Reviewed on: Playstation 4
Final Fantasy XV was announced in May 2006, the same year FF XII was released. That was also the same year we got Half Life 2: Episode One. We also got Call of Duty 3 close to the end of the year. Originally called Final Fantasy Versus 13, the title sounded like a bold statement. I was intrigued but also very excited. Alas, for I was to wait for another 10 years… Fast forward to today: after skipping an entire console generation and being renamed Final Fantasy XV, we’ve finally got our hands on the game. Was all the waiting worth it?*
Picture this for a moment. You and three buddies are out on a road trip when your car breaks down and you take it to the garage to get repairs done. You decide to go fishing to catch some food and that night you make camp and cook your freshly caught fish and look at all the amazing selfies you and your mates took of that day.Hang on… this doesn’t sound like a game?! This sounds like real life?
You play as Noctis Lucis Caelum, heir to the throne of Lucis, the kingdom that has control over the Crystal (a series staple tying this in to the main FF series). Noctis’ quest begins when he and his butler (Ignis Stupeo Scientia), bodyguard (Gladiolus Amicitia) and closest friend (Prompto Argentum) set out from the crown city in order to wed Lunafreya Nox Fleuret. Not too far from the crown city their car breaks down, marking the start of the game.
You start in a massive open world and immediately you are given a quest to help out Cindy, the very lovely mechanic and probably the cleanest one I have ever seen, while you wait for her to fix your car. This marks the start for you to explore the vast space open to you. Many have claimed that this is the first time the main series has attempted truly sandbox design, although there have certainly been examples of the same principles at work in previous entries.**
Open world, free roam, or sandbox are terms for video games where a player can move freely through a virtual world and is given considerable freedom in regard to how and when to approach particular objectives, as opposed to other video games that have a more linear structure to their gameplay.
This gameplay innovation is FFXV’s greatest strength but also its greatest weakness in terms of storytelling. In a classic japanese RPG, story is one of the biggest draws for the audience. Designers go to great lengths with making amazing CG cutscenes in order to tell their story. FFX has over 40 minutes of CG filling out its expansive narrative. Unfortunately FF XV skimps in storytelling, not just in cutscenes but with the freedom you have in the beginning of the game; having so much freedom to wander took me out of the story completely until I decided to just concentrate on the main story chapters at hand, when it started to reel me back in. Too much open world, too soon.
So what about the plot itself, how does that play out? Without giving too much away, disaster soon strikes our happy-go-lucky pals, in an unsurprising twist. After the news breaks and Noctis finds out, he and his friends must quest to collect the royal Arms, weapons of great power, to help him reclaim his throne. Unfortunately, the banter between Noctis and his companions and all the little nuances they added when camping and roaming the world makes this plot structure a little redundant. It just doesn’t seem like a big deal when terrible events happen, because you can happily go back to playing just as you did before. Only when you start to invest time into the main story quests do the feelings of Noctis start to show, and some investment into the character take place.
Turning to gameplay, I think the game boasts some of the best mechanics in a FF game to date. Gone is the calssic JRPG-style turn-based fighting and in its place we have real time combat very similar to Kingdom Hearts.
When traversing the world, fighting happens immediately when you encounter enemies roaming around, something which I loved. You can equip Noctis with a variety of weapons or magic in his four slots, finding the loadout that bests works for your play style. Switching between weapons works amazingly well and it is seriously fun switching weapons in mid-combo, something that can get really addictive. You are also able to equip weapons or magic to your companions, but unlike Noctis they only have two weapon slots. Accessories and Outfits can also be equip to strengthen you and your allies.
Your companions all have special skills that they do in the world. Noctis goes out fishing, Gladiolus is the survival expert, Ignis cooks lovely meals and Prompto take wonderful selfies. With fishing and photo taking pretty much useless, the only skills I cared about were Gladiolus and Ignis. Gladio has a chance to find rare items when fighting and Iggy can give you amazing buffs after eating his food.
