J-pop band or ass-kicking saviours of Eos?
Each time you boot up Final Fantasy XV, it proclaims itself a Final Fantasy for “fans and first-timers.” Talk about tough duty. Attempting to simultaneously serve a fan base that has stuck with the franchise for decades while also trying to rope in newcomers is just that.
Given our history with the series we’re ill equipped to answer whether or not Final Fantasy XV will successfully resonate with those that aren’t already invested, but we’ll dive headlong into its ability to sate the appetites of those that haven’t seen a non-Lightning entry in the main series since 2006.
Combat employs the “Active Cross Battle” system, which feels like an evolution of what we saw during the FFXIII trilogy. It’s more streamlined than ever, discarding or diminishing many longstanding elements of the series along the way. There’s the option to activate “wait mode,” which pauses the action while you decide on your next move, but it feels surprisingly archaic.
Unlike previous entrants, FFXV puts you in control of just one member of your party (Noctis) while the A.I. tends to your three buddies (Gladiolus, Ignis and Prompto). There are tandem abilities you can use, and your teammates will often piggyback on your strikes, but there’s no way to do things like prioritize targets for general attacks or request aid.
Basic strikes vary based on your equipped weapon, which you quickly cycle through using the d-pad, and you must equip spells to use magic — MP is only used for your unique “warp strike” attack. Pressing “X” will dodge and, at times, open up an opportunity to parry. If anything, it’s too effective as you can simply hold it down and dodge successfully more or less indefinitely.
It took us a while to embrace the new setup, but it grew on us as we progressed. That being said, it can feel inadequate when engaging large groups of enemies, which makes it tough to keep track of what is going on, and particularly flying foes. The camera sometimes struggles to keep up in those scenarios, which is something you’ll also run into against some of the game’s larger adversaries.
Although driving and riding chocobos are big parts of the experience, there’s little to say about them other than they’re rather dull. Driving is particularly boring as the entire thing is on rails so you can’t head off road or go crashing into anything.
There was a time when Final Fantasy games were the industry’s graphical standard bearer. That day has passed. It’s not that FFXV, which has the scope and variation of an MMORPG, is an ugly game, it simply lacks the type of wow factor that accompanied the likes of FFVII. The seamless flow from overworld to battle is nice, though you’ll pay for it with considerable initial load times.
As aesthetically pleasing as most of the world is, it tends to be sparsely populated with handfuls of creatures scattered about and mostly smallish settlements offering respites from the wild. Again, it feels like an MMORPG, and it retains one of their worst features: you spend a lot of time slowly making your way from Point A to Point B.
Much like the controls, the soundtrack takes some getting used to. The sweeping orchestral scores are here, but there’s also plenty of other, less majestic music. Rest assured, though, the game delivers the goods when it needs to. Voice acting isn’t elite, but it’s well done and helps build the camaraderie that’s paramount to the game’s success.
At its core, FFXV is a story about four friends. Noctis, crown prince of Lucis, is on his way to get married when he and his buddies learn of a terrible betrayal that shakes the foundation of the kingdom. Yes, there’s common ground with past Final Fantasy games and their “save the world” story arc, but FFXV is more anchored in its personal relationships.
Each of the four characters has their role. Noctis is the dutiful protagonist, flanked by Gladiolus, his beefy bodyguard, Ignis, the brainy cook/chauffeur, and Prompto, the plucky gun-wielding photographer that seems less mature than his friends. While they aren’t groundbreaking character profiles, the four come together to form a surprisingly endearing crew.
While usual RPG formulas are in place for things like leveling up and acquiring new gear, the game does make a few small tweaks. Experience is now compiled and then banked when you rest for the night, and staying at hotels and RVs will provide a bonus (the nicer the spot, the higher the bonus).
Separate from experience are action points (AP), which are used to unlock/enhance abilities via the FFX-inspired ascension menu. AP is gained from leveling up and completing quests as well as taking part in conversations with your friends or adhering to a battle strategy they lay out (e.g., do X amount of damage in 90 seconds).
There’s no shortage of things to do in FFXV, often leading to a sizable queue of hunts and side quests tasking you with all manner of missions big and small. While it’s always great to have a wealth of options, they’re spread across such a vast landscape that there are times when reaching the quest spot takes longer than actually completing the task.
A limited fast-travel system assuages this to a degree, though you’ll need to manually reach a place first before it unlocks in fast travel. More powerful monsters roam the world at night, too, and between their strength and your own obscured vision, it largely limits you to moving during daylight.
FFXV also crimps a few ideas from other franchises, and the implementation isn’t always great. Some of the massive-scale battles that channel God of War suffer from frustrating camera angles, and a handful of stealth sections underwhelm.
It takes some time for Final Fantasy XV to get rolling, but once it does it provides an enjoyable story and fast-paced action… except for those times you’re sitting in a car for five-plus minutes with only the odd snippet of dialogue to keep you company.