Final Fantasy XV (Xbox One Review)
Taking on an RPG is no easy task, in fact when it comes to a JRPG you often don’t see the full picture until you are staring in to the face of secret end game content. Although that doesn’t stop us from talking about everything leading up to that point, like we did in our initial impressions piece for Final Fantasy XV. But now that we have invested a whopping 70+ hours we thought it would be a good time to reflect on the whole endeavour.
Before we continue, it is imperative that you be made aware that we are not going to tiptoe around spoilers, as some points will actively discuss plot points and story elements that are crucial in discussing the pitfalls and highs of Final Fantasy XV.
Unlike any other game in recent memory, the exposition of Final Fantasy XV is in the multimedia ensemble Square have created. This includes an anime, CGI movie, and the game itself. For a game that professes to be for both newcomers and fans it seems to give off mixed messages. At no point was I explicitly told that my enjoyment of Final Fantasy XV’s story would hang on my comprehension of some events based on the movie and anime. For that I suffered. Key roles were skirted over and some important items lacked any weight, coming across as another unrealised trinket. It’s woeful that Square Enix, of all people, wouldn’t know how to deliver the story of a JRPG – it’s not like they have been doing it for years, right?
Even when Final Fantasy XV’s story isn’t reliant on the supporting material, it’s messy. Very messy. Moments that should feel weighty are often met with confusion, especially in latter sections. Some characters pass by and moments that deserve more time are given but a fleeting glance. The impact of one of the main character’s injury should bare heavy on Noctis but never really does. Chapter 10 onward feels out of place and often lack any real congruence, for those of you who watched Kingsglaive you would have seen the ending coming to an extent and those who didn’t could half guess, but without any real exposure on why this character was evil results in missing the mark again.
But Final Fantasy XV’s most fatal flaw is definitely Chapter 13. Not only does Chapter 13 represent the worst linear section ever offered by the developers, it brings into question how competent they are in telling a story. Within the chapter the most interesting parts are those left to pages scattered across a dull mechanical tower you drag yourself through, only to be knocked back down in search of a lost friend. There are really no words to truly describe how bad this section truly is. It is so bad that we have already been promised a patch to fix it. There is definitely something in the chapter, be it the trope of losing power and the return to greatness or perhaps it’s the almost eerie setting surrounding the tower, that makes it worth saving but it needs to be considerably shorter or at least address the narrative points in a better manner to truly bring the story together – it’s actually the reason this piece took so long to write because I was unable to continue.
That’s not to say there aren’t any great moments in Final Fantasy XV, in fact there is so much to love in the character building and relationships between Noctis and his friends. In the introduction Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus are presented more as mindful protectors rather than full on friends. Within moments this illusion is shattered in the best way possible as they suffer from car troubles and their camaraderie is clear. Florence and the Machine begins to play Stand by Me softly in the background and FF XV’s vision is clear. It’s about friends sticking together as their world ends – a common theme in a lot of Final Fantasy games.
Then you have the Astral fights. Astral represent the gods within Final Fantasy XV and, although sparse in appearances, each one of them has a truly memorable moment and set of cutscenes that really shows the scale of the larger enemies in Final Fantasy XV. My only issue with these enemies is that there really aren’t enough of them and the build-up could be a bit better, although asking for more of anything is surely a good sign. The subsequent are a mixed bag, even though they are spectacular in scope, more often than not the battles prove to be unmemorable.
And I feel that this feeling extends to the combat of Final Fantasy XV as a whole. For any casual fan looking to enjoy the story and mess about in side quests prior to end game content, you will find a painfully shallow system that has some serious camera issues in confined environments. Like many other recent FF games, XV has parted ways with turn based combat and decided to give way to a more action based system. Culminating in a dodge/block button, a dashing strike move, and an attack button. Most players will be able to casually skirt the vast majority of battles waiting for the quick time event blocks and subsequent parries while holding down the attack button. The only real variance offered is that of the differing weapons and the eventual introduction of a magic ring, a ring that I have struggled to fit in to combat due to its clunky casting time and excessive drain on MP to do anything meaningful.
