Released in late 2016, Final Fantasy XV was the first mainline single-player FF title since XIII way back in 2009. With a whopping seven years between releases, Square Enix must have been hard at work, right? Well, it’s complicated. Surprisingly enough, the game began development even before XIII came out, as a spinoff title named Final Fantasy Versus XIII, in 2006. It was worked on for 6 years, until 2012 when the game went through a crucial shift, with the director changing from Tetsuya Nomura to Hajime Tabata. Now planned to be released on the new generation of consoles (PS4, XB1, and the likes), it was decided to make this the next mainline game.
Why am I wasting your time with these boring behind-the-scenes details, you ask? Well, let’s get it out of the way. As a lifelong fan of Final Fantasy, XV was melancholic. I don’t mean the story was a tearjerker—not for a lack of trying—but it led to me losing the little faith I had in the company that shaped my childhood. The flaws are crystal clear in the game (sorry not sorry). If I couldn’t blame the turbulent, long, long production, then I had to believe Square Enix just couldn’t make games like the ones I loved anymore. But I’ll still give it the benefit of the doubt, since I have such a kind soul. And because it’d break my heart to admit otherwise.
Disclaimer: I haven’t played any of the DLC episodes, and thus, I am going to pretend they don’t exist. If you think any of my opinions expressed here could be changed by the DLCs, that’s fine, but the very fact that I need to pay extra money to get the “full experience” is a negative in my book.
Thanks to the shift in direction in 2012, the story went through a similar upheaval. Now a mainline game, it required many plot details to be rewritten.
As you may expect, multiple story rewrites are not good for the final product. Some say the stilted and undeveloped story is XV’s major flaw, but I think it intertwines with everything else—gameplay and whatnot. What do all of these have in common? They’re unfinished. Unrealized potential will be a common theme throughout this game.
Now, XV did some cool things by adding supplemental side stories in different kinds of media. This includes a short anime series, a manga anthology, and a whole feature-length CGI film, called Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. While the other works are skippable, I believe Kingsglaive is an important part of the XV experience as a whole. Following the events taking place in the Kingdom of Lucis while Noctis is away on his journey, it’s a real spectacle, and the plot ties into the main game soon enough. However you may feel about having to watch a movie before even starting the game, I’d personally recommend it, and it serves as an introduction to the universe the game takes place in. If you really don’t want to watch it, it’s fine, as you’ll learn the main revelations of the movie in your playthrough regardless. Did I mention it’s pretty as shit though?
Getting into the main game now, the general gist of it is you follow the crown prince of Lucis, the stereotypical emo teen Noctis Lucis Caelum through his journey around the world of Eos. Initially, the goal is to reach the city of Altissia, where Noctis is to wed Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, the princess of a destroyed kingdom and the “Oracle”, an important religious figure. As the two are childhood friends, and politically major characters, their wedding has a lot of advantages, so why not, right? Here’s the issue with this though. Lunafreya is supposedly the heroine of the story, but her screentime is abysmal. We barely see any of her character, and consequently, it’s hard to sympathise with her destined fate. As a heroine, Lunafreya just doesn’t live up to the name, as she barely does anything. Hell, I haven’t seen a single dude call her his waifu, so you know shit’s bad.
On his journey, the Prince is accompanied by his three closest allies, and the relationship here is the real standout aspect of the game. If Square Enix did anything right, it was these characters and their interactions. Gladiolus serves as the gruff big-brother figure, always ready to defend his liege, yet unafraid to speak his mind when Noctis displays his immaturity. Ignis acts as the elegant butler, always calm and collected, and also serves as the group’s cook. Prompto is Noctis’ childhood friend, the only one among the group who comes from a common birth, but his upbeat energy serves as the comic relief in the gang. He also takes some nice (but sometimes horrific) pictures during your travels. Then there’s Noctis himself, the one that ties them all together. All of the four characters show real development throughout the story, with each having important roles, and facing their own challenges, but Noctis is absolutely the one who grows the most. Starting off as a spoiled teenager, we watch him slowly grow into not just a fine man, but “the True King of Eos”. Not just for the Kingdom of Lucis, but the whole world.
As much as any of these characters may annoy you early on, it is nearly impossible to dislike them by the end. This isn’t just because of their character arcs and development, but also because you develop a genuine bond with them as a player. Every single thing you do in this game, be it driving along the road in your fancy car, fighting monsters, or eating a meal at the end of the day, you do it all together. The constant quips and interactions the characters have could very easily have been overly cheesy, fake, repetitive or plain annoying, but they aren’t. Most of the time. This is what really grounds them in your mind as your comrades. And I believe this friendship is the strongest part of the entire game, something I haven’t seen done this well anywhere else.
