After languishing in development hell for what felt like an eternity and starting life as ‘Final Fantasy Versus XIII’, this title has gone through a lengthy period of work before finally being rebranded as a man-line instalment into RPG gaming’s most famous series.
In many ways, Final Fantasy XV shows a reaction from Square Enix to feedback from players and critics on Final Fantasy XIII. Whilst that title held its open-world elements for the end-game and encouraged the player to explore a lengthy, linear campaign, FF15 opens almost immediately into the largest game hub of any RPG to date and only gets bigger from there. This isn’t a slight on FF13, though we personally aren’t fans of those titles the trilogy built around it made a lot of money and has its fans, instead it’s probably the first thought that comes to mind when describing FF15. It’s . . . big.
Graphically this is perhaps the most beautiful game Square Enix have produced to date, and for a company with a reputation for pushing graphical boundaries this is saying something. Visually the game is fully rendered with high quality 3D models and textures that emote and move in a believable manner and bring to the screen an intriguing mix of fantasy sword and sorcery staples and modern aspects such as mobile phones, cars and leather jackets. We’ve seen these blend before of course, but here the palpability of the presentation makes everything feel more alive and vivid. Special mention needs to go to the direction of the game, which regularly shifts camera angles fluidly and quickly to give a move-like sense of scale to encounters and fast-cuts to character expressions to show emotional impact. Never before has a game felt more like being in control of an interactive cinematic experience.
Sound design is well pitched to meet the gritty and realistic take much of the games presentation pushes on the player. Explosions, car doors, cash registers and distant winds all play into building up a soundscape that’s believable, whilst musical cues are held back to allow them to sync with the events on screen in quiet moments, or as danger draws near rather than overpowering the scenario. Entering a café on the road comes with the juke-box playing in the corner that ebbs and fades as you arrive and leave realistically, giving a great sense of 3D space. Bigger moments are scored dramatically for emphasis and show care and attention to preserving the epic scope that the series is well known for. As a special treat, players can purchase CDs at stores of music from past games to listen to as they drive, both an Easter egg and a much-welcome addition. Vocal performances are well cast and sound good, with the central four characters internal banter being a particular high-point.
Prince Noctis, heir to the Lucian throne is dispatched by his father the king to solidify a peace treaty between the free kingdom of Lucis and empire of Nifheim, who control the rest of the world of Eos. Their city has remained free due to the royal family channelling the power of a crystal, which imbues the royal family with special powers and has shielded the city from harm. The treaty is based in part on his marriage to Lady Luna, who holds a special position within the Eos. On the way, he and his group of friends/bodyguards experience car trouble and break down, leading into the adventure. There’s some interesting debate as to if going into the game’s campaign dry is advised of if players should first watch the short Anime series detailing character backgrounds for the central cast and the feature length CGI movie ‘King’s Glave’ which shows events first-hand that appear off-screen in the games’ opening act. Personally we don’t feel like either are essential to enjoying the game, with the player learning things through the eyes of the games’ central protagonist as and when he does. Ultimately this is the choice of each player as to how they want to approach the wealth of world building and content on display in FF15.
Gameplay skews farther from the traditional turn-based or ATB combat than ever before in this current title, which appears to mimic Western RPGs in places over staples of the JRPG genre. Exploration of an open world aside, the game uses a combat system that is seamless to the world with no sub-screen. Monsters too are always visible and wander the world in packs and herds according to their own distinctive habits. When in battle you directly control only the prince, with the three supporting characters acting according to their own AI. As Noctis you have a series of special abilities, alongside holding attack to engage the enemy with one of any four selected weapons. Noctis can warp, which is used to great effect for dodging attacks and for teleporting both around the field of battle and into foes for a devastating warp strike. This gives battles a frenetic pace and often sees position on the battlefield switching frequently, especially once additional boons such as distance affecting the damage of the warp strike are unlocked. Battles give experience and ability points with which to advance a number of skill trees, though traditional levelling is only unlocked in bulk when spending the night at a rest point. The game piles up a number of sub-systems and mingames with which to occupy yourself, such as photography, cookery, camping, fishing and pinball style games at some eateries. Not least the largest of your occupations however will be exploring the world by foot, car and Chocobo. We won’t go into all of the games processes here, but the game revolves essentially around a pattern of main-line quests that forward a narrative and side-quests spread across several themes linked to mini-games.
Overall, Final Fantasy XV is a cornucopia of content. It has a massive world, looks beautiful and plays very well indeed. There are some slight pacing issues, largely based on the nature of an open world game being meshed with a tightly-scripted story at its heart. It’s often strange to see characters stop on-route to a dungeon in order to take a photo, or drop everything for a spot of fishing, but really how different is this from stopping a quest to save the planet in order to bum around the Golden Saucer? For fans of the Final Fantasy series this game is a treat and we highly advise you purchase a copy.