Final Fantasy XV is one of the best adventures I’ve had in a long time. While it has some shortcomings, I think that Final Fantasy XV set out to tell a story about bonding, and it did that amazingly well. By the end of the game I felt a connection to Noctis and his friends – along with a feeling of responsibility for their hardships.
Final Fantasy has set a standard across years and many releases, so attempting to change the formula for a more modern and first-time friendly experience was a tall order. There are key elements to Final Fantasy that fans have grown accustomed to, and this new vision for the series meant removing some key elements such as classes and turn-based combat. Losing things like this made me feel a little wary, but I wanted to let Final Fantasy XV show me how it could still deliver without these elements and make a name for itself. I was hoping that there would be garb later on in the game (like a White Mage jacket or Black Mage Hat) I could get that would have nostalgic elements, as I noticed early on I could change my clothes to gain different stat boosts.
That being said, there’s still many points of nostalgia to remind fans how far the series has come. Almost every vendor offers a new soundtrack from previous Final Fantasy’s, allowing the player to enjoy the hard work poured into the beautiful world while driving the roads. Players may also see some familiar deities through their journey, like the serpent Goddess Leviathan (as shown in one of the early trailers). The familiar faces don’t end with summons, though, as traditional monsters appear as well. A foul-breathed Malboro and perhaps a prickly mascot! Final Fantasy XV doesn’t turn away from its heritage, but in turn embraces it and builds upon its strengths. While some monsters are buried away in dungeons, others you may encounter just by exploring the open areas.
One particularly terrifying encounter I had was when I was riding a Chocobo and the warning music booted up. I looked around, but couldn’t see anything until a nice prompt from Prompto (Ha ha) showed a very menacing-looking snake with a level slightly too high for me and a name – Midgardsomr. For fans of Final Fantasy VII, rejoice – your night terrors have returned and you can exact revenge on this menacing monstrosity. While Final Fantasy XV builds itself up, it’s also letting players reminisce about their previous adventures and teaching new players about the dangers of some of their traditional monsters.
The story is one of the key elements of the Final Fantasy series, so it was a little disheartened to find that some plot points were simply written in text in the loading screens. A tiny blurb was often all that was stuck into the game to explain complex story elements. I would have loved to see more of the characters talking about their situation and fleshing out the story.
To make sure I wasn’t missing anything, I made sure to watch Kingsglaive (which was an amazing movie and preface to the game) and Brotherhood. Even with the knowledge of both these experiences, I was left with many, many questions. Some parts of the story were explained extremely poorly, which had me worried that, in order to get the complete experience for this game, I would have to purchase a season pass as well.
Still, the main story has a strong foundation and after banking 63 hours of questing and hunting, it was hard for me not to care about the journey and the toll it had taken on my friends. When I started, I was worried that the four main characters you spend the game with would have very cookie-cutter personalities. After a few hours, I found that I my suspicions were unfounded, and over time, characters I found too distant and emotionless showed how close they were to Noctis.
I think that watching Brotherhood really helped me to understand character motivations and their relationships with Noctis. I was able to grasp a really strong sense of empathy with each character because they have such relatable traits. You can kind of get a sense of these within the game if you camp a lot, since camping often rewards you with some bonus scenes with the characters. Whether it’s having a run with Gladiolus in the morning or helping Ignis prepare breakfast, you form bonds with the characters and want to do well for them.
Having said that, I wish there was more incentive to camp because I hoarded my experience points to get the double multiplier constantly (which you get from sleeping in places that aren’t camps) and I think I missed out on a lot of good scenes.
The thing I was happiest with was the dynamic of the group and that they didn’t treat Noctis like he was the Prince. Also, that Noctis’ personality was not the same brooding/sulking male protagonist that RPGs tend towards. Listening to the party complain about how long Noctis was fishing was probably some of my favorite dialogue in the game because of how friendly it was. I wish that there was more banter throughout the game as I drove/rode around the world because the dynamic of the group is just too perfect. As the story goes on, the characters grow and adapt to the world that is forming around them and their bonds grow deeper than just mere friendships. The characters all share common worries, fears, excitement and, most importantly, the same enemy.
The director said his goal was to make player’s cry and, in my case, he succeeded. My heart was so broken at seeing the end of my journey that my eyes burned well into the morning. Square Enix delivered an experience I’ll not soon forget.
I was surprised at how fast the story seemed to take over after a certain point in the game, pushing out the open world elements when it seemed like there should have been so much more to say and do. Initially, there’s large areas that players can venture through to give them an open world experience (with some areas cut off until the story progressed). As players continue, they unlock more areas on the world map, but at one point the amount of exploration dries up, taking players from story point to story point with no break to explore the world.
It’s hard to criticize this point, but it’s simply because the initial area offered so much that I felt left wanting more in the newer areas. I think the game would have benefitted more by spreading out the quests a little more across the areas. I found there was so much to do at every corner early on, I kept expecting more and more, and bigger challenges.
