10 years. We waited 10 years for this. It took 10 years for Final Fantasy XIII Versus to finally release as Final Fantasy XV. In fact, during that time, countless people have likely given up on the title ever releasing, though they never forgot about what could have been. It still feels surreal to actually have the game in my hands now. With that in mind though, barring some annoying issues, XV was still worth the wait.
Players assume the role of Prince Noctis, a prince whose father has just been assassinated and is now on a quest to retake his kingdom from the empire of Niflheim. Along the way, he has members of the Kingsguard and friends, Gladious, an aptly built bodyguard who can build a decent camp, Ignis, the prodigy who can apparently concoct just about any recipe using the beasts of Eos, and Prompto, the pretty boy who likes to whine and take random selfies during the most inopportune times, accompany him. It is a ragtag squad to say the least and the banter is entertaining to say the least. From the beginning, it is obvious that the group was designed just to make any fangirl gush. Each archetype here satisfies some type of ideal boyfriend, so the inspiration for the characters is fairly obvious.
Generally, previous Final Fantasy titles began to open up the world as the game progressed, rewarding the player with freedom and sidequests. Interestingly, XV foregoes this and offers an open world right off the bat for players. It can be a bit overwhelming at first and, if players are too quick to take on any quests they see, they may even run the danger of running into some that may have enemies at a higher level than they are at the moment. Though the UI does give that information, it is in no way intuitive. Using the Regalia’s auto drive quest menu to plan my trips, there was no indication of what the recommended level was for a particular quest. Instead, I have to go back to the regular menu and browse to quest in order to see what level any particular quest is. It’s a hassle to say the least and one that actually turned me down from side quests for the early portion of the game until I started exploring the menus a bit more. With that said, there is certainly a huge variety of side quests, the majority of which involve zero battling yet awards a generous amount of experience. I would certainly hope so when the tasks are as tedious as looking for toads around Eos.
The other issue with the game’s open world, and consequently the entire game, is a vast array of issues with quality of life designs. XV definitely tries to keep up with its western brethren like The Witcher and Skyrim, including things like fast travel and auto drive to allow players to move around the world with ease. Ultimately, the PS4’s 5400 RPM hard drive proves too slow, resulting in excrutiating load times for pretty much everything, raising the question of whether or not Square Enix understands what “fast” travel means. Furthermore, while the idea of riding around in the Regalia seems great at first, it’s a hassle to have to fill it up or otherwise be doomed to pushing the car like a common pleb. Everything about the game that tries to make it complex, like the in-game clock and gas, only serve to make it more frustrating to play through. I don’t want more things to take care of once I’m in the world of Eos. Thankfully, they can be circumvented through various methods; for instance, fast traveling does not seem to move time as much and gas is not consumed. However, neither of these seem intentional and it’s really just oversight on Square Enix’s part. I wish I could say that these errors do not affect the meat of the game, the battles, but players will find themselves running into more than the occasional tree both in and out of battles.
Battles are the biggest departure of the title from previous Final Fantasies and makes XV a blast to play. Inspiration from the Kingdom Hearts series is clear as players are finally given full control over the action RPG title. Free movement, dodging, and the freedom to string together combos as players see fit make the title more exciting than ever before. Honestly, I have always hated the pseudo-action RPG style of previous Square Enix titles and it is refreshing to see the company take the plunge and put control over battles in players’ hands rather than the stats. For players who prefer to slow the game down, though, the Wait system is nicely implemented, slowing battles to a halt as players stop moving so they can plan more strategic moves. Unfortunately, the game’s Libra, which scans enemy weaknesses, can only be used in Wait mode. Players must choose between exciting, fluid battles and strategic choices as opposed to having both at the same time, which is a confusing design choice to say the least.
Magic is particularly interesting in the battle system. XV uses a system not unlike VIII, where magic spells were drawn from specific points throughout the map. The new Elemancy system, however, allows players to craft spells in different ways, putting together more units of each element to make a stronger spell or even adding in items to create duocasts, healcasts, or whatever-casts that add some extra effect or “oomph” to a spell. Spells are extremely powerful now and more volatile as well, since they all have friendly-fire. The long, unavoidable cooldowns then are a natural consequence. Players will need to use them carefully lest they wish to lose their teammates. Thankfully, though spells are limited to three units every time they’re concocted, players can use precious AP to ascend their Elemancy crafting to do a variety of things from creating more spells each time or to draw more of an element per time.
Both the AP and leveling system are departures from what series veterans may be used to. Rather than counting all the experience earned after each battle, experience isn’t tallied until players decide to camp or sleep somewhere for a night. Applying basic order of operations, we learn that there is a very basic risk-reward system in the leveling itself – should you tally up the experience constantly or amass experience while fighting at a lower level, sleeping at high experience multiplier camps to get the most bang for your buck? It certainly adds a nice extra layer of difficulty for players who want to challenge themselves; boy, it sure feels good when I go to sleep at a hotel and see my characters jump ten or more levels. Unlike experience, AP does not have any multiplier for players, but that is perhaps there is so much players can do with it yet so many ways to earn it. Eventually, with the right upgrades, players will be able to earn AP for simple tasks like driving, setting up camp, or even fishing. All of this would eventually be used to power up characters; early upgrades start at just five AP or so, though end-game upgrades can be hundreds of AP or more per. At some point, players will have enough to play through the majority of the game, but those who want to reach 100% completion will have plenty to do.
In terms of the title’s presentation, it is probably the best one yet for the series, which seems like an entirely pointless and ridiculous statement. Obviously as the only Final Fantasy of the generation, it would also be the most beautiful. However, not only is it graphically beautiful, the entire world is a brilliant mix of the natural beauty found in western RPG titles like Skyrim and the sci-fi elements of previous Final Fantasy titles. With the incredible draw distance of this title, landmarks and landscapes add to the epic atmosphere of the game, creating a larger-than-life adventure on the basis of visuals alone. Bosses and giant enemies only add to the spectacular atmosphere. The massive scale of everything in the title is something previous titles have not achieved yet and XV may represent everything from what previous Final Fantasy titles should have been to what we can expect from the VII remake. While the soundtrack for XV and its English track is respectable, it is exciting to have all the previous Final Fantasy titles’ soundtracks and Japanese voiceovers available in the title, ensuring that anyone with even a sliver of Final Fantasy in their blood will find the title to be pleasing.
Though it has been a long wait for the title, it is a shame to see so many unpolished aspects of it coming out in the game. That said, the game is by no means a disappointment. It’s a little rough around the edges, but it’s nothing that a couple of patches can’t take out from what will possibly be one of the best Final Fantasy games in most gamers’ minds.
- Open world and free form battles are refreshing and damn fun
- Built in risk-reward system is interesting
- The scale of everything makes for an epic experience
- Music from previous games and Japanese voiceovers? Yes, please!
- Elemancy system adds a lot of variety to magic
- Why are the load times so long
- Why do I keep running into trees
- Why are the trees blocking the enemies
- Why do I have to keep getting gas and sleep
Reviewed on: PS4; Also Available on: Xbox One; Publisher: Square-Enix; Developer: Square-Enix; Players: Single player; Released: November 29, 2016; ESRB: Teen; MSRP: $59.99; Official Site