It’s hard to pinpoint what makes the Final Fantasy series so great and loved by millions of people worldwide for the past 20+ years. Perhaps it’s usually the combination of each game’s mythical stories that takes us on adventures we can only dream of, beautiful magical worlds that the imagination cannot comprehend, and rich and deep heroes and villains that we think long and hard about even after finishing the game. We all have our favourite Final Fantasy game and usually, more often than not, it’s the first game we played that introduced us to the beloved series. Most fans are extremely passionate about their favourite game and characters, willing to defend them to the death against other passionate fans’ opinions or criticisms. Well, with Final Fantasy XV being the 15th main instalment in the franchise, Square Enix can no longer cater to all of the fans’ previous needs which were holding the series back, so they decided to start afresh and make “a Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers”, and with my absolute pleasure, I can safely say that huge risk has certainly paid off, and we now witness a new age and direction to the iconic series.
As we all know, Final Fantasy XV suffered during initial development, announced way back at E3 2006 as Final Fantasy Versus XIII; the game has been in the making for 10 years receiving delay after delay until being rebranded as Final Fantasy XV. Luckily, unlike say Duke Nukem Forever, Final Fantasy XV hasn’t succumbed to the development hell curse where eventually comes the point where it can’t live up to the high expectations of the dedicated fanbase whose imagination has run wild during the years of the delay. Final Fantasy XV is actually a breath of fresh air to the series, and while I would have loved to play the game sooner rather than later, the finished product we have now, while not perfect, wouldn’t have been achievable on last gen because of the sheer ambition and scope.
Final Fantasy XV puts us in the shoes of Prince Noctis, the only playable character in the game, as he embarks on a journey of revenge to take back a kingdom that has been stolen from him and also to bring justice for the people killed that he kept close to his heart and to put an end to a war between two Great Nations that have been fighting for 31 years. In this adventure Prince Noctis is accompanied by his loyal companions and trusted bodyguards who are members of the Crownsguard – an organization sworn to protect and aid the King and Prince. We have Gladiolus who acts like the muscle and shield to Noctis due to his appearance and stature and always willing to speak his mind on pressing matters to help push the group forward. Secondly, we have Ignis who is definitely the brains of the operation, always sharing his knowledge with the group, coming up with great tactical plans. He is also the group’s designated driver and chef. And last but not least, we have Prompto, the happy go-lucky type that brings much needed comic relief to the group, although he can be extremely annoying at times. Cheerful and caring Prompto will take pictures of the adventure for you to look back on with fond memories. This group of mismatched guys that normally won’t work well together or share anything in common combine well, and you can see they are all friends as the ‘bromance’ bond blossoms, getting stronger as the game progresses.
Over the course of the game, we see Prince Noctis quickly having to grow from a boy and turn into a man over the course of his journey as he has been thrust upon great responsibility and power without his choosing them, learning hard life lessons on what it means to be a king and ruler of the people. It’s interesting at first, and Noctis seems like a character that we could relate to and really get behind, but the game’s plot never really gets going and took a real back seat until the later chapters. Early on you are made to travel the world in search of the Royal Arms passed down from Noctis’s forefathers and gaining the help from some of the legendary Astral Gods: Titan, Ramuh, Leviathan and Shiva, which got me thinking that I’m gathering all of them to help prepare me for some big scale battle to determine the fate of the Kingdom towards the finale…sadly, I was wrong.
Final Fantasy XV is made up of 15 chapters, with the game giving you time and the freedom to explore the open world and get up to all sorts of tasks up until chapter 9 when it becomes more focused and linear by narrowing down your options so it can try and finish the story being told. There are still chances for you to return back to the open world areas, and you are well warned in advance that if you choose to go further you won’t be able to return for a while. If you were to solely focus on the story events, the game would take you roughly around 20 hours to finish, which in Final Fantasy terms is very short, and if you add in the numerous amount of things to do and see such as doing the Monster Hunt challenges, side quests, tombs to find and dungeons to explore, you will easily hit the 40-60 hour mark on a normal play-through, and fear not because once you finish the game and see the end credits roll, Chapter 15 begins and you have the ability to return to the world and take care of all unfinished business as well as the wealth of end-game content that opens up.
