Game: Final Fantasy XV
Consoles: Xbox One, PS4 (reviewed)
Publisher: Square Enix
Developers: Square Enix Business Division 2
It’s often the case that when games are in development for more than a few years that they release to an unsatisfied audience. In fact, if I went and did the math, there’s probably some sort of scientifically provable correlation between the length of time it takes a game to release after its initial announcement and the game’s actual release date that would show that the longer a game is in development, the lower its review average. But occasionally, we’re blessed with games that break the stigma of games stuck in development hell, and even better, they exceed their expectations. And after its long development, Final Fantasy XV is one of those games that is just about everything we imagined it would be, and then some.
Let’s start at the beginning. Final Fantasy XV has one of the strongest openings of any game ever. You begin in the midst of a fiery battle, in which you struggle to make it to cover with the help of your friends; then, it abruptly cuts to the four guys roadtripping together with no further explanation (yet). This piqued my interest, and then when something went wrong with the Regalia and the four guys had to get out and push, bickering all the while, and Florence and the Machine’s “Stand By Me” started up, I was instantly hooked.
Visually, the game is stunning; the graphics are top-notch and the world of Eos is beautifully crafted. I played on the PS4 Pro and a 4K TV and was positively awestruck by the scenery; it possesses possibly the best-looking water I’ve ever seen in a game. Most of the time I let Ignis take the wheel of the Regalia so I could look around at the landscape, and when Prompto wanted to stop and photograph some landmark or other, more often than not I was inclined to let him. The enemies look great, the Archons are downright fearsome, but the most impressive part is the food; it’s so photorealistic it made my mouth water. From a technical standpoint, there’s no denying that this is one of the most beautiful games of the generation. Extremely noteworthy is the realism shown in the hair of the game’s many characters, with each strand of hair feeling like it was placed individually and purposefully. For so long, our console video games have been plagued by ridiculous-looking hair, and while it’s a minor thing, when a developer finally gets it right, it’s worth shouting out.
Although I’m generally a fan of turn-based fighting mechanics, the combat in Final Fantasy XV is so incredibly fluid that I couldn’t help but enjoy it. The camera may be a little wonky at times, but hitting an enemy from across the battlefield with a warpstrike or successfully blocking and parrying an attack feels so satisfying. For fans of the traditional combat or those that just like to plan their next move, there is Wait Mode, which is not quite turn-based but stops the clock when you stop moving and allows you to scan enemies for weaknesses. It’s a pain when you’re trying to take cover and replenish HP, but great for those that prefer to strategize. The magic system is interesting, as you essentially craft spells in vials and toss them during battles, and there are multiple options for customization there. The Ascension system is fairly in-depth, with multiple skill trees to choose from in which you spend AP to unlock new abilities, and there are multiple ways to earn AP aside from just combat.
Surprisingly, the weak point in Final Fantasy XV is its story, which almost feels like an afterthought; it’s often so rushed and haphazard that it’s hard to make sense of. Once I decided to pull myself away from the side quests and focus on the main story, the chapters absolutely flew by. It took me a total of 36 hours to beat the game, and that includes a significant amount of time spent on secondary objectives, so Square Enix’s initial estimate of a 50-hour story seems a little off. Consequently, some of the characters received too little screen time or weren’t as developed as they could have been. Ardyn’s story didn’t feel complete, there wasn’t nearly enough Aranea, and knowing more about the Emperor’s motivations would have helped tremendously. And, although it evoked an emotional response from me at multiple points, it often relied on overused tropes to do so.
Honestly, though, I was so engrossed in this beautiful world that the weak storyline wasn’t as much of a downer as it should have been. In the beginning, it’s easy to ignore the story entirely because the side quests feel genuinely worthwhile, and I found myself wanting to complete every last one of them. There are so many little touches that make the game immersive, from the need to refuel and repair the Regalia to the choice between spending the night at a hotel or camping out and having Ignis cook a meal. During long drives, the guys chat with each other, dance along with the radio, and will even pull out a book to read. At the end of each day, you can review Prompto’s photographs and choose your favorites to save; this feature has no practical benefit and you can ignore it entirely, but it really brings the world to life that much more. Fishing with Noctis is suitably challenging and can easily keep you occupied for quite some time.
Before it came out, I thought the entire game looked suspiciously like male fanservice, and although it was undeniably present it wasn’t nearly as bad as I anticipated. For one thing, there are no playable female characters, which is a first in Final Fantasy history. You could make the argument that Noctis is technically the only playable character, but you do have a degree of control over the other guys, and although Aranea and Iris join your party briefly, you don’t have that same control over them. Also, the other guys will become playable through DLC later on. Secondly, Cindy’s character design is absolutely absurd; her outfit is not only ridiculously impractical for her line of work, but the way she wipes down your car after filling it with gas is borderline pornographic. Her accent is also completely over-the-top, but the same can be said of many of the other characters, and I actually found that aspect somewhat charming.
That said, the game provides an almost unprecedented look at male friendship, and this is without question its most endearing point. As you explore the world, the guys keep up a running stream of banter, and some of it some of it will make you laugh out loud. There are plenty of scenes in which their concern for each other is evident and touching. Their distinct personalities may be a little cookie-cutter, but they all bring something different to the table and it’s not hard to become emotionally invested in their fate. They grow on you quickly, and you’ll soon find yourself feeling genuinely guilty when you have to tell Prompto no or worried when one of them is temporarily separated from the party.
Lastly, although this strays so far from the usual Final Fantasy formula, there are still plenty of elements that longtime fans will recognize, and things that just give it that feel. Most (if not all) of the monsters will be familiar to series veterans, including the Archons. There’s Chocobo riding, naturally, and Moogles even make a small appearance (if only as decoy plushies). You’ll hear clips of familiar music, such as the victory theme when your experience tallies each night (or when Prompto randomly sings it after battles). And of course, there’s the spiky-haired, brooding protagonist.
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10
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