Ten years, two directors and a hell of a lot of anticipation. Mix all of that together, and you’ll get Final Fantasy XV, Square-Enix’s latest instalment of the long-running franchise. Although I was a big fan of the series up until Final Fantasy X, the more recent instalments haven’t grabbed me in quite the same way. What with this being the first new Final Fantasy being released on the Playstation 4, and my friends riding the hype train pretty hard, I had to give it a try.
The first thing that needs mentioning is the graphics. It may seem like a bit of an easy one to mention, as every AAA game these days has top notch visuals, but Square-Enix really deserve a lot of praise for the presentation in Final Fantasy XV. Roaming around the world, taking in all the wonderful flora and fauna surrounding you, is a truly wonderful experience, but it is not the only thing that makes the game so appealing. As you would expect from a Final Fantasy game, all of the favourites are making an appearance, and they’ve never looked better. Chocobos look fluffy and cute, iron giants are massive and menacing and bombs pop up looking absolutely spectacular. Additionally, all the menus are really flawlessly designed, which was a surprisingly enjoyable experience. They’re all very clear about what they do, and provide some pretty useful functions too.
Side quests had always been a thing in Final Fantasy games, but Square-Enix has really gone above and beyond with the questing in Final Fantasy XV. There’s a tonne of different quests to take up your time in the game, and on the whole, they’re pretty engaging. There are a few shit ones, that have you searching in a large area for tiny things, but there are also some absolutely amazing ones. Dashing into crypts that have been long-forgotten by humankind to reclaim the weapons that are your birthright is incredibly fun. The designs for the dungeons are amazing. Twisting, turning, slaughtering daemons at every turn, it’s pretty fantastic and definitely shows that Square-Enix can create some sprawling, non-linear mazes that can both baffle and frustrate players, while still making them want to run further in.
A follow-on point from the side quests, are the abilities that each member of your party has. Gladiolus is probably the most valuable, but it is also definitely the most boring – he’s able to find rare items during your travels. The other three have some much more interesting abilities that take some time to hone and improve. Noctis is a keen fisherman, and there are a number of different places to cast off in the world, as well as a whole side-quest chain that you can undertake. Each fish has a different personality, some are tough to reel in and will take a good five or ten minutes of patience to pull it up, but doing so is great fun. Ignis’ is a master chef, and you’ll level his skill up by forcing him to cook for you, and every meal he puts under your nose looks absolutely amazing. They also give you some buffs that last the whole day, which can really be the difference between crushing your foes and defeat. The final member of your team, Prompto, has an ability that you don’t really need to do anything to level it up, but it is quite a fun one. There are a number of side quests that tie into it, and it all involves photography. He’s not exactly a great photographer, frequently takes dreadful photos with terrible lighting (though he still loves it), but it is fun seeing what he can come up with.
I’ve always been a fan of turn-based combat in my JRPGs. All my favourite Final Fantasy games, Chrono Trigger, Earthbound – all were turn based. This time, I figured I’d try a bit of the new standard combat. All action, fast paced and, for me at least, surprisingly fluid. You’re only ever in charge of Noctis, but you can instruct your allies to perform techniques that can either provide buffs or damage the enemy. You’ve got a ‘quick select’ menu where you can pick any of four weapons or spells without having to go back into the menu system, which can make exposing a weak point of an enemy easy and incredibly satisfying. Magic does feel a little overpowered, and there isn’t a great diversity of spells – just fire, ice or electricity – but it is nice to have an ability to destroy the ever-encroaching Imperial armies that drop in every few seconds.
There is a couple of downsides to the combat though. I did notice that, quite frequently, my allies were doing barely anything. During some of the longer battles, I think they spent more time coming up with quotes that were funny the first time I’d heard them, but after the fiftieth time in the same battle, they’d become a tad grating. Not only that, but one of the core themes in the battles throughout the series has been your access to super-powerful beings that you can call on at will to demolish any enemy combatants. In Final Fantasy XV, however, you have to meet certain criteria before you’re able to summon them, and only then if the game is feeling like it wants to be generous. I played through the game twice, totalling around 120 hours, and I only saw Ramuh around five times. You do recruit other gods to summon, but you’re only really ever able to summon them if you’re getting battered. On a first playthrough, if you just focus on the story and don’t do too many side missions, then you may encounter a few of the other ones. If you like side quests, or are on a second playthrough, then you probably won’t see much variation in the summons aiding you.
Bugs are an inevitable part of a game this size. What really makes a developer great is minimising them, ensuring that even when hefty bugs rear their ugly head, a patch is rapidly applied. Some small bugs, such as the water at Galdin Quay being miscoloured, or Noctis being a whiny knob are fair enough. Larger bugs, especially bugs that can force you to restart an hour long battle right at the end because it warps you half way across the map, are a little less forgivable. I was thrice engaged in a battle that, once completed, confers an achievement onto the player. Two of the battles, I spent around half an hour trying to whittle the beast’s enormous health down. First time, I was warping around its eyes, trying to stab them for maximum damage, but I got randomly plopped down outside Hammerhead. Same thing happened the second time I fought it, and that time, I was fairly close to giving up permanently, but I did give it a third try. Rather than fight it legitimately, I decided that standing next to one of its flippers and just spam attack for forty minutes. It was the most boring part of a video game I’ve ever experienced, which was incredibly disappointing given the build up they gave to the monster.
Ten years is a long time for any production. Things can go one of two ways with it, it can either be a terrific refining process or it can be a disjointed affair where important bits are cut out. It’d be very harsh to suggest that Final Fantasy XV lands in the latter category, but it wouldn’t be entirely untrue. There are various points throughout the story where things aren’t explained very well. It’s been suggested that these issues will be rectified in the upcoming downloadable content, but that seems a bit shit to me. Episodic games can get away with it, but having a very barebones story that you need to buy additional content to flesh it out is really cheesy from the developer. It reeks of money-grabbing, and is a dreadful practice that is creeping into games these days.
I spent over a hundred hours in Eos, the fictional world in which Final Fantasy XV is set. There’s a hell of a lot to do, and for the most part, it is terrific. Going through all of the side quests, eating all of Ignis’ incredible meals and viewing all of Prompto’s often terrible photos are things that makes this game really worth playing. Hopefully the DLC will flesh out the story more, because even though it’s a crap move by Square-Enix, Final Fantasy XV definitely has a terrific story in there somewhere, and it will be exciting to draw it out.