night, as well as issues where characters will abruptly teleport in an attempt to perform a blindside link attack. That being said these issues are few and far between when fighting and seeing your characters covered in frost that melts away as they suffer the effects from an ice spell is a real nice touch.
The voice actors for the core cast of characters handle their jobs incredible well which is a nice plus considering the side characters once again are given fairly standard and predictable sounding voice work. As for the soundtrack, players will find that the game has a satisfying array of tracks that are unique to the title as well as numerous memorable tracks form previous Final Fantasy games that can be played over the Regalia’s radio.
Final Fantasy XV has a lot to offer in terms of gameplay and being set in a gorgeous well developed world really helps enhance the experience of traveling through it with a likable cast of characters. Unfortunately with a storyline that feels like it is missing far too much content and barely has any impact outside of a few noteworthy moments, players will find it hard to get invested in the actual plight facing Noctis and his friends. With certain gameplay mechanics feeling limited in nature, players will find that it takes a bit to get used to what Square Enix was aiming for in Final Fantasy XV but once they do they are in for a unique RPG set in a world we’d love to see explored further.