Reviews: Final Fantasy XV

Army of Four

Final Fantasy 15 had a really long development cycle. Square Enix had a number of designs that they made and remade repeatedly over the years. I'm sure everyone remembers the first somewhat unofficial trailer where Noctus cuts down an army of soldiers with his Armatus power. My point is the game had gigantic hype on its shoulders and there was no way it could live up to expectations.

That's not to say it didn't surprise me. Final Fantasy 15 clears away whatever hybrid mechanics were involved in Lightning Returns in favor of straight forward Hack and Slash mechanics and its pretty solid. The game does an impressive job of incorporating Noctus's Warp techniques into game mechanics. Noctus can use warp to specifically target far away enemies, flee dangerous AOE attacks, or outmaneuver larger enemies. This mechanic is outright encouraged against very high level enemies as they do high amounts of damage even at the max level. Some dismiss the dodge mechanic as "holding to win" but the dodge mechanic has all the flaws of blocking in Dark Souls and punishes the player for spamming the dodge mechanic as it drains MP, a stat that replenishes very slowly.

FF 15 experiments characterization differently from its predecessors by developing its characters through interaction. Rather than having some tragic past that must be overcome, the character's display their traits through their conversations and events they share with Noctis. FF 15 has the most active party interaction I've Final Fantasy game. In every chapter, the party always has something to say or do. Whether it be Ignis suggesting a logical solution, Gladious speaking honestly, if not brutally, or Prompto trying to defuse tension through humor, they never feel like hang-ons or gimmick characters. Rather than introduce a large cast filling certain battle archetypes, instead each character has a wide variety of Team Tech attacks, which add versatility to combat. These can range from crowd control to debuffs, augmenting Noctus wide variety of combat abilities.

The plot is extensive, if a little overwhelming. The story should have done a better job of characterizing Niflehiem beyond being the empire. The game displays their power and the danger they pose to the Kingdom of Lucii, but the audience doesn't know much about them beyond being the bad guys. The game also does a hard shift from a political war to dark fantasy in the final quarter of the game. The pacing during this arc feels too fast and seems to lack some build up. The story has a good outline, but falls short on details.

Final Fantasy 15 is a strong entry in the franchise, even if it isn't the best in terms of plot line. I hope future entries remember the effectiveness of focusing on a small but important party cast and the appeal of good character interaction, as these aspects were what really defined the game's identity.

Mixed bag

Final Fantasy seems to have gotten into a pendulum state where the way to correct one problem is to go super-hard in the other direction. The main complaint of 13 was that it was too linear and focused on cutscenes which naturally means the answer, Final Fantasy XV, should have a sprawling open world with a significantly trimmed down story. Along with the Development Hell this game went through between tight budget, swapping directors, pushed back release dates, tie-in merchandise... well, I'd like to think they did the best they could.

The good news is that the game IS gorgeous, the main four are likable, and combat is fun. It's more in line with Kingdom Hearts than previous F Fs and in this case, it works. To balance out the long stretches of walking around, when you're in trouble a potion will generally help you out. And there is a lot of area to explore. The only major downside is that magic took a huge hit as it relies entirely on farming to make limited-use spells. (Think the draw system from 8, but having to be done with much smaller rewards.) There also isn't much variation in spells that you can cast either. Given that your main attack is with weapons, this isn't the end of the world but it is a change.

The bad news is... the game sacrifices a - lot - because of said openness. The plot isn't intricate nor really fully explained, as the creators assume a player will either watch the tie-in movie or the Anime episodes to fill in blanks. The gameplay becomes linear in later chapters to force the feeling of everything going to crap but some of the so-called tragedies aren't that tragic as the game itself has never built up WHY you should feel sad over some of the sacrifices. Some villains are completely shelved or forgotten about in a distant "oh they're dead now sorry." That's right - you won't even get to fight a lot of the antagonists along the way or even see them being all that antagonistic.

Quite a few areas have been hacked out entirely (even ones in promotional materials!) and interactions with NP Cs are pretty limited aside from overhearing conversations. Surprisingly, few that you meet seem all that upset or freaked out about their country being invaded and leaders killed.

Perhaps my biggest gripe is that the game itself feels very empty. For all the space you're given to explore, you won't really find rewards or secrets waiting for you... just a lot of scenery. Living, breathing NP Cs are scarce and at no point so far has it felt like a major crisis has occurred. By the point massive tragedy has stuck my initial feeling is "..and why should I care about these guys?" The plot does get DARK but the buildup is very hit and miss.

Don't get me wrong - this is a fun game. But it's a game that, given its creation time, doesn't live up to the hype. But seeing as how it's a Final Fantasy, it will sell fine.

Platinum Demo: An Electroplated Elegy of Emptiness

As You Know, I'm not really coming from a good place here to begin with. Final Fantasy and me... well, let's just say, our best days together are gone, daddy, gone. But, hey, I'm not a guy to turn down a free demo! Hell, they may've even learned a thing or two from their copious mistakes over the last decade! Ain't no healer like time and all that... Hell, I'm convinced! Let's go! Let the legend come back to life...!

Nope.

Nopera.

Nopega.

27 minutes later, it was all over. The overused phrase "What the fuck did I just play?" was invented for situations like these. So I spent less than half an hour—less than it took to download the fucker (3.8 GBs for this?)—following a weird power animal dream guide thing communicating via text messages, like Alice through a particularly shiny-looking rabbit hole, with no explanation as to what the hell is going on.

The last thing you do is walk down a literal hallway! Exactly one of the major sticking points of its direct predecessor (as usual, the MMORPGs don't count), mentioned by name, and used literally. Like something out of a snarky Decline of Video Gaming style online parody video. Hell, I'd take it as Square Enix poking fun at themselves... if they didn't have less of a sense of self-irony than Morrissey.

It plays like, and exudes all the firsthand gameplay enjoyment associated with, a proof-of-concept video for a potential Kickstarter campaign, at best. And the visuals aren't even that good. They might've been revolutionary some two-three years ago, but by contemporary standards, they're nothing special. Not a year ago, MGSV did them one better, and at a rock-solid 60fps no less. Oh, and while on the subject, anyone who thinks Ground Zeroes was a short, unsatisfying teaser that had trouble justifying its own existence has got another thing coming. This'll give you perspective, if nothing else (and you know there isn't)!

Actually... you know what's a much better point of comparison? Those fanmade "remake" videos made with some new-fangled high-end graphics engine that make the game look shitloads better, but always fail to capture what made the game unique in the first place. There's always something off about them. In this case, the demo's tepid, clunky and repetitive Kingdom Hearts-ish real-time RPG gameplay doesn't feel like it was made by real game developers.

The final straw are the in-game objects you can use to make time pass faster, or change the weather. Shameless, ostentatious Scenery Porn of the most condescending kind. And at the end, the game has the balls to ask you outright whether you'd like to buy it now. Like, literally, in the game itself. Square Enix and their usual pre-emptive attempts at creating a mini-franchise deserve nothing more to crash and burn if this pointless waste of time is the sum of their efforts.

When will I ever learn? Hell, when will they?!?
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