Final Fantasy XV has been out for a while, and Becky Armstrong has made her way to the end, and shares her thoughts (and spoilers) about the video game.
ROADTRIP TO SAVE THE WORLD
The game opens with everything on fire. This is not some exaggeration. The player doesn’t know who is who or what is going on, but there is fire everywhere and these guys who are obviously the main character’s teammates are trying to protect him. Then the scenery suddenly changes, and it’s obvious this is a “well, you’re probably wondering how I got in this situation” moment, which then launches the player to some point in the past. Obvious by the appearance of the main character and his companions, it wasn’t too long ago.
The main character is Noctis, prince of the kingdom of Lucis, and at the true start of the game he is on his way to meet his bethrothed. She is the Oracle Lunafreya, and their marriage is part of a truce between the Lucian kingdom and the Nifiheim Empire. The three guys from the opening scene who were protecting Noctis are here now, and the player finds out they are part of his Kingsguard. A very convenient reason to why they’re going to stick around the whole time.
It isn’t long before things go south, and the plot to kick in gear. Betrayal and intrigue abound, and Noctus finds himself in the middle of it all, with his kingdom as the prize (well, something in it). The wedding plans have to be put on hold while he and his betrothed escape and elude their betrayers. And somewhere in all of this, Noctis has to assemble ancient skills from his ancestors if he is to save the world.
It’s familiar story in that way that RPGs can get, and fairly easy to spot some of the tropes. But since every story has been told before, it’s all about the delivery. The characters feel like real people, and the voice actors do an incredible job bringing them to life.
Due to some time constraints, I watched most of the game as my fiancee played it (I skipped most of her level-grinding). She gave me her detailed analysis, which was invaluable coming from someone who has played every single game and spinoff in the Final Fantasy universe. I did, however, get a chance to try some of the combat. This review will be on the PS4 version, and the copy of the game we have was downloaded from the Playstation Store.
So as the player goes to save the world, his party members are also conveniently the members of his Kingsguard. As the crown prince, he needs protection. The members, Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto, are around Noctis’ age and also his best friends. Each of them, of course, have something that they do that they’re best at, and it’s very convenient when one is trying to survive on the road and also stay on the down low. I’m also surprised at how conservative Noctis and the Kingsguard outfits are. Well, conservative for Final Fantasy; they’re in lots of leather, but the costume design isn’t strange. It kind of throws me off sometimes, but it doesn’t bug me.
There’s plenty of romantic angst with Noctis and Luna worrying for each other’s safety, since they hadn’t gotten to see each other before the plot got going, but it’s done well and I never felt hit over the head with it.
The best about Noctis, I think, is that he doesn’t hold back from his friends when something is wrong. When he starts getting visions, it freaks him out, which is understanding. When his friends ask what happened, he tells them the truth that he really doesn’t know, and tries to describe it the best he can. There are dialogue options to make Noctus more of a standoffish protagonist via the player, but my fiance never selected those.
The Final Fantasy franchise, which has been around since 1987, has had a tradition of being self-contained stories that have fighting systems and naming schemes for weapons, magic, and summons. There are games that break these rules, like X-2 or Tactics for example, but it is almost always possible to play an individual main Final Fantasy game and not need the others to explain the story. That is not the case with XV.
Players are strongly encouraged to watch both the movie and short anime series before putting the game into play. While I’m all for auxiliary information and world building, I detest the idea that I have to watch anything before putting the game in my console. As one of the titles in the main line of Final Fantasy games, XV needs to be able to stand on its own. With that in mind, because I’m sure many people playing this game won’t know about the other content, I have chosen not to watch it before playing the game.
Despite the bad taste in my mouth that this assumption had towards the fans, I have greatly enjoyed the story so far.
SAVE THE KINGDOM, SAVE THE WORLD
Before the game even starts, the player is given a chance to run through some tutorials and learn basic controls. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this. On one hand, it’s brilliant to get the tutorials out of the actual game, where it has annoyed gamers since gaming began. On the other, it makes the start of the actual game feel anticlimactic after having spent a half an hour doing tutorials. In the end, I think that this new method is going to be preferable, but because I’m not used to it, it still feels strange.
Noctis, as one might have gathered, is the main character of the story, and the one the player controls most of the time. I wouldn’t say he’s my favorite character, and of the list of Final Fantasy main characters, he isn’t my favorite there. But this also isn’t a strike against his personality. I do like him and enjoy seeing his story unfold, which is the most important thing.
His fighting gimmick is his ability to “warp,” which actually looks very cool. This is, however, the reason I didn’t think I’d do well playing this game. Too much moving with high-def graphics jumping around like that did make me motion sick, and there were some fights I couldn’t watch at all. Others I’d have to watch a little, then look away. My fiance loved it, though, and says that the gameplay is one of her favorite ones to date.
There is the option to either do real-time, or to do turn-based. The ability to do turn-based is explained in-game as an effect of Noctus’ warp drive powers. My fiancee didn’t get around to trying the turn-based, since it required putting Ability Points in that she wanted to put elsewhere.
It is also really funny to watch Noctis travel by throwing his javelin and warping to where it lands, and doing that over and over again. It reminds me of how I would roll everywhere in Kingdom Hearts because it was faster for moving around.
