This is a review for a nearly two-year old game that was recently ported to the PC, so it’s likely that you’re reading this to see how well that port stands up to the original. The simple verdict is that Final Fantasy 15 Windows Edition feels like the “definitive edition” – the version you should play, if you choose to play it.
Warning: this review contains spoilers for the main story of Final Fantasy 15.
I avoided most of Final Fantasy XV’s related media in anticipation of a PC release. Admittedly, I forgot that the game existed until I caught wind of it’s port. As of writing this review, I’ve held back on watching any of the additional XV animated content (Kingsglaive and Brotherhood) for the sake of judging the game as a standalone work. It’s hard for a Final Fantasy story to not benefit from any kind of further elaboration, but on it’s own, Final Fantasy 15’s core narrative is just as complete as any of its predecessors – and includes all of the grandeur and pitfalls that define the series.
I also should clarify that I did not play Final Fantasy 15 upon its initial release, nor was I aware of the differences between versions until after I completed the main storyline. Needless to say for those who are aware those differences, I was pleasantly surprised by the changes made to the game’s final chapter, as well as some of the additions made to general quality-of-life aspects of the game. Truthfully, I don’t think I would have enjoyed the ending nearly as much as I did, had I picked the game up at it’s initial launch..
Going in blind meant having a very different experience from those who played Final Fantasy 15‘s console version. While it’s not an entirely different game, the problems addressed – and mostly fixed – in this PC release makes it very clear that I had a distinct experience from day-one players. Please bear in mind that the negative aspects some players may have experienced were remedied in this updated version, and I was none the wiser.
I feel like I played the “complete” game, and feel bad for those who didn’t get that same experience. I can only tell you how I feel after playing this updated version: Final Fantasy 15 Windows Edition is the most fun I’ve had with the series in a long time. Between the revamped gameplay and story, this game is a new high point for Square-Enix, with or without it’s expanded universe filling in the gaps.
Modern Final Fantasy’s general gestalt is reliant on aesthetic, gameplay, story, and cashing in on nostalgic capital – in that order, I would argue. Final Fantasy 15 Windows Edition excels in each of those areas, particularly the former; additional computing power means bringing out the very best of the game’s (mostly) open world. Even while running on the lowest settings, the game is on par with any contemporary triple-A titles. At maximum settings your computer want to explode, but any gamer with the sort of PC that can handle that kind of work is going to know exactly what to turn on and off. Good news for those who are particular about their game’s looks: with this PC port, you are in control of everything, right down to the pretty hairs on Prince Noctis’ head.
Fortunately, Final Fantasy 15 Windows Edition contains highly customizable performance options, with many accessed straight through the game options UI. Advanced features like Nvidia HairWorks help maximize XV’s visual appeal, but will probably require as powerful a GPU as you can get your hands on. Running on an Nvidia GTX 970, with mid-to-high settings, I only ran into minor screen tears when turning the camera quickly, and the game did freeze-up after six or more hours of continuous gameplay.
Strangely, this never happened during battle sequences or cutscenes, when the game can get graphically taxing. Any instance of the game choking up only came while driving in the Regalia, and even then, the game always recovered after a few seconds. This only happened when I purposefully changed the settings to what my system couldn’t handle, so it’s safe to say the game is nicely optimized for whatever you’re running it on, so long as you’re meeting the minimum requirements.
Those who aren’t picky about how their games look – or, like me, have aging graphics cards – will find FF15 is as pretty as it’s console version. Final Fantasy 15 Windows Edition gives players the ability to balance aesthetics with performance, but is intrinsically appealing through it’s design, so much so that even the most modest PC won’t take the players out of the experience by cutting back on what’s important.
If anything should benefit from Final Fantasy’s march into the modern era – including the joys of customization – it’s the game’s storytelling. Allowing players to adjust those beautiful visuals to their liking only matters if the world itself is worth paying attention to. With more capable technology only comes a bolstered sense of narrative; Final Fantasy 15’s story itself may not be complex at first glance, but the universe in which that story unfolds involves some of the most elaborate world building ever presented in a roleplaying game. In a genre overstuffed with forgettable settings, there’s a reason why fans consider Final Fantasy the gold standard for well-realized worlds.
Like it’s forbears, Final Fantasy 15 provides players places to get thoroughly lost in, even if those places sometimes look closer to the real world than that of fantasy. That first rate mise-en-scène may be populated by rehashed themes – royal bloodlines, godlike beings, and evil empires all make their appearance – but like many games released in 2017 (Mario Odyssey comes to mind) any callbacks to an older gaming era appear as tasteful complements to an otherwise original world. Throwing down the nostalgia card is a play Square-Enix has earned the right to make, and it does so without those winks and nods ever feeling shoehorned in. These flourishes are, at their worst, charming little reminders that you’re playing Final Fantasy.
That said, Final Fantasy 15 is built around real world landscapes laced with magic. The first few hours could feel almost too close to reality (at least for anyone who’s driven similar stretches of highway, like those found in Lucis), but the further you explore Eos, the more it feels like a true Final Fantasy world. They may not have the neon claustrophobia of Final Fantasy VII’s Midgar, but cities like Lestallum and Altissia achieve a similar sense of completeness with their distinct landmarks and lively populaces. The depth put into certain locations reflect the ambition of Prince Noctis’ story itself; the more you invest in exploring the world, the more you care about those who inhabit it.
