Final Fantasy is a franchise unafraid of change. You only need to look at the countless spinoffs and evolution in design throughout the numbered instalments to recognise that.
But the interesting thing about a game over a decade in the making is that it’s actually learned a great deal from the spate of games released during its well-documented development life cycle.
For instance, Final Fantasy Explorers was the franchises’ attempt at tackling the Monster Hunter community with its own set of characters and creatures. During FFXV’s Hunt missions, clear parallels can be drawn with players tracking down creatures to their lairs and bringing back trophies to earn rewards.
It’s also learned a fair few things from its numbered MMO predecessor through fishing mini-games, dungeon-crawling, and questing. Final Fantasy XV really illustrates the strains and struggles of an epic journey by forcing you to camp out under the stars, cook your own meals, and introducing players to a wide-reaching map that is absolutely chock-full of content.
Even the combat has taken developmental clues from Final Fantasy Type-O with its action-based system that allows dynamic changes to equipment and tactics.
Playing Final Fantasy XV, it was immediately apparent to me that the clues have been right in front of us for years. These games have been building up and preparing us for this all along, preparing to take the next step with the franchise, and it has been well worth the wait.
While Prince Noctis is the central character, you will lead a small army known as the Kingsguard made up of Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus. While you control Noct through the world, you’ll be able to provide new accessories for your team-mates, help them learn new abilities, and allow them to directly benefit from Ascension, akin to the Grid-System found in Final Fantasy X.
This system allows you to build upon core combat components for each of the characters, such as magic, recovery, and teamwork. You may improve the effectiveness of an attack or the durability of an armor piece. It can also be used to build out special attacks and even work on united boosts. While each character will earn levels which enables them to accessorize differently, it also builds up their health bars and magic.
You’ll still earn EXP from completing missions and beating enemies, but the only way you can level up is by taking daily rests, whether it’s at a campfire site, at local hotels, or decked out in camper vans. Here you can train against your comrades, but also Ignis cook special meals to adjust your combat potency. If you cook one of your allies favorite meals – for instance, Gladio loves Cup Noodles – then they’ll also get extra special benefits and are inclined to fight even harder. And, of course, the more Ignis cooks, the better cook he becomes and the more recipes he’ll accumulate.
The others also have their uses as well. Prompto loves taking pictures which you can share on Twitter and Facebook, Gladio searches for particular items and can gather more after battles – such as elixirs and ethers – and Noctis is a fisher supreme. Find the right spot and you can hunt for all types of fish in Final Fantasy, providing you’ve got a strong line and some enticing bait.
The more you dive into Final Fantasy XV, the more you realise how different this is from any other numbered instalment before it. The game has so many side-quests that you’ll actually need to deviate from the story fairly regularly in order to prepare yourself accordingly for the challenges ahead. You may be required to chase a Chocobo or go gallivanting on some random fetch quest. Perhaps restore a merchant’s supplies, or go on secret base infiltration missions to weaken the Imperials. Knowing where to start is half the battle!
Fortunately, you have the Regalia to tour around the environment, driving to your quest locations with ease by cruising the open streets with the roof down and your stereo blaring. But even the Regalia can be tweaked and changed to suit your creative urges, with the option to characterise it with 8-bit figurines on the sides, or blaring flame from the pits of hell. You even have to refuel it.
Where previous Final Fantasy games have presented you with set characters and aesthetics, 15 gives players new ways to tailor how they play and ways the journey will appear on their screen. It personalises the experience while also providing an established narrative with pre-defined characters in a set universe. But unlike in other games, you’ll have to consider things like the weather. For example, if you’re outside and it’s raining too hard, your character’s hair becomes frizzy unless you’ve purchased some extra strong gel which makes it resistant. The attention to detail is enough to drive you crazy!
And on the whole, it all plays quite wonderfully. Yes, there’s an element of repetition which gives off an MMORPG-like vibe. It’s certainly fair to say that, if you’ve never played an MMORPG in your life, Final Fantasy XV will gladly prepare you for that experience, but in a confined and controlled single-player environment. But as a result, despite the detailed lore and backstory that has gone into crafting this world, I feel like Final Fantasy XV has one of the weaker stories in the numbered instalments. Yes, the leads are wonderful and their back-and-forth banter gave me a real Ninja Turtle vibe as they treat each other like brothers, constantly trying to one-up one another, but each having very clearly different personalities.
Yes, the leads are wonderful and their back-and-forth banter gave me a real Ninja Turtle vibe as they treat each other like brothers, yet are constantly trying to one-up one another with their unique skills, drawing attention to them with clearly different personalities. But when a story feels relatively thin across an initial span of 9 chapters – some of which are over before they begin while others never seem to end – the padding becomes far too clear to see. Fortunately, the game does pick itself back up towards the later stages, and all that plotting does prove to be quite important, but the amount of time you’ll need to spend before the game really gets going is inevitably going to be a barrier for some.
Fortunately, the real-time combat change does prove to be a fun challenge as you learn how to use Noct’s Warp Strikes effectively, as well as other character’s power-ups, and, of course, the vintage Final Fantasy summons. Although it is prone to FPS slowdown when the action gets intense.
And the environment and quest variety is enough that you can switch things up quite nicely so that the game doesn’t feel like a grind. The issue Final Fantasy XV does have is that you can be far too easily distracted by the side quests and spend so much time doing them that you lose your place in the story.
But that’s a minor complaint as the game has so many good things going for it. For one thing, it’ll keep you busy for weeks. There’s just so much stuffed into this package – with more to be added – that you could be playing this game deep into 2017. Another is that it looks superb. The attention to detail, the stunning vistas, the character reactions, everything just meshes together so wonderfully to produce a stunning end product. Easily the best looking Final Fantasy game to date.
Final Fantasy XV easily stakes its claim as one of the best games in 2016. It’s not always perfect, but the amount of effort that has gone into making this a complete, fulfilling, enlivened experience are breath-taking. Like characters telling you they’re hungry and need to eat – regardless of where you are – or encouraging you not to quest at night as the conditions are rough, or the fun activities they get up to in their downtime. Final Fantasy XV has gone to great lengths to make the player feel like they’re not just playing Noct – they’re playing the Kingsguard. And while the obnoxious, boisterous voice-acting may initially seem off-putting, the bond they share and the way they introduce you to this world quietly hooks its tendrils into you, whether you want it to or not.
Much like The Last Guardian, this may not be the Final Fantasy XV you wanted a decade ago, but this is a game that feels like the next natural evolution for the series. It’s a modernization that bring the franchise to new audiences in ways Lightning and co couldn’t. It’s a game that is constantly surprising you, twenty, thirty, even fifty hours in, and it is – in many ways – one of the finest RPGs ever made.
As the opening crawl suggests, this is a Final Fantasy for first-timers and veterans alike. and while there’s plenty to digest – way more than I can commit to page – if you come in with an open mind, you’ll find something truly special.
+ Total evolution for the franchise which works superbly
+ Leading cast are fun and engaging
+ The best looking Final Fantasy to date
+ This will keep you going for weeks!
– Plot feels thin in the early stages
– Some sections go on for too long
– Quest repetition starts to feel draining after a while
– Jolty frame rate and slowdown during intense battles
Final Fantasy XV
8.5 out of 10
Platform review on :- Xbox One