Final Fantasy XV Review

Posted: December 7, 2016 by ryanlecocq in Reviews

final-fantasy-xv_cover_2016

 

EDIT 12/13:  I have confirmed reports that the game is actually not running at 60fps on the PS4 Pro in Lite mode.  The PS4 Pro just reports 60Hz through the setup I was using when using the receiver/TV combo I have.  Oops, sorry for the error.  It does still run really nicely though.

 

I actually blazed through this one quicker than anticipated, so I don’t think it’s too awful late to put up a review.  The first reason for this is that XV was on the short end for a Final Fantasy game.  The second reason is that it’s hands down the best Final Fantasy game since the late 90s and I couldn’t stop playing it.  I ended up clearing the credits at about 43 hours, but I can easily see myself putting another 30-40 into it with side content and DLCs.

Final Fantasy XV was a game that did so many things and created so many feelings, that it is difficult to sum up the entire experience.  Rather than try to do so, I’m just going to throw out some feelings, judgments and anecdotes from my experience to give you an idea of what playing is like.  I can say that my overall impression was being overwhelmingly satisfied.  Not only did XV hit enough points that were lacking in recent Square-Enix games, it also satisfied me with its innovation for the genre.  Like the FF games of old, Final Fantasy XV blazes the trail for the next few years of JRPGs, while also retaining enough nostalgia to please long-time players.  To put it as succinctly as possible:  This is finally another true Final Fantasy game and if that’s all you needed to hear, you should go play it now.

 

The Three that Make One

ffxvmap1

No clue which parts of this I explored.

One really odd thing about FFXV, is the feeling you get of playing 3 separate games.  The first is the open-world, road trip adventure that dominates most of the previews and promotional coverage.  The second is the very linear part at the end of the game that bears a strong resemblance to the hated FFXIII.  The third is the collection of other odd bits in the game that seem to have been added later to lengthen and strengthen it.  While the gameplay systems remain the same throughout, the gameplay design is strikingly different.  I’ll just go into each separately:

The initial open-world segment is by far the best part of the game.  You cruise around with your buddies in your custom car and slay monsters.  Pretty much the RPG you never knew you needed so badly.  This is where the bulk of the side-quests and grinding take place.

The Imperial research facility and the Crown City toward the end of the game are very linear segments, that are probably the last holdovers from the time on FFXIII’s engine.  You explore repetitive maps, where it is difficult to follow the minimap because markers are so far away.  It was a bit of an “are you @#$%ing kidding me?” shock when I reached these parts, but I must admit it wasn’t that bad.  At least they don’t throw any similarity to XIII at you until the end of the game.

Then there are these other funky segments, like Altissia and the train ride.  These two segments were both awesome and bittersweet in an interesting way.  Altissia was the perfect RPG city.  It has a funky transportation method, tons of side-quests, many hidden shops and NPCs etc.  Unfortunately the city is all we get to see of the surrounding region.  While you can see much more on the map, only a small portion is reached in gameplay.  The train segment is the same; you go on a tour of the other two countries important to the plot, but never explored.  The sights and stops are epic, but once again you are unable to roam the other lands freely.

My best guess is that after so long in development, there were all these random pieces of game that were on a scale of quality.  Tabata-san probably came in and said:  “We keep this, this and this and we finish the game.”  In probably a lot more words.  The result is a little disjointed, but still very fun to play.

 

We Don’t Have Time to Argue About Time

screenshot_2016-06-14__7_22_pm-0-0

In the future everyone wears these.

MAJOR GAMEPLAY MECHANIC SPOILER AHEAD!:  One thing never mentioned before the game’s release is the time travel aspect.  I’m guessing this is because it was just shoehorned in to make the above segments work together.  Once you finish a section of the game, you can revisit it by calling Umbra, Lunafreya’s magical time-travelling dog.  I’m being totally serious.  The magic dog (which is actually a god, but that isn’t explained in the game) can transport you to back to your “memories” of those events.  So basically the idea is that you did every single side-quest before you left, you’re just reminiscing on it later.

When this totally breaks down is for example when an NPC asks you to bring him back a photo from Altissia, where you have not been.  At first I tried to find an alternate route to take the ferry to present-day Altissia, because I assumed the devs would not be so stupid as to break their own dumb mechanic.  I was wrong.  You go to the future, take the photo and bring it back to the man in your memories.

This only occurs in a couple of side-quests though, so I can totally forgive it.  On the flipside, it allows us to go back to the happier days of the road trip at any time.  This makes the later parts of the game 100% more bearable.  Since you retain your levels and items across time, you can just duck out of a tough mission, go back to an inn and hit the open road.  After grabbing a few upgrades, that mission won’t be so tough.

 

It Kind of Makes Sense

kingsglaive-2

Sir not appearing in this film.

By the end of the game, if you have watched the expanded universe stuff AND listened to most radio broadcasts, the plot mostly makes sense.  The radio broadcasts thing is key.  In a very odd choice of mechanics, there are radios scattered throughout the world that explain the most important plot points.  If you don’t key into this early on and seek them out, the game won’t make sense in some parts.

