For a game that promises something for both newcomers and longtime fans, Final Fantasy XV stands weirdly in the middle, delivering an epic, but ultimately uneven experience.
The very first thing I noticed when I launched Final Fantasy XV was a message that said: “A Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers.” Ever since I played Final Fantasy X http://gamesretrospect.com/2011/02/final-fantasy-x-review/ in my teenage years, I’ve been in love with the series to the point that I explored every numbered game, sequel and spin-off I could get my hands on, but the past few entries have been disappointing. Despite having the trademarks of the franchise, Final Fantasy XV throws everything you can think of outside the window to deliver a bombastic adventure that feels fractured. For a game that promises something for both newcomers and longtime fans, Final Fantasy XV stands weirdly in the middle, delivering an epic, but ultimately uneven experience.
Just a few seconds after you launch the game, you’re introduced to the four characters you’ll see for the rest of this larger-than-life game: Noctis, Ignis, Gladiolos and Prompto. Each of the protagonists fulfills a specific archetype: Noctis is a prince with mysterious powers and the fate of the world rests in his hands, Gladio is a muscular man who wields large swords, Prompto is the talkative and charming youngster that serves as comic relief and Ignis is smart and thoughtful.
Of course, these are just the protagonists and Final Fantasy XV tells a grand story with political intrigue and hostile kingdoms, but sadly that’s kept to a minimum. Most time I spent with the game, I completed trivial sidequests that encouraged me to locate bear traps, hunt down monsters, provide food for abandoned cats, take photographs of picturesque locations or retrieve rare roots. Collecting three of something gets old really quick, but I was always tempted to complete these quests because the world around them is so lively and inviting. Despite the repetitive nature of Final Fantasy XV, I fell in love with its absorbing structure. This open-world RPG has a massive world for you to explore, a 30-hour main story, dozens upon dozens of sidequests, hunts and offline timed quests and that’s without mentioning all the content that’s part of the season pass and newer patches.
As you explore the world around, you’ll inevitably run into enemies. Combat is both inviting and flexible: you can warp towards foes making a lot of damage (and taking some in exchange,) you can attack, evade, use your partner’s special attacks, summon gargantuan creatures to fight for you and more. There are several ways to deal with your enemies and that’s what makes the combat so intoxicating, especially as you unlock more abilities from the skill trees. Alas, the game fails when it comes to explaining all the mechanics that come into play and there’s a lot to take into account. This is somewhat mitigated by a tutorial that tries to articulate some of the most important concepts, but you’ll find out about certain mechanics on your own through trial and error which can lead to frustration.
But while the combat’s fast-paced and dynamic, at times, Final Fantasy XV feels like an action game with RPG elements rather than an action RPG. To be clear, the combat can be tactical and methodical if you choose wait mode, but playing the game with this option turned on takes a long time. Should you want extra time or precision during battle, wait mode allows you to scan enemies to detect weaknesses, look for locations you can warp to or choose options when you’re outnumbered. But there’s more: there are quick-time events, there’s a button just to jump and when you run into small obstacles, Noctis vaults over then.
I can’t go on without bringing up Final Fantasy XV’s inspirations. The game’s obviously influenced by americana as a genre and this shows in every aspect of the game. For starters, you move around in a car known as the Regalia (yes, even cars have names in Final Fantasy games) in what seems to be rural America. The soundtrack has the traditional orchestral pieces that defined the series, but there’s also blues songs with harmonicas and slide guitars in them. Speaking of the soundtrack, the game features pretty much every song from every Final Fantasy game and film, so when you’re driving around you can listen to music from Final Fantasy VIII, Kingsglaive or Type-0 if you want. This is easily my favorite part about the game.
There are a couple of elements Final Fantasy is known for: crystals, a man named Cid, chocobos and airships. All of the above are part of XV, though airships won’t be your primary mean of transport this time around. As I mentioned above, you have access to an upgradable car known as the Regalia that takes you wherever you want to go. Some missions you can fast-travel to, but you’ll soon find out how to use your car more effectively, since manually driving from place to place takes several minutes and there’s no real reason to do so. Then there’s the matter of fixing your car, refueling it when it runs out of gas and upgrading it to reach places that were inaccessible before. There was no real reason to include all those subsystems, but they are there if you want them and they definitely contribute to the feeling that you’re exploring rural America.
From a technical standpoint, the game’s stunning to look at, but there are some issues here and there. Simple put, this is the best Final Fantasy has ever looked: the world’s impressive, most characters are well animated and some of the cutscenes are breathtaking. But it all comes at a price, the loading times are long and when you’re fast-traveling, following the story or completing missions, you’ll wait more than you play. Then you’ll notice that the faces of some of the random characters are poorly designed. It makes sense since they are not part of the main story and you’ll likely encounter them once or twice, but some of them look really bad. It’s worth mentioning that I played the game on the original Xbox One model that came out in 2013. Final Fantasy XV is one of the games that’s Xbox One X enhanced, so if you have the latter version of the console, you’ll have access to extra features, such as an improved resolution, better draw distance and 4K support.
I feel conflicted about Final Fantasy XV. Even if you’re not familiar with its troubled development, you can tell that the people behind it changed their mind several times. This is a fractured game that lacks cohesion: the world stunning to look at, but there aren’t many reasons to go off the beaten path to explore; the story’s minimal and even if I spend dozens of hours with the characters I never fell in love with them; the combat’s fast, but its intricacies are poorly explained; there’s a lot to do, but the side-missions are incredibly pedestrian and I could go on and on. But even with all its flaws, I spent a lot of time exploring the tombs of deceased royalty members, hunted beasts that terrorized villagers, took photographs of pristine locales and looked for rare gems on exotic locations. Final Fantasy XV certainly has its fair share of issues, but I was attracted to its intoxicating structure, inviting quests, dynamic combat and incredible amount of side content. The experience the game offers is woefully uneven, but when all the systems line up, this JRPG can be intoxicating.