I was just finishing up high school when Final Fantasy Versus XIII was revealed. Boy, what a long journey it’s been for us. We’ve both seen so much in these last ten years, it’s been up and it been down. At one point, I was worried I’d never play Versus XIII, which eventually turned into Final Fantasy XV, but I’m happy to tell you that it’s been worth the wait.
When you begin to play Final Fantasy XV, the first thing you see is the message: “A Final Fantasy for Fans and First-timers.” Square Enix has done a commendable job removing stigmata behind the series as being something you simply can’t just jump into. It’s also the most drastic departure for the series, something that was sorely needed.
Final Fantasy XV also has a lot of momentum going forward, something the previous single-player experience seemed to drop as it was released, Final Fantasy XIII. The experience left a fracture in the fan base, and to this day you can still read about how different the game was. Luckily, this long cycle helped get things to a place where the characters feel natural, the world comes alive, and the combat feels rewarding.
The game starts off with four best friends, their broken-down ride and the bickering only close friends will understand. It reminds me of my friends when we hang out or go out to have a night out. Four best friends who aren’t just regular people, nope, it’s Prince Noctis of Insomnia and his royal attaché of Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus; three men who have promised their lives to the prince since they were much younger.
Noctis and his entourage are on their way to meet Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, the queen to be in an arranged marriage to our protagonist, Noctis. The reason behind their marriage is to unite north Insomnia and Nifelheim, two warring states that are in a constant flux of battle.
The world of Eos is massive, and as the game begins you’re allowed to explore the world beyond Insomnia. There are a few ways to get around, too. Between driving the Regalia, riding a Chocobo, and walking across the map, you eventually unlock your own personal airship. The world is beautiful and feels as big as it looks, simply exploring the areas feels rewarding.
What threw me off was being able to drive the Regalia, the royal automobile. Being able to manually control the car is limited to driving in straight lines across the maps, often not allowing for any rambunctious off-roading or joyriding on the open road. You unlock fast travel quickly but I recommend not doing so as you often miss out on the insightful and often hilarious conversations Noctis and crew have during their travels.
Final Fantasy XV has the biggest departure in terms of the battle system as Square Enix has shifted from a turn-based system to a more fluid and action-oriented system that is unlike any other game in the series. As the player, you control Noctis fully and your party consists of AI-controlled actions. Luckily, the AI here works well and with you, creating some brilliant set-pieces as you’re fighting your way across the world of Eos. Noctis controls up to three different weapons including a javelin, a sword, a dagger, guns, and greatswords. The group of friends are often caught in hilarious banter or ready to support a fallen party member, creating dynamic battles that are unlike anything in the series. Warping allows Noctis to blindside his enemies and escape from battle when things aren’t going your way. The ability also opens up some beautiful ways to take on enemies but relies on MP to use. Running out of MP puts Noctis into Stasis, and temporarily prevents him from using his warp powers.
The biggest gripe after the exhilarating combat is the simplicity that follows as the holding circle will perform combo strings, leaving the creativity to the wayside. Holding square will allow Noctis to block incoming attacks, and, when timed correctly, allow for parries on attacks. Warping is mapped to the triangle button and X is to jump, a first for the Final Fantasy series.
Magic is a limited-use consumable that feels like Final Fantasy VIII’s Draw system. The Draw system would allow you to find magical deposits around the world and stock up on spells that vary from Ice, Fire, and Lightning spells. You can craft higher-level magic as it becomes available and each spell is put behind a countdown timer when it’s used in battle. You can also craft elemental spells that heal your party or spells that poison the enemy. Magic is a double-edged sword in Final Fantasy XV, as if you don’t have a time where you send the spell flying, can end up hurting your team more than the enemy. The effects of magic in Final Fantasy XV feel real, and being careful is the best way to use magic when in battle.
