I was just finishing up high school when Final Fantasy Versus XIII was announced. The excitment of that original trailer after recently seeing Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children filled with me wonder. Boy, what a long journey it’s been for us. We’ve both seen so much in these last ten years, it’s been up and it’s been down. At one point, I was worried I’d never play Versus XIII, which eventually turned into Final Fantasy XV, but I’m happy to tell you that it’s been worth the wait.
When you begin to play Final Fantasy XV, the first thing you see is the message: “A Final Fantasy for Fans and First-timers.” Square Enix has done a commendable job removing stigmata behind the series as being something you simply can’t just jump into. It’s also the most drastic departure for the series, something that was sorely needed.
Final Fantasy XV also has a lot of momentum going forward, something the previous single-player experience seemed to drop as it released, Final Fantasy XIII. The experience left a fracture in the fan base, and to this day you can still read about how different the game was. Luckily, this long cycle helped get things to a place where the characters feel natural, the world comes alive, and the combat feels rewarding.
The game starts off with four best friends, their broken down ride and the bickering only close friends will understand. It reminds me of my friends when we hang out or go out to have a night out. Four best friends who aren’t just regular people, nope, its Prince Noctis of Insomnia and his royal attaché of Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus; three men who have promised their lives to the prince since they were much younger.
Noctis and his entourage are on their way to meet Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, the queen to be in an arranged marriage to our protagonist, Noctis. The reason behind their marriage is to unite north Insomnia and Nifelheim, two warring states that are in a constant flux of battle.
The world of Eos is massive, and as the game begins you’re allowed to explore the world beyond Insomnia. There are a few ways to get around, too. Between driving the Regalia, riding a Chocobo, and walking across the map, you eventually unlock your own personal airship. The world is beautiful and feels as big as it looks, simply exploring the areas feels rewarding.
What threw me off was being able to drive the Regalia, the royal automobile. Being able to manually control the car is limited to driving in straight lines across the maps, often not allowing for any rambunctious off-roading or joyriding the open road. You unlock fast travel quickly but I recommend not doing so as you often miss out on the insightful and often hilarious conversations Noctis and crew have during their travels.
Final Fantasy XV has the biggest departure in terms of battle system as Square Enix has shifted from a turn-based system to a more fluid and action-oriented system that is unlike any other game in the series. As the player, you control Noctis fully and your party consists of AI-controlled actions. Luckily, the AI here works well and with you, creating some brilliant set pieces as you’re fighting your way across the world of Eos. Noctis controls up to three different weapons including a javelin, a sword, a dagger, guns, and great swords. The group of friends is often caught in hilarious banter or ready to support a fallen party member, creating dynamic battles that are unlike anything in the series. Warping allows Noctis to blindside his enemies and escape from battle when things aren’t going your way. The ability also opens up some beautiful ways to take on enemies, but rely on MP to use. Running out of MP puts Noctis into Stasis, and temporarily prevents him from using his warp powers.
The biggest gripe after the exhilarating combat is the simplicity that follows as holding circle will perform combo strings, leaving creativity to the wayside. Holding square will allow Noctis to block incoming attacks, and, when timed correctly, allow for parries on attacks. Warping is mapped to the triangle button and X is to jump, a first for the Final Fantasy series.
Magic is a limited use consumable that feels like Final Fantasy VIII’s Draw system. The Draw system would allow you to find magical deposits around the world and stock up on spells that vary from Ice, Fire, and Lightning spells. You can craft higher level magic as it becomes available and each spell is put behind a countdown timer when it’s used in battle. You can also craft elemental spells that heal your party, or spells that poison the enemy. Magic is a double-edged sword in Final Fantasy XV as if you don’t time where you send the spell flying, can end up hurting your team more than the enemy. The effects of magic in Final Fantasy XV feel real, and being careful is the best way to use magic when in battle.
Progress is tied to the Ascension Grid, which reminds me of the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X. You gain AP from battle, completing sidequests and finishing hunts that are scattered around the world. Each character has their own grid that uses AP from a pool that is split between the four heroes. The categories you can unlock skills from include: Combat, Exploration, Techniques, Teamwork, Magic, Stats, and Recovery.
There are lots to do when you aren’t in battle, you won’t run out of things to do. Coming back to the size of Eos, the world is filled with sidequests to complete, monsters to hunt for rewards, fishing, unlocking and cooking new recipes, and Prompto’s photo journey through the world.
Not everything has been ironed out on release day. The last delay shifted the release from September to November promising much of the leftover issues to be corrected. What hasn’t been corrected, though, is the camera during combat. Often times during an intense battle in a corridor or in a building causes the camera to become erratic and unnecessarily zoomed in often times creating chaos and confusion on what’s happening within the battle.
There is also some artifact related issues I noticed during my playthrough and would cause some concern that my game would crash, it ended up crashing a couple of times during my 40-hour playthrough. Luckily, the autosave system wouldn’t put me far from my current progress and wasn’t a worrisome issue past being mildly annoying. Saving your progress often is a good habit to have, so make sure you save your progress as often as you can.
Final Fantasy XV has faced an uphill battle from the beginning. Square Enix did well on picking up the pieces and creating what is a very important title both to the series, and the company. Being able to explore Eos, exploring tombs, finding summons and buying new gear in a Final Fantasy title that shakes up the formula in exciting ways. A troubled development cycle in many instances because for concern, and after the two demos released here in North America, I wasn’t sold on the next Final Fantasy title. After spending time on what the final vision came to be, I am eager and excited to see what comes next after such a spectacular outing.