After ten long years Final Fantasy XV has finally released. Ten years is a long time to wait for anything, let alone a game release. First announced back in 2006 as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, the game has been through a long and rocky development process. Now, ten years later, the rebranded Final Fantasy XV is out. With such a long development fans have witnessed the game change over the years through promotional material and more. With a large amount of content on the cutting room floor and around three different versions of the story having been conceived, Final Fantasy XV has been a project that was sometimes feared to never see the light of day. With so much history belonging to the title that is no longer a fantasy how does it hold up. With more hours than any other game this year I think I’m finally able to answer that question.
Final Fantasy XV breaks away from the traditional turn-based battle systems of older games in the series to become more action driven. It’s so much more that to many might seem off putting, but once you get hands on with the battle system you begin to love it. Final Fantasy XV shines as a new standard of combat within a Final Fantasy game. With an open world to explore and conquer, the new battle system fits into the world perfectly being both the controls for discovery as well as the controls for destroying your foes. With fights taking place within a set area, giving you a chance to ‘run away’ if you so wish, you’re able to use your environment to aid you in combat.
The main focus within any combat situation is to study the battle and act accordingly. Be it to warp up high to recharge before striking down hard and fast, or charging in from the ground and getting in close right away. Working with the movesets of the team and knowing the weakness of foes will open up the options. It’s this flexibility within the combat system and open world that gives the player a chance to shine. Be it in the active combat mode or the wait mode, which allows you to stop and study the field mid fight. You always have something to do and something to react to. My personal favourite was to engage, step back to defend and counter, and then strike hard afterwards to deal extra damage to a downed foe.
It’s not all warping and slashing however as magic and special moves further expanded the system. Magic takes the approach of being more of a physical element in Final Fantasy XV. It can be collected, bottled and mixed to construct powerful and deadly spells to use in battle. They can be aimed and cast with precision with the hold of a button, or quickly used in a pitch with a button press. They impact the environment and even your team members but overall they are a powerful and satisfying mechanic within Final Fantasy XV. All of this and more mixes together to give you the combat system that will be the bulk of your time when playing Final Fantasy XV. This will be who you earn your EXP, AP and Gil.
Your earned AP is then spend to unlock new skills and abilities for Noctis and crew allowing for more options in battle. This includes new team moves that expanded the combat system to new levels. Giving the player more moves to use in combat or to enhance those they already have. The ones for the team members are critical allowing them, for example, to hear more regularly or to gain bonus stats when leaving a downed state. Those linked attacks by the way are some of the more interesting and enjoyable moments of the combat. Next to the Armiger arsenal that Noctis has available to him which is expanded by visiting tombs of Lucis Kings. This ‘limit break’ style move turns Noctis into a warping epic that unleashes a ton of damage across the field.
Furthermore each character has their own skill that will level up over time and give you more options with each one. This includes fishing, photography, cooking and survival. Allowing these to progress at a steady rate that is natural during the core gameplay is great. You never feel like you need to force these to level up but you can grind them if you like. I mean for more filters on the photos that Prompto takes at random you will want to grind related skills.
Commanding Prompto to take photos mid fight never gets old
The battle system and gameplay around this has much more to offer but with all the options and mechanics in place it could be talked about for hours. What matters is that even after twenty, thirty or even more hours of playtime that the gameplay is still engaging and enjoyable. For the first time in a Final Fantasy game I found myself wanting to engaging in fights. Roaming the open world to find new locations to engage in combat and find new tactics that work. That said though hearing people yell about nearby magitek engines nearby does get old fast.
Final Fantasy games are always known for their fantastic art direction and sound design and Final Fantasy XV is no different. The engine that Final Fantasy XV runs on allows for the world of Eos to be breathtakingly beautiful at times. The idea that the game is a fantasy based on a reality is proven true when viewing it in action. Every detail of the world from it’s textures to it’s characters are detailed to the best quality. Lighting and effects add polish to the visuals and give players a feast for the eyes. In motion Final Fantasy XV keeps impressing with particle effects and a solid frame rate that keep the experience truly magical. The camera may at times find itself behind a tree or some foliage, it is a tiny issue that does not take away from the overall joy of Final Fantasy XV.
