At first I ignorantly told myself that I would not do a review for Final Fantasy XV because it was simply too big of a game and by the time I’d probably seen enough, my review would be all but obsolete and unnecessary. Well, it turns out I’m a fool for a multitude of reasons and I am in fact here to deliver my verdict concerning the game. This is the first of two long-term projects that has reached completion in this November-December time this year, the second of which would be the eleven year journey that has been The Last Guardian. For a ten year old game, Final Fantasy XV certainly took note of the things Duke Nukem Forever utterly failed to do and sidestepped those issues swiftly. That’s not to say it doesn’t sport its own brand of incompetence at times.
In many ways, Final Fantasy XV playfully reminded me of other open world gems such as the first Xenoblade Chronicles title and Red Dead Redemption. Now, I know these are two entirely different games that share little save for an open format and plenty of side objectives, but it’ll maybe become a tad more apparent as to why I draw these comparisons later on. The trio of Final Fantasy XIII games (XIII, XIII-2, and Lightning Returns) each sought to change the malleable Final Fantasy formula in their own ways, however XV does so in an entirely new way and takes things from a different perspective as well. For such a large and expansive world, it truly is the little things that tend to set Final Fantasy XV apart, save for some of the more dynamic changes such as combat.
The narrative itself is as convoluted as the rest of the series can sometimes get as it stretches across multiple mediums and carries on after literal decades of real-life time. That’s not to say its themes fall flat or that it is terrible, merely that without consulting a fanpage or wiki, you are likely best going into the game as a blank slate and not thinking too much about that good old one-winged Sephiroth guy or anyone named after white fluffy sky pillows wielding larger than realistic swords. Like most of the other Final Fantasy titles, XV carries with it its own lore and themes and for the most part it can essentially be boiled down to a kingdom at the brink of war and friendship, brotherhood, and camaraderie.
Perhaps one of the realest sensations the game has to offer is the thoroughly tangible result of your interactions with your three brothers in arms and party members. Whereas you may encounter guest characters that fight by your side or otherwise advance the story along certain paths, the bulk of your adventure is spent within the confines of four named characters- Noctis, Ignis, Gladiolis, and Prompto. You’re essentially tasked with embarking upon the roadtrip of a lifetime, for lack of a better explanation and due to the fact you start off with a car. Yes, the car you’ve probably seen on all that promotional stuff. By the end of your journey though, let’s just say it gets a heavy duty upgrade and love letter from the auto shop. The brotherhood and camaraderie doesn’t start and stop with combat and side quests though- it extends to every aspect of your adventure as it permeates even the dullest of campfires and areas explored and camped in. No detour is too small, no task too much.
The most important thing you should before anything else, if you’ve not already discovered it for yourself, is that Final Fantasy XV should not be constrained or defined by series traditions. It may unmistakably be a Final Fantasy title, but by the same token it is a new breed of beast. In many ways its faults and strengths play off of the same notes because travel and atmosphere are definite strengths whereas familiarity to borderline boredom and cheap sameness, lengthy ‘garbage time’ and unavoidable detours, and characteristic similarities detract from the overall experience.
For my mention of the impressively expansive world as well as its equally expansive lore, the one highlight of the complex story is that it keeps things simple and allows players to choose how much they would like to read into it. You’re perfect able and welcome to traipse through with the barest of details and to ignore or glean as much lore as you’d like. It’s there for you to find and the world is brimming with alternatives to main questlines if you’d like to go out and explore it, but by the same token this can sometimes seem a weighty task and nigh impossible due to travel time that is severely frustrating in the opening hours as you’re constantly hindered by an on-rails driving experience. Don’t try to travel from one edge of the world to the other unless you’d like to sit still for entirely too long and arrive somewhere between the doldrums and REM sleep.
I was immensely pleased that, although the narrative has other focuses that are definitely there, this is a story particularly focused on its main protagonists and not so much on the battles or politics of the land. While there are plenty of important moments and events, the time spent with your comrades and friends is balanced as equally if not more important and definitely has a positive impact throughout. For the most part, this is what the entirety of the Final Fantasy XIII timeline lacked- a sense of unity and camaraderie that felt earnest and believable as well as downright enviable. Character development is key in any role-playing adventure and it takes center stage as one of the most brilliant moves in gameplay/narrative design for Final Fantasy XV.
