Into the Light
I’ve always appreciated Square Enix’s willingness to push boundaries when it came to the Final Fantasy series. Nothing is worse than letting a franchise grow old and stale. Central to the core of Final Fantasy these past 30 years has been mankind’s impact on the environment. Whether that be through magical means or from the abuse of science and technology. That theme pops up again in Final Fantasy XV but where a number of features in the game are familiar to the franchise a handful are entirely new.
I wrote about character development and combat in part 1 of the review in progress, for a refresher you can read them here. At that point I was 7 hours into the game and exploring the world while in Chapter 3. I’ve since finished the main story and I’m still exploring the world in Chapter 15. I still find the responsiveness of the controls in combat at times a bit sluggish but overall I’m still impressed. Sure it’s not the turn based combat I grew up on but change is good. I do hope they go back to a turn based style in a future entry though. However; wait mode is very helpful and even if you have poor reflexes you’ll probably be able to finish this game.
While playing over the weekend my wife asked me why I was playing a game with a teenage boyband. I told her eventually they grew up. “Sure, sure” was her response. I never thought I’d find myself caring about a boy band before but by the time this story reached its end I was truly touched by the outcome. The story was shorter than what most have come to expect from a Final Fantasy game. I was able to complete it in just over 30 hours and I made sure to take my time and do side quests along the way. I was level 42 and didn’t feel overly challenged either by the final encounters and I’m sure I could have completed the game even faster than I did if I had only stuck to the critical path. I don’t feel the need for a game to have an overly complex and lengthy story to be a great game. I would have liked for Square Enix to spend more time developing some of the secondary characters though. I’ve seen Kingsglaive and between that movie and the game I had no idea why Ravus took the path that he did. What he did in the game seemed almost the exact opposite of who he was in the movie. I do feel the main narrative was developed enough though I understood why the main characters made the decisions they did and understood why the game resolved the way it did. But there are also moments that seem like clear hooks for later DLC. At one point Gladiolus leaves the group and comes back with a massive scar on his chest. He never explains why. I can only assume that question will be answered sometime next year.
The world of Eos is huge and beautiful and full of things to do. What the game is lacking in a main story it feels the developers tried to compensate with other things to fill the void. Justice Monster V, chocobo racing, hunts, and side quests are plentiful. As well as hidden quests, treasure maps, recipes, and dungeons. There is a ton crammed into the world. A lot of it feels like it was made to be completed after you finish the main story. For the first 8 chapters you can roam the world and do pretty much whatever you can get away with depending on what level you are. Towards the end you start getting funneled towards the final climax and once you jump on the track you are uniformly pushed forward towards your goal. You can travel back at a few points but for the most part you get tugged along by your coattails for the ride.
Some of the extra dungeons in the game won’t become available until after you complete the game. While I found a lot of the hunts rather mundane, and a lot of quests seem like glorified fetch, or FedEx quests, some of the hunts are spectacular. Waking Adamantoise was awesome. He could be the largest monster I’ve seen in a game. There are also a number of franchise regulars and some obscure beasts from different entries in the franchise that make their appearances late in the game. I accidentally stumbled across the Demon Wall and it was nothing like what I expected.
Final Fantasy is known for switching up the way their battle system works but they also seem to come up with a new way to level as well with each new entry. XV is no exception. While completing quests and defeating enemies you’ll gain experience. Nothing really new there. However your experience won’t apply right away. There aren’t any lucky level ups that are going to instantly heal you and propel you deeper into the dungeon like you could count on in franchise entries past. In XV you need to rest to gain experience. Depending on where you rest you’ll get a modifier to your experience as well. If you camp out in the world you’ll only get the experience you earned but you can get up to a 1.5x modifier if you stay in a hotel. The higher the modifier the more gil you’ll have to pay to spend the night but it’s a nominal amount compared to what you can earn on hunts or by finding treasure. When you level you’ll get a boost to your base stats but that’s it.
You develop your characters abilities on the Ascension Grid. You gain ability points to spend on the ascension grid a number of different ways. Mostly through combat but you can then spend these points that let you earn them fishing, riding in your car, riding on chocobos, and other interesting ways. The grid is broken up into a number of sections that allow you to focus on improving the character's stats, additional abilities, to more mundane affairs such as catching more items when you fish. The AP pool is also a shared resource amongst the group. Most skills are focused on Noctis but there are skill to purchase for the supporting cast too. They just won’t each own their own AP to spend on themselves.
Final Fantasy XV is by no means a perfect game. There is a lot of potential and some of it does feel squandered but even with it’s shortcomings I truly enjoyed the adventure. The developers took risks and some of them paid off while others feel a little flat. I look forward to all of the upcoming free updates as well as the DLC and experiencing how the world evolves. The magic of the franchise is still there and I emotionally connected with this game the same now as I did with some of the other great entries at different points through my life. I may have ended up skipping a few along the way but XV definitely brought the allure and luster back. This really is a Final Fantasy for both new and old hats to the franchise alike.
A review copy of Final Fantasy XV was provided by Square Enix's North American PR team.