The only thing Final Fantasy XV is missing is a date/kiss scene for the boys
Though, at times, the world of Eos feels empty, it never feels lifeless. One thing that is worth noting in Final Fantasy XV is that the world map is not the whole of the world. In fact, from what we have seen, you only explore a small part of the world of Eos. This means that hopefully we can explore more in future but for now it explains the limit on and range of environment and locations within the playable area. That said the world map is filled with content that once you discover it will be lost with what to do next. From dungeons to side quests, fishing spots to bounty hunts. There is a lot to do in the world of Eos besides just the main story and even those moments where you feel like the world is empty it really isn’t. It’s alive, believable, and relatable allowing you to content and feel that Eos is a real place. Even if at times I can be hard to tell the difference between what is and isn’t a part of the map you can and cannot get to.
Thankfully having the Regalia as your mode of transportation makes the journey across Eos that more enjoyable. The Regalia is a part of the cast, a living character as it were. It’s part of the relationship that is explored during the story that unfolds. You and your buddies will adventure and explore the world and it’s mystery within the Regalia and ultimately it’s what holds the group together. Each character grows and developers over the course of the story as you try to reclaim your throne following a series of awful events in world where war might be all they know. I would however suggest watching the film Kingsglave: Final Fantasy XV to help you get a better understanding of the lore of the world and some of the early events that unfold during the game.
You see Final Fantasy XV does a brilliant job at connecting the player to the game game in so many ways. The food, the photos, the people. It all works together to really push that believable world. If the design and visuals alone do not sell it to you then the sound design and music will. With stunning music tracks that will sell the magic of Final Fantasy XV to your ears and sound effects that bring combat to life. The game might very well be the most beautiful looking and sounding game in the series to date.
It is worth noting that during my time with Final Fantasy XV I did encounter a number of bugs that were more hilarious than anything else. From finding a pink sea to Ignis’s glasses slowly flying off his face. Final Fantasy XV is not without fault but never did any of these bugs stop me from continuing to enjoy the experience and most in fact never happened more than once. Performance though in Final Fantasy XV is as just as impressive as the visuals. With a solid and consistent frame rate across the board and load times that were fair during gameplay. It is worth noting as well that Final Fantasy XV will be getting continued updates and content throughout its life cycle which will surely also include fixes for a number of these bugs.
Though Final Fantasy XV does have a number of small problems, and the odd funny bug, none of it takes away from the enjoyment of the game. Even when the game annoyed me at times or entered a slow moment I couldn’t put it down. I found myself playing the game and enjoying it even if I was just running around picking up flowers for Ignis to yell about a new recipes. Final Fantasy XV is just so much fun to play that the game shines bright with encouragement to lose yourself in everything it has to offer. If nothing else Final Fantasy XV is a new foundation for the direction that Square Enix can take their games moving forward. It shows a new direction both in gameplay and technical understanding that should allow the company to create more exciting projects moving forward.
At the end of the day Final Fantasy XV is not a perfect game nor is it a bad game. It’s a game that is so close to being perfect in many ways that it by far the best Final Fantasy game in recent years. Where it counts though is the level of enjoyment you get from the product and given I spent twenty hours just doing side quests and loving every second. I think it is fair enough for me to say that Final Fantasy XV is a game that was made with fun in its heart. From the gameplay in battles to the relaxed rides through the world of Eos. Final Fantasy XV emits enjoyment. If this is the future of the Final Fantasy series then this is the direction I am glad it is heading.
Final Fantasy XV is breathtaking, amazing and well worth the wait. Let’s just hope the next game doesn’t take as long.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 copy of the game provided by Square Enix. Patch version 1.03 installed.