The best example of this is the life of Ravis Nox Fleuret.  Ravis is a character who exists almost entirely off the screen of the actual game.  His entire story is explained in Kingsglaive and the radio transmissions and letters you find.  So if you just play through the game and only view the cutscenes, you will have no idea who this dude was or what he was all about.  He’s also a pretty major character, which could confuse many players.

If you get all the right details, the plot of Final Fantasy XV is a classic, even by FF standards.  It ranks right up there with IV, VI and VII as having a plot that was really deep and interesting, with character you care about.  It’s a plot that brings a lot of chaotic elements together well and delivers a stunning finish.

I should warn you that the latter half of this game is really dark.  Like darker than Final Fantasy VIII dark.  To give a spoiler flashback on that game, your dad left your mom to die and you to become an orphan and your girlfriend is destined to inherit the world’s evil from your teacher’s wife.  FFXV is darker than that.  You have been warned.

It’s also a game that will delight and surprise you.  This is a minor plot spoiler, but early in the game the villain shows up and insists on joining you for part of your trip.  The characters don’t know he’s the villain yet, but he’s super creepy and the scene of him camping with the bros is hilarious.  These are the sort of fun moments that have been missing from recent FF games and really elevate XV back to that elite level of storytelling.

 

Fighting Weight

final-fantasy-xv-combat-1-640x360

Fortunately this is not the fishing mini game.

The combat system of FFXV seems to have struck the proper balance between action and strategy.  The addition of a wait mode that resembles the system of FFXII is the final piece to silence any critics.  Final Fantasy XV pretty much crams every series mechanic into its streamlined approach.  The major casualties are magic and summons, as they have been simplified to the point of barely resembling past versions.

Magic is basically like a grenade that you craft from mined resources.  You harvest magic material throughout the world, then craft magic grenades with items and these resources to make limited use spells.  Adding different items can power them up or increase the limited uses.  While this is fun and can turn the tide of a battle, it couldn’t in any way be called a ‘magic system’ to rival older FF games.

The summons are just really big one-offs that happen in tougher battles.  After you take enough time or damage, a random summon will offer to help.  You push a button and a really impressive animation happens, then things usually die.  It’s very impressive the first 5 times, but compared to say FFVIII, it’s very limited.

I like the overall methodology of leaving nothing out, just trimming until it all works.  You never feel like you lack combat options in FFXV and all of those options are fun.

 

She Runs Smooth

final-fantasy-xv

MAVERICK!!!

The other big concern for many was how smooth the game would run at launch, with the somewhat janky performance of the demos.  I was playing on a PS4 Pro model, but on the low setting I was able to get smooth 60fps for almost the entire game.  I haven’t personally played on a regular PS4, but it sounds like performance was much improved in general.  The high setting on the Pro is still plagued with frame-pacing issues, but the basic game as originally shown runs as well as we could expect.

I did notice some odd slowdown in the later linear segments.  This is unusual as these are much smaller than the rest of the game, so I would chalk it up to content from the old engine.

Overall this is the best looking and performing JRPG around.  While not quite rivaling games like The Witcher 3, it looks and runs far superior to series like Tales or Xenoblade.

 

How Complete?

otakuscape_b2c153d1b5da1f50

In an unexpected plot twist, Noctis is a Cylon.

This is really the big question; after all these years how finished is the game?  The easy way to answer this is to ask if the game is worth the sticker price.  For your entertainment dollar, Final Fantasy XV is a complete success.  Tons and tons of side content and character progression.  Lots of different things to do and explore.  Support for the new PS4 Pro and soon for the PSVR.  FFXV is without question a complete game that is worth your money and can be played start to finish, with a satisfying conclusion.

The gameplay mechanics that made it into the final game are solid and complete.  It doesn’t really feel like any sections of the story were cut, just some revelatory cutscenes.  What is truly missing from this game is the feeling of exploring the whole world.  Much like Final Fantasy XIII, XV lets you explore one large area and several small ones, leaving you to wonder about the rest of the world.  While it may be harder to render the entire game world now, compared to the 16-bit era, it feels like this game wanted to give me that freedom.

It was nice to see features like chocobos and and airship of sorts make the cut as well.

I was satisfied with the game as released, but I am totally willing to pay for DLC that would let me explore more of the 3 countries heavily mentioned in the plot, but barely explored.

 

Conclusion

This is definitely the big one for Squeenix and FF fans.  Final Fantasy XV will be considered to bar for JRPGs for several years.  While many of the gameplay mechanics were borrowed from successful Western open-world games, this game adds many of its own that others will rush to copy.  The frenetic combat and huge variety showed that the grandeur of old FF can be translated to modern technology and audiences.

Simply this game gave me hope that Square can ever be what they once were again.  It’s not the greatest game I’ve ever played, but it can stand beside the Squaresoft games of the 90s without shame.  That’s a feat no recent FF game can boast, because the only decent ones were online games separate from the main series.

After many years in development hell, Final Fantasy XV somehow emerged as a game that is really fun to play.  While the story requires a lot of investment to really deliver, it’s a good one and worth the extra legwork.  Above all else it captures the essence of friendship in a very realistic way, that will make you think of your own friends and how much you cherish them.

Final Fantasy XV is a classic JRPG that will definitely be one of the remembered ones, in a series with a few too many entries.  I highly recommend this game.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s