Developers: Square Enix
Publishers: Sqare Enix
Rating: T for Teen
It’s no secret that I am a fan of the Final Fantasy series. I was just coming down off my high of Final Fantasy XII when the trailer teasing what was then known as “Final Fantasy Verses XIII” was unveiled in 2006. I wasn’t really sure what to think of a modern fantasy setting with cars, streets, power lines, and buildings included, but the trailer’s action sequence was enough to get my blood rushing. I still remember my response when I saw that trailer: I raced home from work (and back then I had to bike five miles, so this was a feat) and booted up my computer to watch it over and over. To say the least, expectations were set high.
Yet every time another Final Fantasy was announced, I was left with bitterness bitter that it wasn’t the game that was originally teased. There was other bait here and there, but after a few months, it seemed that Square went silent in their production of their next big release. The fan community, to include myself, was not only confused, but a little outraged when Final Fantasy XIII was officially announced and it was not Final Fantasy Verses XIII. Instead, we had some pink haired fem-Cloud and her posse of not-FFVII clowns tromping around in a story that, frankly, left the fans wanting to collectively close their heads in the nearest doorway.
The community continued to pressure Square and in the same fashion as The Last Guardian, we weren’t given much to cling to. As the years rolled by, it seemed like we would never get the game that we were promised back in 2006. Instead, we saw two sequels of the train wreck that was FFXII and were “treated to” the release of a new Final Fantasy MMO which, originally, was so bad that Square had to offer a formal apology to their fanbase and re-master the game from scratch.
With all the hype, the teasing, and the delays concerning the game’s release, the expectations for Final Fantasy XV were sent through the roof. However, Square knew this and pulled out all the stops in promoting their game. Months before the game was set to release, they began releasing anime mini-episodes to give the fans of the series a little exposition into the characters that they would soon be getting to know within the game. Each episode went into the past of one of the four main characters and expanded upon their relationship to Prince Noctis prior to their official appointment at his side. These animations were fantastic—on par with Funimation Studios—and the stories, while short, did a lot to endear the fanbase to the characters themselves. Square also released a full length, full CG animated movie, Kingsglave, prior to the release of the game. If that wasn’t enough, there were two playable demos prior to FFXV‘s release. One of them unlocked a small summon that would aid you in easy mode if you decided to go that route. Along with that, Square made several special edition bundles available; the most expensive was released in limited quantities and cost about as much as the actual PlayStation 4 console. The marketing was smart, and it set the bar even higher. By the time Final Fantasy XV hit the shelves, the fanbase was already tripping over themselves to get to know the characters even more. They fell in love with Ignis and his desire to cook the perfect desert, with Gladio as the overly-protective big brother, Prompto as the awkward but motivated kid who just desperately wanted a friend, and Noctis himself who suffered tragedy at a young age only to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders as he entered manhood.
Finally, ten years later, Final Fantasy XV has been released. Now that it’s out and I’ve spent dozens of hours playing it’s time to review this bad boy. Was it worth the wait?
While the lore of Final Fantasy has always included references to pagan entities such as Ifrit, Shiva, Leviathan, and Behemoth, there are not a lot of similarities between the mythological figures and their roles within the games. There is reverence given to these beasts, but it never feels religious. The beings are regarded as powerful and supernatural, but they are seen as having a role in the world that more contributes to it than holds dominion over it.
There are spiritual entities woven through the game, supernatural elements, and the spirits of the dead, which hold more religious reverence than anything else within the game. There is also an Oracle figure, but her impact is downplayed, especially when compared to Yuna from Final Fantasy X. Overall, while there are spiritual elements present, they’re more or less side notes rather than the central focus. In a series well known for its criticism of religion and the church this is a refreshing turn.
Final Fantasy XV is combat-heavy. Each character can brandish a variety of weapons from shotguns to massive great swords. The main character can use just about anything and everything. There is a lot of hacking, slashing, shooting, and smashing to be seen but within combat, however mild. There’s no blood or gore; the monsters take damage and draw back when they’re hurt. The most graphic the game gets in this regard is during cutscenes: the characters can be seen with bruises, scrapes, and very minor cuts.
For a teen-rated game, the language is actually tame. “Heck,” “Darn,” “illegitimate son,” and their alternative forms are aplenty but none of the “big mama” words are present. As far as humor goes, again, it’s mild enough. Prompto has an eye for the ladies and makes passing comments about their appearances, but he never sets a toe out of line in that regard.
While there are some ladies that are dressed less than modestly and Gladio doesn’t believe in shirts, there’s no sexual content to be advised against.
Unless you count guzzling potions by the dozens, there’s none present.
