Bros on a road trip. A Bro trip.
Few games have had as troublesome a development as Final Fantasy XV. Being in development for over ten years, changing changing title and console generation too. But now it’s finally arrived, the Final Fantasy game fans have been waiting a decade for. And while it isn’t the second renaissance of gaming, it is by far one of the best games in the franchise’s long history.
First, a history lesson. Starting out back in 2006 as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, it was a game constantly teased but never fully realised. Each year a different trailer would reveal small snippets of gameplay, each looking slightly different to the last. After six years, the project went quiet. Many assumed that due to the negative feedback to Final Fantasy XIII, the game had been cancelled. But then in 2014 it was announced to be coming back as the newly titled Final Fantasy XV, releasing for both PS4 and Xbox One. Two years later, and after a few short delays, it’s finally here.
FFXV takes place in the land of Eos, a world caught in a feud between two royal capitals over the right to a crystal that bestows magic to the people of the land. The player takes control of Noctis, prince to the capital of Lucis, who must journey to the island of Altissia to meet his bride to be, Lunafreya Nox Fleuret.
And so he sets out with his royal guards on a whacky road trip that sees to give the prince one last outing as a bachelor.
However, things get a bit muddled up when his home is invaded by the enemy state of Niflheim, and his father is murdered protecting the throne. Now with no home, and a supposedly dead fiancé, Noctis sets out to defeat the evil Niffs and bring peace back to the land of Eos.
The story itself is absolutely wonderful, if not for a few caveats. The plot takes a while to really get going, relying on familiar tropes to the genre for a tad longer than it should. But once the game lulls you into a sense of prediction, it begins to shake things up.
It becomes a nonstop thrill ride full of action, adventure, and most of all, character development.
While the story is set on revenge and acceptance of one’s birth right, the real meat and bones of the game comes from the character development. Noctis is joined on his journey by his three best friends, Prompto, Gladiolus, and Ignis. Each of them provides a different personality and world view then that of Noctis’ and are there to help him see the world from different angles.
Prompto is a happy to lucky teenager who sees everything in a positive light, Gladiolus sees everything as a battle that has to be overcome, and Ignis sees the world as a puzzle that needs to be approached from the right angle. Or as he puts it, “Everything in my world should be crystal clear”.
These three juxtapose Noctis and his slightly wet personality, cheering him up and kicking him back into reality whenever he gets too full of himself. Without them, he’d be a wreck.
And the game does a fantastic job at illustrating this quite a lot. The characters will have constant back and forth while out and about in the open world, talking about things around them or recent quest events. Sometimes they’ll even start just ripping into each other and cracking jokes about how the other acts. But a lot of the time, it’s the three trying to pull Noctis out of his cesspool of despair and emo-tendency’s.
It should be mentioned that Noctis isn’t that bad. While he looks like an edge lord you’d find sulking in the corner of a dark room, he’s actually got a lot of personality about him, he just struggled to let it out. But it doesn’t help when the game suddenly makes him a massive sulky git who does nothing but complain, for seeming no reason.
Take the Titan fight for example, he goes from being a calm and pretty witty guy, to an outright spoiled brat who does nothing but whine and complain. It seems this change happens in order for him and Gladiolus to have an angry heart-to-heart, but it comes off as way to rushed and leaves you with a feeling of whiplash.
But aside from strange one off character changes, the story does a fantastic job for making you care about nearly everyone. The main antagonist even has a fair reason to fight, and their motives slowly become slightly understandable. Not agreeable by any standards, but certainly understandable.
However, the story can only hold so much attention, as the main meat of the game is going to be the gameplay. Luckily Final Fantasy XV has some of the most refined and engaging combat in the series.
Moving away from turn based combat, FFXV feels like a stripped-down version of Kingdom Hearts’ action heavy gameplay, but with more of an emphasis on dodging and counters. Characters attack and move in real time, and it’s up to the player to control Noctis and give commands to the other three fighters. Special moves can be given out to each member, and they can team up briefly with one another to deal out massive damage in the form of link attacks.
It seems quite confusing at first, but by learning each character’s strengths and weaknesses, you can quickly find a good rhythm to turn the titular boyband into a four-man army.
Whenever you’re not hacking and slashing your way through hordes of enemies, the game allows full exploration across a massive open world. To make the journey a little easier, the player has access to the Regalia, the boy’s luxury car. Noctis can choose to either drive the car himself, or tell Ignis to travel to a select destination.
Driving the car isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds. The car is pretty much stuck to the road and the only input given by the player is whether to turn left or right, and the option to park. Getting Ignis to drive is a much more enjoyable experience, as it allows you to just kick back and relax as you enjoy the beautiful scenery.
The boys will also make idle chitchat as they drive, and will sometimes comment at how good / bad Noctis’ driving is compared to Ignis’, depending on how well you can drive it.
With a car in tow, it sounds like you could drive forever, but there’s a catch. Driving at night is one of the fastest ways to get yourself killed. At night, all the monsters come out to play, and they’re pretty high levelled. If the gang run into a creature of the night, they are forced to abandon the car until they can rid the monsters from the road.
This means that the best option is to sleep at night, and since sleeping is the only way to level up and gain food buffs, it’s encouraged to get a good night’s rest. Of course, there are different bonuses depending on where you sleep. Camping gives you nothing, while staying in a motor home nets you 1.3 times EXP. But the big rewards come from hotels that can give between 2.0 and 3.0 times EXP.
That means a good tactic for those looking to rank up quickly is to hoard EXP from quests and monster slaying, and then bank it all when they can afford a hotel for the night.
This creates a risk-reward system that creates a fantastic edge to the game. Risking being under levelled for a time, to then be rewarded with a massive level boost is one of the more rewarding sides to the game.
Once the gang is all levelled up and ready to tackle the main story, about half way through the game leaves the open world behind for a more linear adventure. But don’t be disheartened, as this part of the game is arguably far superior to the first half. The game decides to condense all its action-packed set pieces into this part of the story, and changes the pace from being quite slow, into a rapid-fire action game with non-stop rewarding gameplay.
But there’s quite a catch to all this insanity. While the story kicks into overdrive for the latter half, it feels the need to take time out to make you remember just how bad Final Fantasy games can be. Enter Chapter 13.
The ironically named chapter sees Noctis fighting on his own in what can only be described as the most tedious and aggravating section in gaming history. No spoilers here, but it’s a part of the game that will go down in gaming history as one of Final Fantasy’s lowest points.
Luckily the game makes it up with it’s incredible boss fights. The series has been known for some great fights, but FFXV goes above and beyond with its fights. A large focus of the story involves finding Astrals (this worlds version of summons) and fighting them to make them yours. These fights are often massive large scale showdowns that involve great use of teamwork and strategy, and overcoming them is one of the greatest achievements the game offers.
Another fight worth noting is the final boss fight. Nothing in the series can quite compare to the final showdown. Obviously we won’t spoil anything, but it’s a fight that’s going to be very divisive between fans. Some may love the battle, while others may hate it. We thought it was one of the best final fights of the year, maybe even in the franchise.
Aside from a few shortcomings, Final Fantasy XV stands out as one of the greatest and well-made games in the franchise. It captures the essence that made people fall in love with the series and takes off to souring heights. It’s a game that deserves the love and respect from fans of role playing games around the world. It is a joy to behold.
Should you play Final Fantasy XV?
Thanks to Square Enix for supplying a review copy