Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: 11/29/2016
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The JRPG genre, in general, is probably the stalest of them all. I understand the Japanese market is a lot different than ours, but the Western audience is always looking for something new and always interested in change. Final Fantasy is one of the most popular and highest-grossing video game franchises of all time, so it’s no wonder that Square Enix finally took the leap and made drastic changes to the series before they lose all their fans and can’t gain new ones. Final Fantasy XV takes a huge step forward and leans more towards Western RPGs such as Skyrim, Fallout, Mass Effect, and Fable.
The first thing you will notice is the game is a mostly open world. The area of Lucis is huge and wide and expansive and can take over 15 minutes to travel from one end to another by car, probably over 30 on foot. But let’s back up a bit and talk about the story. The game has quite an interesting story albeit straightforward and not as expansive or in-depth as other games in the series. You play as a team of four lifelong friends who are trying to stop an immortal from destroying the last remnants of Prince Noctis’ kingdom. You play as Noctis and your other three companions, Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus, are all fighters in their prime. The story goes from very subtle pieces broken off to an unbalanced acceleration of linearity and difficulty.
I can’t give away more of the story or I would spoil it, so let’s get into combat. The game is not turn-based like previous games and not even like Final Fantasy XII. The game is completely open combat and if you want to run away from a battle you just leave the red area on your mini-map. Noctis locks onto an enemy and uses a button combined with analog stick movements to slice and dice. You can equip up to four weapons including magic (yes it’s equippable and you have to craft it) so it’s very diverse compared to turn-based combat. The other three can use special moves when your meter goes up that can do devastating damage. Noctis can also warp to a point and hang there to recover MP and HP to take a breather. The combat is quite in-depth and fun to use, but the camera is just plain awful and without locking on you won’t be able to hit anything. The camera swings around and gets stuck everywhere forcing you to blindly fight enemies off-camera sometimes.
The game starts you out on a tight leash but slowly lets you out into the world. The biggest disappointment about this game is that this huge and beautiful world is wasted on just side quests. While these side quests are addictive and I spent more time with those than the main story, I still wish there was more to do and see. The only other activities are fetching items on the world map like ingredients for cooking, and treasures, and that’s about it. You don’t even get achievements for these which make it less worth doing. You wind up with plenty of ingredients and items just from combat alone so wasting time driving around this big world to do these mundane tasks is unnecessary. I wasted a good three hours, in the beginning, doing this only to realize that the items respawn so it’s pointless. The treasures are no more than consumable items and rare weapons that you can easily buy at a store.
So what we have here is a huge open world for side quests and the main story funneling us from the open world to a linear scripted second half of a game that feels more repetitive than fetching useless items. Now that may sound harsh, but the game’s dialogue, story, and characters make it worth going through all this. Like most other Final Fantasy games there is a level-up and skill progression system, but this time it is two-fold. Each character has a set skill such as Prompto taking photos throughout your trip. This is a great feature as when you rest you can just pick what photos you want from what he took. As he levels up he learns new filters and it’s a lot of fun. Gladio will increase his survival skills increase item drop, Noctis can fish for ingredients, and Ignis will learn new recipes. Some may not care at all about this, but it’s optional for sure. The second progression system is a node-type layout similar to Final Fantasy X where you use AP to unlock skills ranging from combat, teamwork, Arbiter skills (basically an ultra move), and so forth. It takes forever to unlock all of these and even with 50 hours of gameplay put in I still didn’t acquire them all.
Once you get the hang of the entire game and get combat under your belt you will blow through side quests, acquire items in the game, and finish the story. The story can’t be beaten without completing most sidequests and you need to be at least level 40 before getting to the end. The strongest enemies in the game are the daemons which come out at night, and you can’t even start tackling them until your level 30. Driving the Regalia around at night isn’t safe and Ignis will always suggest you rest and not travel at night. So if you need to be level 40 before getting to the end are the side quests really optional? They are fun and allow you to see the entire game as this is a gorgeous world that Square Enix has built.
The visuals in the game are amazing and the character models look great. This game supports HDR and it looks gorgeous on a 4K TV, but there are some ugly bits such as texture issues and NPCs aren’t as detailed as the main characters. While Final Fantasy XV is far from perfect it’s also far from bad. If the camera was fixed in combat, there was more to do in this open world, and the story didn’t spiral into a linear unbalanced mess, it could be the best FF game ever made. As it is, though, you will have to forgive the game’s shortcomings and learn to appreciate how far the series has come in 25 years.
Side Note: I’m surprised this went by completely unnoticed by most people, but this is the first Final Fantasy game to appear on an Xbox console since Final Fantasy XI for Xbox 360!