At its core, Final Fantasy XV is about brotherhood and responsibility. There is romance, intrigue, and a variety of other elements but they all take a back seat to the heart and soul of the game. The four main protagonists are composed of a prince, his mentor, his body guard, and his best friend. Noctis, the young prince, is burdened with the responsibility of his post and this burden only grows as the game progresses. There are times when the burden seems to nearly drive him to his knees and he’s seen in true, genuine anguish as the reality of his situation begins to hooks its claws into his very soul. His companions each play a role in strengthening his resolve, building him up, and tempering his spirit to face the trails ahead. There’s an easy comradery between the main four that’s genuine and heart felt.
Gladio takes on a big brother role to Noctis. He’s protective but he doesn’t talk down to Noct in the slightest. At times, he’s even a little hard on the young prince. Ignis is the voice of reason in the group and often points out the positive side of every situation, regardless of the difficulty presented. He’s a mentor as well as a caretaker. Prompto truly has no reason to be a part of the prince’s entourage; he’s just there because he’s devoted to his friend. He’s perky—sometimes a little overly so—and he keeps the spirits of the group up.
Noctis himself is one of the strongest leads in the entire Final Fantasy franchise. He has his weaknesses and his strengths, but through it all he keeps his eyes on his responsibilities and does whatever he can to fulfill what’s expected of him. He’s not above admitting when he’s wrong or apologizing when he messes up. He’s shy with his emotions but bold in the face of adversity.
Firstly, I will give no spoilers here. Final Fantasy games are always an experience and unfortunately the internet has a way of ruining this experience prematurely. I will, however, be discussing the ending and my personal thoughts in another article. However, for those of you wanting an honest review of the game, I’ll keep as vague as possible. Secondly, I do want to apologize for how long it’s taken me to get this review out. I’ve waited for ten years to play this game and I wanted to experience as much of it as I could before confronting the final boss and wrapping it up for a review. That, and since I began, there have been updates and at least one DLC that I’ve participated in, so I wanted to make sure that I covered enough ground to give this game an honest shake.
Final Fantasy XV does not disappoint.
The opening scene is a simple. The boys are stranded in the middle of nowhere pushing their car and bickering among themselves. The song “Stand by Me” begins to play as the camera pans out to the breathtaking landscape that you will soon find yourself traversing. I’ll start out by saying that Final Fantasy XV is the most visually stunning game that I have played to date. There was so much attention put into everything that the world itself seems to be a tangible place. Day and night pass, there are weather conditions, slight breezes, and ambiance that breathes true life into the atmosphere. I spent hours just exploring the terrain to see what secrets I could uncover, to find every single fishing spot, to find hidden dungeons, and to see what kind of fauna populated the world. While I was originally unhappy with the idea of a Final Fantasy game including a motor vehicle—especially one as familiar as an Audi—it actually works to the game’s advantage.
While you have the option of taking the Regalia from one place to another, you aren’t obligated to do so. Early on in the game you are able to unlock the franchise’s signature mounts: the chocobos. These birds can be customized in color, name, and decorations. You can rent them for seven days at a time and they’ll come to a whistle just about anywhere. They make traveling between the paved places quick and honestly a lot of fun. When the chocobo isn’t an option, you could always hoof it. This takes forever, but it also lets you appreciate the landscape and how the characters move. Walking is also makes it easier to discover little hidden treasures. There were times that I would stop to watch a sunrise or a storm roll in simply because of how stunning it is to watch.
The character models are also the best that I have seen. They move with true weight behind them. There’s great detail in the flip of their clothing as they make a sharp turn, the movement of their hair, how the weather and atmosphere affects their sick ‘do’s, and the crew even begins getting dirty if you don’t take time to let the guys crash for the night. Each character moves in their own distinct way, each with their own gait and body language.
That kind of detail blows my mind. As an artist, I cannot imagine the amount of work that went into nailing each character’s personality just in how they stand and observe their surroundings, much less walk and emote with their hands as they interact with each other. Their expressions are so genuine that they can either force you to laugh right along with them or weep openly as their emotional walls shatter. They are animated as well as they were written, with each of the four leads feeling alive. The side characters and NPCs are given equal attention. I cannot praise FFXV enough for the life that comes out through it. If the game was just an endless sandbox and one long road trip involving these four characters, I would be more than happy.
The orchestrated soundtrack goes hand-in-hand with the visuals. The overworld music is quiet, but it has an air of adventure as well. The battle themes get you hype, and the somber songs just twist that knife a little deeper into your emotions when things get heavy. The soundtrack is well worth owning.
The gameplay is nearly flawless as well. The combat is engaging and fast-paced as much as it is challenging and nearly without limitations. There’s no right way to win a battle. I love having options and flexibility, and I love being able to build my characters the way I want to cater to my style of game play. Through the game you can gain AP and spend those points towards special skills and buffs.
