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Impressions of a Tale Ten Years in the Making

William Murphy Posted:
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Final Fantasy XV development originally began in 2006, under the name Final Fantasy XIII Versus. It was going to be a side-entry in the series, not a main installment because its tone was going to be a darker one than the main series allowed. Development was troubled though, and eventually the game shifted to the PS4 and Xbox One and became a full-on entry in the Final Fantasy main series. After all the waiting, is the tale of Noctis and Lunafreya a worthy entry to the Final Fantasy canon?

In short? Of course it is – for Final Fantasy fans, this is like Christmas come early. But for folks hoping for a more traditional turn-based JRPG, they’re going to be out of luck. FFXV has a lot more in coming with the recent Type-0 or Kingdom Hearts in terms of combat. There is a more strategic form of combat that pauses as long as you’re not moving, but you’ll still have to do the fighting yourself when push comes to shove.

Rob Lashley will be handling the full review for Final Fantasy XV, but his download was taking forever and mine wasn’t so his first Review in Progress piece will come a bit later today. We’ve both been eagerly anticipating this release, and I’ve been especially excited for it since I spent two hours with the title back at PAX Prime.  In some ways FFXV feels like the most masculine-focused Final Fantasy yet, which may turn off the throngs of female FF fans who were hoping for strong feminine characters to be a part of the main party. Lunafreya seems like a strong young woman, but what role she plays in the game overall remains to be seen. FFXV feels like Final Fantasy Dude-Bro Edition, and that’s OK if you’re a male. It might be off-putting if you’re a woman. Someone of the fairer sex will have to chime in here for me.

For the uninitiated, FFXV tells the tale of Noctis and Lunafreya – the Prince of Lucis and the Princess of Tenebrae – lifelong friends who are supposed to be wed in order to secure peace between the empires  of Lucis and Niflheim. The game begins with Noctis and his guards-slash-best friends (Ignis, Gladio, and Prompto) heading out of the capitol city of Insomnia to the city of Altissia where the wedding is to take place. Long story short? Niflheim are the bad guys, they want the Crystal of Lucis, they betray the peace treaty, kill Noctis’ father the King, and sack the city. Thus begins our hero’s journey to reclaim his throne, find Lunafreya, and save his people.

Arachne is one tough spider-lady you’ll fight early on in your adventure.

What happens beyond this, events that can be witnessed in the movie Kingsglaive that’s worth watchin by the way, is beyond me. I’ve spend nearly five hours in the game, and I only just managed to start gaining the powers of long-gone kings of Lucis. To say that FFXV is probably a long game is an understatement. There’s a massive open world boss (the Adamantoise) that will take players a real world 72 hours to defeat. You don’t fight that all consecutively; rather you’ll have to make several battles against the giant turtle to fell him completely. Hopefully, for Rob’s sake, it’s not a requirement to Platinum trophy the game.

This is the scope of what Square Enix has wrought with their ten years of work. It’s almost incomparably ambitious, and the hype leading into FFXV can’t possibly be met with adulation by all players.  Technically, the game is gorgeous. But even running on the powered up PS4 Pro, its framerate will stutter at times, and textures sometimes seem muddied. The character art for the game’s main cast by the renowned and revered Tetsuya Nomura, the game’s original director, is beautiful and fully realized. Each character feels and looks distinctly Final Fantasy, but as is the problem with many FF games, the supporting cast winds up bland and lacking in detail. It’s a weird juxtaposition to have your main cast looks so crisp and detailed, and then have all the NPCs be lifeless and stilted.

Combat is fantastic so far, if often confusing due to the camera getting lost trying to keep up with the action. Everything moves so fast, and you’re often locked on to a spry goblin or other enemy which keeps the camera just swirling around the mayhem. I’d venture to say that in about 25% of my fights, I wind up having to run a small distance away from the melee just to make sure I can get my bearings.

Fishing, unlike so many games, is an actual useful and engaging little minigame.

Magic is handled interestingly too in FFXV. Characters don’t have spells in a traditional sense. Instead you’ll harvest magic elements from the world, and then use them to make your own spells which have limited uses and can be equipped for use in your four heroes. You only directly control Noctis, but you can and will want to issue orders to the other party members to use their skills and spells when necessary. These create combos between Noctis and his mates, which make tougher fights far more manageable. Noctis  can wield and swap between four weapons at any time during combat, while the other guys can wield specific weapons and have their own strengths and weaknesses.

There’s a whole lot of walking, running, and driving. Yes, there are Chocobos too, but like the Airships in older FFs, your convertible Regala will be your main mode of transportation. You can sometimes fast travel to specific locations, and you can have Ignis drive the car to get to and from specific quests or other locations. Or if you choose, as Noctis you can do all the driving yourself. Don’t get any off-roading ideas though as FFXV’s car driving keeps you firmly planted to the pavement. If you want to go fast in the countryside, that’s where renting Chocobos comes in.

Each of the main characters has his own special talent too. Ignis is the cook and can make you stat-boosting meals to eat while camping/resting. Gladio is the camper and can… camp? I can’t recall what his skill does, but I bet it adds to the amount of extra XP you get while camping in the wild. Noctis can fish up ingredients to use in cooking. And Prompto is a photographer, and each time you rest you’ll be able to look through his photos (taken by the game itself) and choose the ones you want to save or share. I was absolutely shocked at how good some of the auto-screenshots were, and when I get home tonight expect to see quite a few shared on Twitter.

Cindy is Cid’s granddaughter. Big surprise? Prompto falls in love with her… assets.

I hit Chapter 3, about five hours into my journey, before I went to sleep last night. Now I’m here at work, wishing I could remotely play my PS4 and ignore my responsibilities. I don’t know how many of you here will willingly dive into Final Fantasy XV because it’s not on the PC. But if you have an XB1 or a PS4, you may want to check out some of the demos for FFXV on the PS Store and XB Live. Or, if you’re like most people considering the game, you’ve probably already got this one pre-ordered. There’s a massive 8.5GB day one patch, which includes loads of social media features, improved in-game soundtrack options and more. So get patching. At 11:59pm ET tonight, the latest entry in the never-final Final Fantasy is upon us and so far it feels like it was worth the wait.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.