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Final Fantasy XV | Game Review

Final Fantasy XV presents its plot terribly, squanders opportunities to flesh out its world and even uses a side quest to hawk Cup Noodles™. At the finale, I choked back tears. What a game.

For all its faults, this is the title that got me to complete a Final Fantasy for the first time since I played FFX over 15 years ago. I tried XII and looked at XIII, but didn’t find myself connecting with the characters or impressed by the gameplay.

I know everyone has their favorite entry; the games weren’t “bad” in a technical sense.

Maybe I’d just grown into a different sort of gamer, and FFXV seemed a different game. With the addition of action combat, road trips, mini games and a new director, it was time to give the series another chance.

A Strange Sort of Family

AKA I’m Not Entirely Sure What Just Happened, But I Think I Liked It

I watched a prince and his steadfast companions bump-start their ride, the Regalia, with hopeful trepidation. We rollicked through beautiful scenery, took pictures and went on monster hunts while making our way to meet Prince Noctis’ fiancée.

 

FFXV Regalia
Riding in the Regalia

All was bliss until I hit the first big plot point. Its “twist” was something covered in the game’s companion movie, Kingsglaive, and would’ve had little effect on me had I not seen it beforehand.

Literally, a two-hour movie is summed up via an in-game clip about a minute long. I can’t imagine how confusing it would’ve been going in blind.

Never before have I played an RPG that delivered 80% of its story outside the actual gameplay.

If I hadn’t watched the movie, I wouldn’t have known the history of conflict between Lucis (Noctis’ kingdom) and Niflheim (the antagonistic empire). I wouldn’t know why two prominent items, the Crystal and Ring of the Lucii, were important.

Worst of all, I wouldn’t have seen the details surrounding (highlight for minor spoiler; it’s revealed early on) King Regis’ death.

Kingsglaive may not win any awards, but it provides a clear history the game never does. I fully believe anyone wanting to play this title should at least read an online summary of the movie. This one is my favorite.

 

Kingsglaive Regis
A shot of King Regis from Kingsglaive

The free Brotherhood anime isn’t as pivotal, but it does give insight into Noctis’ relationships with his friends, Gladiolus, Ignis and Prompto.

It’s odd to begin this review talking about other media, but there’s the rub. Never before have I played an RPG that delivered 80% of its story outside the actual gameplay. It was especially surreal that Final Fantasy, known for its extended cutscenes, left me feeling bereft of details.

I have no idea why Square-Enix developed these stories separately when they could’ve been shown in dialogue or playable flashbacks. Whether it was due to the long, disjointed development process or planned as a marketing gimmick, it resulted in paper-thin presentation of the backstory.

Little moments added up over hours of play, and it slowly dawned on me that yes, the guys really did feel like family.

The plot could’ve been salvaged, but it continued to fall short. The heroine, Luna, gets very little air time despite showing promising grit. The main villain abruptly reveals their motives with zero build-up.

Square-Enix tried to make a hard-hitting title, but I’m sad to say they missed most of the emotional beats completely.

That is, until the last chapter.

The Kingsglaive: A Saving Grace

The devs must’ve figured if they nailed the final scenes, fans might look past the train wreck that led up to that point. And damn it, they pulled it off. The ending was beautiful and it worked for a reason.

Square-Enix got the most important thing right: the players’ bond with the Kingsglaive. The characters didn’t get extensive cutscenes or dialogue, but by virtue of their personalities and how interwoven they were with my actions, I felt a close kinship with them.

Most RPG companions will make comments here and there, but it’s never been to the extent of congratulating me when I broke a fishing record or sharing a magazine while we relaxed at a diner.

 

FFXV Noctis and Prompto
A heart-to-heart between Noctis and Prompto

Ignis complained about my recklessness and cooked amazing meals. Prompto cooed over chocobos and took hilariously bad, and surprisingly good, photos. Gladio would shoulder me out of the way to smash an enemy, then calmly read a book when we got back in the Regalia.

Little moments added up over hours of play, and it slowly dawned on me that yes, the guys really did feel like family. Except for Gladio, whom I wanted to marry. But still, strong emotion!

My desire to learn more about Noctis’ friends was compounded around Chapter 8, when a series of scripted events began. The game reduces access to the open world to streamline the plot, and it’s revealed that each of your companions goes through a life-defining experience.

The kicker? They all happen off-screen, never to be explored in conversation.

DLC: Paying for Closure

I’ve since learned this is because Square-Enix will provide these adventures through DLC, which caused me both relief and distress.

It’s great, because I want to see what happened and get a chance to play as the other guys. But it feels tacky to make players pay for such pivotal moments when they should’ve been in the base game. It sorely needed them.

Fighting makes you feel like a cross between a Super Saiyan and a ninja, and it works.

I’m hopeful the DLC will fill in some gaps, but I don’t think it’ll save the entire plot. The reason I was disappointed in the story was because I loved the game in spite of it. The bones of a good tale are there, but it would’ve been much stronger with a few tweaks in presentation.

At its heart, FFXV presents a touching story about duty, honor and family. Finishing the game and seeing the devs were capable of strong scenes the entire time, one wonders where all that effort went beforehand.

 

FFXV Choco-Mog Carnival
The fireworks at the Choco-Mog Carnival are really nice

The character-based DLC isn’t the only content on the horizon, and parts of it will be free. There’s an in-game carnival later this month and multiplayer in the works—a first for a non-MMO Final Fantasy. There are even rumors of an unannounced, full expansion.

I know this steady drip of content frustrates people because the game didn’t “ship complete,” and I empathize with those complaints. It feels like Square-Enix is squeezing fans for money, which is a dangerous precedent to set.

