Final Fantasy XV is the latest entry to the long running Square Enix Japanese Role Playing Game franchise. It has undergone a troubling development before it was finally released. It’s been more than 10 years since its first announcement in May 2006 as Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Funnily enough, another game infamous for being stuck in development hell, the Last Guardian, was released a week later.
XV tells the story of Prince Noctis and his cadre of companions, Ignis, Gladiolus and Prompto, who leaves Insomnia (the capital city of Lucis) on the eve of a peace treaty with the warmongering Nilfhelm Empire. He is sent to wed Lunafreya, former Princess of Tenebrae, to cement the treaty. Things go awry when news reach Noctis that Insomnia has fallen and his father and Lunafreya were killed. Left with no home and no help, the party travels throughout the Kingdom of Lucis and parts of the Empire of Nilfhelm as they attempt to make things right with the help of the mysterious chancellor of Nilfhelm Ardyn Izunia alongside other helpful folks of Lucis.
The friendship between the four main characters are some of the best I’ve seen in a video game. Their banter, while traversing the open world, was amazing. They encourage each other, tease each other and have a fun time doing it. Staying at certain motels or campsites can trigger special scenes or “tours” which paints a better picture of the characters’ relationship with one another.
The combat system was really fun to play. It was fluid and engaging and requires certain forethought to it, though not as much as a traditional turn based battle would have been. But it does make easier battles much more fun to play, compared to the boring mashing of buttons to get through menus in a turn based system. The animations and movement were just great eye candy. One downside is the lack of magic variety, though I’ve never been a huge fan of using them in past Final Fantasies, so I didn’t felt their absence. I did miss support abilities however, which are mostly replaced by food buffs.
The entire atmosphere of the game was excellent. From the soundtrack to the vistas to the towns that are visited throughout the course of the game. The soundtrack is top quality, and lives up to the Final Fantasy quality, with themes like Fight Fantastica and Somnus from the great Yoko Shimomura. The OST is coming out in a few days. Can’t wait for it! In the meantime, there’s the Abbey Road event to keep me satisfied. And the game. Oh, there is also an in-game car radio and MP3 player where you can play a selection tracks from past Final Fantasy titles, with classics like VII’s One Winged Angel and IV’s Theme of Love to keep you company on a long drive around Eos.
Sights like the city of Altissia, the Disc of Cauthess and the Rock of Ravatogh are breathtaking too, with towering rock spires looming far in the distance. The town of Lestallum, in particular, has a special place in my heart since it reminds me a lot of my own country, especially when it comes to the open air market and food. This is an intentional design choice, as one of the Lead Game Designers of the game (Wan Hazmer) is a Malaysian!
From chapter 10 onwards, the game felt rushed. The story was full of plot holes or sudden “twist” that lacked the gravitas to feel shocking. Game play locations were linear and in certain parts of the game, Noctis’s abilities are removed, making me feel frustrated. It’s possible that they did this to make the player feel powerless without Noctis’s friends, but it doesn’t carry across well enough.
The side quests in the game aren’t the most creative ever. Most boil down to nothing but mere fetch quests, which on its own isn’t that bad, but little to no attempt are made to create an interesting backstory surrounding the quest. It’s as generic as it gets. Though I must admit that visiting the vistas of the game does make it the trips slightly worth it.
Summons were a serious disappointment. There are only six usable summons in the game, and each summon requires weird conditions before you can use them. Leviathan, for example, can only be used near water while Carbuncle can only be used in easy mode. This means that a.) most of the time you’re going to end up summoning Ramuh b.) if you ever manage to summon anything at all. I went through the game summoning Leviathan once, Shiva once and Bahamut once. I never summoned Titan and Carbuncle and probably summoned Ramuh only a handful of times. The animations are sweet though. Oh, and I was disappointed that Knights of the Round didn’t make a return, especially after what happened in Kingsglaive.
The story at its best is amazing, but at its worse, it’s a disjointed disaster. At times I feel like the first chapter is the best chapter of the game. Unweighted by the tragic story, the boys taking their sweet time moving around the world and doing mundane stuff actually felt fun. When the story is taken into account, their banter and free movement in the world often stood out in contrast to the urgency and dark tones of the story. On the other hand, Chapter 9 was some of the best scenes I’ve seen in a Final Fantasy game and actually brought a tear to my eye. There are certain characters that seem to have been dumped without much fanfare. Verstael in particular was one such individual, Cor Leonis and Emperor Iedolas don’t fare that much better either. Much of it, I feel, has to do with the troubled development the game has undergone.
Speaking of the story, is it just me or are they trying to channel iconic moments from Final Fantasies past? I can think of scenes that remind of VII, IX and X right of the top of my mind. If you have played the game, let me know in the comments if you felt the same way.
Looking at past trailers of the game makes wonder how the game would turned out without the directorial switch. Final Fantasy versus XIII and what eventually became Final Fantasy XV is evidently different from one another. The tonal shift is definitely the most obvious, as well as the replacement of Stella with Lunafreya and the aging of King Regis. The Fall of Insomnia was also moved off screen, taking place in the Kingsglaive companion movie. Fights in Insomnia and Altissia have also been gutted. Elements like Eyes that see the light of expiring soul and scenes from Noctis’s childhood are missing. What felt like a retelling of Hamlet turned into a tale of brotherhood. I would really love to dig into the minds of Nomura and Tabata one day to find out the differences between the two directors’ visions for the game.
Speaking of Kingsglaive, the companion film and the Brotherhood short animated series should really be watched prior to the game as it paints a nice background to the story and informs much of the motivations of main characters like Lunafreya and Prompto. While I think you won’t be totally loss without watching them first, they do explain a lot of the background of the game.
This might be a spoiler for some people, so I suggest you skip this paragraph if you’re sensitive to it. Final warning. At the end of the game the “true” logo is revealed and it replaces the title screen logo. Why the hell did they hide the “true” logo of the game? Heck, they even went to the length of blocking game recording when the title screen is up. It’s a fantastic piece of artwork and I honestly didn’t think it spoiled the story at all. I really wished they hadn’t done this, as the game will likely be referenced using the original logo in possible future spinoffs like Dissidia.
At its absolute best, Final Fantasy XV is a breathtaking, fantastical road trip that every gamer should experience. At its worst, it’s a frustrating mess of corridors with no ability to attack. The good news is, the development team has vowed to fix the shortcomings of the game, so keep an eye on that news before deciding whether to get the game or not. As for me, it was worth the price of entry and definitely worth the ten year wait for sure.
And now, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that Agni’s Philosophy will turn out to be Final Fantasy XVI.