Final Fantasy XV
November 29, 2016
Completing a fight, however, doesn’t award you with instant gratification. True to the road trip theme, the party must either set up camp at a campsite or stay in a hotel for the night in order to use the EXP they’ve earned throughout the day and level up. Of course, you could stay out after dark, but powerful daemons that can wipe out your party in one hit roam the land at night, so it’s not advisable, especially in the early game.
Beyond EXP, the game also allows you to apply earned ability points to develop your characters’ abilities both in and out of battle using the Ascension Grid. Nodes on the grid offer a variety of enhancements including new battle abilities, increased stats, additional accessory slots, AP and EXP enhancers, and more. It’s similar to Final Fantasy X‘s Sphere Grid or XIII‘s Crystarium, though a bit more stripped down and basic.
In addition to all that, each party member has their own unique skill. Gladio can basically loot items at random during enemy encounters. Ignis is the chef of the group, and his recipes will offer stat boosts for a period of time after camping; picking the right recipe before a difficult quest may be the difference between success and failure. Noct aspires to be an angler, and he can cast his rod at particular fishing holes to catch fish that can be used as quest items or in Iggy’s recipes. And finally, Prompto is a master photographer, chronicling the bros’ journey through his photos – some of his action shots during battle are fantastic, although it’s a wonder how he finds the time to snap them. All of these abilities are leveled up through continued use, and higher level abilities offer the chance to get better items, cook better recipes, and snap better photos.
Not only is the gameplay addictive, but the world is just fun to explore. There’s a wide variety of environments: from the heights of the Rock of Ravatogh to the massive Disc of Cauthess crater, the bustling city of Lestallum to the beachside resort of Galdin Quay, the world of Final Fantasy XV is vibrant and full of life. Beasts roam free – some of them hostile to the party when they enter their field of vision, others just content to graze or wander around peacefully while Noct and co. go about their business. And the game’s visuals are downright gorgeous for the most part, though some of the textures and characters can be a bit lower quality than expected compared to the rest of the game (anyone with facial hair…seriously, what is that on your face?).
It’s also an absolutely massive open world, and it would be impossible to explore without the gang’s trusty car, the Regalia. Don’t expect Forza or Grand Theft Auto here – driving the Regalia is an on-rails affair, and I rarely ever let Noctis take the wheel himself, choosing instead to put it on auto-pilot with Ignis driving. Traveling to one of the many outposts and parking spots across the map opens up that point for fast travel, but there were times I found myself foregoing the fast travel and enjoying a drive to my destination.
It helps that you can unlock soundtracks of past Final Fantasy games to play while you’re driving – zooming down the road with One-Winged Angel or Battle at the Big Bridge blaring over the speaker is a staple of the Final Fantasy XV experience. Noct can even purchase a portable MP3 player to listen to all the soundtracks when out of the car.
That’s right, the roads don’t go everywhere, and often you’ll have to park the car and set out on foot to your destination. Noctis can sprint via a bar that can be instantly refilled with a properly timed button press, but to get around even faster, early in the game the gang gets the ability to call on rental chocobos. These adorable series staples can be called upon at any time for a period of time determined at the time of rental, and they even have their own basic leveling and ability system. You can also participate in chocobo races as a minigame to earn various rewards.
There are also a significant number of dungeons, and while the party will explore several of these during the main story, there are even more that are purely optional. These dungeons hearken back to the old days of the series, with branching pathways, plenty of dead ends, and enemies around every corner, and many of them offer an old-school challenge as well – especially since saving is limited inside dungeons. Completing a dungeon will usually reward Noctis with an additional Royal Arm to add to his arsenal; however, some offer rare materials for crafting and other rewards.
It’s unfortunate that the latter chapters of the game forego the open world, instead funneling you along a series of disjointed set pieces and plot points in a mad rush to the end. The game’s producer, Hajime Tabata, stated earlier last year that this was to be reminiscent of earlier games in the series, but to me it seems more like the team was running out of time and had to rush the game out the door. There’s no clear progression in these late chapters – you’re just dropped in the middle of one location to do a particular quest or set piece and then suddenly the next chapter starts and you’re somewhere else – and the sense of wonder and exploration is totally excised from the game. The infamous chapter 13, which bafflingly turns the game into a jump-scare survival horror game, is the lowest point of the entire game – dragging Noctis through linear grimy corridors with limited access to weapons for the better part of two or three hours.
Square has said that they’ll be making gameplay adjustments to chapter 13 in a forthcoming patch, as well as adding story scenes and gameplay improvements. That’s great for people who are late to the party, but for us early adopters, it’s frustrating that we had to deal with the game’s warts during our playthroughs. Thankfully, there’s plenty coming for us as well: this past week saw the release of the Moogle Chocobo Carnival, a limited-time event chock full of fun minigames that serves a nice diversion and a reason to pick the game back up, and there promises to be more of these types of events coming in the future to extend the life of the game. Limited-time events are a staple of multiplayer games such as Overwatch and League of Legends, and it’s quite forward-thinking of Square to incorporate them into a single-player title.
Final Fantasy XV, on paper, has so many issues. Its plot and storytelling are a total mess. Its characters are never fully developed. It’s glaringly missing content. Its side quests are nothing to write home about. By all rights, it should be a total disaster, especially considering it has all the markings of a game that’s been through ten years of development hell.
But somehow, defying all logic, it all comes together to make a great game that marks a bold step forward for the franchise. And everything comes to a remarkable conclusion that actually brought me to tears – something that a game hasn’t been able to do in a very long time. I might not remember all the details of the game’s mess of a plot, but I’ll always remember the personal tale – four bros on a road trip, bonding over games and comics, gushing over chocobos, and, when push comes to shove, always having each other’s back.
And that personal story is what makes Final Fantasy XV a true success.
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.