After a staggering ten years in production Final Fantasy XV has finally been released. Originally called Final Fantasy Versus XIII, the game changed just about everything from the development team to the design and platform. The previous two numbered Final Fantasy games had a lot of trouble; XIII was heavily criticised for its “boring, bland and linear” storytelling, while the MMORPG XIV had to be completely remade. Final Fantasy XV was Square Enix’s chance to breathe life back into the series and they do so with a dazzling spectacle reminiscent of Final Fantasy’s golden age – but that’s not to say that it doesn’t have its imperfections.
Final Fantasy XV focuses on Noctis, a prince of the kingdom of Lucis, as he starts the classic “reclaim your homeland” adventure. Joining him are his three companions: Gladiolus, Ignis and Prompto. If you haven’t seen the Kingsglaive film or the anime series, Brotherhood, then you’re missing out on a lot of pre-game context and lore. Playing this as a brand new player means you will have to play a bit of catch up to know each character, but it’s not too hard to figure out their formulaic personality traits. Gladiolus, surprise, surprise is the muscle; Ignis, the brains and father figure, leaving Prompto as the comedy relief and the little brother of the group. The other characters you meet are fleeting and underdeveloped, often only appearing for a couple of quests in order to provide diversity to the party. It’s disappointing and restricting to only get to know the main four, but it is the relationship between the four that grounds the story when it becomes lacking.
The open world is where this game excels. The design is second to none with some truly breathtakingly beautiful landscapes. It’s in the open world where you fully see the close relationship between the group. The little things such as Ignis’s reluctance to let Noctis drive at night, or helping someone up in a fight, really help reinforce the idea of comradeship. As the game develops the characters talk to each other based on the quest, location or even sing, which is a welcome relief from the stale, repetitive dialogue you get from other RPGs. That’s not to say it doesn’t fall into the same boring side-quest pattern as other RPGs. For the most part, side quests are normally: grab, kill, return, and repeat.
The levelling system mimics Dark Souls: the experience you gain stacks until you rest at a town or campsite. Here Ignis’s can cook a stat boosting meal while you can review photos that Prompto has taken throughout your day and save them into your own photo album. These human qualities really make the game feel genuine. You start to care about the characters as if you were there with them. At times they get annoying – Ignis will stop halfway through a battle to tell you he’s “come up with a new recipe” – but at other times your heart will warm at a picture of Prompto taking a selfie with a Chocobo (a bird-like creature used as transport).
The combat system in FFXV has separated the fans of the series. The Final Fantasy series was built upon turn-based combat, however FFXV attempts to combine that with the fast real-time combat of recent RPGs. The result is a chaotic system where you can either go in blazing or use the “wait mode” combat style, which allows you analyse the enemy and use a tactical approach. Even if you go with the latter, the result is still a swirling mass of bodies, most of the time resulting in you warping to a ledge to try and make sense of it all. It’s clunky and hectic, but it can be a lot of fun once you get to grips with it.
Although the story dwindles is comparison to other recent RPGs, it’s the little things that make Final Fantasy XV a great game. The combat can make you want to scream into the void, side quests can drag for ages, but Noctis and his friends are so damn lovable you just can’t hate them. When the title comes up and the credits scroll you realise that despite the flaws, it was 100% worth it.
Originally printed in Press Play Magazine