Ten years. Ten long, arduous years. A lot has changed since E3 2006. Back then, I was still a Sophomore in College, living in Las Vegas, and not doing something I absolutely love. One particular trailer that was shown at the conference that year was for Final Fantasy Versus XIII, which was originally supposed to be part of the same overall storyline that encompassed Final Fantasy XIII and its two sequels. But the game could never truly make it off the ground, for one reason or another. Finally in 2012, it was rebooted with a new director, Hajime Tabata (Final Fantasy Type-0), and rebranded as the next mainline entry in the Final Fantasy franchise. Fans had a hard time letting go off the first six years of its storied development. But Tabata had a vision for Final Fantasy and, using a lot of the assets that were already in place from the brief work done on Versus XIII, created a story that he wanted to tell. As the game will remind you upon starting it up, this is a Final Fantasy that is made for fans of the series and newcomers alike. A fantasy based in reality. And truthfully, I hope this is the return of Final Fantasy being the mega RPG franchise it was known for back in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Read on for our full review of Final Fantasy XV.
Title: Final Fantasy XV
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
Release Date: November 29, 2016
Copy purchased for the sake of this review
At its core, Final Fantasy XV is very much baked from the same ingredients as previous entries in the series. The usual classic details are all found throughout the main story that spans across fourteen chapters. However, this entry also propels the franchise forward more so than any other Final Fantasy title has been able to do thus far. Taking a page out of western roleplaying games like The Witcher and Dragon Age, Final Fantasy XV features a massive open world fully explorable at different portions of the game. You start out having one section available to you, and eventually you are able to move into a much larger section, followed by having the entire world of Eos to explore.
A landmass this big has not been seen in Final Fantasy outside of the MMORPG entries, Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV. It was overwhelming at times, but taken in chunks and not setting out to do everything all at once made it very manageable to complete almost everything the game was asking you to do without getting burned out. And you can absolutely go back and complete quests, optional areas and dungeons, and work on the platinum trophy after completing the main story, which that took me about 52 hours, but I also did a lot of the work toward the Platinum trophy before the final chapter. I have about ten hours to go before I achieve the Platinum, but for those that just want to experience the story told in Final Fantasy XV, the main quests can be done in roughly 20 hours.
So what exactly is Final Fantasy XV all about? Without giving away too much (because this tale is best left discovered on your own without knowing too much about what is going to occur), Noctis is the rightful heir to the throne of Lucis, and after some tragic events that unfold in the movie KINGSGLAIVE: Final Fantasy XV, Noctis is set out on reclaiming his kingdom from the Niflheim Empire. He is aided by his closest friends and band of brothers, Galdiolus, Ignis, and Prompto. Together, the four of them journey out to make sure that Noctis retakes what is rightfully his. Along the way, you’ll run into quite the cast of characters and supporting party members, in what turns out to be a very surprising and rather good story underneath it all. I highly recommend watching both KINGSGLAIVE: Final Fantasy XV, as well as the Brotherhood anime, before playing through the game. Doing so will help you understand a lot of plot details that are not directly told to the player in Final Fantasy XV, and may leave the average person out in the dark on some rather important details that are happening.
The combat flows extremely nice, and just works great 98% of the time. The other two percent I had to struggle with the controls a bit near the beginning and figure out the precise timing for blocks and warp strikes, but once I did, it just felt so natural and like the natural progression for combat in the franchise. Noctis can equip four weapons and/or magic, one into each slot. Changing weapons is as simple as pressing one of the directional buttons, and to attack, just hold down the circle button.
You don’t want to get too careless though, as you cannot block while you are attacking. So you’ll need to figure out timing and weave in blocks by holding down the square button. It’s this dance that players will perfect throughout the journey spent with Noctis and his companions. Once the system is perfected and you have a feel for how everything works and gels together, it’s perhaps one of the best combat systems featured in a Final Fantasy title to date. Don’t get me wrong. I love a classic turn-based battle system. But there’s always been something I preferred more with action combat systems, and Final Fantasy XV just nails it.
The summons too that you’ll unlock over the campaign are amazing to see if you can actually get them to trigger outside of the scripted scenarios. Each summon has a unique set of requirements that must be met during a battle that will trigger Noctis to have the ability to summon them by holding down the L2 button. More often than not, your party members must be dead or close to dead, and Noctis must also be in a state of danger. Besides that, the location you are fighting in and other aspects all play into if you will see these summons or not. Truthfully, I only saw them a handful of times outside of the scripted events, so the RNG was definitely not in my favor. But I did have the pleasure of seeing each one at least once, and the fact that they are so rare made it more special in my opinion anyway.
They have also gone a different route with the Magic system, and after getting used to it, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. Spread out around the world and always found near campsites are magical deposits that Noctis can absorb. There are three types, Fire, Ice, and Lightning. Players can absorb all three up to 99/99, and you can mix and match the various elements in order to create different spells in the Elemancy menu option. In order to create a spell, a Magic Flask is needed, but these are easy to come by when just playing through the story, so don’t put much thought into running out of slots in order to store magic.
Another feature found within the magic system is the ability to attach items to your spells, in order to give them different properties, different actions, boost your experience when cast, allow for additional casts, etc. It seems complex at first, but is actually quite simple once you get used to navigating around the various menus and options in order to do exactly what you want. It’s helpful to have one of each different type of element ready at your disposal so that it can be used for weakness attacks against enemies. You can, however, go into the menu during combat and craft magic if you run out during some of the longer boss fights and more challenging end-game dungeon fights. Just be careful when casting spells! Magic Spells are not partial to anyone on the battlefield, as Noctis and his friends can also be damaged, sometimes significantly, by your own spells that you cast.
