A beautiful, if fragmented, video game that is worth the wait for long-time fans.
“A Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers.” Says the game before the main menu. As the music chimes in and a starry night sky fades into view, I feel a surge of excitement before I even hit NEW GAME.
I have been waiting for Final Fantasy XV since it was originally called Final Fantasy Versus XIII. As a long time fan, I always look forward to the next game in the expansive series. Though the series has its bumps and bruises in the lineup, you can be relieved to know that the fifteenth core game is great.
STORY: The plot takes a bit of a back seat. The common Final Fantasy theme of light versus dark mixed is present, including the ‘collecting powerful objects to become more powerful’ plot device. What drives the common ideas is a story of reclaiming your kingdom with three friends while out on the road. Cutscenes only somewhat help push the story, but they are oddly quiet and do not make sense at some times. I will say that things feel cut out. For a game that took so long to make, it feels like some things were left in the cutting room. It goes from an open-world explore feeling to extremely linear, and it does not feel natural. There is a character that only shows up twice, then nevermore. There are some concepts that everyone in-game seems to know about, but not telling people that play the game hurts. I have no idea why the main character, Noctis Lucis Caelum, has his powers of teleportation and the royal arsenal except for the reason of...just because of his bloodline. I have no idea of who his friends really are: Gladioulus, Ignis, and Promto. They could be hired to be his friends an I wouldn’t know it, and while they try to become fleshed-put characters along the way, they don’t really grow on me. An enemy, seemingly, can pull Noctis into a time-frozen version of the world just because. The three figures on the box-art are never explained until the very end, and even then you have to make the connection yourself. Who your ancestors are, aside from just the warrior-type character, don’t ever feel like a big deal or why they even get the screen-time they have. Aside from a sub-par plot, the game is littered with side-quests that add absolutely nothing to the story. At all. They are all some form of fetch quest, with each increasing in difficulty but the rewards obviously grow, but that is it. I really wanted to complete all of them, but I soon began to get bored and move on to the campaign.
VISUALS: FFXV is a beautiful game. The story switches between in-game visual use and remarkable animation for the cinematic cutscenes. The over-world is vast and is quite serene. The designs of monsters both familiar and new are highly detailed and varied as they go for a realistic look. Character models also look great and detailed, even if voices sometimes do not sync. What impresses me most about the look of the game is the day/night cycle with the inclusion of a weather system. I could not help but stop and take in the scene at a high point as the environment slowly changed around me. This is a beautiful game, no doubt.
SOUND DESIGN: To compliment the beautiful visuals is an equally beautiful soundtrack composed by Yoko Simomura. This is a game that should definitely be played with a sound system or headphones. Music swings between tranquil pieces that exentuate the calm environment and exciting action pieces. I only have two problems. One gripe is the repeating acoustic guitar music that is common at the game’s various towns. Hearing the same tune over and over becomes mind-numbing. Luckily, there is the inclusion of various songs from every core Final Fantasy game and some spin-offs. Listening to J-E-N-O-V-A while traversing the environment just brings a smile to my face. The second issue is a repeating grass-shuffle sound, that for some reasons, just bothers me when I am on foot. Is noticeable, and once I called attention to it, it became a growing pain.
GAMEPLAY: Another shining aspect of the game is the gameplay. It. Is. Fun. Just absolutely fun. Instead of the series’ trend of some-kind of turn-based combat, it is replaced with a real-time system with buttons directly corresponding to commands. It is quite simple with one button acting as the attack, one as the dodge/defend, one for the super useful warp-strike, and one for jumping. Shoulder buttons are reserved for target lock, quick-use item menu, and the unpredictable summon prompt. Magic barely stands out in the game, with it being a bit perplexing to use at first. Basically, find essence to absorb. Absorb it. Go to a specific menu. Select items and craft. Then go to the equipment menu and equip it. While it would be bearable, what makes me confused is that you only get to use the crafted magic three times before you need to repeat the same steps. There is no spell reloading of any kind, even if you have multiples of the same spell. And there is friendly-fire. Yes, that is correct. What this entails is that if you use magic on an enemy, there is a high change your allies will get hurt by the effects. Too many times I cast Thundaga and had Ignis get struck by a bolt. Aside from that, it made the redundant side-quests at least enjoyable as I warped between enemies and used my growing arsenal. You cannot control your allies, but the Tech Bar allows you to assign useful skills to use in the heat of battle. The Armiger lets you unleash combat hell against enemies with your royal arsenal but is balanced by a rather slow recharge.
OVERALL: As a long-time fan of the series, I find that the fifteenth installment a welcome one. Despite being rough in spots throughout, including a just plain terrible 13th chapter (equipment and allies gone for a stealth experience), it is held together by great gameplay, visuals, and sound. As for those unfimiliar with the series, this is a good introduction, but the issues might be amplified by some. Who knows. Overall it earns an 8/10.