Final Fantasy XV is distinctly a Final Fantasy game. From the opening music, to the referential systems and names, there’s no denying that you’re playing a Final Fantasy. That said, FFXV is quite possibly the largest departure from “The Norm” that the series has offered since FFXI brought the IP to the MMORPG many years ago. We played from the beginning for a solid two hours at PAX West, and now we’re left wanting November 29th to come that much sooner. For those wanting to go into FFXV fresh this November, stop reading now. Spoilers lie ahead!
SPOILERS AHEAD, LAST CHANCE!
Kingsglaive, the critically-panned but fan-loved movie prequel (or glorified opening cutscene) should be required viewing for anyone hoping to play and grasp all of Final Fantasy XV’s story. After playing a nearly final build of XV at PAX, I can say that having watched Kingsglaive I feel much more in tune with the narrative, the world, and the characters in Final Fantasy XV. I may be behind on my information, and maybe Square-Enix has already considered it, but they should include Kingsglaive as a free bonus for all pre-orders of XV. I say that because if I hadn’t watched the movie, I’d feel very lost as to why Noctis and his buddies left the shelter of Insomnia to bring the Prince to his bride-to-be.
Kingsglaive explains all this, and what’s more is that the movie does a decent job setting up the Niflheim Empire as the bad guys. It explains the war, the reason the King is killed, and more. It’s just a great primer for FFXV, and if you haven’t yet seen it but want to play the game in November, I’d highly recommend watching the movie.
The beginning of the game, of course, shows a cutscene where you and your friends are fighting off an unseen monster or force. It’s quite fiery, so I’d not be surprised if its Ifrit, or something along those lines. But I got the feeling it wasn’t, as they tend to show off Ifrit and those sort of primal beings in all their glory. Noctis looks haggard, sore, defeated, but his friends are there to fight with him. As things look to be nearing an end with the battle (and not a good one), we flash back to the day Noctis, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus are leaving the Lucis capitol of Insomnia. As we learn from Kingsglaive, this is so Noctis can be brought to marry the Tenebrae Princess Lunafreya Nox Fleuret.
But things don’t go as planned. On their way, the car breaks down, you wind up spending a lot of time trying to help the locals in order to pay for repairs, and when you finally do get it up and running again you find the local seaport is blockaded. No ships are going in or out of Lucis, and you’re basically stuck. You sleep the night, and wake up to find the news reporting on the events of Kingsglaive: the fall of Insomnia, the death of the King, and the invasion of the Niflheim empire into the would-be King’s homeland. I only had two hours with the game, and had to stop around the time my party made its way back to the Insomnia gates to get in, find out what’s going on, and figure out if there’s anything to be done to save the kingdom.
Meanwhile, we know from watching Kingsglaive that Princess Lunafreya was never at Tenebrae – she’d been brought to the city, and managed to escape with the help of the Kingsglaive, now on a journey of her own while Noctis and his mates are off trying to recapture Insomnia’s all-powerful crystal and save the Kingdom from the industrialist rule of Niflheim. In short, things are complicated, but very engaging in Final Fantasy XV. The production values are off the charts, as they should be for a game 10 years in the making. There are somethings that are still in need of polish, as the papers given to us by SE said: voiceover work, side missions, and the like are all on the last-minute lists to fix up before launch.
So instead, I focused mainly on the narrative quest, and I’ve got to hand it to Square-Enix. Since the launch of the original demo some months ago, the combat and overall feel of FFXV has come a long way. The camera doesn’t feel so loose and messy as it once did, and the action as a result feels more in the player’s control. You can issue orders to Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus, effectively giving you several key skills to use during tougher fights – knockdowns, high damage ranged shots, and so forth.
Meanwhile you as the player control Noctis directly, and can fully equip him with both magic spells and weapons to freely switch between – polearms, pistols, greatsword, a short sword, and so forth. In true Final Fantasy fashion, you can tweak and change just about everything your party is using or wearing, and you’ll earn SP to spend on each character’s skill stree as well – effectively letting you change their abilities and alter their strengths and weaknesses based on how you play.
The car, shown off in just about every trailer, every video, and in Kingsglaive itself, is not a free-wheeling sort of GTA-inspired ride. You must stick to the roads, so think of it as more of a way to get quickly from point to point without instantly arriving. That said, you can fast travel between known major locations, and you can indeed run all over the gods’ green earth on the back of a chocobo eventually too. For a while, I was concerned that a lot of FFXV would be padding with monotonous travel (the world feels absolutely huge) but thankfully those fears were put to rest when I discovered the fast travel options. It’s clear they took a page right out of Ubisoft’s own brand of open world exploration and I’m glad they did. It works well.
Graphically, FFXV is kind of a mixed bag, though it’s always beautiful. The textures on the world seem somehow muddy, and there’s a bit of annoying pop-in going on whenever you’re out an about. NPCs also often seem somehow less-detailed than the main characters, making them stand out like sore thubs when you get up close. None of this is a deal-breaker, as we all know the consoles have their limits, and the game’s the product of the much earlier-conceived Final Fantasy XIII Versus. That said, expect to hear a lot of griping about these issues should they remain through to launch.
Overall, my two hours with Final Fantasy XV was over way too fast. I only barely scratched the surface of the game, and I definitely left wanting more. It may not wind up the perfect 10 so many people will expect after ten years of development, but for my money it’s the first time I’ve been truly interested in a single-player Final Fantasy since IX. I can’t wait for November, and for those PC-Only holdouts, here’s hoping they eventually release it on Steam for you all. I’ll just be glad I’ve got my PS4 come 11/29.