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Final Fantasy XV (PlayStation 4) artwork

Final Fantasy XV (PlayStation 4) review

"Final Fantasy Frat"

Four dudes, each clad in black and sporting perfectly permed hair, find themselves on a lonely stretch of desert highway, pushing their car to the first service station they can find. Such an inauspicious start may be mistaken for the opening to a title seeking less lofty ambitions than the XV Roman numeral attached to this Final Fantasy adventure. But no matter. Here we are watching four guys push a car. Noctis is the leader, but only because he is the son of a king. His retinue of loyal friends hassle him for wanting to take a breather. These are such simple times. One day these young men will behold the world in their grasp. Today, though, is not that day. Final Fantasy XV may be one of the best ideas the series has ever offered, even if the final product feels a bit unrealized.

That's what being in development for a decade or so will do to a game. Scrap an existing direction for another; refresh a game engine for something more modern. We've seen it happen before. And it will certainly happen again. But while Final Fantasy XV could have been cast aside as nothing more than a directionless relic released as too little too late, it manages to mostly set itself apart as something quite good and worth the wait.

Final Fantasy XV is epic in scope, yet surprisingly intimate in how it portrays its four main characters. Our hero, Noctis, heir to the throne of Lucis, and his wily band of bodyguards, Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto grow to form a bond that is as unbreakable and endearing as any cast of characters found within the extensive catalogue of Final Fantasy titles. Their kinship grows over the course of the journey as they share in triumph and sorrow; their shared interactions always portrayed as genuine and sincere.

This group of four young men shouldn't grow to become the heroes that they do because, at the start of their quest, they’re simply just trying to get the lead guy somewhere for his wedding. It's not the most intriguing set-up, nor does the plot ever truly take over. There are no female characters offered as much screen presence as our four brotastic hombres despite allusions that Noctis’s fiancé, Lunafreya, plays the most important role of all. Women take a secondary focus in Final Fantasy XV, though they are recognized for their importance as oracles, demigods, and dragon knights. Here, it’s the men we get to spend the most time with, learning their quirks and customs, their hopes and ambitions.

Ignis acts as chef to the group, concocting gourmet dishes from beasts slain in battle. He serves as chauffeur to the team whenever Noctis decides to take his hot rod dubbed Regalia out for a spin, and he offers the role of reasoning. On the flip side is Prompto, a happy-go-lucky goofball self-appointed as the team's unofficial chronicler, capturing photographs along the journey, his craft improving each and every day. Gladiolus serves as team strongman with a talent for foraging items in the wild. Though he often bares his chest beneath his unbuttoned shirt, his humility is as evident as his toughness. And even Noctis, who you directly control, grows to become a man capable of fending for himself. He sports a unique ability to warp-strike across the field of battle, not to mention he's quite the angler, fishing up some dinner for his friends when the opportunity allows. Link, you have some competition.

Final Fantasy XV is best when it allows the player to explore at one's leisure, something that happens very early on, fortunately. It abandons the linearity that some of its more recent offline predecessors employed, tantalizing us to take time to see what treasures are waiting to be uncovered, what deep, dark dungeons are beckoning to be discovered.

There are many side quests to attempt, and though you may feel compelled to focus on uncovering the main plot, I strongly urge you to make that secondary. The continent of Lucis, where much of the game takes place, is dangerous. Wild beasts and Nifleheim's soldiers crowd the land by day, posing a consistent if avoidable threat. But when nighttime arrives, the game's lore in daemons poses a greater challenge. This is all central to the plot line, and there are certainly story events that would seem to encourage immediate attention. After all, Noctis is supposed to rendezvous with Lunafreya so the two can get hitched and bring peace and happiness to all the land. Instead, I encourage you take things as they come. Don't go rushing through the 15 (see that?) chapters that make up Final Fantasy XV's main story. Instead, take time to stop and smell the roses. Take time to search for treasures, harvest wild veggies, and help the locals out with their insufferable tasks. Take time to sign on for hunts. Beast or daemon, they all deserve to die.

Fighting these foes is simple and slick. Combat sports a flashy style of real-time fighting where you'll directly control Noctis as his three friends fight alongside in the background. There are weapons to equip, defense items to don, and magic spells to cast. The game offers full customization with loadouts and buffs for all characters. Noctis can summon armiger, weapons of his ancestors, for powerful frenzied attacks that deal tons of damage. Or he can call upon his friends to use Link Meter techniques – essentially special attacks. Combat is dynamic and fluid. It looks great and it feels great. You won't find any turn-based, random encounters here.

Killing things and completing quests means obtaining experience points. Ability points are derived through performing special maneuvers or tasks and afford the opportunity for advancing across an intricate skill tree. Leveling up can only happen by resting at inns or camping under the starry night sky. It's similar to past systems the series has employed for attribute progression yet different enough in its rules and nomenclature to feel fresh.

Oh sure, Final Fantasy XV still feels very much like a Final Fantasy title. From summons to crystals to spiky hair to sappy nostalgia. This is very much a game that seeks transcendence while still retaining the "have-hope-against-all-odds" mantra that permeates across the series. It nearly succeeds in elevating the Final Fantasy franchise as some of its most well-received installments had before it. But remember how I recommended that you give the main quest secondary focus? It's only because its delivery and direction are not as fleshed out or intricate as the over world. Here is a game that is better than the sum of its parts with the main plot line being the weakest link.

The story is at best indifferent and at worst incoherent. So many key words are tossed around, complimented by so many proper place names. Tenebrae, Nifleheim, Accordo, Altissia, Insomnia. Most of these places serve only to advance the story, not offering the same kind of leisurely gallivanting afforded in Lucis. As a result, they serve as set pieces that allow for the progression from one chapter to the next but feel under-utilized, lacking the same level of richness as that found in Lucis. At the end of the main story line, after a series of ever more grandiose events and battles, the final confrontation seems like quite a let-down. It's as if Square-Enix needed a decade to populate multiple layers of content around the main story but not saving enough for when the time came to realize it.

Oh well. At the end of the day, Final Fantasy XV is still quite good. It's graphically gorgeous and pleasing to behold. Noctis and his friends are likeable and endearing, and there are so many hunts to engage, fish to catch, ingredients to find, and items to collect that it really makes no difference how under-developed the plot is.

You'll have the opportunity to race chocobos, pimp your car ride, create custom elemental spells, and spend ability points across an intricate skill tree. Along the way you may find yourself just cruising along the coastal highway soaking in the sunshine because, wouldn't ya know, that's the most important thing to do at the moment. When it gets dark, pitch a tent at the local haven and sit back and enjoy some of Ignis's fine gourmet seafood. The stars are out tonight. Dawn may be only a few hours away, but now it is time to sit around the campfire and revel with your friends. Tomorrow is for saving the world.


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Community review by Fiddlesticks (February 01, 2017)

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hastypixels posted February 01, 2017:

This is one of the best reviews of this game I've read. There's a focus on the plot being weak in places, but not why that's the case. Maybe it just more sense the way you wrote it, to me.

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