Final Fantasy XV has a very interesting history behind it, an it may be one of the most important games Square Enix will release given what this game may or may not do for their biggest franchise and the company as as whole on the Japanese side of its production studios. To explain this I’ll go briefly over a bit of history to make sure the readers understand why this is by.
FINAL FANTASY VERSUS THIRTEEN TO FINAL FANTASY XV
At the announcement of the then new Final Fantasy XIII, the next new mainline game in the series, Square Enix wanted to create a new universe called Fabula Nova Crystallis. This announcement came with the introduction of 3 games that would be part of this Universe, Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy Agito XIII, and Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Due to mismanagement, reception issues of XIII, and the late arrival and poorly to mixed received Agito XIII (Later renamed Final Fantasy Type-0) For years Versus XIII never came out, with zero new concrete info.
At a conference a couple years ago, Square Enix decided to take what they had of Versus Thirteen and change it into a new game; the next mainline entry (FFXIV was an MMO) in the Final Fantasy Series renaming it to Final Fantasy XV. This is an important fact to remember, as Final Fantasy was on a steady sales, financial, and reception decline since XIII, which also received two sequels, Final Fantasy XIII-2, and Lightning Returns, the latter of which showing the budget limitation that Square put on the franchise as the sales wouldn’t make up for it.
Final Fantasy XV uses a similar claim when you start the game as it’s mainline predecessor XIII, only this time in the actual game itself, telling the player this game is for veterans and new comers to the series. In the opinion of this reviewer, I am mixed on that statement. FFXV despite being a stand alone game like most entries in the franchise, does seem to require you to be familiar with a bit of the lore to really follow what’s going on. However even for new players, the story telling will likely cause whiplash with how it’s executed.
The start of the plot seems simple enough, Noctis, the protagonist you’ve been seeing in all advertising material, is a heir to a kingdom. Noctis along with his close friends drive along the highways to meet who will soon be his wife whom will be the future queen…
THEN his Car breaks down and his country is taken over, battles with monsters ensue, annndddd unless you look at some content for the game outside of the game itself, prepared by Square Enix themselves, you won’t have any idea whats going on. You haven’t even gotten far into the game yet, even a fan will have trouble with some of it. Think of it as an external version of XIII’s datalogs, which for those who don’t know what those are, the datalogs in thirteen where written pieces of information and plot that unlocked as you played the game, you needed to read them in trying, and failing, to understand the plot and what was going on.
As you continue the game you will get a lot of dropped plot points, nonsense plot twists, events the game thinks you should already know somehow leaving you confused, and voice acting that doesn’t seem to really try to make you invested in the characters much at all, which all of them are your usually stock jrpg stereotypes.
Gameplay wise, things are a bit better. The battle system is action based, taking some inspiration from the third entry of XIII lightning returns. You are also able to give commands to your partners as well, although those are limited since the game focuses most of your control on one character. You can switch between weapons, and Noctis can teleport around the battle ground to allow you to strategically come up with new ways to tackle a situation. A major issue with the battle system is the camera which failed to keep the action on screen multiple times during play, and the lock on system which seems to be finicky and doesn’t help the camera issues get any better.
If you have ever played or heard of Final Fantasy 8 before, one of the most infamous aspects of that game was how you got magic with its “draw” system, which required you to absorb energy from monsters, which depending on the monster (or sometimes boss) you can get stacks of new spells like say for example, 3 fires, which you would have to draw from that same enemy 4 more times to get 15 of them. The reason why I bring this up is that XV introduces a modernized version of that system.
But here it’s worse, magic is tied to a waiting period per use, the only way to replenish magic is through monsters and special deposits. Another issue is there aren’t really many magic spells in the game, you have your basics and that’s about it fire, thunder etc.. I would actually suggest magic as something you use only sparingly, as it seems the game really doesn’t want you to focus on magic since it’s been placed on the bench in this game.
Summons are another issue, don’t get too excited, it will take you a loooong while before you start getting the ability to summon, and I’m still baffled by how summons actually work because it’s completely random. You don’t directly trigger/activate summons, it seems to be a mix based on how bad an enemy is kicking your ass (with hits) to where you are on the field, to how much damage you took. I got a summon to work 4 times in a row just standing still letting the enemy slap me and it hasn’t worked since. Adding to the misery just because you do summon them doesn’t mean they’ll work like you’re expecting…
The exploration aspect of the game takes a bit of getting use to, it’s not as straight forwards as “go here or there”, depending on the time of day, traversal can be more or less dangerous. You also get some character development during the “road trips” which can be as pointless as knowing what kind of coffee a character likes. Kind of like a poor mans version of skits fond in games within the Tales Of series by Namco.
There are also quite a few areas in this adventure that drag, from being a bit grindy, to going down narrow uneventful corridors for long periods of time.
You also get tons of side-quests, from fishing, to betting on arena fights, gauntlets, Chocobo racing etc. Most of the side-quests are more grinding then entertaining, granted they didn’t do a bad job managing them. But the game feels like they took different game concepts and slapped them together in this game.
The Graphics in Final Fantasy XV are for the most part wonderful and vibrant. While not winning any awards, it really brings the immersion to the fore front. The designers paid attention to a lot of details in the backgrounds, foliage/water is well animated, and the character models, while inconsistent, are well done. Frame-rate some times randomly dips and there are multiple glitches I’ve found through the game like clipping through objects or pop-in which is found across both the PS4 and XBO versions of the game. The open road seems like a mix of landscaped from different countries depending on where you are. Some of the aesthetics do seems to clash with each other though, the Fantasy Anime artsyle on top of semi-realistic design will be noticeable in multiple areas.
In terms of Music, this actually disappointing compared to other entries in the franchise, even more so to its predecessor Final Fantasy XIII, which this game lifts some music room with small changes in instruments. For example, you hear while driving down the road at times a slightly modified version of XIII’s title screen. Outside of that ad other examples, the original music doesn’t really grab you, some times it doesn’t match what’s on screen at all, other times it world fine for background noise but you’ll likely not notice it.
Final Fantasy XV is a combination of a new game and a long awaited game in one. After a couple of screw ups along the way with the series, this game, which has been delayed multiple times in both its forms, has been designated as the game to bring back the franchise from a declining sales spiral. The truth is there’s really nothing here that would really change the landscape of this franchise. No matter what you put in the title, this game feels more of an extension of thirteen just as Type Zero did. You have a few new tricks in the gameplay that mostly don’t seem to have paid off, you have clashing artstyles, stereotypical characters, long dragging gameplay segments, a plot that makes zero sense, even the beginning of it requires doing research before hand, along with glitches, though not game breaking.
While the game was fun in many areas, and the combat can get exciting and even intense, we have a mix of flawed execution and lack of innovation. The game takes a lot of ideas and slaps them together making many sections seem jarring. Versus XIII was in development for a long time, and the change to XV as well as changes in certain staff working on the game, indicate to me this game has many ideas that they wanted to throw in, which they did, but without finding away to integrate them together.
It’s not a bad game, but it is not the game people have been waiting over 10 years for. It won’t bring in new fans, it will alienate some of the older fans
FINAL SCORE 6/10
“The game is well polished and has fine gameplay much of the time, but the numerous flaws in the battle system, the limitation & lack of variety in certain mechanics like magic/summoning, the confusing plot, stereotypical characters, glitches, and tedious segments bring down the enjoyable aspects of the game.” –Verzu Chase