Final Fantasy XV is a bold game. It’s a drastic new direction, one that feels so alien in comparison to what’s been experienced in Square Enix’s long-running JRPG franchise. It takes many chances, plays with the established formula quite a bit, and is ultimately the strangest Final Fantasy to date. It’s also one of the best entries in the series so far, and one that everyone should experience firsthand.
Final Fantasy XV
Developed and published by Square Enix
Available on the PS4 and Xbox One. Reviewed on the Xbox One.
*Review code provided by Square Enix
Final Fantasy XV was a long time coming. Originally announced as a spin-off of Final Fantasy XIII and part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis concept with the title of Final Fantasy Versus XIII, it took the developers ten years to bring the JRPG to fruition. Now that it’s finally here, the wait was well worth it.
Final Fantasy XV tells the story of crown prince Noctis and his three companions: Prompto, Agnis, and Gladiolus. After being engaged to a princess named Lunafreya as a diplomatic gesture of peace between the two warring nations of Lucis and Niflheim, and is sent out of his city for the marriage, the Niflheim forces kill his father the King, and take control of the capital city of Insomnia. Now with nowhere to turn to, the prince and his guard must seek ancient weapons and allies in order to fight the opposing forces and take his home back.
Storywise, the plot is superb, crafting the most realistic Final Fantasy adventure to date with a blend of fantasy and realism. The world of Eos is a unique blend of magic and technology, with cities and towns and vehicles that look like our own, but with a magical spin with fantastic creatures lingering in fields and caves, spellcrafting, and the presence of otherworldly beings. It makes for a compelling world to explore, and the attention to detail makes for successful worldbuilding that keeps players engaged to the whole experience.
The characters are also well-crafted and are the heart of the experience. Noctis and his friends bring tons of depth to the game, from their random conversations they have as they take to the road and field, to their plight as they fight to take back the city. It really feels like a road trip/buddy movie thanks to the dynamic between the four friends, and I absolutely adored that. The secondary characters are also pretty great as well, providing some engaging enemies and supporting players.
It’s also a fantastic looking game, though somewhat flawed. The world of Eos and its many environments are beautiful, with its realistic cities, towns and roads, lush forests and lakes, and the character models are extremely detailed, both in animation and design. The cutscenes are gorgeous, and match the quality set in the standalone film Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. It’s a beauty to behold, and the game will often surprise you with breathtaking sights or flashy, action-packed sequences that are extremely impressive. But at the same time, the game takes a hit on resolution and occasionally bad muddy textures, especially on the Xbox One. Things look great from afar, but drawing in close occasionally reveals bland textures, and the main character’s hair looks low-res, especially when traveling in the car. There are many areas where the visuals aren’t as sharp as they should be, but it still looks pretty great.
The gameplay is where the most changes are, and it might be strange at first for Final Fantasy players, but it’s excellent. The game plays out more like a sandbox open world adventure, rather than your traditional semi-linear JRPG. The game develops in chapters, and features main quests and side quests that players can go through at their pace on a large map, driving to them in the Regalia, which needs to be refueled often. Gone is the need for walking everywhere, as now the world is so large that driving about is necessary, and there’s even a night/day cycle, bringing out tougher monsters when the sun sets. Completing main quests moves the story forward, while side quests reward players with unique items, experience and more.
There’s tons of things to do. In addition to kicking butt as players search for powerful weapons, take enemy bases and fight off powerful foes in the main quests, players can speak to various individuals throughout the map for side quests. They range from fetch-quests, monster hunting, fishing, Chocobo racing and more, and do a great job at keeping players busy between completing story missions and chapters. You can easily get lost for hours doing these, and most of them are pretty entertaining.
The combat has also been revamped, taking a page out of Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy Type-0 with its focus on real-time action and hack-and-slash mechanics with a RPG spin rather than the turn-based combat we all are used to. Players take on enemies as the crown prince himself – rather than controlling all four friends, and the face buttons let players jump, attack, dodge, parry, crouch and teleport around the battlefield, as well as switch between four weapons and magic spells. Players can also issue commands to the other three party members, which uses meter to perform special attacks and abilities, can use items at any time to heal, cure negative status effects, summon powerful allies and more. The mechanics are excellent and the action is always fast and fluid, making for one of the most unique and entertaining combat systems in the series so far.
The leveling system has also been tweaked, and it quite different from other Final Fantasy games. Players gain experience from fighting enemies, completing quests and more, but unlike other games where you level up instantly, players must rest at hotels, stops or camp sites in order to deposit the experience points and level up. It’s a strange mechanic, but it adds to the realism that the game is going for. Getting new abilities and skills is similar to previous experiences however, with skill trees that let players choose what they want to unlock first.
Despite being pretty magnificent, Final Fantasy XV is not without its flaws. Characters can occasionally glitch out, with weird animations or transitions or randomly clipping through the environment. Sometimes attacks miss their mark, and tag team attacks that are scripted happen away from enemies. A.I enemies can also do some weird things occasionally, like run around in circles eternally, disappear from the battlefield, and more. There are quite a few bugs present in the game, and while they don’t break the overall experience, they are noticeable.
When it comes down to it, Final Fantasy XV is a superb and original entry in the long-running series, breathing new life to a franchise that has long needed change. While it isn’t perfect, it’s a fantastic step in the right direction, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for the series.