Progress is tied to the Ascension Grid, which reminds me of the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X. You gain AP from battle, completing sidequests and finishing hunts that are scattered around the world. Each character has its own grid that uses AP from a pool that is split between the four heroes. The categories you can unlock skills from include: Combat, Exploration, Techniques, Teamwork, Magic, Stats, and Recovery.
There are lots to do when you aren’t in battle, you won’t run out of things to do. Coming back to the size of Eos, the world is filled with sidequests to complete, monsters to hunt for rewards, fishing, unlocking and cooking new recipes, and Prompto’s photo journey through the world.
Not everything has been ironed out on release day. The last delay shifted the release from September to November promising much of the leftover issues to be corrected. What hasn’t been corrected though, is the camera during combat. Oftentimes during an intense battle in a corridor or in a building causes the camera becomes erratic and unnecessarily zoomed in oftentimes creating chaos and confusion about what’s happening within the battle.
There are also some artifacts I noticed during my playthrough that would cause some concern that my game would crash, it ended up crashing a couple of times during my 40-hour playthrough. Luckily, the autosave system wouldn’t put me far from my current progress and wasn’t a worrisome issue past being mildly annoying. Saving your progress often is a good habit, so make sure you save your progress as often as you can.
Final Fantasy XV has faced an uphill battle from the beginning. Square Enix did well in picking up the pieces and creating what is a very important title both to the series, and the company. Being able to explore Eos, exploring tombs, finding summons and buying new gear in a Final Fantasy title shakes up the formula in exciting ways. A troubling development cycle in many instances is cause for concern, and after the two demos released here in North America, I wasn’t sold on the next Final Fantasy title. After spending time on what the final vision came to be, I am eager and excited to see what comes next
EDIT – March 10, 2018:
My original review was around launch day in November 2016 and in the span of a year and some change, Square Enix and director Hajime Tabata have made a great game exemplary with the continued support and success the latest numbered Final Fantasy has received. Not only have we gotten three-story packs featuring the royal guard, but a multiplayer expansion that ties into the story in wonderful ways.
Granted, I feel this game has had a bit of an identity crisis, one that’s shifted the message of the story in profound ways, altering this bit and adding to that. You might even call vanilla Final Fantasy XV an experiment for Square, acting as an early access title for the series, something I hope we don’t see becoming a norm.
With the Royal Pack, major revisions were made to the final chapter of the game. Vanilla Final Fantasy XV had Noctis do a beeline straight to the finish line, and onto the credits. Now, Noctis explores an expanded Insomnia, with secrets to find and people to save, and new bosses to defeat. It is here, these moments and the expanded interactions of our four brothers that I’m happy we get to see more of these sincere moments.
Other inclusions with the Royal Pack are an included first-person mode that is wonderful for exploring Eos, not so much for battles (you’ll get sick trying to focus) and an expanded Arminger technique that resembles Final Fantasy Versus XIII previewed years ago. Also included is the royal vessel, allowing Noctis and the gang to explore certain areas around Altissia via their boat it’s a nice inclusion but limited.
Final Fantasy XV also made the jump to PC with the Windows Edition, which bundles all the DLC, and updates, and features some spectacular sights and sounds to experience for the crowd that waited for the longest.
Included in the Windows Edition of Final Fantasy XV is every patch, and every bit of content released up to now. The big draw for me, as well as many others, is the bump in graphics fidelity, which I’m happy to say is spectacular and a big draw for me to return and start a new game on PC. Square ported Final Fantasy XV with tons of options and graphical choices, a far cry from previous ports of Final Fantasy XIII, XIII-2 and Lightning Returns, games which left a sour taste in my mouth when moving to PC.
We know that Hajime Tabata and his team are planning more content all the way through to 2019, so as it is, it’s hard to recommend Final Fantasy XV to those who want the full complete experience. Instead, what you’re getting here is a well-done game, with a cast that you’ll care deeply for by the end of it. This is a “Final Fantasy for Fans and First-timers.”