There’s one more system to talk about for combat, and that is the Armiger. Throughout the story, Noctis will be visiting certain Tombs of past Fallen Kings of Lucis in order to claim their spiritual weapons, which eventually make up the Armiger. Once Noctis has a few at his disposal, you’ll start to see a meter build up around the left hand corner of the screen. Once this bar is full, pressing both the L1 and R1 buttons simultaneously will activate the Armiger, allowing Noctis to go all out against all the enemies currently in the battle. It’s a rather quick way to dispose of certain creatures, and can be extremely helpful (and even crucial) during key boss fights to ensure your victory in the end. There are thirteen weapons found in Tombs across the world, and getting some of the weapons ended up being some of the most fun we had while playing through Final Fantasy XV. The hidden dungeons, side quests, and different areas you’ll visit while completing the Armiger are definitely must-see areas in Eos.
Leveling up in Final Fantasy XV is different from every other entry in the series. As you complete quests and kill enemies, your party will earn experience. The experience is not automatically applied to the characters though, as you don’t officially receive it until you rest for the evening, either at a campsite or lodging. This makes sleeping at night even more important, so that your party members will start to increase in power and have deeper health pools to withstand tougher enemies as the game moves on. Also, the strongest enemies only come out at night, and until you increase in strength, it’s a good idea to just avoid those creatures for the time being.
You can and will start to see hotels and various other types of lodgings that offer multipliers for your experience when sleeping. An inn at Galdin Quay offers a multiplier of 2, while an inn at Altissia offers a multiplier of 3. Coupling those with a handful of side quests and tougher enemy kills can easily increase your party’s level by anywhere from 4 to 10 levels depending on how much experience was banked before sleeping.
Noctis, Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto all have unique skills that will level up automatically throughout the campaign, as long as you do various tasks. Noctis has the fishing skill, which means that as long as you fish at various fishing spots, it’ll level up based on the amount of fish you catch. Gladio has the survival skill, which literally just requires the four to walk around the map. The more you walk and avoid using the Regalia and Chocobos, the faster this will level up. Ignis has the cooking skill, and it can only be leveled up when camping at a campsite. Using any other type of inn will not increase his skill, as he only cooks when camping underneath the stars. And finally, Prompto has the photography skill. Every day, he will take a certain number of pictures that can be saved or shared, or just completely ignored. You again will only see these photos when sleeping for the night. Leveling up each skill will unlock various rewards for each member of the group, and all of the skills can go up to 10.
The world of Eos may be my favorite locations to explore in a Final Fantasy game to date. Not only for how massive and open it is, but for the banter that occurs between the four guys while you’re out killing monsters or completing side quests. The comradery that they share and the attention to detail that Square Enix put into each one of their unique personalities makes it very easy to think of them as friends, and to want to see them succeed in their journey. Hearing Gladio give Noctis a hard time during combat, seeing how excited Prompto gets when he catches a good photo, or witnessing Ignis “come up with a new recipe!” after defeating enemies that you haven went up against before makes these characters feel more alive than any other characters found in the series up to this point.
Final Fantasy XV is not a perfect game by any means. The pacing of the main campaign is rather awkward. You start off with a vast open-world to explore, and as the game carries on, you eventually find yourself in very limited areas, with basically only a straight line available to you in order to proceed. Starting with Chapter 10, and continuing on until the game ends, Noctis and his crew will be unable to really explore the world like you did in the first nine chapters. There is a way to go back and do side quests and things you may have missed, but for the main story, it’s all very linear. We would have liked to see more of a balance with how this was handled. Weaving the linear sections in with the open-world sections would have made the main quests a more enjoyable experience, rather than just tacking all of the open-world parts on at the beginning, and all of the linear parts at the end. Once the game ends, it’s fully opened back up to players, which is nice.
There are several camera issues as well. During battles, the camera can often get stuck on terrain or be placed behind a rock or trees, or even behind larger creatures, making it extremely difficult to see what you’re doing when fighting. Luckily, the combat system is rather easy to manipulate and handling it even without being able to truly see sometimes is not entirely difficult. Still, this should have been addressed more at some point during the development cycle.
The last complaint is for the side quests found throughout the journey. While I certainly don’t mind the MMO style of fetch quests since I have been playing World of Warcraft since the early days, it gets rather tiresome running back and forth to the same areas and quest givers over and over again, especially when the loading screens are so insanely long. If the game was able to load a bit faster, this may not have been as much of an issue. But spending forty seconds to over a minute waiting for the game to load, just to go pick up some random item behind a shack or kill an enemy in three hits, and then warp back to the quest giver that triggers another loading screen is crazy. Don’t get me wrong. There are quite a few awesome and fun side quests found in Final Fantasy XV. There should have been more of a focus on those types of quests, and less on the fetch quests. Keep in mind, this review was conducted using a standard PlayStation 4, so the load times may be better on a PlayStation 4 Pro. But, if they are, we cannot speak to that since we have yet to test it out.
Final Fantasy XV does not disappoint after waiting for so long to enjoy it. The relationship that formed throughout the game between Noctis and his friends is definitely one of the strongest aspects of the story. But the rest of the story is just as good, even if it is lighthearted at times and silly. It does have its moments that’ll tug on your heartstrings, and the soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura helps paint an epic tale that I was glad to have been a part of and experience after first seeing Noctis in a trailer over ten years ago. Final Fantasy XV certainly is moving the franchise forward in the right direction. I absolutely cannot wait to see where the series will go with Final Fantasy XVI. I just hope it isn’t 2026 before we see another mainline entry.