As for your main villain, it’s not quite clear until fairly late into the game. All we really know is “Niflheim Empire bad”. Because everyone knows it’s impossible for anything called an empire to be the picture of benevolence. When a face is given to the villain, it’s not a huge surprise, but their importance may be unexpected. While I don’t want to spoil who the big bad is (just in case), I think they’re one of the more sympathetic villains in Final Fantasy, and once you know their origins, it’s hard to blame them for what they became. Sadly, since it takes so long for us to even learn of these details, we don’t get much time to really process it. I do think they’re a damn good villain, just one that wasn’t fleshed out enough.
As you progress through the game, your end goals slowly change as plot happens. Of course, getting to marry his crush couldn’t be the end, right? If the beginning is fairly slow, and the middle is a decent pace, then the ending and the events leading up to it are lightspeed. So much happens so fast, we can barely keep up. This isn’t to say it’s edge-of-your-seat action, it’s more “what the actual hell is going on?” This final third of the game was so badly butchered, it really shows how rushed the game was at this part. There are so many plot holes and important scenes barely explained or shown, at this point you’re just a spectator along for the ride, not knowing where you’re even going. Yet, the very end of the game, and the conclusion of the story is what really broke me, cementing the “hate” part of my love-hate relationship with this game. I think the actual ending itself was fairly good, but the final leg of the journey was such a clusterfuck, it’s hard for it to hit as hard as it could have. The story had so much potential, but the execution was profoundly poor.
With later titles in the franchise slowly displaying a shift from the classic turn-based combat to incorporating elements of action, XV is the first that completely shatters the thin veneer of being called turn-based. This game is an action game, plain and simple. You move around however you want during combat, and evading enemy attacks at the right time by dodging is not only possible, but incredibly important. While you can now control all members of your party, initially it was just Noctis, so I’ll only talk about his gameplay, as he’s your bread and butter, and the most fleshed out.
Noctis has a variety of weapons at his disposal, each with a different playstyle and feel to it. While everyone has their favorite weapon types, it’s important to actively switch during combat. This isn’t just for variety, but because different enemies have their own movesets, and your big-ass greatsword (heh, no big ass-greatsword, this isn’t Saints Row) may not be the best choice against a quicker, smaller enemy. As combat is fast-paced, the active weapon switching is reminiscent of Dante’s from the Devil May Cry games. Noctis also has a sort of limited “overdrive” mode with unique attacks and a final ultimate blow, called Armiger. This mode can be upgraded by finding the weapons of past rulers of Lucis, who are his ancestors.
You’re not alone though, as your three friends always fight with you. Gladio uses a greatsword, Ignis uses daggers and stylish poses, and Prompto uses pistols. Teamwork is important, and when one of your friends gets the enemy’s attention, you can pull off your big attacks. They’ll also support you throughout; healing you, or even reviving you. The ally AI is fairly good, and mostly don’t need you babysitting them, which is a big plus.
Then Noctis has his signature move, the warp strike. This is a flashy movement/attack technique where he throws his weapon in a direction, then teleports to its location. While it’s generally used to quickly close in on enemies while keeping your momentum going, it can also be used to run the hell away as fast as you can. Additionally, certain environmental features can be warp-striked to, such as the side of a building or radio towers. While here, you can hang out, taking a breather where enemies can’t reach you, until your stamina expires and you drop.
As for the classic Final Fantasy magic…you won’t get it here. What you get instead of magic is the ability to craft modified molotov cocktails called flasks from magic deposits found around the world. You can then throw these bottles for varied effects like a fireball, blanketing an area with thunder, and so on. The interesting bit is you can combine certain elements for fun effects. Sadly, because of how limited these magic pots are, you won’t be using much of them, except for some post-game fights.
You also have some skills for each weapon, like daggers being able to “nothing personnel kid” and teleport behind enemies, or lances doing the classic dragoon jump. You’re going to be incorporating these into your normal attacks, but they use up mana, so you can’t spam them. Additionally, you have special ally skills you can activate, such as Ignis’ Regroup, which makes all four join up and reposition to his location, making it tactically useful.
Finally, you have ultimate attacks in the form of summons, where a huge monster shows up and just destroys the environment around you. Some of these can damage your allies too. I particularly like how Ramuh leaves a lightning field around the floor, making your characters quivering messes around it.
Now that we’ve got the elements of combat out of the way, let’s talk about the experience as a whole. It’s easy. Really easy. XV is the easiest FF game I have ever played. Apart from the final post-game dungeons, I didn’t get a game over once. But it is fun. Warp strikes are always cathartic experiences, and I’ll never get tired of “hit an enemy with 5 different weapons until it dies” formula. But you won’t get the strategic planning required by nearly all other FF titles here. It’s almost a hack and slash, really. If any part of combat requires some skill, it’s timing dodges. The post-game dungeons add conditions such as no item use, and this is the only time the game gets challenging. But it makes me wonder how fleshed out the combat really is when the only difficulty is in the form of arbitrary restrictions. At the time, I played on Normal mode (the only other difficulty setting was Easy), and people would do level one playthroughs to add a semblance of challenge.
