Yes, this is a Final Fantasy for Fans & First Timers alike. And that’s a monumental achievement in itself, given how deep-rooted in tradition JRPG mechanics the franchise is. One of the things that made this abundantly clear (other than the obligatory disclaimer the game throws up every time it boots) was how quickly I was thrown right into the beautiful open world.
After a brief opening cutscene, the game had me off on a roadtrip with the best of friends, pushing a fancy, albeit broken down, car down the road. As the vastness of the world of Eos greeted my eyes, and a cover of Stand By Me greets my ears, I knew that this was going to be, uh, finally fantastic. And the reason for the roadtrip, a journey to Accordo’s capital city of Altissia, where Noctis’s wedding to Lunafreya is to take place, adds to the overall charm.
You play as the young prince Noctis, accompanied by Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus, who are this tightly knit band of friends, looking out for each other (some more so than the other, that prince can be a whiny cunt on occasions). Thing take a turn for the worse as the invading nation of Niflheim who rule every country in the world of Eos, except for Lucis, of which Noctis is prince. The invading empire manages to kill the King Regis, leaving the nation in turmoil, and young Noctis now bears the burden of being the king on the run.
The plot then takes you on a sweeping adventure across the lands, and without spoiling much, tries to go a lot of places, while not getting anywhere really. The first two-thirds of the game focuses primarily on the open world adventure nature of the game, while the final third of the game narrows down to linear paths and story.
The gameplay in Final Fantasy XV is probably the biggest departure from the franchise yet. there are no turn-based battle. All the fights are in real time, and they’re fast, action packed, and have a great flow to them which was not expected in this game. You only control Noctis, and can issue orders to your team-mates to perform certain moves/abilities. The key here is chaining up and combining attacks in co-ordination with them in order to deal heavy damage.
The combat might feel simplistic at first, since there’s a single attack button, and you can simply hold it down and attacks will be chained automatically. It’s when you’re switching between weapons on the fly, moving between multiple targets, all the while issuing commands to and combining moves with your team-mates that the real depth of the combat shows. And it’s evolves progressively and for long enough for it to be satisfying throughout the game. Also that warp strike is damn sick!
There’s also an emphasis on casting spells, weapons, and even some outfits. However, none of that feels overly heavy handed, and can be gotten a hang of easily. Character progression is adequately deep, and while each character has his own unique abilities, they can be improved substantially. You gain XP by fighting enemies, and completing tasks, but the XP is only applied to each character upon resting at a camp, motel, or hotel. Each of these resting spots provide their own perks and boosts respectively.
The game is really pretty, though it’s no technical achievement. Distant textures look bad, but the main focus in the game seems to be an overall artistic vision and tone, rather than visual fidelity. The dungeons, and most of the locales have their own unique look and feel, though the game show it’s age at some points, especially towards the end. The game is still gorgeous though, and the world and the monsters within it look fantastic. Fighting hulking beasts becomes even more intense and enjoyable because of some really good attack animations, both on part of the beasts and your characters.
Noctis and his companions are the main stars of the show. Where the story fails, the characters themselves are really well fleshed out, and even Prompto, who initially feels like the placeholder awkward shy guy, turns out to have his own story to tell, and they all grow on you eventually.
The story is the most egregious defaulter here. It is so lacking that you will need to watch the Kingsglaive to get a context of what’s going on in the game. It’s not absolutely essential to your enjoyment of the game, but it’s bad enough for Square Enix to say that they’ll be issuing out post-game patches to add story elements to the game. to be fair though, the initial roadtrip premise seemed worthy enough reason to venture into this fantastic adventure. And the side quests (of which there are many) are fun enough, with solid to gameplay to back it all up. However, what’s a JRPG some world ending urgency.
Final Fantasy XV is an absolutely and enormously enjoyable adventure, with an excellent gameplay system, albeit some flaws in the story. The characters shine through anything that mars this latest entry in the franchise. And most importantly, Final Fantasy XV modernizes and revitalizes the series in way that was essential for it to stand out in today’s arena of Video Games.