Gameplay has seen some major changes, especially the battle system. The game uses a real-time action based system as you dish out the damage with Noctis. You will use the attack button to combine attack chains based on which weapons you have in your arsenal. You have room for 4 weapon slots, so once you have your chosen weapons allotted, you can change and wield weapons on the fly during combat and combo at the ease of pressing one of the directional buttons on the D-pad. You also have the ability to warp and teleport around the battle area when you are surrounded by enemies; it’s always wise to warp out of the way or to higher ground so you can get a chance to regroup and regain health. You can even use the warp ability to attack enemies head on, opening them up to massive damage if timed to perfection. Whilst many say the strongest form of defence is attack, that’s definitely not the case here. If you don’t defend yourself, you will simply die; luckily, it’s quite easy to just hold down the defend button to make Noctis automatically block, dodge or set-up parry attacks from almost all enemy attacks. Noctis’s companions are A.I.-controlled but very useful and capable in a fight. They can be asked to use certain special abilities as well as trigger team linked moves for extra damage. Magic is now a consumable item. You will have to collect the 3 different elements hidden all around the world, Fire, Lightning and Ice, and once you have enough, you can craft yourself powerful spells using a mixture of the 3 elements plus items you have found to increase the magic spell potency to create devastating spells of destruction that will make the difference between life and death. It is advisable to use caution because magic doesn’t discriminate and will kill your party members just as quickly as your enemies.
Final Fantasy XV is at its best when you have the whole open world to explore, as you will naturally have fun and get distracted coming across Monster Hunts to take part in and various side quests and treasures to locate. You’ll also want to make it your duty to track down all of the ancient lost tombs, which in turn reward you with a Royal Arm passed down from the past generations of Noctis’s forefathers. The world is unbelievably huge in size. This is the most ambitious JRPG to date in terms of scope; not only that, but the world is fully-realized and contains great detail. Square Enix are always trying to push the boundaries of gaming when it comes to graphics with the Final Fantasy series, and FFXV takes the crown for best looking RPG out there with some of the most jaw-dropping and eye-popping scenery I’ve ever seen. To explore all this on foot would be too much for any traveler, so thank goodness for the Regalia, your personal vehicle that’s used to travel the world. I was so excited stepping into the car for the first time, only to be quickly disappointed by the fact that the game restricts you to the roads, diminishing all the fun. Driving manually feels like it’s on-rails, and you can’t drive off-road. However, having the Regalia at your disposal made the game feel like an actual road trip at times, as it can easily take up to 10-15 real life minutes or more just to drive to certain locations, so it’s best just to sit back and enjoy the scenery whilst listening to your favourite music tracks from previous Final Fantasy games that you can collect.
Although 10 years in the making, Final Fantasy XV isn’t perfect by any means and suffers in a few key areas. As previously said, FFXV is at its best when the game is open world; once the game strips that freedom away from you and sends you down linear corridors, that’s when the game can be frustrating. Chapter 13 is a prime example and will go down as one of the worst segments in a video game I’ve ever played. The chapter was awful from start to finish and lasted about 2-3 hours. It was frustrating, repetitive and boring. Catastrophic level design making you slowly jog at a snail’s pace getting from point A to B finding certain keys to advance up the stage, fighting off annoyingly weak enemies and stripping you of your weapons. This solely felt like Square were just trying to pad out the game and add some extra hours into the gameplay though, because it was all pointless and for nothing.
My fear before playing the game was that since I had waited for 10 years for it to release, I was going to have to force myself to like the game, but that’s not the case when things are right and working. The game is very enjoyable and a joy to play. I had fun exploring the world and fighting challenging hunts, and I would get distracted easily by the huge world and visuals. The weird thing is that for a game that was in development for 10 years, it feels very rushed in some places and could have done with more time to fix the story and flesh out the characters other than the main foursome. I never had any emotional connection to any character that died during the game due to those characters hardly having any screen time to get myself invested in them, yet it made me feel like I should’ve cared. The plot doesn’t tie up well towards the end, leaving me confused and disappointed. A lot of stuff happened offscreen that affected the story, but it wasn’t explained very well, if at all.
Final Fantasy XV had all the ingredients to become the best entry in the series and could have been remembered for building the foundation for the series in the future. This game could’ve taken note by seeing how it’s done the same way FFVII and FFX did in their eras, but its poor and sloppy execution failed and came across as half baked and rushed in the final third. There is a lot of good to take from Final Fantasy XV, though, that we can look forward to in the next entry when they build on this after listening to player feedback. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait 10 years for Final Fantasy XVI.
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4
Release Date: 29th November 2016