10 Years. That’s how long it’s been since Final Fantasy XV was announced. Technically it wasn’t even called Final Fantasy XV back then, it was part of the Final Fantasy XIII universe as Final Fantasy Versus XIII. If you’re a big FF fan like me, then chances are you’ve been following the game closely through its prolonged development. 10 years is a long time for any project, especially a video game. Plotlines have been rewritten, characters have changed, even the director was switched out so that the original could focus on a different project. So yeah, 10 years is a long time. But, at the end of it all, we’re still left with what was originally proposed to us 10 years ago by the original director Tetsuya Nomura, a Fantasy JRPG inspired by the modern world.
However, a 10-year development cycle also means that the expectations surrounding this project are astronomical. Given the recent history of the Final Fantasy franchise, these expectations are compounded by the desires of fans to see the franchise to return to form as one of gaming’s high-quality IPs. No pressure. Even I, who usually would try to temper my own hype over this title had trouble doing just that. Not to mention the craziness I experienced with finally getting my hands on the game. So, the big question still remains, is Final Fantasy XV a return to form for the Final Fantasy franchise? Well, I’m pleased to report that Final Fantasy XV was worth the wait, but isn’t without shortcomings.
Final Fantasy XV takes place on the world of Eos with the expansive Niflheim Empire and the Kingdom of Lucis. Lucis holds the last Crystal in the world and is known for their magical prowess, while Niflheim is your traditional, world-conquering, evil empire that the series is known for churning out. You play as Prince Noctis, who is accompanied by his best friends/bodyguards/bros Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus (Gladio for short). Yeah, Tetsuya Nomura has a thing for Latin in case you didn’t already get that. The story begins with Noctis and his friends on a road in trip in the royal car, the Regalia, to the continent of Altissia for Noctis’ wedding to Lady Lunafreya, an old childhood friend of Noct’s and the Eos’ Oracle. But in typical Final Fantasy fashion things go horribly awry when it turns out the wedding is a ruse for the Empire to attack Lucis, resulting in the Kingdom falling, Noctis’ father King Regis getting killed, and the Crystal falling into Niflheim’s hands. Now is up to Noctis and his friends to defeat the empire and save the world in the process. Unfortunately for the world, you’re probably going to be sidetracked by the incredible amount of things to do in FFXV.
Unlike previous Final Fantasy titles, FFXV features a vast open world that rewards exploration. Think of it as Square’s answer to the new Fallout and Elder Scrolls games. You progress through the story by completing story missions to unlock new regions, but to me, the best parts of the game are the side quests and hunts. Side quests range from simple little fetch quests to give you a little extra EXP to incredibly rewarding and challenging dungeons. Certain characters have the tendency to give you the same type of quest repeatedly, but there’s so much variety outside of those that you will spend hours trying complete all of them. Hunts, on the other hand, are going to be familiar to those who played FFXII or FFXIII. You’re tasked with defeating certain monsters for rewards and EXP, often more challenging than the ones you’ll find during the main game. Depending on your level they’ll either be a cake-walk or an absolute nightmare. I’m looking at you Killer Wasps. Even once you complete the story, you’ll find that there’s even more to do, as I’m finding out now. And those don’t even cover the unique skills that your party members have and how that will affect your exploration. Prompto is a photographer that will take photos of your adventure. Gladio will retrieve useful items after-battle like Potions and Elixirs. Ignis cooks meals whenever you camp out, which will give you useful buffs before big battles. And Noctis himself is a fishing enthusiast (putting it politely), and while fishing mini-game is a nice distraction (from other distractions), it also allows Ignis to cook some really useful dishes, some of the best in the game. All this can seem overwhelming at first, but as you explore you begin to quickly react to what you need to progress and get the most out of this vibrant world. Considering how linear FFXIII was until the end game, this is a really nice apology from Square.
Prompto is a photographer that will take photos of your adventure. Gladio will retrieve useful items after-battle like Potions and Elixirs. Ignis cooks for the party when you camp, which will give you useful buffs before big battles. And Noctis himself is a fishing enthusiast (putting it politely), and while the fishing mini-game is a nice distraction (from other distractions), it also allows Ignis to cook really useful dishes, some of the best in the game. All this can seem overwhelming at first, but as you explore you begin to identify what you need to do to progress and get the most out of this vibrant world. Considering how linear FFXIII was until the end game, this is a really nice apology from Square.
