Are grand ambitions and a group of loveable characters enough to make Final Fantasy relevant again?
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PS4 (Version reviewed), Xbox One
Release Date: November 29th, 2016
It takes a lot of heart to review the sole project of an entire development team that has been years in the making. It takes even more heart to review a project that has been in development for an entire decade.
Final Fantasy XV is a game about struggling. It’s a game about a young boy ascending to manhood, facing down the challenges of both his own life, and his father’s life before. In this sense, the core story elements of Final Fantasy XV ironically reflect the struggle of Hajime Tabata and his team to produce said game.
The young boy in question is protagonist Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum who, after merely embarking on a stag do to pick up his bride-to-be with his best friends, instead finds himself charged with beating back the claws of the nefarious Niflheim empire, and reclaiming his rightful throne in the wake of the assassination of his father, King Regis.
Final Fantasy XV is a game that very clearly places the attention on the characters. I previously wrote about how Brotherhood, the anime mini-series leading into the main game, defied common marketing trends and placed an emphasis on making the audience care for the characters of the game. The same can be said of the main game, as Tabata and co. have correctly identified the characters as the cross that Final Fantasy XV may die on, and have gone to lengths to breathe life into every member of the part accompanying Prince Noctis.
Gladiolus is more than just muscle, Ignis is more than merely a butler to the Prince, and the character of Prompto extends to far deeper reaches than being the archetypal joker of the game. You have reasons to care for each character, but the exposition tied to each is unfortunately limited to the Brotherhood series. I’d wager a guess at less than 20% of Final Fantasy XV consumers having taken the time to watch Brotherhood (given the viewing numbers on YouTube), and it’s a shame that they’ll sadly have no idea how Noctis and came to love and care for the people that surround him throughout the game.
However, this isn’t the only critical piece of lore that is tied purely to outside promotional material for the game. The big-budget CGI action film, Kingsglaive, depicts how the fall of Insomnia actually takes place, and it’s purely in this film that both King Regis Lucis Caelum and the Emperor of Niflheim are actually given any screen time at all, as both receive minimal treatment in the actual game, despite a standout performance in less than 60 seconds from Jon Campling as Regis. Kingsglaive establishes the stakes for the main game, and although certain scenes from the film are rather unceremoniously thrust into Final Fantasy XV as cutscenes, any players who missed Kingsglaive will feel undoubtedly feel a certain disconnect from the plot of the game.
But even if one has experienced all the promotional content leading into the main game, it’s still hard not to feel a disconnect from certain characters and plot points as Noctis progresses on his journey. The game actually features an intriguing rogues gallery of villains from the outset, but every single one is cast aside in favor of the extremely disappointing big bad of the story, with a number of deaths taking place entirely offscreen, as well as one villain even siding with our heroes, for reasons that I’m still not entirely certain of.
Upon reflecting on the entire cast of characters, it’s hard to find a moment where a female character is given any major development. By now we’ve all unfortunately become acquainted with Cindy, the mechanic who’s sole personality trait seems to be that she likes wearing very little clothing, and the intriguing Aranea Highwind is discarded from the plot after appearing for merely a single showdown.
…if a single member of your party falls, the battle against even the most unsuspecting enemy can change dramatically.
But the treatment of both these female characters pale in comparison to the injustice that Lady Lunafreya of Tenebrae suffers at the hands of the development team. Luna is unforgivably dangled in front of the player as an objective, like a carrot on the end of a stick, and since going into further detail would be perceived as venturing into spoiler territory, I’ll sum the entire thing up by saying that the character of Lunafreya is only ever used to bolster the motivations of Prince Noctis, which is a shameful move on the part of Square Enix.
In addition to the female cast members of Final Fantasy XV being done a disservice, the actual plot of Final Fantasy XV feels like a half-baked idea. The very opening to the game claims that this is ‘A Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers,” but the reality is anything but, as the game takes a dramatic left turn in the later stages, sending the player on repeated fetch quests in what feels like an attempt to pad out the overall run time of the main quest line (which can be beaten in around 30 hours).
The plot is effectively divided into two halves, as while the first half takes place all around the open-world of Final Fantasy XV, the latter stage is linear in both a storytelling and a literal sense, as the player is forced to repeatedly run down very narrow corridors for hours in end, with very little being done to progress the actual plot of the game throughout these stages. While I can’t speak to the ending of the game without spoiling it, I have to say that it rivals The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for an ending in which the director clearly doesn’t want to let go of what they’ve created.
But the open world itself, throughout the first half of the game, truly sucks the player in through the sheer level of depth and attention to detail. Anything from wild animals, vicious monsters and Niflheim troops can always be found right around the corner from where the player is, and every single enemy type within Final Fantasy XV carries an extremely unique design, whether it be the Magitek troopers that bear a horrific backstory, or the raging buffalo-type Dualhorns that’ll give even the most seasoned player a run for their money.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the level of attention to detail throughout Final Fantasy XV is stunning, particularly given the unusually lengthy development cycle the game has experienced, but it’s tiny details like character interactions that really sell the game to the player. The entire gang accompanying Noctis make some brilliant puns, the highlight perhaps being Prompto shouting “Noct ’em out!” after a fight, as well as other tiny details like Gladio nicknaming Ignis “Iggy.” In fact, it’s a small miracle that the characters are performed as well as they are, given the fact that Ray Chase (who plays Noctis) recently revealed to Waypoint that the actors have never even been the same room together.
Leading up the release of the game, potential consumers were extremely unsure of how to receive the Regalia, the royal vehicle that the main group would be using to traverse the huge open world. As of right now, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the implementation of a car within a huge open world game. On one hand, it functions like a standard mount in any other open-world fantasy game, not unlike Roach in the Witcher 3, except the Regalia can only stick to the roads found throughout Eos. On the other hand, the overuse of the Regalia entirely undermines any exploration of the open world, as on top of making the world of Eos feel far smaller than it actually is, it removes any need for the player to run around for a lengthy period of time.
Combine this with the fact that the majority of players won’t want to spend too long exploring for fear of the powerful daemons that come out to play during the night, and you’re ultimately left with a tool in the Regalia that feels primed for overuse, almost acting like a teleportation system throughout the world. Opinions on the Regalia among players will likely differ depending on how much the car is used, but it’s highly likely that the vehicle will unfortunately detract from the beautiful open world around the player.
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The combat throughout Final Fantasy XV was another issue that seemingly divided people prior to the launch of the game, as it was perceived as though anything could be beaten by merely holding down the attack button. Fortunately, this simply isn’t the case, as players will need to plan a strategy for every single enemy found within the game, taking into account weapon types, enemy invulnerabilities, and enemy attack patterns, as well as the health and general status of your entire party. The emphasis in combat is very much geared towards working as a team, as if a single member of your party falls, the battle against even the most unsuspecting enemy can change dramatically.
The abilities of Gladio, Ignis and Prompto all come into effect during each battle, as unlockable individual abilities can speak to the different play styles of each individual person. If you want Gladio to bear the brunt of the attack for you, there’s an ability where he leaps in front of Noctis to protect the latter with a shield, while Prompto can even be given orders to take photos during the heat of battle, which can then be analysed and uploaded to social media at the end of the day when the player makes camp (one of Final Fantasy XV‘s more genius features).
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.