It’s not a JRPG without some good old adventure, and you start out the game with your very own luxury car to drive around with, the Regalia. The world of Eos is fairly big, and there’s a lot to see. It helps that it’s also fucking beautiful. Final Fantasy has always had great graphics, and XV absolutely does not disappoint, with jaw-droppingly gorgeous scenery. Merely walking around is an absolute pleasure. I used to bring friends over, boot up the game, and just show them Noctis running around, fanboying over the prettiness over it all. It’s a good thing it looks so nice, because you’re going to be looking at these sights a lot. A majority of the game is just spent on movement; either in one of the many variations your car can transform into (did someone order an off-road SUV?), or on foot.
While the game is chock-full of environments like forests, caves, or an actual volcano, there are only two major cities you can explore: Lestallum and Altissia. This is an incredibly low number for a jrpg game, and I believe it’s another victim of the vicious production. The cities are fairly dense though, and Venice-inspired Altissia is a joy to explore (you can even travel by boat!). I’m fairly sure some of the cities we pass by in the latter third of the game were originally meant to be explorable, but couldn’t bear fruit thanks to the rushed release.
Driving along the road, you get your quiet moments. Usually, your comrades have their quips and one-liners when you’re running around, but my favorite moments in the game are when Ignis is behind the wheel on a moonlit night, the only noise you hear is the car’s engine, everyone is quiet, and we get a moment of reflection. I don’t know why, but this is when I feel the closest to my allies. It’s just one of those treasured moments, y’know? This game is pretty soothing sometimes.
The hardest part of the game does not fall under the combat category, but this one. That’s right, the hardest accomplishment of the game isn’t defeating a strong enemy…it’s a platformer stage. One of the last dungeons in the post-game is a secret one (think of the island in FF7 where you acquire the Knights of the Round materia). Merely mentioning The Pitioss Ruins to a XV player can drive them to tears, the PTSD resurfacing. Here’s the kicker, there’s not a single enemy to fight in here. This is an hours long dungeon, and you have to do it all in one sitting, thanks to no saves in between. Oh, and one misstep, you may just have to start all over.
I love the Pitioss Ruins.
I already talked about how good this game looks. I’ve always loved Final Fantasy graphics, and XV does not disappoint. It’s a constant eyegasm, and one which any fantasy lover can appreciate. If graphics are your thing, play FFXV.
This series has always had outstanding music, and XV doesn’t disappoint. The tracks suit the setting, and feature familiar themes in a chill package. Somnus and Stand by Me are particular stand-outs for me. You eventually unlock songs from other FF games on your car radio, which is fantastic.
Now, it’s my scheduled time to go on a few anecdotal tangents. A special mention of Chapter 13. This is probably one of the worst parts of any video game I have ever played. An incredibly long, repetitive limp through dark, cramped corridors full of malfunctioning killer robots while you can’t fight back, and are entirely alone. I think they wanted this chapter to add the “horror” tag to the game, but the only scary part was how often I thought of slitting my throat throughout this slog. I hear it’s been improved since, thank god. I wouldn’t wish original Chapter 13 on my worst enemy.
On the flip side, there’s this certain bit of story intermixing with gameplay near the end of the game. If there’s anything I fucking love, it’s story intermixing with gameplay. So, without going into specific spoilers, one of your comrades gets a major injury. Normally, this injury would cripple someone entirely, but he decides to keep on fighting. Not to diss the disabled or anything, but…he sucks. In combat, he’s not only useless, but he actively needs your constant attention so he doesn’t get himself killed. Yet, you can’t get mad. He’s your friend. Hell, he’s doing all of this for your sake. Even outside of your combat, if you run too far, one of your other allies chides you for going so fast and leaving the injured one behind. Like, holy shit. Inject this into my veins.
FFXV was a mess. But it isn’t so much of a mess anymore. After releasing the game, the team released constant updates, adding new features, fixing parts of the story, and overall improving the game. Making it a somewhat finished game. If only they waited a year or two and released it in its current form. I hoped SE learned from its mistakes with this game, and it looks like FF7R got a fairly good reception. I haven’t played it myself, so I can’t really comment on it though.
If you put a gun to my head and demanded I review FFXV in one line (why?), it’d be this: I hate it for what it could have been, but I love it because it’s Final Fantasy. Brilliant, ten outta ten.
Just kidding. 7/10.