Obviously, if you’re completing hunts, you’re going to be doing a lot of fighting. Luckily for players, combat is another fantastic part of the game. FFXV has brought the franchise into the 21st century with an action-based real-time battle system. While old fans might bemoan the lack of a turn-based system, they’ll probably get over it once they see how fun fights can be. It’s more than just hitting the attack button over and over again, there’s depth to it. Different weapon types, elemental weaknesses, sneaking behind enemies for extra damage, there’s a lot of complexity for a system that is really easy to pick up and learn for new players. And while you may just control Noctis, your party members’ AI is smart enough to not leave all the killing to you. Though it’d be better if they had slightly better self-preservation instincts (I’m looking at you Prompto, I don’t care if you’re a ranged fighter). Even magic has gotten a makeover in the form of a consumable item. A consumable item that unleashes incredible damage to enemies and your party if you’re not careful. Trust me, I learned the hard way. All in all, I actively enjoyed fighting enemies, even if it meant running away from ones I really shouldn’t have picked fights with.
But even as you’re fighting your way to victory, you’ll be unable to resist taking a moment and stopping to marvel at this gorgeous world that Square has created. The original vision of a fantasy-inspired modern world remained intact throughout the development process and they definitely delivered. Characters make references to video games and cell phones, and while some of the modern-day dialogue might feel a bit off at times when you’re about magic and dragons in the same sentence, it works surprisingly well.
But even with real-world inspiration, what Square got right with the world of Eos is scale. Almost everything feels realistically proportioned, if we had dragons in real life I suppose. You’ll face some enormous creatures on your travels, and there’s nothing more satisfying in slaying these monsters. At first, you’ll need to run away, but as you level up and become more skilled, you’ll killing monsters which seem to be the size of a 10 story building. To quote Prompto, “Woohooo! We’re alive! Let’s celebrate by eating something dead.” It’s a shame though that the story isn’t as satisfying.
Considering that the game’s story has changed considerably over the last 10 years, it’s honestly not surprising that it doesn’t hold up. While it starts off coherent enough, by the time you reach the later chapters of the game you’ll feel like you’ve missed some important pieces of narrative. Final Fantasy games either have great and memorable stories or confusing ones that don’t actually work. FFXV unfortunately, falls into the latter. While the story isn’t as bad as say XIIIs, the fact there are such glaring holes means that there’s no incentive to continuing the story apart from unlocking more side quests to make the game more enjoyable. As of writing Hajime Tabata and his team have said that they’ll be working on adding more to the story and improving the later chapters. But considering this game was already delayed to “complete” the game, it seems like there was a fair amount rushed to meet the revised release date.
Speaking of rushed, While combat is polished and fun, some of the required story boss fights are not. Becuase you’re fighting enemies that are occasionally larger than anything else in-game, the camera doesn’t know how to handle you as you attempt to not get crushed by the attack that you can’t see because the camera is totally effed. Without going into spoilers, there’s a fight that from the trailers seemed like it would be an epic larger than life spectacle. Instead, it’s a repetitive and messy affair that I wanted to be over so I could get back to the fun bits.
Despite its lack of polish in the end game, Final Fantasy XV in many ways was worth the 10-year wait. For the Final Fantasy franchise its a step in the right direction and finally brings the franchise into the current generation of gaming. While gamers who have avoided the franchise might enjoy this entry for its lack of turn-based battles, veterans of the franchise will also love this one for its new twist on series tropes. While it can sometimes feel not like a Final Fantasy game with all its new gameplay ideas, there’s plenty of homages and references that you’ll feel right at home. Even the story with all its faults seems to draw inspiration from the other titles without feeling too cookie cutter. Of course, you can also just listen to music from other Final Fantasy games in the Regalia.
I may have finished Final Fantasy XV in around 60 hours, but there’s still plenty to explore in the world of Eos. That doesn’t even cover both the free and paid DLC that are currently in the works that are coming to the title, meaning that in true Final Fantasy fashion I’ll be playing this game for years to come. Is it the best Final Fantasy? No, or at least not in my opinion. But is one of the best in the series? Absolutely, even with its problems. And if Tabata and the dev team can actually make this game a better experience than it already is, then XV could become a true masterpiece of a game. While it might be another 10 years before we get Final Fantasy XVI, we’ve finally got the game that has but the Final Fantasy franchise back on the map.
P.S. Forgot to mention how awesome the music is in FFXV. Yoko Shimomura is a goddess.