There’s been a lot of talk about Final Fantasy XV, the latest release in the epic series of RPGs, and opinions seem split down the middle. On one side are an array of old-school fans who claim that it just isn’t how it used to be, and on the other, you have new players lining up to revel in what is perhaps the most accessible Final Fantasy game ever created. Who’s right?
Final Fantasy XV does take the series in a new direction. The biggest change is a fully action-based battle system, considered a natural evolution from the old turn-based approach. But this really does feel like an entirely different kind of game to previous entries, especially when you compare it to the heyday of Final Fantasy VII way back in 1997.
The story centers on the main character Prince Noctis, who goes on a quest to retrieve a magical crystal that was stolen by the dark empire of Niflheim, and later discovers that the crystal could bring about more peril than initially expected, which is pretty standard RPG stuff really. He is joined on his road trip by long-term companions and close friends Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto, and it is the connection and kinship between the characters that really lifts the game. While the biggest threats aren’t clear until towards the end of the story, and the romantic possibilities are never truly realized, it is the four character’s relationships that provide one of the most captivating elements.
Their quest takes place in an immensely beautiful and visually stunning realm. The detail is captivating. Traveling through this world of Eos is one of the most rewarding experiences that Final Fantasy XV has to offer, and you will do a lot of traveling. The first time you visit each city you will have to embark on a road trip, which actually requires a lot of planning as you have to think about your transport, where to sleep, and even where you can grab a bite to eat. This might sound tedious, but it tends to lead to fruitful interactions between the characters, more bonding time for the group of close friends.
The game has an open-world feel for most of the first half with plenty of opportunities for explorations and side-quests and for taking a look around the impressive environments. This seems to trail off a bit at times in the second half, and the final third of the game has painstakingly linear moments in which the open-world becomes less relevant and the progression tends towards repetitive dungeon-scrolling.
So, what side-quests does Final Fantasy XV offer to break up the monotony that can occasionally overcome a player? Well, plenty, though they are not always deep and enriching. Final Fantasy VII had 20 hours of chocobo breeding (about 15 too much in my opinion), Final Fantasy XIII had a card game that was far more complex than vingt-et-un, or even poker for that matter. Final Fantasy X gave us blitzball, one of my personal favorites, and a game in itself. Final Fantasy XV, however, gives us hunting, chocobo races, and fishing, which sounds exciting, but the side-quests kind of sit on the surface as a bit of light entertainment. None are likely to become iconic in the series’ history. Still, there is plenty to do when it comes to collecting optional weapons and slaying powerful bosses in optional dungeons. However, challenging post-game moments will keep hardcore players happy.
So, what of the action itself? Well, you can slash your way through Final Fantasy XV for the most part, and holding ‘circle’ will release combos that can mash up enemies pretty quickly. And while you can fight as Noctis, the most versatile of the crew who can use any class of weapon, your companions are controlled by a pretty impressive AI system, so they will actually be handy in fights. Noctis can teleport to defined platforms and rush back in with warp-attacks, and specific button combos can lead to parry and counter attacks, though the timings are overly-generous and these moments are once again defined by the game itself. There is a lack of variety in the magic system, with only fire, thunder, and ice (and their respective level-ups) making the cut, though each spell deals devastating damage. Summons are impressive and immensely powerful, but there seems to be a lack of control about when they make an appearance.
Tacticians and fans of strategy might be disappointed here. The brutally complicated materia systems of the past Final Fantasy games have been replaced with fairly simplistic action-based gameplay. This will be a complete turn-off for some, but for fans of action games, or anyone new to the series, Final Fantasy XV just might hit the spot.