The revered JRPG series finally gets its log-awaited fifteenth instalment, Final Fantasy XV.
Final Fantasy XV has been a long time coming, having been in development for ten years. It’s taken so long that it’s had to be shunted from its original Final Fantasy Verses XIII title (FFXIII released in 2009) all the way up to FFXV (the online-only FFXIV first released in 2010 and rebooted in 2013).
The game continues the series’ tradition of being a standalone adventure, set in a completely different universe that it’s predecessors. The game does have similar themes, though, in being a sometimes awkward amalgam of swords, sorcery and sci-fi, and having an engineer called Cid.
This time they’ve added an Americana-inspired road trip across a vast open world. Four friends, Glafiolus, Ignis, Prompto and Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum, Noct for short, are on their way to the city of Altissia where Noct is to marry Lunafreya. What follows is a sometimes confusing tale of betrayal as Noct seeks to reclaim his throne, with the help of his best friends. As bizarre as the plot may be, it is beautifully told.
Visually, I found Final Fantasy XV not quite up to scratch on PS4. There are moments that are drop-dead gorgeous, but, even with the PS4 Pro setting set to visuals over performance, the graphics falter here and there. My main gripe being the lack of anti-aliasing around the otherwise dynamic hair, leaving it all jagged against the background.
FFXV also, unfortunately, continues the Japanese trait of generally unlikable, borderline obnoxious male characters. In the land of the rising sun such boorish types may be very cool, but in the west this sort of behaviour isn’t. I just never got on with any of the principle characters.
Ignoring the plot and the characterisations, it’s the gameplay that makes Final Fantasy XV the best Final Fantasy game that I’ve played in years.
The combat in FFXV is a major departure from the turn-based combat system of old. The new real-time combat removes some of the finesse required of traditional FF combat systems, making it a bit of a button-mashing slash-fest. I’m not saying it’s not fun, it’s just different, and not Final Fantasy as we are used to. You can switch to a turn-based system, but you are still only controlling Noct, and not your whole party like in previous games.
Still, as the game progresses the combat becomes more refined and a lot more strategic. Noctis can warp to points in the environment and unleash powerful Warp Attacks on enemies. The Link Attacks, whereby Noct tag teams with a colleague, also delivers a strong attack. Add in magic and defensive play and you have a challenging, but rewarding battle system, with too much depth for me to go into detail about here.
Final Fantasy XV’s open world gives the game a grander scale. It is, possibly, a response to the twenty-odd hours of linier gameplay players had to endure with FFXIII before that game started delivering.
With loads of side quests and activities like fishing, you are not going to get bored with the game. But realise that you are in it for the long haul. Final Fantasy games require a huge investment in time to reap the considerable rewards on offer.
Final Fantasy XV is a multimedia event. Before playing the game you really ought to watch the CGI movie, Kingsglave, and the YouTube anime series, Brotherhood. I’m not sure I’m keen on this method of storytelling. I’d sooner have seen the whole lot packaged with the game. You paid a lot of money for your FFXV game experience, after all.
Final Fantasy XV is a finely crafted, but flawed work of genius. It’s a game the wears the scars of a long and tortuous development cycle. The haphazard mix of Eastern and Western gaming design grates at times. The unrefined, awkward dialogue and plot, doesn’t at all fit the Western visuals. How I long for a Final Fantasy game that doesn’t try to pander to a mainstream Western audience and instead embraces its Japanese origins.
Viewed as a whole, however, Final Fantasy XV, offers players an incredible gameplay experience in a unique and, even if a little odd, fascinating environment. Destined to become a classic.