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Final Fantasy XV (PlayStation 4) artwork

Final Fantasy XV (PlayStation 4) review

"Dude, where's my car?"

ďThis is a fantasy based on realityĒ

In 2006 a trailer for a game called Final Fantasy versus XIII showed a young man dressed in modern clothes fighting against some soldiers outside a building, doing all the gravity defying jumps that Square-Enix canít get enough of. Itís ten years later, and that game has finally been released, wisely distancing itself from the Final Fantasy XIII games to become the fifteenth entry in this never-ending series. This is a Final Fantasy game where the fantasy clashes with the mundane to create something different.

The story is straightforward Ė a prince is trying to reclaim his stolen kingdom from an evil empire that is doing evil things. Most of this takes place in the background. Thereís a movie called Kingsglaive that spends a couple of hours setting everything in motion. Prince Noctis leaves the capital city with his three friends and protectors, and goes on a road trip filled with camping and cooking and fishing and side questsÖ and occasionally coming into contact with the main plot.

Some criticism has been levelled at Final Fantasy XV regarding its lack of story (or the simplicity of said story), and I feel these people may be missing the point. The point is that itís the story of four friends, who go on a long journey together. They face hardships and suffer losses, both as a group and individually. They grow as people, and they become more interesting and more familiar as the hours on the game clock click over. Noctis, Prompto, Gladiolus and Ignis are quite possibly the four most realised, fleshed out characters this series has produced. There are a few supporting characters who have limited screen time and development, but this isnít about them. Final Fantasy usually takes a more epic view of a world and its issues, and often with a much larger party. XV keeps its focus on the four lead characters and their journey.

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All four of these young men have the potential to be annoying, but they arenít. Noctis carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, but still manages to be cheerful and funny. The cracks start to show when things get too real for him, but he pushes through and becomes a better character for it. Gladiolus is the muscle of the group. He can lose his temper, and isnít afraid to tell Noct to get his shit together when he needs to. Ignis is all class and style, a man who sees the world clearly. He will drive the car (if you donít feel like driving it manually as Noct) and he does all the cooking at camp (Ignis will announce that he has come up with a new recipe pretty much any time you collect meat off a monster youíve killed for the first time or picked up some new vegetable. I swear, this starts off funny, gradually becomes annoying and then somehow finds its way back to being funny.) Prompto is a childhood friend of Noct, tends to be a joker and complains a bit, and has a hard time hiding his insecurities. He chronicles the journey with photographs of anything that strikes his fancy Ė you can look through them at the end of each day and save the good ones.

Itís easy to see where Square-Enix has been influenced by Bethesda, where the main story is a minor part of a much larger world. Youíll spend a lot of your time driving around a beautiful world, through deserts, wetlands, forests, mountains, beaches, and stopping at truck stops to get gas for your car (Having to fuel your vehicle is such a mundane concept, beautifully undermined by the fact that filling up the tank costs only 10 gil Ė for comparison, most food costs in the hundreds. The price of petroleum is the most fantastical element of the entire world of Eos).

You can drive, or you can let the AI takeover and just chill out listening to classic Final Fantasy soundtracks or the banter of Notcis and his friends. I love the way they will talk about current or recent quests or just share bad puns with each other. You can stop the car at any time along the way to check out anything that looks interesting. Step off the road and the land is ripe with monsters to kill and items to collect.

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Final Fantasy has been flirting with the idea of an action RPG for a while. XV has ditched the turn based battling completely in favour of this fast and furious style. You take control of Noctis, who has a special power passed down through his royal bloodline Ė he can switch between weapons quickly, and throw them at enemies to warp strike them. As battles take place over a large field, being able to warp back into the fray or quickly jump to the next enemy is a stroke of genius to keep the battles moving at lightning speed. Noctis can also block and parry attacks if you can time it properly. The other three party members will fight their own way, usually very intelligently (often with more finesse than I can manage), but you can command them to use their special skills when a meter fills up.

