Final Fantasy XV Review – Taking the Long Road Pays Off
Final Fantasy XV29th November, 2016
Final Fantasy XV is a strange beast. I'll spoil the core point of the review by saying that this is certainly a return to form for the series. As part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy series, it can be closely linked to the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy of games. Of course, it used to be called Final Fantasy Versus XIII but was spun off of that and eventually spawned into a universe of itself, having an anime, movie and an upcoming VR game based around it.
My first impressions of Final Fantasy XV weren't the most positive on the story. Characterisation was lacking, the story shallow and there was a lot to improve on. The main question is inevitably a simple one: did it improve? The answer is yes. At the same time, Final Fantasy XV has a lot of flaws and even the aspects I loved in my first look have their bad parts.
But what is anything without its flaws? The game certainly has its fair share of them as well. What surprises me the most is that what started as aspects I utterly loved started to grate me for one reason or another. Take the combat system as an example. I still stand by my initial impressions that it's incredibly fun and one of the most engaging and active combat systems in any RPG ever made. It's just so rare that you get to actually take part in these gravity defying, action-packed battles that you normally see in cutscenes.
It's just so great that you can zip around the battlefield, using the warp-jump to move to higher ground or quickly get to an enemy. Reasonably early in the game, you gain an ability called Armiger, which is effectively Omnislash and Knights of the Round Table (Final Fantasy VII) in one. This ability allows you to use all of the royal arms (there are thirteen to be found in the world) freely for a set period of time. It's incredibly useful and more than a little impressive.
Were that the only thing, the system would still be the most impressive in the game. But the magic system, particularly the effect it has in battle, is outstanding. You create magical spells through the use of flasks by combining elemental energy and a catalyst. Using them in battle is a simple case of equipping a spell as a weapon and attacking. The later stages of spells are incredibly destructive, impacting everything on the battlefield and if you're not careful you can very easily cause yourself a large amount of damage.
As impressive as these are, they're nothing compared to the summons that are unlocked later in the game. These screen-filling behemoths wreak immense destruction on the battlefield and leave everything surrounding you a charred mess. The downside of these summons is that they are the least interactive elements of battle, they can only be used at certain times and remove all control from you until the attack is over.
Sadly the combat system is one of the areas that, while I still love, I've found a few glaring issues with. With the vast majority of the battles in Final Fantasy XV taking place in the open world the battleground is indicated by a simple ring around the monsters base location indicated on the mini-map. The problems come with how simple and flawed the system is. You can accidentally drop yourself out of the area through warp jumping, something you'll inevitably be doing a lot during combat. You can get knocked out of the area by a monster’s attack. It all leads to a system where twenty minutes into a fight you can get knocked out of the zone and all progress is lost.
Even something as simple as giving you a five second time limit to get back into the zone would have been greatly appreciated. It would have stopped glaring issues like when you find yourself out of the combat zone, the battle ends but there's a monster literally a few feet away from you just looking on as if you weren't just there, trying to turn it into tonight's dinner.
Despite these few flaws, likely due to the open world design, the combat system is one of the glues that holds the game together and adds little touches that aid immersion. Use a Blizzaga spell and you can see the ice left in the teams’ hair and the damage to their clothes. Been out for a number of days and in a few tough battles, the team will be dirtied up and show the wear and tear that the journey has taken on them.
It's this party, the group of friends that is the second glue. It's also the biggest surprise of my later hours with the game. The start of the game will have you quite closed off - though still roaming an "open world" to a decent extent - and also leave you really not caring about the characters, as mentioned in my initial impressions piece. Thankfully, this changed as the plot progressed. The overarching story of an evil empire and their actions, the death of Noctis' father, it's all still relatively boring compared to what turns out to be the most important story.
That's the journey of Noctis, Gladiolus, Prompto and Ignis. Their growth as people, the insecurities they face, troubles they have and, particularly for the latter three, the conflict that comes with friendship and duty. Noctis is the prince and the other three are, by all accounts, his sworn guardians. This makes the little things all the more touching.
One example is a late night conversation between yourself (Noctis) and Prompto when resting at one of the hotels. Prompto is the stereotypical joker, but has some large insecurities. How you respond to him and others during similar events defines so much of Noctis as a person, but also the development of your relationship with the others. It's a shame, but reasonably understandable, why all other characters in Final Fantasy XV aren't as this fleshed out or personable.
