January 01, 2017

Final Fantasy XV - Review

When Final Fantasy XV was officially revealed, I will admit, it grabbed my attention, as a general rule, I don’t play JRPG’s, I find them to bogged down in mechanics and puff story, but XV seemed to shake things up enough that I wanted to play it.

The story of Final Fantasy XV is quite large and does take some time to get going, as well as revealing elements, but it is a good story. Noctis, the Crown Prince, is on his way to marry Lady Lunafreya, uniting two nations and more, when the car he is in breaks down, Ignis, the cook/knowledge man remains in the car to steer it, while Prompto, the wise cracking member of the group and Gladiolus, the muscle help Noctis to push the car to a nearby garage. After they make money by taking on side quests to repair the car, they make their way to Galden Quay only to discover that the boats to Altissia are not running and as they bunk down for the night in the hotel, they wake to discover that their home of Lucis has fallen to the army of Niflheim, which sends the four men to discover their past and the future of the land of Eos.

While the boys travel around, helping people of the world, they are confronted with the wilds, where sometime dangerous creatures roam and sometimes members of the Niflheim Army will drop in, but while the bulk of the story takes place around the boys, there is a larger cast of characters that help or fight against them. Lady Lunafreya is an Oracle, whom is helping out those she can as she makes her way forward, Cid and Cindy, while based at Hammerhead Garage, do help the boys out with upgrades for weapons and the Reglaia, their car. Ravus is a member of the Niflheim army, but more than that, he is a traitor to his family and opposes Noctis for personal reasons and finally there is Ardyn, a bloke who is more than he seems, combined all the characters provide a level of depth to the game that helps seal the world as a place that could exist, however on their own they all present traits that are quite annoying. Each of the four boys fits into a mould of generic Japanese character design, the guy with glasses must be smart, the youngest looking must be annoying and so on, which is a shame.

Where the game does break new ground, at least for Final Fantasy is that the world is fully explorable, with combat taking place in real time, as the default state, the game loses the JRPG tag and becomes more of a regular RPG. There are a lot of times where the J still pops it head back up again, the characters are the common, the menu design is the other, but for the most part, this is the best Final Fantasy game I have played and by far the most appealing to newcomers. As you explore the world, you can discover minerals and other items you can collect, which can be used for weapon upgrades, new recipes or selling to make more money, so exploring can be rewarding, but as you explore, you will also discover camping spots, where you can pitch a tent and relax for a night. If you are near a town, or garage, you can usually get a trailer or motel room to spend the night, which is how you can claim any xp you have earnt. Earning it is simple, completing quests with net you some, but you can also earn it by defeating monsters or bad guys as you explore the world, perhaps the easiest way is taking on monster hunts. You don’t need to rest each night, but until you do, the xp does not count and you won’t level up.

Outside of collecting random items or farming for xp, the bulk of your gameplay experience is going to come from travelling the world, as you do, each of the boys will have things to talk about, while the conversations are usually nothing of importance, it does highlight the bond that they share. When you are out of the car, exploring the towns or wandering the fields, sometimes they can highlight things worth checking out, which helps sell the fact the world is worth looking around. The problem with the world is that apart from a few locations, not counting towns or garages, the world is pretty barren and it gets worse when you are restricted from free exploration later. The towns are wonderfully detailed, each location has its own unique look and they do feel like places you want to explore, but they are woefully under developed. Outside of a few places where you can interact with people or shops, the towns are devoid of things to do, which is a shame.

The other massive issue I have with the game, is that the game does some strange things, it will stop you from jumping over a hedge in a town, but let you leap up rocks out in the wild. Driving the Regalia feels more like Autopia at Disneyland than anything else, you can barely make turns on your own, which should be expected as there is a U-turn button, you can’t drive around cars that are going slower than you and worst of all, the car is slow. When you are on foot and exploring caves or such, there are other weird issues, like the fact that you have to stop and press x to walk under a low section of cave, or to sidle along a small ledge, the issue is that the game sometimes will display the prompt, but not actually respond to that command yet, so Noctis would be jumping around the place. When in combat, I found it to be a mixed bag of responses, sometimes I could go in and dominate the battle, other times, with the same enemies present, I would be destroyed myself, there was no balance and add to that, that the Niflheim Army would randomly drop soldiers down, I had one group appear, then 3 lots of more appear as I ended the last lot, which left me battling for ages.

One part of the game I can’t be too critical of is the looks, the game has moments where it is just beyond insane at how good it looks, each time that happened, I was blown away. The characters look nice, but as stated earlier, they do all fit within a mould, the problem with them is that their personality traits are also defined by the voices they have, Noctis is a moody teen type and the character voice matches, even before you hear characters speak, you know how they will sound. There is a nice blend though of speeches from people that live in the towns or are about the place and while they sound nice, they tend to repeat often, or at least until the next major event takes place. Visually though, there were a few issues I noticed, while the whole picture you see is detailed, there are times when you can look to close, only to notice some low-res textures or bleeding effect from particles. Now while they are not things you might notice all the time, given how great the rest of the game does look, they do stand out easily enough.

When it comes to the music though the game is a strange mix of in car radio, delivered mostly through the purchasing of old Final Fantasy albums in shops or through a few random songs from real world artists. When on foot, the music is subtle and helps play to the strengths the game has, when night falls and if you are unlucky enough to be out in the wilds, the music takes on a hauntingly adept presence, which helps sell the danger that the world provides at night. The towns each have their own themes, which help you know just where you are, which is nice. Overall, the score of Final Fantasy XV is well done, while I would have enjoyed more selection from the car, I mean don’t misunderstand, the old scores are great, but some new tracks designed to be listen to while driving around, would have been welcome.

Final Fantasy XV is a game that I enjoyed, I normally avoid JRPG’s simply because they overload their game with so many sub-systems, it becomes a chore to play them. Here, the game is an equal blend of east and west RPG’s, it is open and more appealing because of that. While the characters never break out of the first impressions I got from them and the world tends to fall towards the empty side of the scale, it is still worth playing. 

Thanks to Square Enix for supplying the game for review

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