But honestly, I want to continue playing in the world of FFXV with the characters I enjoy. I’m glad the game will continue receiving new content, even though I’m less pleased some of it will cost me.

The Rush of Battle

Now that I’ve ranted about everything else, I’m happy to share that FFXV‘s gameplay is fun. The side quests are short on personality, with the majority being fetch quests and monster hunts. Yet despite their repetition, the hunts hold a lot of challenge.

Combat is exciting, if not particularly deep. I found myself grinning as I dashed through the air, parried attacks and performed “link strikes” (joint attacks) with my companions. Fighting makes you feel like a cross between a Super Saiyan and a ninja, and it works.

Noctis swaps weapons using the “Armiger system” which is powered up over the course of a fight to unleash superpowered stabbings.

Team AI isn’t good, and since control over companions is limited to using abilities, it can be impossible to keep everyone alive unless you’re spamming items.

Weapon type affects Noctis’ combos, and the analog stick changes the type of attack released. Holding another button dodges, and sometimes an on-screen prompt will allow you to parry and unleash counterattacks.

Most notable is Noctis’ warp ability, which teleports you between enemies and lets you hang from the environment to scope the battlefield before blinking back in. Locking on to enemies can be finicky without using “wait” (non-real time) mode, but it’s doable.

 

FFXV Fight
The team did do a great job with creature design

My gripe? Team AI isn’t good, and since control over companions is limited to using abilities, it can be impossible to keep everyone alive unless you’re spamming items.

Maybe this is intentional: a way to make items relevant in a system where Noctis can technically avoid all damage. But it does feel frustrating when the game sets you up to feel like you can “skill” your way through it, yet your teammates can’t even dodge an attack with a 5-second windup.

Speaking of big attacks, you can unleash some of your own with help from deities called Astrals. Unlike previous titles, summons only arrive in times of need, like when your team has low health.

This is where FFXV shines. Slugging your way through multiple levels of enemies, getting lost in labyrinthine corridors, wondering what rare treasures await you at the end.

Another battle system that FFXV has tweaked is magic. Rather than casting magic whenever you have mana, you drain elemental nodes in the open world to craft expendable spells.

I found this a little too fiddly for me and avoided it for most of the game. A big issue was that I could rarely find moments when my companions were outside of a spell’s blast radius so they wouldn’t take damage.

Oh yeah, there’s friendly fire. I’m not sure why the devs thought this was a good idea except to force players into negating the elemental insanity with additional accessories.

The Dungeons: Deep Diving for Fun

An accessory slot wouldn’t be an issue if I didn’t need them all at my disposal for dungeons.

This is where FFXV shines. Slugging your way through multiple levels of enemies, getting lost in labyrinthine corridors, wondering what rare treasures await you at the end.

Even if you complete all accessible dungeons before finishing the main story, you’ll unlock stronger versions after completing the game, in addition to one new location that defies everything you might expect.

All I can say is that, for some reason, FFXV touched me. Maybe it was the focus on brotherly bonds. Maybe it was returning to a series that was a big part of my childhood.

If you end up disliking FFXV‘s combat then these won’t be enough to hold your interest, but they’ve keep me coming back.

Gaining exp has a whole ceremony surrounding it, as you have to rest at inns or camp in the wilderness to apply Ability Points (AP) you’ve gained. This is also when you get to enjoy Ignis’ recipes, go through Prompto’s photos and train with your companions.

 

FFXV Cup Noodles
What has the Square-Enix marketing team done to you, sweet Gladio!?

You select skills and perks via an “Ascension Grid” similar to FFX. Just about everything you do rewards AP, whether it’s camping, riding chocobos or fishing. Basic abilities aren’t expensive, but bigger ones like limit breaks cost several hundred points.

It’s a long process if you want to unlock everything without gimmicks, but with more content on the way, I’m fine waiting.

Come What May

FFXV is a product of the times, with developers releasing titles and then tweaking them in ways that wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago. The Witcher 3 is an example that did it right: The game was fantastic when it shipped, yet fans received improvements and free DLC for months afterwards.

In comparison, FFXV is more of a tease. The base game is good, but it’s going to take the DLC to make it great, and that doesn’t seem fair. We’ll have to see what the additional content brings—and whether it was worth our patience.

All I can say is that, for some reason, FFXV touched me. Maybe it was the focus on brotherly bonds. Maybe it was returning to a series that was a big part of my childhood.

I’m probably a sucker for buying into Square-Enix’s rollout plan, but if that’s what it takes to spend more time with these lovable goofs, I’ll do it.

 

 Good Party full of best bros  Teleporty, fun combat  Challenging dungeon delves
 Bad Jumbled mess of a plot  Limited control over party  Shallow world and sidequests

 

I have one last thing to add for those who have, or are planning to, buy this game. Please do NOT highlight the following until you’ve completed FFXV‘s main story.

After the credits there’s a scene where everyone talks around a campfire. Noct’s last line is translated as, “You guys are the best,” in English.

Yet in Japanese, where it’s rare to even express affection to family members, Noctis specifically says, “I love you all.”

It’s something that really got to me, and I don’t want those playing the English dub to miss out. It was such a great scene, especially since Noctis has trouble expressing how much he cares about his friends the entire game. I wanted to share the full emotional brunt.

Links
Final Fantasy XV on Amazon

Rhylan Dane

Rhylan Dane

Formerly a freelance copywriter, Rhylan now manages Armorbelle and creates marketing thingamajigs for personal clients. She has wanted to be a pirate since the age of 3, and although she still has no idea how to sail, she’s become very adept at stabbing and plundering.
Rhylan Dane

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