Thankfully there are addendums to the combat, like positioning and special attacks that your teammates can use. When attacking an enemy from behind you will earn additional damage and perform a blindstrike, if friends are nearby this turns in to a link strike for further damage. When you perform enough attacks you are able to perform special moves, like a grouped heal or a devastating attack, by using a certain number of stocks from your team gauge. Adding just enough flavour to the mix, preventing you from literally holding the attack button for the entirety of the campaign.
At one stage you will eventually be tasked with finding Royal Weapons and in turn unlock the Armiger ability. Armiger is pretty much some sort of magical crack, allowing Noctis to tap his true potential and fly across the battlefield, encircled by his legendary weapons, creating a path of destruction. Armiger’s abilities are second to that of Noctis’ ability to summon some of the Astral beings to help him during battle, although these instances are few and far between – seemingly happening at random.
There is magic within Final Fantasy XV but it works to the detriment of your team and at times is more likely to cause more harm than it does good. Magic is based on special flasks in which you literally bottle elements – lightning in a bottle, if you will. These attacks are area based and will damage your team, who you have absolutely no control over, if they are standing in the way. This resulted in me avoiding the more damaging and wide spread magic based attacks in favour of magic based weapons for damage and outright brute force to attack enemies because the last thing I wanted to deal with was a Blizzaga potion catching the whole team and wiping them out in one fell swoop. The only time I really invest in magic was to boost my experience points with some special concoctions I mixed in the late game. And even then I was meticulously using Final Fantasy XV’s Wait Mode to check how close my intended target was to my peers.
And beyond that I really struggled to find the use for Wait Mode, sure it offered up the ability to analyse the situation should I be confronted by some larger beast, but after my first few battles I usually remembered what weapon types were strong against those foes and switched weapons accordingly. Any other time I opted for wait mode it was usually to answer the phone or just get a brief rest in the longer battles near the end game areas. So it essentially became another pause button that allowed me to quick cast potions, phoenix downs, and temporary buffs.
When you are not chasing down every beast in sight and challenging them to a square go, you’ll probably be cruising about Eos in the Regalia. The Regalia is the place to be when you are on a road trip, with Ignis as your driver and Prompto hanging over the front seat trying to talk to you, it would be hard to differentiate between real life if it weren’t for the distinct lack of rain and bad music. Travelling the open road will take an astounding amount of time in Final Fantasy XV, with cross continent trips taking anywhere between 8-12 minutes without fast travelling. You are given control of the vehicle in the later sections, but this control is completely devoid of any meaningful interaction as you are pretty much confined to the road. Going off road is what Chocobos do, not the Regalia. I can’t help but feel like the Regalia is underutilised while overstaying its welcome at the exact same time. Sometimes you just want to cut straight to the action, but are met with a long drive without fast travelling, while other times you wish you could do more with it. This is partially remedied after completing a series of quests, post completion, that allow the Regalia to transform into a flying vehicle, but it is still confined to the limits of the road when it comes to finding a place to land. A deflating experience from the feeling of freedom that should be expected from gaining the ability to fly. Although all this talk of flying is really way ahead of the potential 50-60 hours you’ll put in to Final Fantasy XV’s side quests and the actual story.
Final Fantasy XV doesn’t quite abide by the traditional JRPG formula and adopts a more Western philosophy when it comes to creating additional content. That’s to say that FF XV is packed full of meaningless fetch quests. You’ll be sent across the map to kill a lot of enemies, and to pick up even more ingredients for special recipes on behalf of the various chefs throughout Eos. These missions often become tedious and drawn out after the initial 20 steps. Although if you manage to soldier on and continue to hunt every possible creature and collect every cooking item possible you’ll find that some missions overlap as you explore everything the map has to offer, inadvertently stumbling upon Royal Tombs in the process. Everything eventually feeds in to the pursuit or more Gil, gear, and gameplay but your mileage really depends on how adverse you are to repeating almost identical mission structures over and over again without so much as a hint of any interesting mini games.
