After multiple delays spanning over a decade, Final Fantasy XV has at long last exited development hell. The game's ambitious direction and numerous revisions were cause for concern among fans that doubted a project with such a troubled history could ultimately come together.
With the final product in-hand, it's clear developer Square Enix had to scale back their original vision, as there's still remnants of the groundbreaking masterpiece that had been promised. However, Final Fantasy XV is still exceptional, and its shortcomings shouldn't stop series veterans or curious newcomers from diving in.
Final Fantasy XV is available on Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 for $59.99. There's also a Deluxe Edition that comes with a copy of the Final Fantasy XV movie Kingsglaive, an art book and additional skins for $89.99 USD
Crown Prince Noctis of Lucis and his three closest friends Gladiolus, Ignis and Prompto are traveling cross-country to unite Noctis with his betrothed Lady Lunafreya. But en route to their meeting, the Niflheim Empire overthrows Noct's father King Regis, leaving Noctis as the heir to the fallen crown.
As his sworn protectors, Noctis' three friends dedicate their lives to bringing the new king back to his rightful spot at the throne in the Crown City. The quartet embark on a road trip across the world of Eos to reclaim Noctis' position as King of Lucis and to eliminate the encroaching darkness that threatens the globe.
Final Fantasy XV is at its strongest when it's focusing on the four main characters. Between fighting alongside them and spending quality time together during long car rides, the player forms a bond with the four protagonists that stands above everything else in the narrative.
When Final Fantasy XV tries to tell its overarching story beyond just the immediate adventure of Noctis, Gladio, Ignis and Prompto, it struggles to maintain interest. It's rushed pacing shows signs of what would have been a much longer, elaborate story that was shortened during development. Also, significant plot points are frustratingly relegated to the Final Fantasy XV movie and anime, adding to the feeling of incompleteness.
But the dense narrative is saved by the intimate moments shared by the four boys. Over the course of the story, the group is tested physically and emotionally. Conflict emerges in the group, and the long journey takes its toll on their bodies in the form of physical scars. They all grow and change, and the scenes that focus exclusively on their relationship are the highlight of the game.
The main story is also on the short side. At E3 2016, the game's director Hajima Tabata estimated that completing the story would take around 40-50 hours to complete. With only attempting a few side missions, I was able to get through it in around 25 hours. The narrative feels complete, but inside of its short playtime, it feels rushed.
Although the story is inconsistent, the combat in Final Fantasy XV is the game's strongest suit. It manages to make every encounter feel fluid, and watching Noct and company take down mobs of enemies in flashy anime style is deeply satisfying.
Noctis has several tools available to him as Crown Prince of Lucis. He can wield any weapon type in the game (including longswords, daggers, firearms, etc.) with ease by simply holding the "attack" button. He can also dodge melee and gunfire attacks by phasing through them, or can use similar magic to throw his weapon and teleport to a nearby enemy. Magic spells, which act more like craftable grenades than castable enchantments, can be used to exploit the elemental weaknesses of adversaries.
Finally, Noctis' most powerful ability is his Armiger Arsenal, where he unleashes the ancestral weapons he's collected and uses them simultaneously. Acting as this game's limit break, Noct's weapons surround him, and his speed and strength increases.
Naturally, Noct's friends are there to fight alongside him and can seamlessly synchronize attacks. Each party member has their own list of abilities, and you can also upgrade the effectiveness of team attacks. With a fully maxed-out skill tree, allies became fairly autonomous and are capable of some truly badass attacks.
The feeling of setting out on a boundless road trip was clearly a goal of this Final Fantasy, but most of the mechanics added to convey this notion come out feeling half-baked.
A major character in this game is your customizable car, the Regalia. While Noct can ride back seat during trips or drive the car himself, taking control of the Regalia feels less like driving an actual car and more like steering a Disneyland Autopia car. Players are restricted by an invisible wall preventing them from driving outside of their lane. Your party can leave the Regalia at any time, but the restrictions imposed on the player make being in your car feel like driving a claustrophobic tank instead of taking a liberating joyride.
Noct's party can also make camp in-between rest stops. Each of the boys has their own unique skill to contribute (Noctis fishes, Gladio has a scavenger skill, Ignis can cook stat-boosting meals, and Prompto takes pictures). But none of them feel fully formed or necessary, as camping is another aspect of Final Fantasy XV that feels like it was supposed to be a bigger part of the game than it ultimately became.
For example, Ignis collects dozens of recipes through the course of the game to give the party temporary boosts. Yet you'll likely only use a handful of them. The map isn't so big that Noct's party spends more than a day outside of town, so camping never feels like the major part of your journey it was seemingly intended to be.
Also detracting from the world are the bland side quests and the disappointing weapon count. The right type of player may find themselves engrossed in the universe of Final Fantasy XV, but it's certainly not the "open" world Square was promising to deliver on.
Playing on the Xbox One version, the visuals of Final Fantasy XV are all over the place. There were times the camera sat behind Noctis and I just admired his visually incredible, angsty hair. But there were other times in-game cutscenes would close-up on a monster and their face would be exceptionally blurry.
Thankfully at a distance, most everything in Final Fantasy XV looks great. The graphics on the PlayStation 4 version are considerably better than on the Xbox One, and if you're playing on a PS4 Pro, you likely won't even run into the texture issues at all.
As for the soundtrack, this Final Fantasy doesn't have any standout hits, save for the cover of "Stand By Me" by Florence + The Machine in the game's excellent opening sequence. Series fans will appreciate being able to collect CDs of past Final Fantasy soundtracks to play while cruising in the Regalia, but unfortunately, there's nothing memorable from this entry.
It may have some glaring issues. It might not live up to the exceedingly high expectations set by the developer. But there's still something special about Final Fantasy XV that gleams through its shortcomings.
In spite of the confusing, poorly paced plot, it still manages to make you care about its four main characters, and its combat system is one of the most exhilarating and satisfying in recent memory. Final Fantasy XV may not be a flawless road trip, but it's one worth embarking on for the journey, rather than the destination.
|+ Four lovable main characters||– Confusing, rushed plot|
|+ Fun, fluid combat system||– Restrictive open world|
|+ Beautiful (if spotty) visuals|