At what point does a promise become an ultimatum? At what point does the dream of an epic adventure become the threat of a last stand unto the breach? At what point does ‘Final Fantasy’ show its age, and collapse upon its own namesake? After a generations-spanning slew of sequels, Final Fantasy XV answers the call, taking you by the hand and the heart on a glorious quest to find, conquer and reclaim the very spirit of the series.
To say the story of Final Fantasy XV is lost to the finer complexities of the game is a bit of an understatement. The world of Eos is divided into two warring factions, the technocratic, militaristic regime of Niflheim, and the peaceful country of Lucis, to which Noctis is the crown prince. The fragile peace that the King of Lucis has maintained ultimately comes crashing down, resulting in Noctis having to embark upon an epic journey to reclaim the power of his fathers’ for the sake of his people. Noctis’s story is one of love, loss and legend, but this is not an experience that can be read or researched. The lore of FFXV can be overlooked entirely if you blink at the wrong moments, with beautifully crafted, expositional cutscenes spouting something about Kings and fate and light and so on. The ‘story’ of FFXV won’t be found in these moments, however. The tale being told here is one of the journey, not the destination. The plot – the heart of the game, the lived experience of Noctis and his friends – is unlike anything you’ll find in gaming this year, filled to the brim with player-created moments of wonder and developer-orchestrated scenes of triumph. Some of the more epic, phenomenal episodes within FFXV’s gameplay are staggeringly breath-taking.
Final Fantasy XV: Xbox One [Reviewed], PlayStation 4
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 29 November 2016
Price: £49.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
The generation-defining graphics, coupled with the sublime soundtrack and musical masterstrokes of Yoko Shimamura marry one another harmoniously to deliver an audio-visual masterpiece. On the soundtrack, Yoko Shimamura is a genius. Reforging the bar so much as setting it beyond the vapour trails of the highest clouds, the musical accompaniment to Final Fantasy XV is without equal in both the gaming and music industry. No longer are seemingly cruel, random battle encounters a tedious drain on me: on the contrary, every battle is a pleasure to be a part of thanks to Shimamura’s musical prowess empowering every engagement. On the same token, exploration in the open world is blessed, frequently, by Shimamura’s craftsmanship, as she brings the world of Eos to life in musical form. Much in the same way Martin O’Donnell elevated the “Halo” series thanks to his musical composition, Yoko Shimamura has taken Final Fantasy XV and given it a voice – an exquisite, elegant voice that echoes the enchanting, magical realm you’ll lose yourself in over the course of the game.
And just how long is Final Fantasy XV? Well, it doesn’t need 18 quintillion planets to keep you labouring under false pretences, that’s for sure. With such a vast open world to travel upon and a mind-boggling amount of hunting quests and side quests to undertake, as well as an engaging and compelling narrative, you are easily looking at 60+ hours of gameplay. The world of Eos is filled with life and teeming with hidden caves to explore, old-school Final Fantasy style. By day, the open-world is your oyster, with an active ecosystem and unique creatures of all shapes, sizes and temperaments to contend with. By night, the face of Eos changes, and daemons creep upon the surface of the world, billowing with dark powers and arcane might. Camping is essential when nightfall comes, so running into the wild without knowing your bearings is not advised, lest you find yourself hunted by demonic hordes until sunrise.
Knowing where to camp, and making the most of your time at camp, is not only vital insofar that you can only level up by camping, but also fun. Training with Gladiolus, going through Prompto’s pictures or eagerly awaiting Ignis’s next culinary masterpiece: camping is actually fun and heartwarming. Noctis and the lads feel like a real group of guys, trying to make the best of a heart-breaking situation, and the charm and personality of FFXV shines through in these homely, relaxing moments. The banter between the boys is great too. In between Prompto singing to himself, Ignis advising on strategy and Gladiolus and Noctis bashing heads, life on the road in FFXV is brilliant, with the narrative swinging from moments you’ll treasure to moments of utter torment; all of which are a joy to be a part of. Promising hours of content and a dense post-game experience, the staggering offering that is Final Fantasy XV cannot be overlooked, especially in an age of half-finished titles and games supplemented by DLC. Every minute of every hour you dedicate to this game will be rewarded, whether that is through discovery, combat or story: there is something for everyone. The vast plains, steep cliffs and rugged rock shelves of Eos, as well as its beautiful cities and towns, are rewards unto themselves, with the sights and sounds of FFXV being simply majestic. The combat is equally as rewarding too, and just as integral to the experience.
Doing away with the inanimate, menu-muddled combat systems of old Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy XV is determined to deliver an explosive, kinetic experience, designed to keep each combat scenario engaging and intense. In order to achieve this, the battle system has been streamlined and broken up into component parts, that all come together to deliver visually spectacular and strategically gratifying battles. On combat itself, holding the B button allows Noctis to attack with his equipped weapon, while directions on the D-pad let Noctis change to the weapon hot keyed to the respective direction. Pressing the X button allows Noctis to ‘phase’ in and out of enemy attacks, akin to dodging. Perfect timing keeps Noctis’s animation to a mere side-step, maximising the window of time you have to counter-attack. If you’re getting overwhelmed or wanting to scope out the battle, the new ‘warp strike’ feature is as invaluable as it is simply cool to use.
