Review in Progress, Part 1
Sorry this wasn’t out yesterday. Due to some technical issues I wasn’t able to actually play the game until late Sunday night / early Monday morning. Our good ol’ Editor in Chief Bill Murphy posted his first impressions of Final Fantasy XV instead. If you haven’t seen them yet you can check them out here. They are worth reading because he touches on a few topics I’m going to save for next week. As of this writing I’ve been able to log a little over 7 hours into the game, make it to chapter 3, and had a much different experience than Bill. This is nowhere near enough screen time to give this game an official review yet. However, I do feel qualified to talk about the following topics this week; early character development and combat.
When it comes to the four main party member, Noctis, Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus if you haven’t seen the anime Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV you are already behind the eightball. Here is a link to the YouTube playlist so you can get caught up. Square Enix has made it very clear over the course of the last year that they view Final Fantasy XV as not just a game, but as a multimedia franchise. As such they have serious character development taking place in that anime that you just won’t find early in the game. This could be viewed as a crutch but at the same time it makes for a nice companion. Similar to the recent vignettes that Blizzard release before Legion. If you never see Brotherhood you’ll still be able to enjoy FFXV but you’ll be much more invested. They also have two movies that take place at the same time as the game. The first is a full length feature film, Kingsglaive. The other is a short film, Omen. Both of those have had scenes spliced into the game to help tell the tale in a more cohesive fashion.
When I first tried the demo for Final Fantasy XV, Episode Duscae, I was initially put off by the characters. Noctis seemed like a brat, Prompto was annoying, Ignis was Egon Spengler from the 80’s Ghostbuster’s cartoon, and Gladiolus was just a big ol’ bro, bro’n it up. Having seen their backstories their personalities became much more relatable. Characters that I thought I would initially despise I’ve grown quite fond of. Which is great because it’s hard to spend 50 hours with a game controlling characters you dislike to win a throne back for someone you think is a brat.
These guys are a team. Even more than that they really are family. Over the course of the game these bonds become evident. In a lot of modern RPG’s you’ll get character banter. In Final Fantasy XV you’ll get entire conversations. From what I can tell they don’t repeat too often either. It’s these little touches that help ingratiate the characters upon you. These dialogues do wonders to help establish and solidify the member’s unique personalities. Combine that with their unique skills, Ignis the cook, Prompto the photographer, Gladiolus the scavenger (he can find hidden things on the ground for you), and Noctis the fisherman (Noctis would have never struck me as the fishing type) you end up with likeable young men that find themselves on a road trip looking to have fun on the way to their buddy’s wedding when things take a dire turn for the worse.
In what has become typical Final Fantasy fashion Square Enix has reworked the combat system for this entry into the storied franchise. Not everyone is going to like it though. This is the first entry that has gone the action combat route. So while they risk alienating a few this could very well open the doors for millions of players that would never play a turn based combat RPG.
Don’t confuse action combat with being just a cheap button masher. There are levels of depth to this system that make it relatively easy to use but difficult to master. During combat you’ll only have control of one of the four party members at a time. Typically this is Noctis. Sometimes you’ll have guest characters join and leave your party with their own set of weapons and abilities but the typical group consists of the four main characters.
Noctis can have up to 4 weapons equipped at a time. These can be actual weapons or magic that he has crafted. Your companions can have two weapons. Their primary weapon and as secondary either another weapon or a crafted magic item. During combat you can switch which weapon you want Noctis to attack with by pushing the corresponding direction on the D pad. It took a while for me to get the hang of magic. Unlike previous Final Fantasies where some spells will attack all the enemies and some will only attack a single target all of the spells in Final Fantasy XV are area of effect. They will also damage your buddies. Friendly fire isn’t friendly, and when you hurt someone be prepared to be asked whose side you are on.
Noctis is the only character that has magic points (MP) and he uses these to perform special abilities like his warp strike not actually cast spells. Those are all crafted.. This allows you to target enemies and objects from range and either attack them or grab hold of them. If you grab hold of a ledge and stay there you’ll quickly regen your MP to full. This is a very effective and encouraged strategy.
Noctis and the party can also perform Techniques. These are special combo abilities where Noctis will give an order on the battlefield for a specific party member to perform. Once completed there will be a combo opener for Noctis to follow up with a powerful attack. Techniques require a resource that builds up over time in combat so you can’t constantly perform techniques.
For those players that aren’t into action combat Square Enix has implemented a wait mode. This mode pauses the game whenever you are not moving. This allows you to look around the battlefield, survey the targets, cast libra on enemies which shows their HP and weaknesses, and select which targets you would like to attack. You can enter into the menus and swap items on your characters, you can also select a target to cast magic on. While you can rotate the camera and peruse menus you can’t move. Once you do it will break the wait timer. However you just have to move a little and stop again and then wait mode will start back up. While this isn’t the same as a turn based system as in Final Fantasies past it does slow combat down enough that even if you aren’t very nimble you should still be able to overtake your enemies.
Seven and a half hours in and I’m impressed. Combat is a lot of fun and fun is what counts. The story is flowing nicely and isn’t becoming overly complex, at least not yet. The characters are evolving into people I can happily spend 50+ hours with. The biggest questions I have about the characters so far is where did Cindy get that terrible accent and who stole the rest of her clothes? Next week we will dive deeper into magic, the ascension grid, AP, XP, and the unique way you level up in the game, camping.