Final Fantasy XV Episode Duscae impressions

Posted: March 25, 2015 by ryanlecocq in Features
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Final Fantasy has had a very rocky time of it the past few entries.  Although each has remained fairly successful financially, it has taken multiple directors and several complete redesigns to finish each entry.  Starting about the time key staff started changing between IX and X, it’s been anyone’s best guess what each new Final Fantasy game would turn out like when it finally released.  In one of many confusing turns, Square-Enix decided to break each cluster of new Final Fantasy games into groups that share the same world or mythology.  This lead to 3 new FF universes which would now be fully exploited for sequel potential.  The “Ivalice Alliance” included games taking place in the world established in Final Fantasy Tactics.  The “Document of Final Fantasy VII” would be a series of games based on that game.  Finally there would be a completely new and revamped Final Fantasy universe called “Fabula Nove Chrysalis” which would explore a re-imagined take on crystals and magic.  Which brings us finally to where the game that became Final Fantasy XV came from.  FFXV started out as Final Fantasy Versus-XIII, which was to be an alternate take on Final Fantasy XIII and include elements like a world map that were not included in the main game.

Many of us were thinking this was the version we would rather play and anxiously awaited its’ release.  While updates on the adventures of Lightning and friends were forthcoming, Versus-XIII faded away from the public eye and was pretty much assumed to be vaporware.  Years went by and Squeenix pretty much milked the “turn everything into as many games as possible” idea to the max.  After 2 equally not Versus-XIII sequels to XIII, it was almost certain there would never be a version of XIII with airships and a world map.  Then suddenly, out of nowhere, it reappeared as the next full entry in the Final Fantasy series.  They promised us updates and a demo, lo and behold it was actually true.  To bring this long history lesson to a close, I have finally played a preview of this unicorn of a game.  The reason I take so much page space with this is just to illustrate how pleasantly surprised I am that it looks great.  That’s right, the game that will take a decade to develop is actually a lot of fun to play, even in this unfinished state.

Before I go into how this bold new direction is the breath of fresh air the series needs, let’s talk about the rough edges.  Somewhere in that development limbo, Final Fantasy XV changed game engines completely.  This is immediately evident when playing, because while the assets and effects all look fantastic, the game struggles to load them efficiently.  The demo runs at a notably sub 1080p and 60fps level, often distracting from the polish evident in every other aspect.  This is to be expected though as the devs must have put a lot of that time into developing the assets and are only struggling to get them all to jive in the new engine.  This is a far simpler problem than a game that just looks and feels under-developed after years in the oven.  This is no Too Human is what I mean by that.  The uneven performance looks and feels like a team frantically taking a beautiful game that was tuned to one engine and trying to force it onto another one without sacrifices.  With another 9 months to a year of development, I don’t see this being an issue.

Other than that, it’s pretty much all gravy.  The battle system is a major point for any series fan and I want to ease any fears that it’s too simplistic.  The combat is real time and the player controls only one party member.  While at first it seems a little simplistic and too much like Kingdom Hearts, new features are quickly added, even in the short span of the demo.  I got the impression that the fully unlocked battle system would require a great deal of timing and attention, as well as most of the buttons on the controller.  The gimmicks like throwing your sword and then teleporting to it were quirky but fun.  I found the AI of the other characters was pretty good, but I hope there is a system like gambits to control their behavior in the full game.

The best thing about this game, the one that grabbed me right away, is how much more compelling the world is.  While still containing fantasy elements, Duscae has a lot in common with Wyoming.  It’s surreal and fun to finish beating a dinosaur to death and look over and see cars whizzing by on the freeway.  I can almost imagine a kid in one of them saying “Mommy, isn’t that the prince out there beating up animals?”  “No, honey.  Don’t be silly.”  The characters are also a big part of the fun.  You are the exiled prince, entourage in tow.  While two of your buddies are clearly more like babysitters, they all treat you with an exaggerated respect that is often hilarious.  Every time you land the final blow in combat, one of them will generally make some too-positive statement about your prowess.  Many of these are somewhat sarcastic, which is even more entertaining.  It’s a huge positive change from what many of us felt was an unnecessary level of melodrama in recent Final Fantasies.  I would be embarrassed to play them around other people, because at the end of every battle, my characters would say something like “Don’t cry, we’re the heroes of the future” in a really heartfelt voice.

There was even one of the cheesy minigames, reminiscent of 90s FF games.  You stalk a behemoth in a series of somewhat lame parodies of Monster Hunter, that ultimately leads to a boss battle.  I’m pretty sure this isn’t how the game will play most of the time and is just one of several quirky side-quests like FF7’s snowboarding and motorcycle battling.  If that’s the case, I like it, if not, please don’t.

Finally, the graphics and sound are definitely up to series standards.  The design of the characters and the creatures is stylish and detailed.  The world has a very realistic and natural vibe.  The sound effects and music perfectly blend Final Fantasy with real world.  While the game engine is still a bit unfinished, when you see the Ramuh summon, you will have to admit the game is looking and sounding gorgeous already.

Now that I’ve had a taste and know this game is for real, I’m comfortable waiting as long as it takes to get it right.  I have been disappointed by most of the Final Fantasies of the last decade and am willing to wait a little longer for one that finally feels like a direction I want to see the series go.

  1. matt says:

    Look at you, being reasonable. You’re certainly in the minority there. I’m glad to hear it looks like it might be good one. I haven’t followed it too closely because I don’t have — and have no intentions currently of purchasing — an Xbox One. But I love this series, and I know it’s probably too much to hope for that the so-called fans will finally quit whining about it.

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