Final Fantasy XV
Final Fantasy XV is the latest instalment in a 30 year series by Square Enix, it is one of the most popular and successful JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) but has largely lost its way over the last 15 years with many, including myself, holding 2001’s Final Fantasy X as the best “recent game”. The challenge faced by Square Enix has been to make the transition from the hugely popular turn-based strategy combat of the 90’s and early 00’s to the more popular smooth action combat (exemplified in the outstanding Witcher 3 of the pretty average Shadow of Mordor). This has meant the last few FF games have completely failed to engage my attention. So it was with some trepidation I approached FFXV and, to be perfectly honest, I was so disillusioned with the Final Fantasy series I was completely ignoring the game. Luckily for me a copy found its way to my desk!
The games title screen declares “A Final Fantasy for Fans and First-Timers” a bold claim but frankly one that captures the spirit of the new game. Long term fans will cackle with fanboy delight as Prompto hums recognizable tunes and drops in jokes but new players will not feel intimated but a highly technical combat system or overwhelmed with assumed knowledge. The very first thing that struck a chord with me is the car, I’m still not sure how I feel about it (given how clunky it is to drive) but it is something new. The absence of epic cut scenes is also notable and not in a good way. The story seems bare-bones and the characters go largely undeveloped as individuals to care about. I can understand why they have made some of these changes; the money involved in video games demands a wide audience but the one thing the Souls games have taught me is the futility of life… oh wait, I mean that niche games have a place in modern gaming.
Whilst we are discussing the style of FFXV I am very disappointed with the small size of the party and the absence of female playable characters. I love the JRPG style; absurd weapons/hair and female outfits are one of the things that characterises the style and I particularly look forward to. Gaming is full of traditional fantasy and post-apocalyptic tropes and FF used to provide some variation to that. Sadly, in FFXV they have gone for a gritty real world and a band of young men dressed in black which, again, makes the game more widely appealing for the average gamer but, again, loses some of its essential character.
But as any old person will tell you, it should be about style over substance so what about the game itself. The gameplay is really very good but not without flaws.
Flaw number 1, a 10gb day one patch, flaw number two: a 3gb day 3 patch. I know this is part and parcel of modern gaming particularly with such a large and expansive game world. Truth be told I’d rather they patch the game than leave it buggy but 13gb within 7 days of launch is bit over the top. The only other flaw I can think of is that I’ve frequently been in a fight and had another fight launch right on top of it. What I mean is that whilst exploring the wilderness you encounter creatures and so can engage them in combat but repeatedly I would then have an Imperial troop ship drop right in on top of me so I’d have no choice but to run away. Either fight alone would have been good but both together becomes nearly impossible and burning through potions just exploring the wilderness gets frustrating quickly. Maybe it’s some kind of difficultly/level management system I’ve misunderstood but it’s part of the reason I’ve given up on exploring.
The other “feature” that makes exploring so frustrating is the day-night cycle. This has become mandatory for all open world games. It has little impact in most games but the last couple of FF games I’ve played has made the day night cycle too dominant in the game. In FFXV exploring (or even running for shelter) after dark is pretty much a death sentence. Sometimes you get lucky and can hide behind a bolder (I had one enjoyable night spent watching 2 groups of demons fight each other) alternatively it’s a good time to play the fishing sub-game if you find a fishing spot but overall the day cycle is too short and forces you to micromanage travel time and exploration. If I was being generous I would say it gives the game a sense of urgency but really this game feels like slipping into a comfy dressing gown. It is a pleasure to roam and explore, the game pace feels relaxed (a bit like a road trip with mates when you’ve got no set destination) but the main quest line feels urgent and dangerous. It seems to me they have used the day night cycle to force a bit of urgency into what otherwise would feel like a relaxed romp through the wilderness, and I’m fairly sure this was not what they wanted.
Two key areas of any RPG are character progression and combat. The combat is actually pretty good, if not for some clunky camera work and the slightly broken Wait Timer (this pauses the combat to allow for tactical changes and can be turned off in options) it would be excellent. The style of combat sits somewhere between The Witcher 3 and Shadow of Morder. Its tactical enough to satisfy most players looking for the old skool FF experience through its wide selection of weapon types, elemental spells and special abilities but it has the fluid physical attacks of Shadow of Mordor or Batman. To be honest it’s not a reason to play this game but it does make engagements enjoyable.
Character progression is suitably epic but also much simpler than previous versions. It’s the classic, gain experience to level up which provides Action Points to spend on different skills. These skills are split into different categories and better skills cost more AP. All in all, its satisfactory but it doesn’t have any degree of customization. Noctis (the main player character) will always develop in the same way and where in the classic games if you prefer to play a Summoner or Mage as your main combatant you could do that by changing the members in your party. Not so in FFXV.
So overall Final Fantasy XV succeeds as being a game for the everyman but in the process has sold its Final Fantasy soul.
Rating: M Violence.