It’s been over 10 years since I saw the first images of what would eventually become Final Fantasy XV. In that time, I’ve seen this highly anticipated game go through many transitions during its development, much to the dismay of fans around the world. But was this actually a blessing in disguise for the game that ended up releasing as Final Fantasy XV? I can say, with confidence, yes it was. It might not be the game everyone first saw back in 2006, but Final Fantasy XV has become an interesting tale about Square Enix’s long running series, but also where it may be going towards in the future. This is a fantasy based on reality for everyone, longtime fans and newcomers alike.
Final Fantasy XV is a story about a young man named Noctis and his entourage of friends. Galdiolus, Ignis, and Prompto act as both escorts for the prince to be, as well as confidants and a support group for Noctis. There is a plot that has the traditional story characteristics from the series, but the heart of the story comes from the interactions between Noctis and his friends.
The small banter during calm rides in the car, interactions at camp, and even the bickering back & forth during battles; it’s the small things that make Final Fantasy XV stand out from its predecessors in a big way. The characters themselves aren’t always likeable at first, but the more time you spend with them, the more they start to grow on you.
Outside of the main party of characters however, the main story itself is probably the game’s biggest weakness. Some motivations for characters are a little confusing, and a few big events don’t always make sense in the larger context of the plot unfolding. A big disappointment however is the use of cutscenes from the KINGSGLAIVE: Final Fantasy XV movie added in between some of the game’s chapters.
They appear as scenes with only music in the background as the visuals move on screen, no dialogue or sound effects. Just empty music showing what transpired at that point elsewhere, but without any other context to go with it. These came with an update to the game around launch and feel shoved into the experience at the eleventh hour.
But how does Final Fantasy XV stand out in terms of gameplay? Simply put, the game plays out more like an action role-playing game than any other traditional Final Fantasy title. You actively fight enemies by hitting one button and can move around the battlefield with ease, even warping across great distances to recover from fighting. There is a Wait Mode that slows the action down and gives you a moment to plan out an approach, but it’s unnecessary in most scenarios, though it is nice to have the option available.
Fighting enemies is done in real time with a combination of weapons that Noctis and the crew can discover on their trip. Noctis himself has access to a number of abilities that separate him from the group, but its heavily encouraged throughout the game for the party to work together. The guys fight together, support each other, and even will take critical hits for one another. There is a number of team-up moves Noctis can engage in with everyone in the party, dealing massive damage and providing great setups for even more attacks. Teamwork is key to overcoming the biggest fights in Final Fantasy XV, and the game makes sure you understand that crystal clearly.
However magic, a big part of Final Fantasy in the past, has taken a back seat in favor of engaging enemies with weapon attacks. You can create and use spells that are mixed together from basic elementals like fire, ice and thunder; however I didn’t find myself using magic often when I got into a fight. Most of the time, my weapon attacks or team attacks would be more than enough to bring down any enemy, so I went without using magic for long periods of time.
The usage of items feels somewhat similar, as I would only really use big items like Elixir and Phoenix Down in most situations and ignore everything else. You can equip both to party members and have them be used when necessary, but it still feels like both magic and items are secondary to your basic weapon attacks throughout the entire experience.
Leveling up the party in Final Fantasy XV borrows characteristics from past entries of the series, while trying to make it look and feel unique. The Ascendance board is where you level up Noctis and the group as they earn experience (EXP) and Ability Points (AP). You can only earn EXP from battling and completing quests, then resting at camps, which in turn give you AP to spend on abilities.
It can get a little tedious earning AP to gain stronger abilities or stat boosts. In some cases, it feels like you don’t earn enough AP to get most abilities until much later in the game. Branching off the main story into the many side quests can help alleviate this, but you can still hit a brick wall in progress if you aren’t going out to gather more EXP to level up.
The world you explore is large and absolutely beautiful visually in Final Fantasy XV. Moving around with the Regalia, Noctis and crew’s means of transportation, can sometimes take long to get around to different quest locations. This becomes obsolete however because of the small banter between Noctis and everyone in the car, as well as the jaw-dropping visuals that breeze by you as the car moves forward.
Luckily, you can absorb everything without a care in the world by allowing Ignis to drive the Regalia as you hang out in the back seat. You do have options to fast travel without the long interlude, as well as the ability to drive the car yourself to a destination. Driving isn’t as open as you might think however, so don’t expect to crash the car into random things on the road, but it’s not as much a hindrance as it is a safety net for your adventure.
Whether or not Final Fantasy XV lived up to the hype of its ten year development is debatable. However, what we got in the end is an enjoyable experience that feels different from previous Final Fantasy games. It’s not perfect by any means, but Final Fantasy XV is a great game for everyone to dive into, especially if you weren’t a fan of the more recent entries of the series. Noctis and crew are an interesting group of characters that make this road trip one you will definitely want to get lost in.
This review was based on a digital review code for Final Fantasy XV on the PlayStation 4, provided by Square Enix.