It has been almost 10 years since the first unveil of Final Fantasy Versus XIII, intended to be a spin off series to the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy. Throughout the years it has gone through some rough patches, and as development progressed, it was clear that the direction of game was heading to a point where it was unique enough to be the standalone numbered series that we all know today as Final Fantasy XV.

The Final Fantasy stories are infamous for their sometimes complicated storylines, so it is a welcome breath of fresh air to have a simpler. more concise story this time around.

Taking place in the world of Eros, Noctis, the crown prince and heir to the kingdom of Lucis, has been sent from Insomnia, the capitol, by his father king Regis to meet his betrothed Lady Lunafreya, a childhood friend who he had encountered in the past. Shortly after, Noctis receives news of his father’s murder with the kingdom falling into the hands of Iedolas, the emperor of Nifheim, as a result. Noctis sets out on his vengeful journey to take back his rightful throne.

Joining the prince are his three comrades: Gladious who acts as Noctis’ big brother, Prompto , the blithe one who chronicles and fills the journey with quirkiness and positivity, and Ignis, the swanky dresser and dignified butler. Each of them plays an important role in the party that underscores its cohesion and perseverance beyond what is made obvious. At first I wasn’t quiet sure of this quartet’s dynamic, but as I progressed through the story, their camaraderie eventually grew on me.

Final Fanatsy XV has a lot of plot holes that may only be covered if you watch the associated movie KingsGlaive, as well as the five episodes of the anime Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV. Personally, I’m dislike the practice of spreading a game’s story across mediums. Exposition in itself is damning to game narrative; why make a game if all you want to do is make me watch the events unravel? Even in comics or movies, you wouldn’t watch a superhero movie if you had to read all of its respective comic books in order to understand it, would you?

 

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The world of Eos is a hodgepodge of distinctive historical periods, embracing our era’s technological advances as well as yesteryear’s monarchies and diplomatic marriages. It all end up being a weirdly wonderful place to explore, with breathtaking landscapes and mesmerizing vistas.

The textures and surfaces are outstanding, complete with comprehensive wrinkles, freckles, hair simulation, and small details such as the beautiful paint shades of the car that you drive around the world with. The animation is just as impressive, with massive boss fights that you will encounter on your journey possessing the scale of titans from the God of War games.

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The Final Fantasy series throughout the years has seen some drastic changes, be it through its world building, magic usage, story or combat. Through it all, I have always admired Square Enix’s ability to push its boundaries. For this release, the action has been revamped to a completely action-based combat system, forgoing the classic turn-based system–everything happens in real time.

You can equip up to four weapons of any type or spells to fit your play style, and some enemies can be resistant or weak to different types of weapons, so expect to switch your loadout on the fly.

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Holding the “strike” button automatically starts a chain of attacks, while tilting the analogue stick while attacking unfolds diverse combos. Defending works in the same manner by holding the “phase” button to dodge attacks which also enables you to parry certain enemy attacks. Failing to block certain incoming attacks will result in an intake of heavy damage, so always stay alert.

The function of holding down a button to initiate your actions makes the combat feel less like a hack and slash. Noctis also has the ability to instantly warp to wherever he throws his weapon, even into enemies which will deal additional damage. Warping through enemies consecutively makes for a great rhythmic and chaotic battle–it’s crazy, fun, and a blast to enjoy.

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The other three party members for the most part engage in combat automatically, with a cooperative attack triggering when Noctis either successfully parries or hits an enemy from behind. You have limited control over your party’s abilities, but you will be able to order them to pull off tactics that cover offensive and defensive techniques. You do so by spending attribute points you gain by leveling up to their individual talent trees.

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Deceivingly, a more action-oriented style may feel like a step away from the more tactical approach most of its predecessors asserted. That all changed when I reached my first dungeon and got crushed by a massive samurai monster. It was evident that some planning must be taken, like equipping the correct weapons that suite the inhabited monster’s weaknesses, as well as stock up on potions and other consumable goodies before charging into a dungeon.