Final Fantasy XV has been a bit different in that the party members are pretty much set from the beginning, and no one else is introduced along the way. Any party members that join are temporary, and from this point in my fiancee’s playthrough, not recurring. While Final Fantasy XV is not the first game in the series to have a set team since the start, I don’t think that this is a good choice for gameplay.
My biggest criticism of the game, and it is a big one, is the lack of female companions. If this is a different world and a futuristic one, it shouldn’t be that hard to believe that a woman could be the member of the Kingsguard, could it? Or, in the very least, have the female characters join the team later. I would have significantly less problems with the Kingsguard being all men if female party members were introduced later. There are so many chances for this to happen in the game, as well. They could even duck in and out of the team as needed. This is a problem that fans of the franchise have been anticipating, as it has been known for some time that the main cast would be all male, but the presentation doesn’t suddenly change my perspective.
Upon doing some research, I discovered that the director who took over for Tetsuya Nomura, Hajime Tabata, believed that a story about four men and their bond as friends could not be told if a woman was present. That the dynamic would change. I would like to call that bluff and say that it would have been easy to have female companions come and go in character selection and still have plenty of stretches of story where it’s just The Guys. It would be incredibly easy to have Cindy and Iris as party members. Gentiana makes sense as well, and perhaps it would be spun as an optional quest, so that she’s just an NPC unless the player does the quest. It would be a good nod to previous Final Fantasy games.
Lady Luna could go either way, in terms on if she were to be a party member or NPC. There are good arguments for both sides. But I’m not as worried about that argument when there are other women who don’t need one to be party members.
Not having female party members, when the franchise has had a long history of them, is ridiculous. Sexism in gaming is nothing new, but it hurts when it comes from a franchise that I thought I could trust. Saying that there can’t be female party members because it would ruin the bro moments is an excuse for lazy writing, at the cost of the fans. I know of many people who will not pick up this title because of the exclusion.
FINAL FANTASY: FALLOUT EDITION
Long distance movement is handled with the Regalia, the super awesome car that the boys are roadtripping in. After a location is visited for the first time, fast travel is enabled whenever the player has access to the Regalia. As the car design suggests, it’s not great for offroading. That’s where traditional chocobos come in, or if suddenly the party loses the car.
Summons in this world have been boiled down to the essentials, and are referred to as Astrals. This is part of the Final Fantasy experience, to have a familiar cast of summons be available in some avenue. I don’t mind the summons line up being limited, as I’ve played games that had both expanded and also trimmed down line ups.
The magic system is similar to the junction system of Final Fantasy VIII, and the leveling system reminds me of the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X. The leveling system is much more user-friendly, and has the bonus of retaining the beauty of the sphere grid.
I did appreciate how easy it was to spot items, when the Noctus was in range. It was elegant and didn’t take away from the graphics at all.
My favorite surprise, in terms of mechanics, was the cooking feature. Ignis is the group cook, and the player has the chance to learn new recipes and then cook them depending on if they assemble the ingredients. Completed dishes grant temporary buffs to allies, which I thought was a clever way of working in support.
Prompto’s photography was another surprise. There are chances to do optional missions and take cool pictures as the player travels. And it actually is a lot of fun to look through the ones he takes, because he does take some when the player isn’t aware. I thought it was cool, but didn’t realize how much I was going to enjoy looking at his pictures.
It also gave the developers a chance to show off their awesome graphics, and I don’t mind at all. The game is so pretty that I love looking at stills of it, and it makes me wonder if Square-Enix is trying for Bethesda-level setting awesome. The fact that the landscape felt like it was trying to be from Fallout certainly kept that thought in my head.
The dungeons were hit or miss when it comes to design. They were always very pretty to look at, but a few were incredibly confusing to navigate. It’s a fine line to walk between challenging and aggravating, and a few times it does cross that line. There was also a lot of squeezing through tight spaces.
I know that some people have trouble with the uncanny valley, and I can see someone having problems with this game for that reason. I didn’t, but it might be worth previewing some scenes on YouTube if one has problems with it. My problems, as I mentioned earlier, had more to do with motion sickness.
There were plenty of easter eggs, not only Final Fantasy ones, to keep fans grinning. At the same time, it wasn’t anything that would drastically affect someone if they didn’t get the reference.
The same could be said for the music. I really loved how familiar themes were woven in, and everything that was new was also lovely. I don’t think it has the tear-jerking power that Final Fantasy X had, but that’s an almost-impossible standard to set other games to. But I like it enough to put the soundtrack on my wishlist, and don’t mind at all when my fiancee is grinding and I can hear the music while I’m doing something else. In its music, Final Fantasy XV delivers.
BOTTOM LINE: PLEASED
Despite my critical opinion about the party size and members, this game really is excellent. It has everything I want in an RPG: fun characters, interesting game mechanics woven into the quests to advance the story, a story I want to find out the ending of, and great music. That said, if I wasn’t reviewing this game, I could have easily waited on it for a few months for the price to drop.
The bugs are minimal, so it isn’t a matter of technology that I would encourage one to wait to buy this game. It will really depend on how much one is a fan of the franchise, and perhaps where they are on their video game to-play list. If someone were looking for a good RPG to pick up right now and wanted something new, I’d definitely recommend Final Fantasy XV. And if someone didn’t like previous Final Fantasy games because of gameplay, I think they would find this one refreshing.