Without ruining their own redeemable and often laudable qualities for those of you who have yet to play the game, each of the four main party members definitely establishes their own distinctive attitude despite them all resembling some anime meets boyband crew. Don’t let their familiar garb and gear fool you- each of the four is their own individual character and story, and it’s entirely up to you to pursue that to your own ends and cultivate whatever relationships you can between the band for the duration of your adventures. Perhaps one of the most interesting elements of all is the natural melding of gameplay and narrative characteristics as each character has their own special “hobby” of sorts that ties into side content such as photography, cooking, and other small yet aesthetically pleasing values and attributive qualities.
For all the expansiveness of the world, there is sometimes the feeling that it is almost TOO big, which seems a bit ridiculous as far as complaints go, but is made true do to the lack of objectives or opportunities in the most barren of regions. Arguably, these regions are veritable deserts, so who would expect much in the way of enemy encounters or loot there anyway right? Still, it is made all the more frustrating by the fact that these regions often take the most time to traverse, even by vehicle. Trekking around on foot for any extreme length of time is all but completely out of the question as the world is truly gigantic. There are meaningful and interesting side missions to be found quite literally everywhere, loot and goodies in pretty much every nook and cranny, plenty of upgrades and unlockables, and side adventures that culminate in dungeon diving that is entirely missable if you hardly dare to adventure outside of the main quest series.
Combat is one of the biggest and most innovative changes for the series and in my mind one that has been made for the better, streamlining encounters into a rapid response of buttons and role-playing elements that in some ways remind me of Lost Odyssey’s (Mist Walker) ring combat and flourishes. Speed is valued over brute strength and strategy wins the day. You are able to cue up some teamwork-imbued linked attacks almost akin to Marvel Ultimate Alliance’s combo attacks that utilize the powers of two heroes as well. Stringing together successful hits is as much about countering and evasive maneuvers in the vein of the Batman Arkham titles as it is to outright attacking your foes. To make matters even better, each encounter is fairly balanced to your level and style of play with the exception of some of the more difficult boss fights of course.
Some other miscellaneous notes about the game are going to follow. Square very much took the size of the world into mind when crafting some of the enemy encounters and even when creating the special “summons” that each character can utilize here and there during combat once meeting the standard requirements and defending themselves well enough in combat. The world is expansive and as such is populated by particularly nasty and hulking behemoths in certain regions, so powerful and so large that it often takes literal hours of game time during events to defeat them, meaning you may have to come back later for encounters. Surprisingly, this isn’t as horrible an idea as it sounds because you’re not necessarily forced to fight that single battle for the entire time in one sitting anyway. Summons allow you to essentially square off with these larger than life foes in your own monstrous showdown as well, many of which can be seen in action in the gameplay videos available online.
While combat works well, stealth oriented elements fall completely flat in the game and this is put woefully on display towards the end when you are tasked with infiltrating particular areas of the world in the final few chapters of your adventure. The main story and gameplay meld at this point and your experience will be limited until after its completion which allows you back out into the world in its entirety- a strange decision but one that does not terribly affect or impact the game or gameplay otherwise. Enhancements and upgrades will stem from both the main and side paths, meaning there is a healthy balance to be found on and off the beaten path throughout. All in all, the experience is an interesting and worthwhile one even with its mistakes and few artistic missteps along the way.
Concept: Create a hybridization of Final Fantasy elements both old and new without it feeling like a cheap adventure title with the name plastered on but not really holding onto elements dear to the series.
Graphics: The graphics are for the most part spectacular and the animations are impressive and detailed. Camera angles are odd at times especially when paused mid-combat, however the gameplay never suffers as a result.
Sound: The voice acting is superb and there is an available collection of classic melodies from Final Fantasies both old and new. Some of the Final Fantasy XV pieces themselves are less stellar than others, however the soundtrack is passable.
Playability: The locomotion in terms of vehicles is one of the worst elements of the game as it is such an integral part of gameplay at times. However, combat and overall control of the game handles well once you overcome a slight skill gap.
Entertainment: The world and players won’t lack for activities both main and side content related to dive into. While the experience takes a hit in its later narrative exploits and also in its ability to traverse the expansive world, the overall experience is an enjoyable and worthwhile one.
Replay Value: High.
Overall Score: 8.0