You have the ability to blink on the overworld, but it’s not just a flashy move. You can, for example, use it to take out enemies with ranged attacks, located behind the front line. If ignored they can stagger you and quickly overwhelm you. Some monsters even have a powerful spell that pull you in for huge damage, so in this situation you can quickly blink out of danger.

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Magic is stunningly alluring with its particle effects, and is extremely powerful in its indiscriminate destruction; if your allies are caught in the devastation they will take damage. Small details authenticate the battle experience like the way your friends’ clothes burn should you accidentally scorch them with a fire spell, or get dirty after a long, hard-fought encounter.

The world is filled with lot activities with at least 80 side quests, in addition to fishing, bounty hunting, and dungeon-crawling endeavors. But unlike in past iterations where side quests were well thought out, most of the tasks you will partake are glorified fetch quests or similar menial errands like taking photos. A couple of quests do lead to a compelling plot or boss fight, but most are just uninspiring.

Bounty hunts do tend to fall into the same dilemma but, again, there are some very challenging beasts that you can kill for rewards and gil, Final Fantasy’s monetary currency. Overall, it’s certainly more satisfying to hunt monsters than working as an errand boy.

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Summons also make a comeback to strike down your foes. Don’t expect to summon one of the Astral Gods to your heart’s content, however; they can only be triggered during certain specific instances. When they do show up, it is a marvel to spectate.

Dungeons is just about my favorite aspect of the game. The intensity to go deeper into to maze-like, claustrophobic cave is horrific, and to finally reach the boss fight is thrilling. Dungeons are unique in design and the varying monster types you will encounter in each keeps things fresh.

The music in a Final Fantasy game has never been a disappointment, and I am glad to say it does flawlessly in XV. The calm and relaxing track that plays in large fields, for example, makes me want to stop and appreciate its magic. Heavy and speedy songs are played when battles are encountered, infusing you with an adrenaline rush.

The score is a masterpiece composed and produced beautifully by Yoko Shimomura–I can’t wait to hear her work in Kingdom Hearts III. I also love the fact that you can listen to all of the Final Fantasy soundtracks in-game. It is such a trod down memory lane that brings a smile to my face when I can listen to old favorites the likes of Tifa’s theme from Final Fantasy VII.

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No game is without its faults and Final Fantasy XV does suffer from a couple of easy-to-fix annoyances. Example, there are a few quests that don’t show up on the mini map , and opening the menu every time to set the primary quest is a hassle. You can only take on one bounty hunt at the time, which means needless time is wasted going back and forth killing monsters and turning them in, only to realize your next hunt is located exactly where you fought the previous monster. There is a heavy frame rate pacing issue on the PS4 Pro on high resolution mode which is a shame because the higher resolution looks astonishing.

Other irritations like not being able to pick up items while riding the chocobo, and troublesome camera angles in tighter areas ruin the experience. In regards to the latter, there are times when Noctis would go full berserk with his blinks and warps, and I kept losing track of my targets in the ensuing chaos. This makes it difficult to properly evade or strategically move out of battle if things get seedy.

The Second half of the game does get extremely linear and focuses on the narrative than the freedom of exploration. There is an instance in the game when Noctis is forced to walk around from one small hallway to another for a long, dull period of time. However, after the game is over, you can go back freely to tour around hunting monsters, uncovering secret dungeons, and finishing off side quests. One specific dungeon I hope you come across will take you around six hours to complete, and is one of the most enjoyable things I had done in this game.

Long time Final Fantasy purists may resist some of the changes introduced here, but a franchise needs to evolve otherwise it risks stagnation. Final Fantasy XV may not have the classic turn-based combat system, but it brings back chocobos, Phoenix Downs, Fira magic, crystals, summons, quirky characters and plenty of other references to its precursors. It’s not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction.

Square Enix said it best: This is a Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers alike.

 

Final Fantasy XV is available for the PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One. A review copy was made available to us via Square Enix.

PROS
Amazing graphics
Fantastic soundtrack
Stunning dungeons
CONS
Frame pacing issues
Disappointing sidequests
Story plot holes
Can only pursue one bounty hunt at a time
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