Final Fantasy XV uses enemy encounters differently to many other RPGs. Early in the game you will enter a dark cave. As your party wanders through, tension is built through noises and moving shadows, but there isnít a single enemy encounter until youíre about half way through. You keep expecting that jump scare, but it doesnít happen until you finally let your guard down. Iíve rarely felt this sort of tension in a role-playing game, this is something RPGs should be doing more of since random encounters are now a relic of the past.

Staying in tents and inns has always been a staple of Final Fantasy, although you would only do it if you needed to restore your health. In XV, there is a day/night system. During the day, your party gathers experience from killing monsters and completing quests, but you donít level up unless you sleep. Itís in your best interest to find somewhere to sleep when it gets dark, as the monsters at night are tough, especially in early in the game. Each outpost will have an inn or a caravan, or if youíre out in the countryside, there are safe havens where you can pitch your tent. Itís a welcome pull back to reality.

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Ability points are used on the Ascension grid, which is much like the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X, or the Crystarium from XIII. When you have enough points, you can unlock new abilities or enhancements. Thereís just one grid for all four party members Ė youíll be able to see if the upgrade is for one party member, or all of them. Thereís a little less depth to this than some of the previous systems this series has employed, but it helps to keep your party balanced and functioning as a single unit.

Final Fantasy XV is not perfect. Iíve loved it despite being aware of its faults. Itís certainly better than anything the company did in the last console generation Ė Square-Enix has remembered how important freedom and interactivity are to video games. There isnít as much depth as some of the older titles, though. Thereís maybe a little more than a dozen named characters outside your party, and youíll probably forget half their names the moment they arenít on screen. Enemy generals seem to be built up, but they end up being interchangeable and forgettable, but youíll certainly remember the characters that give you a steady supply of side quests.

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The main narrative is broken up into fifteen chapters. While most of the first half of the game takes place in the open world, eventually the story takes you away from that into something more linear. The stakes are raised and the party face their toughest struggles. You may have heard about Chapter 13 being a few hours of linear hallways (I doubt this is a coincidence). Noctis is stripped of his weapons and his companions, and the whole sequence is tense and uncomfortable, with the main villain Arydn taunting Noctis over loudspeaker. This sequence brought Noctics and myself to our lowest moments. The road trip is over and the party has split, and youíre wondering if it can ever get back to how it was. I can understand players being put off by this, but I found it off-putting in just the right way. The sense of relief I felt at finally getting through this chapter was amazing.

Final Fantasy XV feels like a step in the right direction for Square-Enix. It doesnít manage to recapture the past glories of Final Fantasy VI or VII or X, but it gives me renewed confidence that this series is still capable of great things in the future Ė something that had been missing during the last decade.

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Community review by jerec (January 01, 2017)

On very rare occasions, Jerec finds a game that inspires him to write stuff about. The rest of the time he just hangs around being sarcastic.

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hastypixels posted January 02, 2017:

It's games like this that tempt me to give the current console generation a shot. Your review sounds on par with others I've heard ... that this is an imperfect experience, but draws on the strengths of the Square RPGs we loved most.

That's not an easy trick to pull ... Square pretty much lost us in the last gen ... Lightning has it where it counts, but her games are a waste of space. It's fascinating how disconnected they can be.

I hear also that Square will be expanding the last rush chapters of the game, too. A little nervous making, perhaps? It's weird to have something changed that is technically complete, especially such a personal experience like this.
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jerec posted January 02, 2017:

Definitely. There were times when I thought the game could do more with the story, even though I was really enjoying it.

I'm not sure what sort of precedent this would set for patching a narrative. It also means the game that is released on disc, and the game that is released now, might not be the definitive version of the story. It's a little different to DLC Chapters, which are more like extra stories, and usually self-contained.
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hastypixels posted January 03, 2017:

There an argument also for the archivists of the world, and that's also an interesting point. Remembering the past by capturing it - a worthy endeavour to be sure. Just not one of mine.

This is why I prefer digital downloads in the case of games like this one. The ability to at least address some of the issues that lackluster PC ports can leave us with. Also, cheap DLC in a bundle after the product cools off. Yay! Modern consoles aren't escaping from these issues, are they?

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