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Final Fantasy XV: Royal Edition (PlayStation 4) artwork

Final Fantasy XV: Royal Edition (PlayStation 4) review

"A fun game regardless of how frequently it tries to shoot itself in the foot."

Royal Edition or not, Final Fantasy XV is kind of a mess, but I still generally had a great time. A lot of that might be me -- after all, ever since I bought The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, I've been hooked on games possessing open worlds littered with quest-bestowing NPCs. This game provides that in a large world with an original vibe. For me to not offer praise would mean that Square-Enix completely failed.

And that didn't happen. The game is rickety at times (hope you LOVE load times!) and I found all sorts of minor annoyances that prevent me from giving an over-exuberant recommendation outright demanding you play this. Still, I spent well over 100 hours in its world, running through the main quest, all sorts of optional activities and DLC episodes. I even dropped a few dollars on the one DLC, Episode Ardyn, that was released too late to be on the Royal Edition -- probably a good idea, as I found it more enjoyable than any of the others, if only for the hilariously out-of-place rap-metal tune looping throughout the majority of its duration.

Final Fantasy XV is one of those games with a number of great elements, each dragged down somewhat by one flaw or another. The plot involves Noctis, the crown prince of a kingdom, going on a road trip with three friends to hook up with his bride-to-be, Luna. However, not long after he's started his adventure, the local evil empire launches an all-out invasion on the crown city, killing Noct's dad and sending the land into chaos. Now, the goal changes a bit, as Noct now has to prove worthy of becoming king by going to a bunch of royal tombs to earn the blessings of his forefathers.

One big strength of the plot is how it is pretty fluid. Finding those tombs is the primary focus of its early chapters, but events eventually transpire that put a bit more urgency into Noct's quest, so reaching many of them becomes the work of optional side-quests. Noct's friends individually leave him for their own adventures, which are detailed in DLC episodes. Just because something is integral to the plot at one point doesn't mean it will still matter a couple chapters later -- as time progresses, your party's priorities will change to reflect what's going on in the world.

On the other hand, the plot is so tied to Noctis and comrades Gladiolus, Ignis and Prompto that most other characters fade so far into the background that they may as well be in a different game. Ardyn, the mysterious and enigmatic chancellor for that empire, is the only member of the support cast who is truly saved from that fate. That guy seems well aware of who the main characters are, as he makes a point to cross their paths regularly -- sometimes to help, sometimes to be cryptic and sometimes to commit plot-altering acts that are the stuff of major spoilers. Most others aren't so lucky. Cor Leonis might be your kingdom's most elite soldier, but he gets more screen time in Gladio's DLC than in the actual game. The emperor? Seen in a cutscene early in the game and then all but disappears. Verstael, the mad scientist responsible for the empire's genetically-augmented army? Also in that cutscene and a major player in multiple DLC episodes, but another "Sir Not Appearing in This Film" during the main game.

But for a good, long while, stuff like that won't be a bother. This game offers an interesting amalgam of your typical fantasy world and a more modern land. There will be lots of swords and magic on display, but you'll be driving a car possessing a CD player, so you can collect discs containing soundtracks to most every Final Fantasy game, as well as a number of other tunes. Settlements also have a modern vibe to them, containing diners and general stores, as well as motels and campers for you to spend the night -- a necessity for a good chunk of the game, as powerful demonic foes come out after dark. Then, you'll leave those safe confines to delve into the usual ruins and caves found in games of this sort.

It's a great world that just doesn't feel as alive as it could. By going to diners, you'll get a number of monster hunts and there also are a handful of NPCs who will hand out quests, but you can only interact with those few people, with the majority of NPCs being placeholders mainly serving to get in your way when you're trying to walk. After you've made a trip around the world, the only thing preventing you from utilizing fast travel whenever possible is the simple joy of looking at pretty graphics while listening to soundtracks. And there isn't exactly a great variety in the game's quests, either. Many have you killing monsters in order to acquire something. And if that isn't the goal, watch out! You might be doing something really "fun" like scouring a decent-sized chunk of real estate for a few tiny frogs while airships drop platoons of Magitek Troopers on your head, forcing you to interrupt your search to engage in battle.

At least the fighting is pretty fun. You'll generally control Noctis, although this version does give the option to switch control to one of his friends. Noct can equip up to four weapons and/or spells to be switched between with the press of a button and also possesses the power to instantly zip from one place to another, leading to a fast-paced action-RPG battle system that reminded me a bit of Kingdom Hearts. It's one of those things you'll have to experience. Early on, I found myself struggling a lot and Noct was looking like an albatross around the neck of his friends, but as time progressed, I got more and more competent until I'd reached the point where I was more than holding my own. That's good, as the tougher monsters can chop through your life really quickly, if not outright kill with their attacks. Better keep all sorts of healing items on hand: potions to restore health, elixirs for when attacks also trim off a character's maximum health and phoenix downs for those instant-death attacks. The more, the merrier with these items, so if skillful play isn't working for you, there's still the option to win by attrition!

As far as the main game goes, there were some improvements made in the Royal Edition from the original release. A few more quests and high-level monsters were added to the mix and the final couple chapters were improved upon, with you receiving the ability to bypass a decent-sized chunk of the tedious penultimate chapter, as well as getting a few extra quests to flesh out the final one. Personally, I think they could have done a bit more work with that conclusion, as it abruptly ends with a boss rush. While most classic Final Fantasy games provided large areas to explore that happened to have a lot of bosses, this one just shuttles you from one big battle to the next with only empty corridors separating them.

I could go on about little annoyances like that. The concept of four friends bickering and bantering their way through a long road trip is fun and engaging at first, but when you've listened to Prompto whining because it's getting dark and he wants to find a place to rest a few dozen times, you'll want to mute him permanently. The whole party for that matter, as various conversations will be repeated ad nauseam. This game's story spans all sorts of media, so to get the full picture, you'll want to play all the DLC, watch a movie and, I think, even read a book. Or at least skim online summaries of that stuff. I didn't think any of Noct's friends were as fun to control as he was, with Ignis being the only one giving him a run for his money. If you take on the late-game Adamantoise hunt, enjoy fighting a monster so massive that the camera has no clue what to do. Some of the most impressive bosses visually were the least entertaining to fight, with you only needing to input simple commands at particular times. And so on.

I could sum up many of my issues with Final Fantasy XV by saying it's stuck between eastern and western RPGs. It has the open world and general non-linearity of the latter, with its large number of hunts and side quests to keep you busy. However, only a tiny handful of those optional activities have any actual story behind them, with the vast majority being of the "go here, do this, come back, get reward" variety with no frills attached. Virtually all the story-telling is attached to the main quest, with everything else treated like busy-work, instead of helping to flesh out the world.

Regardless of flaws, I still was really into this game for a long time, playing through the main quest and into the post-game materials until I finally got stymied by a 100-floor dungeon primarily populated by damage sponges wielding all sorts of attacks designed to tear through my elixirs and phoenix downs and decided that sort of thing isn't exactly enjoyable. The plot was pretty engaging, with fewer characters having plot armor than one would assume, leading to an ending best described as "bittersweet". The more I got used to controlling Noct, the more fun I had battling, which made taking out those hunt quarries an enjoyable task. Final Fantasy XV was a fun game, but it's hard to not imagine how great it could have been with a few things altered. Square-Enix tried with this Royal Edition and did so to a degree, but while playing it, I couldn't shake the feeling that more could have been done.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (April 02, 2021)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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