Final Fantasy XV begins on familiar territory. A hungry empire is hell bent on taking over the world with magical technology and hordes of monsters. While your party, consisting of a prince and his three bodyguards, eventually turn their attention to saving the world instead of marriage, the story is more about their comradery. Prince Noctis is quiet and reserved although his friends help him grow as a character as does everyone else as they share their joys and sorrows with one another. More so than any other Final Fantasy the story is told through gameplay as the boy band roams through deserts, forests, caves and the like in search of treasure, monsters, and answers. It’s heavily influenced by western modes of storytelling and dropping the traditionally long, elaborate cutscenes. Part of me misses these extravagant cinematics, but it was nice to just hang out and get story elements throughout dungeons and whatever. This, however, does not hold true with the second half where things slowly start to nose dive, but we’ll get onto that later.
Combat is essentially like Kingdom Hearts, but more elaborate. You can only control Noctis, but the other three hold their own pretty well. Pressing Circle will cause him to automatically attack the closest opponent and moving the analog stick in any direction will alternate his moves. Holding Square initiates a dodge and pressing it again when prompted will create a counterattack. Locking onto enemies, or environmental objects, can also allow Noctis to warp to them. Now warping and dodging use MP and while there is magic it doesn’t deplete it in this game. Instead there are three elemental crystals you can find in the world and absorb similar to Final Fantasy VIII’s Draw system. They can then be molded into grenades of fire, ice, and lightning, dealing area damage that not only look amazing and deal crazy amounts of damage, but they effect the environment as well like burning grass, or freezing enemies to a slow crawl. It’s stunning pure and simple. You can map these elemental bombs to the four directional buttons, which can also hold various weapons for Noctis to switch on the fly as well.
It may sound complicated and like other combo heavy games like Bayonetta, it is and will give players a run for their money at first. You’ll stumble through battles looking like an idiot only to become a badass by the end as you dodge between enemies, throw in bombs, warp away to heal, warp back to strike, and so forth. Everything about the combat will make you want to strive towards getting better so you can look cool and if not, the game makes up for your faults. It’s not easy by any means, but again, it’s forgiving to some degree.
What would a Final Fantasy game be without a beautiful world to get engulfed in? The character and monster designs are top notch and they fill an ever-expanding world of deserts, forests, swamps, and cities. Everything about the game is jaw droopingly gorgeous enhanced by the fantastic soundtrack composed by Yoko Shimomura. Previously she’s worked most famously on the Kingdom Hearts series and it shines through here with one of the best scores the franchise has seen in ages. As stunning as it is there’s not much to do in it aside from killing monsters, or grabbing items. Riding in your car, The Regalia, is fantastic for sight seeing, but when you have to do this back and forth nonsense for quests much of the scenery starts to wane in value. There is fast travel, but it sends you into a set of long loading screens. As repetitive as this MMO inspired design is the rewards are well worth it. Even at the worst moments it never bothered me to an ill degree. I just thought it was worth pointing out. There is, however, something I touched on earlier that did grow on my nerves.
I say this without hyperbole, but the first half, or more like 2/3 of Final Fantasy XV, with all its tiny flaws, is a 5/5. Hands down my top pick for Game of the Year 2016. The combat is fun, it’s beautiful, your group feels alive, the music is wonderful, and the list goes on. This opinion altered after chapter 8 when the gang leaves the first big area and embarks on a linear set of locations, structured much like a level designed for a shooter let’s say. While chapters 9-12 start to detract from the more open gameplay I was mostly fine with this although the once simple story started to become more convoluted and then at chapter 13 the game jumps a gigantic shark. It takes about 1-2 hours to complete, but it felt like an eternity as it tries to introduce mechanics best found in another popular Japanese franchise that is, let’s say, horror related. It’s awful. The fact that it got through play testing is beyond me. Continuing on from there the last bits of the end combined with this left me feeling bitter.
With all that said I still highly enjoyed the game. It’s easy to see why this game took so long and feels bloated, as there have been many hands and altering visions thrown in. Who knows how much of this game survived the evolution from Final Fantasy Versus XIII into Final Fantasy XV, but at the end of the day I believe the director, Hajime Tabata, and his crew did the best they could in a timely manner and created one hell of a discussion. So much so that it’s impossible for me to put all of my thoughts into this one review. I invite you all to look at my week one impression on the game along with my breakdown of the ending sections all of which are also linked below my video review. With those and this I finally bid Final Fantasy XV adieu for now. It was one hell of a road trip and I enjoyed every minute of it bumps and all.
Final Fantasy XV Review Score: 4/5 Stars