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Review: ‘Final Fantasy XV’

While the franchise’s latest effort doesn’t reinvent the wheel of RPG games, it does provide an experience worthy of the 10-year development timeframe.

Developer: Square Enix

Publisher: Square Enix

Release Date: November 29th, 2016

NOTE: Final Fantasy XV was played on the PlayStation 4.

DISCLOSURE: While this does not affect my overall assessment of FFXV, please note I have a relationship with some of the FFXV cast members -- most notably the main character, Noctis.

Final Fantasy – a title of the Final franchise effort once upon a time – is one of the most profitable and eclectic games in the industry. Stretching back as far as the Nintendo Entertainment System, Final Fantasy is known for its characters, stories, turn-based gameplay and excellent musical scores. Recently, however, the Final Fantasy series has been in limbo as the RPG genre passed it by like a freight train. 2010s Final Fantasy 13 and its subsequent sequels didn’t meet up to the standards of the series and Final Fantasy 14 was a rebooted MMORPG that failed to live up to the most basic of gameplay experiences during its initial release. While Final Fantasy XV doesn’t reinvent the wheel of RPG games, it does provide an experience worthy of the 10-year development timeframe.

Once referred to as Final Fantasy Versus 13, Final Fantasy XV sees a change from the linear, turn-based tidings of Final Fantasy 13 and is a more action-oriented title. Noctis, the prince of Lucis, sets out on a journey to Altissia to marry Lunafreya and unite the regions. Noctis is accompanied by his friends and bodyguards: Prompto, Ignis and Gladiolus. Each of them specializes in a certain type of combat that reflects their personality. Prompto lays the character on thick and shoots his guns and camera; Ignis is a chef that uses daggers and exploits weaknesses; Gladiolus is a brawler that excels in survival skills. Your teammates never feel superfluous and each one has something unique to bring to the adventure. The banter between the characters does repeat so at times you’ll be wishing for more lines of dialogue.

Combat is more open-ended than in previous Final Fantasy games and does away with turn-based gameplay. Noctis can choose up to three weapons to swap out at will and command his teammates to perform more damaging attacks. Noctis also has the distinct ability to warp towards and away from enemies and can also block and parry, all in real-time. These fighting skills create a seamless combat relationship between the world and the game and Final Fantasy XV excels in this respect.

Astrals, Final Fantasy XV’s version of summons, are massive spectacles in every sense of the word. These six enormous creatures are guardians that defend the world of Eos from humans while making a covenant to be used by a human in a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” deal.

The only drawback to Final Fantasy XV’s combat is the lock-on camera. You will constantly fight the enemy lock-on, and by extension the camera, during combat. Fighting multiple enemies at once is a literal nightmare as the lock-on won’t lock onto a new enemy automatically after one has been killed. It’s a non-issue during boss fights and 1:1 encounters but it’s a chore to go back and forth, manually, and can often get you or your compatriots killed.

The lock-on camera is not the only thing holding back Final Fantasy XV. The story has its fair share of issues and melodrama. Before the release of Final Fantasy XV, there was a YouTube series called Final Fantasy XV: Brotherhood and a feature film Kingsglaive. If you passed either of these required additional materials up, the game chugs along without you. At a certain point, early in the story, Kingsglaive is directly referred to and happens off-screen. The characters do a good job emoting and reflecting on a cataclysmic event but only seeing brief glimpses cheapens the effect it would have had it happened in-game. Additional materials that enrich the lore of the universe should not be required homework for a layman’s understanding of the characters and story. That is a failure of Final Fantasy XV’s narrative design as well as every other game that engages in the same practice.

It’s a shame because the world that took 10 years to develop is one of the most breathtaking worlds in a role-playing game to date – second only to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The vast open worlds and levels are varied and enjoyable to traverse -- you’ll often lose more time exploring than you expect. Final Fantasy XV does an excellent job adding different methods of travel. Your car, the Regalia, can be modified and personalized while also providing additional character dialogue. Once Chocobos are unlocked as ridable mounts, you may forget about the car entirely. There are camps to discover throughout the world that offer refuge from the more powerful daemons that come out at night. There’s significant downtime as you explore the different towns and areas, but it’s all in service to Final Fantasy XV’s exceptional sense of pacing. One moment you’ll fight a cobra monster and the next, you’ll sit by the campfire with your friends. It all happens in one fluid stroke – minus the obnoxious loading times and constant fade to black transitions.

Its vexing that Final Fantasy XV hasn’t allowed the same seamless transitions to the bulk of the side missions. You walk up to a quest giver, they tell you to go fetch something for them in the world, and then return for a reward and the process repeats into a tiresome slog. The number of entertaining side missions can be counted on one hand and only by a different set-up can they basically achieve the same result. You can dress up a bounty mission however you want, but you’re still killing a monster for a reward. Compared to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s side missions that expanded and deepened with continued play, this aspect of Final Fantasy XV comes up short.

A game’s development timeframe usually doesn’t indicate its quality, but in the pool of games that have taken 10+ years to develop, Final Fantasy XV lives up to the expectations of the fanbase, as its sales have indicated. Unfortunately, the RPG genre has advanced significantly and largely left Final Fantasy behind. And while Final Fantasy XV is a tremendous leap for the series, it still falls short in areas that are crucial to a double-digit hour experience.

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