Whether players enjoy this new world is of course up to taste, but there’s no denying Eos’ originality in the scope of the series as a whole. The quality of every little bit of conceptual design, from the dirtiest outpost to the prettiest city, is impressive and serves the story splendidly. Every time that long and winding road begins to feel a little samey, all you have to do is get out of the car and wander off into unknown wonders. There’s always quests and hunts to punctuate the journey with renewed allure, but some of the most fun I had in Final Fantasy 15 Windows Edition involved randomly getting off the road and getting lost.
I rarely felt unrewarded for seeking out landmarks or picking fights with monsters. Locales that are far-flung from your main objective feel worth exploring. Everywhere serves to embellish the world in a way that never feels like you’ve wasted time exploring it; even if it’s simply climbing up a certain structure, the views alone make it worth the two minutes of effort.
For those who don’t care for anything more than the direct story, it’s just as easy to stick to the road and get yourself from point A to point B. Final Fantasy 15 is a roleplaying game after all, and how you choose to play the role of Prince Noctis is up to you. No, you can’t climb everything like in Breath of the Wild, but the first time you hop on a Chocobo and hit an unmarked trail, a very similar sense of liberation blooms in its own deeply fulfilling way.
Fighting your way through the world is easiest when using a controller, though the PC version does allow for keyboard controls. Along with the Windows version comes every piece of downloadable content, as well as a collection of outfits and weapons that make diving into the game rather simple. Some of what’s provided can easily trivialize combat, but it’s just as easy to ignore or sell those items. When it comes to actual fighting, Final Fantasy 15 breaks the mold of turn-based RPG combat by taking on a far more active, action-based system. Classic Final Fantasy basics are still there, albeit reimagined: weapons, magic, status effects, items. The PC version doesn’t stray very far from it’s console iteration in regards to this new system.
With this brand new world and cast comes an altogether different approach to tackling objectives. Fans of Crisis Core or Kingdom Hearts will find comfort in this system, and those who haven’t played a Final Fantasy game before will probably not find the change as jarring as longtime players. Personally, once I learned how cheap Elixirs were, the thrill of battle was a bit neutered. I rarely spent any time grinding, like in a typical RPG. Everything moved with a refreshing fluidity, but at times felt a bit simple – through most encounters, I held down the attack button and cut my way to victory.
The threat of losing a battle only came when facing enemies whose levels far exceeded my own. Bumping up the game’s difficulty doesn’t change this issue with the core battle system. If this type of combat clicks with you, it might lose it’s excitement after a few hours. However, unlike older RPGs where random encounters interrupted the flow of your travels, battles appear seamlessly, and escape is typically just as smooth. Some dungeons spam low-level daemons to hinder your progress, but beyond that, battle is typically quick and dynamic enough to not feel like a chore.
All of this coalesces into a world that you actually want to save. With freedom and vastness comes a distinct intimacy not present in previous Final Fantasy titles. The hunting system and sidequests involving Noctis’ Royal Arms provide opportunity to explore the entire world. There are a few points where you are essentially trapped inside dungeons in order to continue the story, but the game always prompts you about these instances beforehand in case you feel like perusing more of the map. That said, the story itself is fairly linear until the last few chapters. There are a few moments – particularly in chapter 13 – that are fun enough, but undeniably overstay their welcome.
The final chapter’s new content flowed so naturally that I was unaware it was only just added with the PC port. In a game that relies so heavily on themes of fealty and brotherhood, shining the spotlight on Gladio, Ignis, and Prompto in their own ways makes for a satisfying capstone to your journey together. I personally could not imagine an ending without the trials presented; anyone unsatisfied with Final Fantasy 15 Windows Edition’s original ending should feel vindication through these new playable scenarios.
Most importantly though, Final Fantasy 15 builds up to a shockingly original conclusion unseen since the days of the Super Nintendo: the villain gets everything he wants. In Ardyn Izunia, we finally get another Final Fantasy antagonist who we can truly, deeply despise – the kind of monsterish figure whom we can both sympathize with, but enjoy crushing. He is a grandiose, overblown, hateable face of evil on par with any Kefka or Sephiroth. Through this adversity, Noctis goes from just another Final Fantasy protagonist to one of the most transformed, nuanced heroes in the series. He loses everything – his family, his fiancee, his kingdom – and not only takes it all on the chin, but follows up by maturing into a man of action. From a player’s standpoint, this kind of development is refreshing by Final Fantasy standards, even if it means being bombarded with tragedy throughout the story.
I was surprised by many things in Final Fantasy 15, but what amazed me the most was the fact that I wanted more. It’s been a long time since I’ve played an RPG that I actually crave playing – it’s even rarer where I feel thoroughly satisfied by an RPG’s entirety, since the genre is prone to weak tropes outshining a game’s originality. Even with these ups and downs, I personally do not believe there is an objectively bad main series Final Fantasy game. None of them are perfect though – Final Fantasy 15 included. However, I do believe there are titles that stand out as exceptional. With the new additions in the PC version, I feel comfortable holding the game in the same regards as other series defining moments; it earns its place alongside the first and seventh instalments as an evolutionary point for the genre.
Final Fantasy 15 Windows Edition is the most fun Final Fantasy title we’ve seen in well over ten years. The fact that we can measure the highs and lows of this series in decades is a testament to its lasting appeal. For the series as a whole, XV is like that first, fresh breath after popping a Phoenix Down; what once was humbled is now rejuvenated, and ready to get back in the fight.