By holding Y while looking at certain points, Noctis casts his weapon into the air, and warps to wherever he has planted it. This allows Noctis to hang above battles and pick out his next target, all in real-time. Once your target is selected, the warp strike feature can be used to warp to that target instantaneously, causing additional damage. The warp strike can be used as a simple attack without latching on to environmental features, too. This gameplay mechanic allows players to retreat from difficult battles and reassess strategies quickly, and re-enter the fray in a flash, keeping the tempo up in fights. Dodging and maintaining distance from stronger foes, then following up with a warp-strike to catch them off guard, is an invaluable tactic that allows players to take on challenges they would otherwise have to shy away from.
Furthermore, combat in FFXV is made all the more engaging with the use of teamwork and the ‘Ascension’ nexus’. Teamwork allows you to issue commands to the rest of your party – in real time – meaning that you never fight alone. With each character in your cadre possessing various unique moves and skills, they essentially become an extension of Noctis’s own repertoire, which is already impressive enough. Besides his ability to equip several weapons, Noctis can utilise custom-made magic spells, ancient weapons known as ‘Royal Arms’, parry and counter attacks and he can use summons in order to call upon Gods of the world of Eos. In short: Noctis is no joke, and with so much power at your disposal, you will want to test that power at every turn and marvel at the wealth of options you have in battle.
In order to further power up Noctis and his friends, action points can be spent in the Ascension menu in order to increase the party’s combat capabilities, as well as magical, explorative, teamwork, recovery abilities and general stats. The ascension system is somewhat reminiscent of the method of upgrading stats seen in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, so seasoned RPG players won’t be daunted by its seemingly complex presentation. Similarly, new players will be eager to engage with the systems on offer – systems that are simple to learn yet challenging to master, with an earnest engagement of all the aspects of FFXV’s combat matrices rewarding players with a dazzling, furious yet manageable experience in terms of executing all of Noctis’s potent powers in battle. Combat is so dynamic and aggressive: you feel alive in the heat of battle, present in a way that the older FF combat systems couldn’t possible achieve. Although breaking appendages and positioning yourself around enemies isn’t anything new to those who delighted in the combat system of Xenoblade Chronicles, Final Fantasy XV’s adaptation of this malleable, manoeuvrable system is to be applauded, with your position relative to your enemy affecting how that enemy is damaged, and even prompting your teammates to spontaneously jump in if you’re close enough to them.
With combat being handled in real-time, the weakness of the lock-on camera is all the more pronounced. In single combat, the camera behaves as you’d expect, allowing you to keep the camera focused on the enemy by holding RB. In group battles, however, the lock-on camera is poor, often slipping your sights from one opponent to the next, seemingly at random. Not that group confrontations lasted too long, since the laughably powerful magic in the game rendered most groups of enemies useless within seconds. The spellcasting in FFXV is potent, yet costly. Casting magic against foes can backfire on Noctis and his team, with a huge area of effect and friendly fire culminating in often times devastating effects upon friends and foes alike. Using spells infrequently is vital to the health of your team, and with spells having limited uses that aren’t beholden to magic bars anymore, the tactical implications of spellcasting are further ramified to the player. On exploration, the initially limited functionality of the Regalia – Noctis’s car – was somewhat surprising. With many open world games promoting free-form driving, it was discomforting driving the Regalia and feeling it stapled to the roads, unable to cut loose and go off-road, or speed along the highway. The rather dull experience of being behind the wheel of Noctis’s car was disappointing, but in no way an Arkham Knight “Batmo-deal breaker”. Letting Ignis drive while I took in the sights was pleasurable enough, and if I simply had to be somewhere, I could always fast-travel.
From minor gripes to major glories: Final Fantasy XV possesses some of the most incredible moments I have experienced in gaming all year. The boss battles, in particular, are masterpieces of cinematographic manipulation. Although they might not be particularly demanding in certain instances, the sheer spectacle and power on display is frightening, and you will be swept away by the awe-inspiring calamity that unfolds as Noctis defies old Gods and new rivals, the results of which are phenomenal contests of power being realised before your eyes. FFXV is epic in the Homeric sense of the word: a tall tale of Kings, callings and comradery, which manages to be a quintessential Final Fantasy experience, while feeling brand new at the same time. Indeed a game of two hearts, Final Fantasy XV brings together the dungeon-crawling, fantastical narrative of old Final Fantasy games, and the modern, western-infused RPG design elements and open-world gameplay of today’s adventure game market.
Final Fantasy XV
- Yoko Shimamura's musical artistry is beyond compare
- Stunning visuals at virtually every turn
- Breath-taking boss battles... seriously
- Dynamic and energetic battle system
- Heart-breaking plot-focused experience
- Latter sections of the game much more linear than introductory sections
- Exploration in the Regalia is surprisingly limited
- Magic is rather unwieldy, and summons are evoked seemingly at random
- Lock-on camera is dreadful