That’s right, Final Fantasy XV has no real mini games. Unlike previous entries to the series that would have you playing Triple Triad, Tetra Master or Blitzball for hours on end you are left with Justice Monsters V. Justice Monsters V is essentially pinball with some tweaks, but it will never reach the level of other Final Fantasy mini games. There are also Chocobo Races at a certain point, but again they fail to truly capture your imagination and inspire you to lose hours to them like the aforementioned in-game extras.
The only areas you will be losing countless hours in are the post-game content that will see you conquering hidden dungeons, felling insurmountable foes, and revisiting other dungeons to complete previously blocked off content. The end game content, especially obtaining Black Hood, is where Final Fantasy XV flexes and tries something a little bit different. Throughout my entire time with Final Fantasy XV I never felt particularly pushed in terms of difficulty, in fact I have yet to see a game over screen – beyond that one time I crashed the Regalia F into floor when I tried to land somewhere I shouldn’t – but these sections were great and really pushed your understanding of FF XV’s system and really challenged you. Needless to say, there is a lot to do and if you enjoyed the hunt quests prior to completion and wanted more quests you will find loads here that up the difficulty to a point that it’s genuinely enjoyable. It’s where I started to truly pay attention to Final Fantasy XV’s levelling up system and ensuring my perks matched my intentions, which is worrying to an extent.
It wasn’t until I was confronted by harder enemies and challenged by the difficulty of some scenarios that I truly appreciated what impact my party’s abilities might have on my game. It was here that I realised I had close to 380 points stacked up to be used, which were subsequently fired in to any perks that might benefit me in any way. Part of this disengage stems from how little the personal skills of Gladiolus, Ignis, Noctis, and Prompto impact the gameplay, which in turn tainted the menu screens to an extent. These skills only really related to actually continuing to use those skills, like Propmto’s photography skill only directly impacts his photography – a skill that you literally have no influence over. Then you have Noctis’ fishing skill which is fairly dull. Followed by Ignis’ cooking skill that allows you to eat meals for buffs to stats but also sacrifices any Exp boost you might get from staying in hotels. Finally there is Gladiolus who benefitted from Survival, like how vague can that be and can you explicitly tell me the benefits of this perk? It definitely does have some in relation to finding items and pillaging dead monsters but this felt super unclear for a very long time. But I digress, the impact of these skills meant that I turned a blind eye to the Ascension system that expands on every area of the game and ensures you are a bit beefier with more power, magic, and MP while ensuring you are better rewarded for partaking in everything FF XV has to offer.
No matter how much or little you enjoy Final Fantasy XV it’s hard not to avoid just how majestic it is. Set design is on another level during some fights and Prompto’s impromptu camera helps capture just how great the world looks – even if a great deal of the shots are scripted. There’s something about the familiar monster design and aesthetic about the diverse playground you can drive about day and night. When it rains, the Regalia will raise the convertible hood and your clothes will drip ever so slightly if you are caught in the rain. Particle effects look absolutely fantastic when your sword collides with metal or cast spells. It really is a beautiful game and the inclusion of some amazing new scores alongside some old favourites just seals the deal on the visual and audio design.
Ultimately my time with Final Fantasy XV was spent chasing the very few highs I found among a lot of mediocrity and poor design choices. Realistically, nobody ever enjoys filling their petrol, ever. And it’s this obvious lack of thought in design choice that rings true with large sections of Final Fantasy XV, I just failed to see the point in it all. A lot of representation and character exposition is circumvented or stored in other multimedia packages, rendering it near impossible to get in to if you haven’t spent a long time studying FF XV before you play it. Although if you aren’t put off by repetitive quests and willing to wait for Square Enix to patch the admittedly awful sections they have stated, you might fall in love with Final Fantasy XV, I am certainly not returning to the story, but maybe one day I’ll try out the promised cooperative content and even kill the Adamantoise.