Though I have to say that my biggest and longest boss encountered happened when I was fishing. It took me over an hour to reel in that beast.
You gain experience from fighting monsters or doing quest and this stacks up until you decide to make camp or sleep at a hotel. This is when all the accumulated experience makes you level up and you also gain AP (Ability Points). This is sadly by far the most broken mechanic I have ever encountered in a FF game. Since the open world offers a plethora of opportunities for pleasant grinding…, at seventeen hours in and at chapter 3 of the game I was already capped at level 99 and Noctis was wielding the Ultima Blade.This made the rest a breeze to play and run through. With older FF titles it could take a very long time to level up and you had to work really hard to grind to victory. Due to a number of easily-exploitable systems, FFXV offers ways to level beyond the difficulty curve, and essentially walk to victory.
Even though my characters might have been over-levelled, I still had a lot of skills to unlock in the Ascension menu, a system that proved a little more balanced than gaining Exp. You use AP, a separate resource, to unlock certain skills in the Ascension Menu, and you earn AP from doing a multiverse of things.Performing actions like cooking, fishing, driving and fighting can gain you AP, and those are just a few of the options. With some skills costing hundreds of AP, and each action dropping only a handful, there will be some serious farming happening to bag every possible reward.
There are loads and loads of Side-quests to keep you busy with and I mean loads! I am 80 hours in and I have not even got close to 40% of all the Side-quests yet. With monsters to hunt and dungeons to explore the game will really keep you busy for at least well over 100 hours after you have finished the main story.
The dungeons are really cool but it lacked some sort of puzzle mechanic. I really loved FFX dungeon puzzles you had to solve when you had to go collect Aeons. FF XV was lacking in these, at least until I discovered the hidden dungeon that relies solely on platforming skill. It is one of the best dungeons I have ever played with really awesome puzzles to solve. It was like I was playing Tomb Raider 2; I kept dying hundreds of times but when making it past a certain puzzle gave me an amazing sense of achievement. I really wished that they had more of this in the other dungeons.
The world of FFXV is gorgeous, really breathtaking, and certainly one of the best looking games on the PS4 currently. Style-wise it is very reminiscent of FFXIII. The attention to detail in the animation is really jaw dropping, especially during combat. There was this one moment where Noct was attacking he then threw his sword to Ignis to do the finishing blow and after the blow Ignis threw the weapon back to Noct. Just thinking of the amount of scripts and cycles they had to make in order to achieve this small action is what really blows my mind. There were some points it felt like the characters had too much cycles and they were not sure what to do. This is mainly when they stand idly by.
There are not a lot of cutscenes in FFXV unless you add Kingsglaive (the animated movie released alongside) as the intro to the game, which probably then makes it the longest intro to a game in history. If you did not watch Kingsglaive before playing FFXV, you are going to be missing really important story moments. There were lots of elements missing in the main story during my playthrough, which I hope can be cleared up with DLC.
The music is awesome and I love the nostalgia you get when you drive around while listening to the soundtracks of previous titles in the series. The voiceover is top notch for both English and Japanese. The first time Prompto sang the battle music theme made me chuckle like a little school boy receiving his first letter from his crush.
With my playthrough, I only encountered is small number of bugs and I had one crash. One noticeable problem with the camera is when combat happens in enclosed areas it really gets hard to see what is happening around you.
* I am going to give you a heads up that I will be referencing two Final Fantasy titles from the series past, as well as one of the best games I have ever played. Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy X and Kingdom Hearts. If you have not played any of these titles I really urge you to make the effort to play them. These games are all ‘’Best Game of the Year’’ titles respectively in my opinion.
** On disc 3 of FFVIII, you unlock the Ragnarok spacecraft and from there you are completely free to fly anywhere you wanted to in the small world. The world was shaped like Earth and you could fly to islands and land, climb off your ship and run around and fight monsters or just explore. Sure when you entered forests or buildings it was flat 3D Renders but you still had freedom of exploration. Really Great Game! Go play it now, after you finish reading my review of course!