Load up Final Fantasy XV and “A Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers” is the first thing you will see. A broad statement and a proud boast, to be sure. Is it one developer Square Enix can live up to?
Final Fantasy XV takes place in the land of Eos, following our protagonist Prince Noctis and his three friends: Gladiolus, Ignis, and Promptu as they embark on a dangerous and Daemon-filled road trip to fulfil Prince Noctis’ destiny. However, things don’t get off to a good start when their car breaks down, leaving the four friends to push it to the nearest petrol station. This little prologue sets the background and theme against which the rest of the adventure plays out –
scenes of graphic stupidity about four life-long friends who compete to embarrass each other bromance. Accompanied by an incredible rendition of Ben E. King’s Stand By Me, this opening scene drives home the importance of friendship, whilst subtle undertones hint at the terror that’s yet to come.
If you’re a long-term fan of the Final Fantasy saga, you already know – to some extent – what to expect from this new title: a long, convoluted story focusing on character development and plot twists, with an incredible musical score. However, if this is the first time playing a Final Fantasy game, don’t be put off by the 15 in the title. Excluding the MMO and its many, many spin-offs, this might be the fifteenth instalment but, as each title is a self-contained story, there’s no need to play all (or indeed any) of the preceding games. The only real links between the games are the currency used, cute little creatures called Chocobos, and the combat mechanics.
This last has been common to all previous Final Fantasy titles; a deep and nuanced turn-based battle system that asks players to play to each character’s strengths, and each enemy’s weaknesses. However, heads shook and brows furrowed when the first demo of Final Fantasy XV – Episode Duscae (pronounced Dusk-eye) – revealed a new real-time battle system. Whilst a more modern take on combat is sure to please newcomers to the franchise, some long term fans have been vocally hostile to the change. They need not have feared. Combat is every bit as deep and nuanced as ever, just far more free-flowing and exciting. For those really unable to cope with the change, the new Wait mode – a sort of half-way house between the old and new – will doubtless come to your rescue.
Regular combat sees you fighting in real-time against rambunctious beasts and gigantic Daemons, primarily controlling Noctis and using weapons and spells. Instead of button bashing, you simply hold down a button to attack or to defend, and as you gradually improve your skills you’ll be able to block attacks and parry, essentially causing a ‘limit break’ – a term fans may be familiar with. Noctis can ‘warp-strike’ to attack enemies from afar, or simply warp to a secluded spot to gradually rebuild your health points and magic points, and take a moment to breathe before re-entering the fray. Using techniques is key to surviving combat; techniques unleash devastating strikes or build up defences. As the story progresses, you’ll be given whistles to call forth a chocobo to whisk you out of combat should you be in danger, or cast summons; powerful, magical creatures that can annihilate foes.
Wait mode allows you to pause the action and have a good look at your surroundings, helping you decide what your next move should be, be it warp-striking your enemies, slaying them with your sword or using one of your friends’ technique abilities to gain an advantage in battle. Wait mode also allows you to inspect your enemies, discovering their strengths and weaknesses which can lead to great advantage during tough battles.
There are countless quests for you to undertake with a diverse range of challenges. Hunting quests, doled out by restaurant owners, task you in hunting down Daemons. Completing quests is one of the best sources of accruing currency – Gil; in fact, it’s difficult to earn Gil any other way, with only pitiful amounts offered in return for the treasures you uncover.
Eos is a huge place – and your car will only get you so far. Exploring on foot is one option, but – for a price – your faithful and trusty chocobo will get you where you need to go. And in some style, too – customised to your liking with your favourite colour, and displaying medals earned through winning chocobo races.
As you play, saving your progress is encouraged – especially as, in order to gain any EXP and level up your companions, you must rest at lodges or set up camp, preferably at night. Once rested, all experience gained since your last rest is tallied up and awarded.
An RPG isn’t an RPG without levelling up and unlocking new abilities. There’s plenty to upgrade, too, from unlocking new Techniques and Combat Skills, to upgrading carrying capacity, or increased ability point (AP) rewards. Noctis can equip up to four weapons at a time from all of the weapon types, whereas his friends can only equip a maximum of two weapons, from reduced subset. For example, Promptu can only equip firearms as his primary and machinery type weapons as his secondary. Spells can be given to either friend or yourself but to do so one must first harness the elements of Fire, Ice, Lightning & Dark magic found throughout the world. The higher the potency of the spell, the more damage it deals; however, spells can harm you and your friends so plan ahead before you use them.
Each friend has their own specific skillset, and levelling up your friend’s skills rewards your group with new items and abilities. Noctis’ skill is fishing – the more fish he catches, the better he gets. Ignis would much rather enjoy his cooking, so looking for new recipes to eat at camp will boost special attributes for a limited time when you awake on the morrow. Promptu is trigger happy with his camera and loves a good selfie, which is why it’s fitting they’ve given him the photography ability. He automatically takes photos during your travels which you can save and even upload to Facebook or Twitter – a nice addition, but one that won’t appeal to all. Gladiolus has survival skills, and levelling him up will grant you greater rewards after combat, or when finding treasure.
Eos is a beautiful place, full of grandeur and spectacle. This comes at a price, though; you’ll experience plenty of loading screens, some of which will make you wait for a couple of minutes before the action resumes. But it’s forgivable, considering the sheer amount of content that’s crammed into this title. Youi might drive from one side of the expansive to the other without a single loading screen in sight; fast travel just a few yards away, though, and you’ll encounter a loading screen. It’s a minor issue, but one that only highlights that a minute NOT playing Final Fantasy XV feels like a minute wasted.
There’s plenty of stuff for the fans to enjoy, with casual references to previous games and access to the musical scores of most, if not all, the earlier games in the series, in the form of tapes to listen to in your car. As you progress, you’ll also be given a portable music player so you can listen to the music on the go. While these touches will delight fans of the franchise, there’s much about this game that will appeal to newcomers – in fact, Square Enix has made some brave choices that feel designed just to make the game accessible to a new, broader audience. Some of the hardcore may have been alienated by this new direction, but if they choose not to come in this journey, it’s their loss. Take this road trip, and you’ll spend time with engaging characters, experience exciting quests, and just perhaps fall back in love with an old flame.
This may be the greatest Final Fantasy of recent times; greater in scale than The Witcher 3, better looking than Ryse: Son of Rome, and surpassing Thelma & Louise as the greatest road trip love story never told. It may have taken ten years, but Square Enix has delivered.
Final Fantasy XV is available in shops now and the Standard Edition can be downloaded from the Store for £49.99.
A Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers.
Taking you on an epic Bromantic story through the vast lands of Eos and an incredible score to tune into, Square Enix delivers it s most compelling plot to date. Final Fantasy XV offers am extraordinary volume of quests, plenty to keep you entertained, a combat system that appeals to fans old and new, and proves it’s still king of RPGs when it comes to storytelling – and long loading times.