Final Fantasy XV
November 29, 2016
While available for multiple platforms, the game was played on PS4 for the purposes of this review.
Final Fantasy XV is one of the hardest games I’ve ever had to review.
By all rights, its ten years of development hell should have resulted in a disaster akin to Duke Nukem Forever. And don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of areas where it’s clear the game is some walking Frankenstein’s monster, cobbled together from whatever scraps could be salvaged from years of troubled development.
But despite that, Final Fantasy XV is good. Somehow, all of those disjointed parts that aren’t particularly great on their own come together to form a really good game. It’s not perfect by any means, but Final Fantasy XV brings all its disjointed parts – even the less-than-stellar ones – into a touching tale of brotherhood and coming-of-age, as well as a JRPG that makes strides to be relevant in the modern gaming landscape.
Final Fantasy XV is the tale of Noctis Lucis Caelum, heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Lucis. In order to facilitate peace as part of a treaty with the warring Niflheim Empire, Noct is engaged to wed his childhood friend Lunafreya, a former princess of the kingdom of Tenebrae and the Oracle to the gods. As the wedding draws near, he sets off on a road trip from Lucis’ capital, Tenebrae, to the city of Altissia, where he will meet up with and marry Lunafreya after many years apart. Joining him are his closest companions: Gladiolus, his bodyguard; Ignis, his royal advisor; and Prompto, his childhood friend.
Of course things don’t go as planned. Noct’s father, King Regis, is killed in a surprise ambush by Niflheim during the treaty signing, and along the way it’s revealed that, of course, Noctis and crew must save the world from certain destruction from a great evil. I mean, hey, it is a JRPG.
However, it’s not the grand save-the-world-from-certain-destruction plot that carries Final Fantasy XV – because, quite frankly, it’s terrible. Don’t get me wrong, the plot has promise, but between the disjointed storytelling, the lack of any character development for anyone outside the main party, and the need to watch supplemental material such as the Kingsglaive movie and Brotherhood anime in order to even understand what the hell is going on, Final Fantasy XV‘s plot coughs and sputters out of the gate and never recovers.
Not only that, but the game feels maddeningly incomplete at times. Characters disappear for entire chapters and, at other times, major plot points happen off-screen without any explanation whatsoever. Square has announced that these gaps will be filled in with DLC, which is irksome to say the least. DLC should be an optional purchase to flesh out a complete game, not something required to fill in chunks of an incomplete game, or, even more damning, chapters that were intentionally left out to encourage extra purchases.
Where XV succeeds, however, is in building the relationship between the main party. Noctis, despite his royal upbringing, is just a normal 20-year-old guy who likes to read comics, play games, and hang out with his friends, and the game does a fantastic job of developing the relationship between the four guys, who consider each other like brothers. They truly do need each other and rely on each other to keep going. It’s refreshing to see normal guys that don’t fit into a macho stereotype or who aren’t afraid to show emotion or affection for each other. Some will complain about the lack of female characters in the party, but I think it’s an understandable decision. Square chose to focus on establishing the brotherly bonds between Noct and his friends, and that’s a perfectly fine tale to tell.
What I do have a problem with, however, is that the females (and supporting characters in general) are barely given any development whatsoever. Even Luna, the story’s leading female, is hardly seen until the party arrives at Altissia, and even then we don’t even really find out any reason why Noctis obviously cares so much for her or why she’s so important to him. Aranea, a badass female mercenary, is another lost opportunity to have a strong female character in a game sorely lacking in them. And don’t get me started on Cindy, the bros’ mechanic, who basically serves as a walking pair of boobs – seriously, no mechanic in their right mind would wear that outfit, and I don’t care that we’re in the middle of the desert.
If it’s not clear by now, Final Fantasy XV is all about the journey and building the relationship between the bros, and there’s no shortage of things to do along the way. XV is the first Final Fantasy to offer a fully open-world to explore, and it’s massive, vibrant, and full of things to do. The entire first eight chapters of the game take place in the open world, and Noct and co. are free to take up side jobs, hunt beasts, storm fortresses, and explore dungeons to their heart’s content while forgetting the main plot even exists. As someone who normally prefers a linear narrative (though Final Fantasy XIII was just a bit too linear), I spent hours and hours just doing random side quests and ignoring the main plot in the opening chapters of the game, and all my friends that have played the game have said they did the same.
It’s not even that the side quests are that interesting. They’re very generic MMO-style affairs: go here, kill 6 of this beast, collect this crafting item, find this lost gemstone, and so forth. And there are a lot of them, and yes, they do get repetitive. I praised The Witcher 3 last year for crafting meaningful side quests with their own plots and character development – Final Fantasy XV‘s side quests don’t even come close. So what makes them so addictive? Why couldn’t I help but get engrossed in them anyway, despite their blandness?
I think part of it is that those quests allow for more moments between the bros. From Ignis’ British-isms to Prompto’s gleefully singing the Final Fantasy victory theme randomly after a successful battle, it’s during these little moments that you start to feel attachment to the main party and learn a bit about them as people.
But a bigger part, I think, is that Final Fantasy XV‘s gameplay systems are just outright fun. Combat is an action-based affair, with flash almost equaling that of the Kingdom Hearts series. Positioning plays a big role, in that some attacks are more successful when initiated from the back or the side and special chain attacks can be executed when blindsiding an enemy. Some enemies also have appendages that can be broken when attacked. To aid in this, Noctis can channel the power of the Lucian kings and warp-strike enemies from a distance, warp behind them to re-position and gain an advantage, or warp to safety and recover his health and MP. He can also join up with his friends and use link attacks and special abilities to turn the tide of battle.
It’s amazingly fluid and fast-paced, and the only complaint I have with it is that the camera just can’t keep up. Actually, to put it bluntly, it sucks. Surrounding trees and objects don’t gain any transparency and the camera does a poor job of finding good angles to give the best view of the action, so fights in close quarters can turn into more of a battle with the camera than with the beasts you’re fighting.
Later in the game, Noctis also gains the power to call upon the Armiger, a sort of limit break using the Royal Arms of the kingdom of Lucis. He can also call upon the power of the Astrals to summon Ramuh, Titan, Leviathan, and other series staples. The summons in XV are awe-inspiring, delivering a massive scale and an absolutely devastating attack to whatever poor souls happen to be in the line of fire. It’s just a shame that they’re so rare: the ability to summon occurs seemingly at random, and it doesn’t happen very often. Throughout my 40 or so hours with the game, I’ve only had maybe three or four non-scripted summon opportunities.
Beautiful, sprawling open world with plenty of things to do.
Fun, fast, and fluid combat.
A wide variety of environments, all of them gorgeous.
Remarkable, emotional conclusion.
Additional planned content and events to improve longevity.
The bond between the bros is something truly special.
The storytelling is a trainwreck.
Lack of character development outside the main party.
Uninspired side quests.
The game seems incomplete at times, especially in the obviously rushed later chapters.