It is a turbulent time for
the long-running and oft-beloved Final
Fantasy series, specifically for the core games. Following the brilliant
overhaul of the combat system in FFXII,
a less-than-stellar reception for FFXIII,
the online-only antics of XIV (MMORPGs
are not for everyone, you know) and nearly innumerable delays for the newest
iteration, Final Fantasy XV is finally here—and
we’ve been playing the hell out of it.
We join a young prince named
Noctis as he sets out on a road trip to marry a woman from a neighboring kingdom,
thereby strengthening diplomatic ties and blah blah blah blah blah. It’s a
familiar enough setup for fantasy fans, but given the series’ penchant for the
creation of worlds not tethered to any specific time or place, FFXV is every bit cellphones
and cars as it is swords and magic. Along for the journey is a small group of Noctis’
close friends, though at least two of them might be more aptly described as
servants. Ignis is akin to a valet or butler and provides the prince with wise
insight, cooks for the party during downtime and even drives the Regalia,
Noctis’ totally badass car. Ignis’ abilities err toward the strategic, a
mid-range fighter who is more slow and calculating that up-close brawler. Such
a fighting style is tied to Gladiolus, Noctis’ towering bodyguard who, with
massive two-handed swords, doles out incredible strength and damage in an
up-close-and-personal fashion. Also along for the ride is Prompto, an actual
childhood chum of the prince who metes out small but quick attacks with ranged
handguns. Noctis himself is an amalgam of all three, able to warp into the fray
of battle with fierce attacks, rain down punishing magic attacks with the chance
to damage multiple enemies and the ability to wield ancient weapons once
belonging to his royal predecessors.
We won’t spoil any further
story elements here, but suffice it to say that conflict does indeed arise, and
that a shocking major event derails Noctis’ simple task and thrusts him and his
friends into a perilous situation out from which they must navigate themselves.
You’ll just have to pick it up and find out for yourself.
As for how FFXV plays, let’s take a look at the
mechanics at work.
The combat system plays out
like a cross between the real-time fracas of FFXII and the more measured skirmishes of FFXIII. We mainly control Noctis though, thankfully, we have a say
in what happens to the other party members through various techniques and more
control over the application of items (potions, elixirs, phoenix downs and
similar FF items are obviously part
of the game). At first blush, the fighting seems to play out like any old
hack-and-slash, but the timing and layers of strategy needed to effectively
dispatch foes goes much deeper. It’s actually quite brilliant how simple the combat
seems versus the myriad options lurking beneath the hood. Effectively, it
creates one of the stronger reasons for series newcomers to give the game a
shot but should also satisfy longtime fans. After each battle a report card is
shown, which should allow players to experiment and learn to fight better. The
ability to block incoming attacks makes its FF
debut, and with proper timing it becomes a godsend as well as a necessity.
Each party member is also
assigned passive abilities, such as Prompto’s insistence on cataloguing the
journey with photography, Gladiolus’ survival skills (which basically amounts
to him “finding” items after battles), Ignis’ preparation of stat-boosting
meals during rest times and Noctis’ love of fishing. Yes, fishing. You’ll level
these abilities up by using them which, in turn, unlocks better meals, more
frequent item discovery and more.
The party itself levels up
through FFXV’s Ascension system, a
mechanic similar to the Sphere Grid found in FFX, though not nearly as bafflingly complicated. Through various
classifications (combat, magic, abilities, teamwork, etc.), Noctis and company
can transmute experience and ability points earned through battle and
exploration into stronger attacks, new abilities, passive perks and more.
Mechanics aside, FFXV truly shines in its presentation of
the pre-existing relationships between its heroes. We truly get the sense that,
despite whatever their stations might be, Noctis and his pals care for one
another. They poke fun and chat openly, but they always operate like old
friends who love each other—they cherish the meaning of friendship. Perhaps
that seems like a no-brainer in a story-heavy series that has always been about
partying up and preventing great evils with badasses at your side, but FFXV explores the idea of friendship
more completely than any previous game, and it does so in subtle yet believable
ways while also reminding players that there is room for growth in any
Thus far, the story is only
beginning, and we’ll update this review with further thoughts as they occur. In
the meantime, FFXV is a strong
contender for best is the series in ages. Unlike previous games in the series,
we’ve enjoyed all of the party members’ personalities (at least the ones we’ve
met so far), and the story is so enticing we practically can’t wait to get
back to Duscae.
If we were forced to give the game a score right now, it would probably hover someplace between 8 and 9, but there is still so much more to see and do. Stay tuned for any further developments.
A Few Things to Think About as You Play
-Skip the Tutorial
It’s long and boring and the
game itself will teach you what you need to know.
-Turn Stamina On, Sprint Forever
In the Options menu you can
switch Noctis’ stamina on. This will show a small green bar above him during
gameplay which represents his ability to sprint, a must-have while exploring
the open world of Duscae that can also be used indefinitely with a little
practice. Simply hold down the sprint button (B on Xbox One, Square on PS4) and
then, when the bar is just about to deplete, let go and press again. Noctis
will flash green and can then continue to sprint.
-Get the Regroup Skill for Ignis
In the “Technique” tab of the
Ascension menu, Ignis’ Regroup skill can be activated. This allows him to heal
the entire party at once, one of the most valuable things one can do,
especially when enemies start to mob you.
Unlike previous FF games, FFXV allows the player to concoct various spells with differing effects
through what is called Elemancy. Scattered through Duscae are stones imbued
with fire, ice or lightning properties, and by combining different values of
each along with items found through battle or earned through fights, Noctis can wield
some pretty crazy spells. We experimented with many configurations and elements, and our
favorite so far created a massive fiery explosion with an area-of-effect that not only set a whole mess of dudes on fire, it also poisoned our foes for some handy repeated damage over time. This was cool as hell and also looked really beautiful. As an added bonus, it definitely came with a feeling of "Yeah, I'm effin' tough!"
-Talk to the People Who Run the Restaurants
At restaurants there are NPCs
called “Tipsters” who not only know stuff, but who will invite you to take part in
bounty hunts for extra items and cash. They can also cook up stat-boosting
meals for a price and, in some cases, help you with your side quests.
-Side Quest, Schmide Quest
Most of the quests outside
the main storyline are pretty tedious fetch missions that do little to help
out. We’ve skipped a bunch and, thus far, it hasn’t made things harder. Yes,
many RPGs require a healthy amount of grinding to level up properly, but
it seems like this game knows that we don’t all that and doesn’t punish us for
it. Still, it was pretty cool to feed that one cat we found.
-Save Your Game All the Damn Time
It’s right there in the menu,
and you should use it even though there’s the handy auto-save. You’ll be glad
Final Fantasy VX
Developed and Published by
Xbox One, PS4
Rated T (for teen, you guys)