Taking the 'boring bits' where you make camp, drive around and listen to random chatter or stop to take a few pictures would take away from most games. It'd be there just to take some of your time up. This certainly could have been the case with Final Fantasy XV, but aside from some of the longer car drives it all builds up the characters and adds to the depth of the world.
Camps are particularly useful. Camping at night, or resting in a hotel, is the only way to use the experience your characters have gained from questing, hunting and fighting during the day (or days). This is also where you get to see random snapshots of your journey Prompto has taken, letting you save some to your personal collection. Little bits of chatter will go on and Ignis will use his cooking skills to make a meal so that you're properly fed for the journey ahead; food in Final Fantasy XV can provide a massive boost in stats, provided you've learned the recipe and have the required ingredients.
The exploration is greatly beneficial and feels very organic. You can drive on a road for the first time and get to the perfect location for a shot of a volcano, at that point Prompto will ask you if you can stop for a shot. It's always worthwhile as the game does something absolutely fantastic with these photos later in the game. Car drives also let you listen to the soundtracks of all previous Final Fantasy games (these can be bought from vendors around the world).
The biggest problem is perhaps the Regalia. Driving around the world, while it's not too large, becomes a chore after a while. Thankfully once you've been to a particular town, parking spot or gas station then you can fast travel there by spending a mere 10 gil. Until then, you can drive yourself (which sadly isn't as fun as it could be due to the fact you're limited to the clearly marked roads on the map) or auto-travel, which puts Ignis in the driver's seat. The interlinking nature, the organic exploration and quests make the world feel alive and packed full of detail. It's just a shame, though understandable, that 30 hours in the conversations start to repeat and fall apart a bit.
Cooking a meal at camp with ingredients found during a drive down a new road, which you've headed down after being tasked to find the oil from a giant frog by a scientist who you met as you stopped for some petrol for your Regalia. Hopping on your Chocobo, riding off-road and finding a new fishing spot where a shop lets you buy one of the best rods in the game, letting you catch new huge fish to cook later, all while your Chocobo is levelling up giving you the chance to win the more difficult races.
The interconnectivity of Eon, the world of Final Fantasy XV, is what really pushes the game to the next level. Particularly as the world, the people who live in it and everything else just looks so fantastic. The effects of fighting against extremely well designed and varying opponents show on the team until they've had the chance to rest it off. The aftermath of battle takes its toll on the world, the embers of a fire spell burn the foliage all around.
All of this while you can look at the horizon, see a nearby gas station where you can stop off, rest off the toil of your previous day, as well as a towering volcano in the background, highlighted by the perfect positioning of the rising sun. The same volcano that you have the ability to drive, or ride to, climb and explore as you would almost every other area of the game.
'A Final Fantasy for fans and first timers" is the very first thing you read upon launching Final Fantasy XV. It's no word of a lie. This is the Final Fantasy that should keep the older fans happy through the open world, the final fantasy staples: Biggs & Wedge, Chobobos, Cactuars, Cid and even more. At the same time, the story does manage a payoff that is befitting of the excellent characters and ultimately makes up for the slow start.
It manages all of this while offering a compelling, stunning and content packed open world that stands tall against other large releases. Monster hunts, random events, hidden dungeons and other secrets, this is a world that keeps you involved and engaged.
Most of all, this is the story of four friends. The story of a ten-year development cycle and the payoff from that, warts and all. Welcome to Eos and welcome to Final Fantasy XV, a great game and a return to form for the series.
PS4 version reviewed. Copy provided by publisher
Final Fantasy XV is a true return to form for the series. The main story of the game is passable, but surpassed by the fantastic tale of Noctis and his three friends, Gladiolus, Prompto and Ignis. The world they live in, the interconnectivity and just how alive it feels makes for a great game, warts and all.
- Outstanding characters that develop organically and feel real
- One of the most detailed and well developed worlds to be found
- A simply fantastic combat system that makes fighting interesting and engaging
- Main story isn't fleshed out enough, saved by the main characters
- Characters outside of the main party aren't anywhere near as well fleshed out
- A number of minor, fixable, flaws to be found throughout the game