As for the combat system, it feels reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts and offered players a much more active combat style than traditional turn based. Players can choose up to four different weapons or spells to equip to the directional pad to use for Noctis. You can switch them at any point and take advantage of enemies’ weaknesses, attacking in live combat with your weapon of choice. The other three characters can’t be controlled, but you can equip them with better tools as well. Prompto and Ignis have the choice of wielding a second arm or magic, while Gladiolus can equip a shield. It’s nice to give the party members magic so you can take advantage of weaknesses, BUT there is a bit of friendly fire with it (usually either burn, shock or frost depending on the spell) and it is very easy to launch a Fira into your friends’ faces.
There isn’t much for combat in ways of combos, but that doesn’t mean it’s not challenging. When there are multiple enemies, you have to keep on your toes and be prepared to mix defensive and offensive maneuvers. You can simply mash away, but it’s a fast way to drain your potions and doesn’t optimize damage with your party members. There are two ways to allow for dual attacks, which are special abilities that players can access during combat. They fill a bar through either attacking the enemy from behind or successfully parrying an enemy, letting a party member perform a devastating follow-up when you choose.
There’s tons of ways to do combat, and it’s up to the player to decide what suits them best. I tried the wait mode (which freezes combat when you stand still) which let me be a little more strategic, but I found that I preferred being right in the thick of the action – fighting enemies in live battle. I loved being immersed in the danger of active combat and being able to think on my feet – all the while making sure I’m maximizing my damage with my teammates.
The game allows you to spend points inside the Ascension Grid to beef up your characters and give them different abilities in battle. The best thing about this system is that they aren’t necessarily BETTER than another ability, so you can tailor them to the monsters you’re fighting (like using Gladiolus’ Cyclone attack on many enemies vs. using his Dawnhammer attack on a single target), and makes battles much more tactical than hack and slash.
One of the most entertaining things in the game was the hunt system. These are bounties set out on certain groups of monsters who are causing trouble in the area. You can get bounties from almost any diner/food location. Each hunt will display the reward of Gil and sometimes a rare accessory piece or item. I spent A LOT of my playtime cutting down everything that they gave me. The game gradually builds you up to larger foes, and for those who like to shred foes and strike terror into your enemies as you charge into battle, push through the ranks and challenge yourself!
The game doesn’t force your hand into certain techniques either – it simply hands you your map coordinates and lets you choose how you want to tackle it. You can roast some things with magic, tear them apart with weapons, or call upon summoning powers to smite your enemies. The game also offers side quests through NPCs in the areas. Sometimes it involves retrieving a lost item, other times it is to gather specimens for an experiment. Some quests that involve searching may be a little more difficult than others because of how well some things are hidden (I found that doing the quests at night was actually easier because the items seemed to light up more). Generally, most quests are well worth doing because they have high experience point rewards and, usually, the team will enter in small amounts of dialogue.
You can also learn more about the characters issuing the quests, as a lot of them have follow up quests that further allows you to immerse yourself in the people that live in the world. If you get a quest that mentions Cup Noodle, do it – and then immediately go watch Cup Noodle’s take on Final Fantasy XV on YouTube. Overall, despite all of the available quests, activities, and secrets, I found the best way to enjoy the game was to be a little aimless. I loved just driving around or riding Chocobos and exploring the area for secret dungeons and deadly enemies. I loved the small bonus scenes I got from camping – even when there was no gameplay benefit. I enjoyed watching their animations at the end of each day, imagining them all talking about the adventures they’d had.
My favorite area’s design would have to be Altissia. The architecture, the shops, the general air of peacefulness – it was all a nice break from being mud/blood covered. You can really tell how much effort was put into the area’s design just by going through the streets. After going from outpost to outpost, being in a high end area was a welcome change of pace. That’s not to say that the design in the initial map is any less worthwhile. I can still remember how excited I got when I heard Prompto yelling about how he could see the sea when they were driving down to the docks in Galdin Quay. You find yourself spinning the camera just to see the sights they see and enjoy it with them.
The game isn’t all sunshine and rainbows though, and when disaster strikes, I think all players will feel at least some form of empathy for all the characters. Final Fantasy never pulled any punches, and XV is no exception. The developers go to extreme lengths to make sure you feel the pain that your team feels and that you, playing as Noctis, will share that pain as well as the responsibility. It would be hard not to if you listen to the banter between the friends for many hours and shared victory cheers when taking down a boss. Ultimately, it’s up to the players to decide how much they care for these characters after spending many, many hours with them (even rushing it the game’s story takes about 14-15 hours, I’ve heard).
There’s so much beauty to this game and so much to enjoy within it. I’ll admit that I went into the game worried. I’ve played Final Fantasy for a long time and I was worried about an all-male cast since I’m a hopeless romantic, and the love stories that Final Fantasy brews are unbreakable. I would have welcomed a female party member, but after playing the game through – I understand why they made that decision for this particular story, and I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision to make.
I am SO glad I took the time to beat and fully enjoy the experience Final Fantasy XV gave me. They changed what I was used to, and while I may not have enjoyed ALL of the changes, I’m glad they are trying new things. If we don’t try new things, we’re never going to find out what we like and move forward to make bigger and better experiences. My issues with Final Fantasy XV all revolve around me wanting more and more from it after already getting so much.
Final Fantasy XV is a great game and I think everyone should give it a play. In the most ideal situation, beat the story because that story is going to leave a mark on you and really make you care about the journey you took to get there.