Some buffs, like the recovery buffs, allow characters to run to one another’s rescue and restore their health in battle without the use of items or MP. Some skills allow you to deal more damage or trigger co-op attacks more frequently. Along with the AP system, each character specializes in more than one type of weapon. Gladio, for example, can use longswords and shields along with a magic spell if you so choose to equip him with it. Ignis is great with throwing knives and polearms, and Prompto specializes in fire arms. Noctis is by far the best FF lead to play in combat as he can use any type of weapon. You can switch his weapon in a heartbeat, to adapt your fighting style to the situation. You can equip magic spells and weapons mid-fight to give yourself the edge you need to over-come an enemy.
Noctis also comes with an ability that allows him to throw his weapon and teleport to where it sticks. Dangling from a high point allows him to gain HP or to line up a warp-strike on an enemy for additional damage. He can use his ability to dodge as well, so button-mashing is a thing of the past.
The AI in this game is outstanding. While FFXII had impressive AI in battle, you still had to set up gambits to get the characters to perform the way you needed them to, but that involved unlocking enough gambit slots, finding the right actions in stores or in the field, and a lot of trial and error. In FFXV, the characters are able to function with minimal babysitting on your part.
Every battle gives you a score at the end based on damage dealt, finesse, and the time it took to take down your foe. It lets you challenge yourself and it keeps even mundane battles from being an eye-rolling bore. Even if you are getting a little sick of fighting, it isn’t hard to escape. Noct’s teleport ability lets you warp large distances to flee from combat. Once you get out of range, the enemy gives up and you can go along your merry way.
Plot-wise, the game is inspired by Shakesphere’s Hamlet while also touching l, but FFXV does well to stand on its own two feet. The story isn’t all that complicated really; it’s a story of brotherhood and rising to face one’s destiny, but at the core of it all is the characters. Any good story can be made great if the characters that we get to know can draw us into their experiences and make us live their journey with them. That’s this game’s greatest strength. I found myself spending more time looking for ingredients so Iggy could make the perfect dish than I did grinding against beasties in the wild. I was thrilled whenever I found a fishing spot because I knew Noctis loved to unwind by the water. Gladdy’s obsession with cup noodles drove me into a quest that I was sadly under-leveled for, but I pulled it out because dagnabbit, my bro wanted his noodles! And Promto’s pictures? Highlight of every in-game day. FFXV has its flaws, but I can forgive all of it because of how well the characters were written.
To be fair, I do have to pick on the game just a bit. For one, the villain is interesting but there’s not a lot of expansion into his motives without some serious research. I never really fully understood his motivations as I played through because his exposition is given only in a few brief statements through the duration of a few brief encounters; only after beating the game and digging around did I have my “ahah” moment. In a game that put so much effort into making every little detail personal and heart-wrenching, I was disappointed that the same treatment couldn’t be spared on the antagonist. If there had been some time developing him as a character, seeing a little bit of his past, or even cut-away scenes showing what he was doing or toiling with on the side it might have helped. I would have loved to learn more about the villain. Without giving too much away, I feel like the ending would have been much stronger if he had been more of a personal threat or if we were able to see some of his past to better understand his motivations.
My biggest complaint about FFXV has to be the final four acts. The first ten acts of the game have solid pacing. They tell a story, yet they give you time to breathe and experience the world. You have time to let things sink in and see the effects they have on the characters. In the final acts, everything rushes by and it’s like being in the middle of a car accident. You don’t have time to think, you don’t have time to digest any of it, and it feels like the pacing has lost the brake somewhere down the road, and all you can do is hang on and scream as everything burns. It’s an emotional whiplash. I think that the ending would have deeper impact less fans left rubbed the wrong way had the second half of the game continued at the pace of the first half. Again, I understand why the game was pushed forward the way it was on paper, but over all it seems a little unsettling.
In that regard, the game itself feels short. For something that could easily consume 600 real life hours of playing, it still felt short. The actual story isn’t a lengthy one—it’s the journey that takes a while. Side quests do offer a lot of expansion into the characters, their dreams, their ambitions, and their relationships with each other and the people that they encounter along the way. There are even dungeons hidden away and a lot of post-game content. Still, I wasn’t entirely prepared for the game to end. Then again, this could be my personal experience or my desire to spend more time with the bros and see a little more of their journey play out before the conclusion unfolded.
All that aside, Final Fantasy XV is a masterpiece. It’s well worth the wait, if only for the characters and the world itself. The journey, more than the destination, is what this game focuses on as well as the bond that forms between friends. The tone of the game moves away from previous titles and their obsession with demonizing the church, questioning authority, and altering social norms. The narrative is actually a powerful one of personal responsibility, sacrifice, devotion, and courage. There’s so much that I’ve still not explored and done in the game and I dedicated three entire months to playing it. Every waking moment away from work was spent on this gem, and I don’t expect that I’ll be putting it down soon. This review could go on forever, but it would be best to experience the game for yourself.