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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.
Finally! A constructive and thought-out review of this game!
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