Final Fantasy XV begins with a screen proclaiming it to be a “Final Fantasy for Fans and First-Timers”. As the number suggests, this is the series’ fifteenth mainline game, and each numbered entry is its own standalone tale. With so many games over the years, you’d assume it has a wide enough audience similar to Call of Duty or FIFA. This was the case once upon a time — during the era of the original PlayStation, and PS2 — before the series stumbled into the high definition generation of consoles with some pretty abysmal games, such as Final Fantasy XIII and its direct sequels.
Does Final Fantasy XV bring back the series’ former glory, or should you be playing another role-playing game this year? We find out in our review.
You are put in the shoes of Noctis, the heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Lucis. You’re on a journey with three of your friends — Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus — to get married to Luna, an Oracle and former princess, in order to fulfil a peace treaty. What should be a straightforward trip quickly goes awry with monsters, giant gods, and even entire armies going out of their way to make your life difficult. Before you know it, things have gotten out of hand, and it’s up to you to save the world.
Final Fantasy XV’s story is vague. To properly understand it, you’ll need to watch Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, and Brotherhood Final Fantasy XV— a full-length CGI film, and a six-part anime respectively. In-game, there’s a good deal of exposition via cut-scenes, and a fair amount of detail tucked away in conversations between characters, but the narrative is huge and delivery fractured across many parts, so you’ll often find yourself lost. Certain key events are explained in loading screens after they happen, instead of as they happen. Some key moments aren’t even shown onscreen. All of this makes the overall proceedings of Final Fantasy XV a pain to follow, even for fans.
While the overarching plot is a clunky mess, the game does a fantastic job of showing the camaraderie between you and your immediate allies. From idle banter about food, to contextual chatter that tells you you’re going in the right direction when you’re in a dungeon, the use of dialogue between you and your crew does a fantastic job of keeping you engaged. By the end of it all, it’s tough not to feel attached to Final Fantasy XV’s main cast. Even its villain despite being responsible for acts most despicable.
Speaking of which, the world of Final Fantasy XV sports modern trappings like cars, gas stations, and smartphones. A lot of its locations, whether the grandest, or the most sinister, appear rooted in reality. The characters don’t have elaborate, outlandish clothes (for most part), and are expertly voiced. From a technical standpoint, Final Fantasy looks good and plays well enough. It’s not a photorealistic masterpiece, but its colourful art direction and slick aesthetic sensibilities go a long way in making an impact. There are a few technical issues we touched upon in our Final Fantasy preview, but there’s very little else wrong with Final Fantasy XV on the PS4 and PS4 Pro.
The stellar production values go a long way in making your time with the game fly by, while the theme of reality pervades into the game’s combat system as well, even despite Noctis being able to summon weapons on the fly. Whether you’re cutting a foe down to size with a battle axe, or stabbing away with a dagger, there’s a discernible difference in the way each weapon works, adding an element of strategy. You can also link up your attacks with your friends. This results in amazing spectacles, with great visual flair. And if you prefer the strategic option, there’s the Wait Mode, which brings the game to a halt when Noctis is not in motion. Doing so allows you to plan your attack as you see fit. Even in the game’s most demanding boss fights, it holds up well.
However, using magic in battle appears to be tacked on as an afterthought. Casting a spell affects everyone on the battlefield. This implementation of a series staple saw us using it at the beginning of a fight and little else. You can craft your own magic by harvesting elements peppered through the game world, but its use is minimal. Despite this, combat is one of Final Fantasy XV’s strongest points, and there’s an addictive quality to it that never allowed the game to feel like a slog, even when the odds are against you.
Also great is the game’s progression system. As you slay foes and take the story forward, you earn experience points that boost your attributes such as health and magic. You also earn ability points that let you unlock new skills for your party. Aside from letting you kill more efficiently, they also let you take advantage of exploration to earn more ability points, which we found to be a welcome addition. What this meant is, you could do non-combat activities such as cooking, setting up camp, or simply driving from one point to another, to unlock your team’s talents.