- Format: Xbox One (version reviewed), PS4
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Developer: Square Enix
- Players: 1
- Site: http://finalfantasyxv.com/
- Game purchased by reviewer
Ten years and one name change later, Final Fantasy XV is finally a game that people can buy. And they certainly have been buying it, with staggering day-one sales of five million. But… well… it doesn’t really deserve such immense and immediate success.
It may be the fifteenth entry in the Final Fantasy series – in fact it is, clue’s in the name – but you don’t need to have played any of the others to understand the mechanics or the story. In fact, before you even get to the title screen, the first thing the game screams at you is “A Final Fantasy for fans and first timers” in huge letters. Although there’s some background lore and some general ideas that tie loosely into previous games, the characters and story are essentially self-contained. The combat and HUD differ from previous games, too.
You play as prince Noctis, accompanied by his three close buddies Ignis, Gladiolus, and Prompto. It’s obvious from the off that they all share a very close bond, possibly because they all have very silly names. Noctis is off to a distant land to marry his childhood friend in order to formally unite their two kingdoms. Naturally things are never going to go smoothly, and things go wrong enough to necessitate lots of fighting and dungeon-exploring. We won’t go into further detail. Partly to avoid spoilers, but partly because it’s hard to explain a poorly-told story. With a few exceptions, we found it extremely difficult to care about what happened to individual characters or the lands that they live in. Everything arrives with a deep and rich history; which the developers then make no attempt whatsoever to tell. Everything assumes knowledge that you have no access to.
Although the story now and again dictates that you’re temporarily separated from one or more of your friends, you’ll spend most of your time exploring and fighting alongside all three of them. Each has a special ability that draws on a shared gauge you can command them to use, but other than that the AI acts entirely independently. Friendly AI is perhaps the game’s greatest achievement, working so well that you don’t even think about it. Their pathfinding is (99% of the time) flawless, and they work excellently in combat. They’re all genuinely useful in a fight, dealing decent damage and more than happy to finish off enemies themselves. One will quickly come to your aid when your HP hits 0 and you enter “danger” status. Although they’ll also rescue each other, they’ll never heal themselves without being told to; though as you all share the same reserve of potions, perhaps they’re just being polite.
Your HP and MP regenerate, and you can even be ‘rescued’ at 0 HP multiple times. This comes at a price, though; once it hits 0, your maximum HP slowly goes down until somebody comes to your aid (or it disappears, and you die). Your maximum won’t go back to normal until you use an elixir or rest your party. The same applies to your new bromantics, so you’ll need to keep an eye on their health bars as well as your own.
While you earn XP by killing nasties and completing quests, the XP isn’t actually applied to your characters until you rest. There are specific spots where you can make camp, and have Ignis cook up a meal for the party that applies temporary buffs. For a price however, there are various lodgings that will apply a multiplier to your current XP totals (1.2, 1.5, or – if you know where to go – 2.0). If you haven’t finished the story, then you could wait until the end of the current chapter; but no multiplier will be applied, and of course none of your characters will get any stronger in the interim.
The open world is huge, and somewhat pretty; but, despite a multitude of sidequests, somewhat devoid of surprises and activities. If you want an open world full of jaw-dropping wonder that offers something new and exciting around every corner, you want Xenoblade Chronicles X instead. It’s rather telling that the story involves so many long and compulsory journeys by vehicle. Dungeons are sprinkled around the map (both compulsory and optional), but their design is uniformly dingy and uninspired. As for the absolutely huge dungeon in chapter thirteen… uuurrrggghhh, we don’t want to talk about it.
As you may have already heard, the story takes you away from the open world for the second half or so (though you soon have an option to return via rest houses). We have no problem with this linearity because, when done right, it offers focus and set-pieces that the open world cannot. However, the sudden lack of sidequests means a sudden lack of opportunities for levelling your party up. If you haven’t been grinding and you’re not playing on the easiest difficulty, this may prove frustrating at times during the last few chapters, where you’re faced with groups of very tough enemies for long periods between any opportunity to return to the open world for optional quests.
Our biggest frustration is that the game this perhaps should have been is visible only in brief glimpses. A fantastical world on a grand and epic scale can be seen in certain cutscenes, and on rare occasions when you come up close to huge, intricately designed beasts. The epitome of this is perhaps the Venice-style city you initially come to when leaving the open world. It looks absolutely superb; but there’s not much you can actually do there, and the story takes you away almost as soon as you’ve arrived.
There’s plenty to do, and chances are you’ll enjoy doing most of it – especially if you’re already a Final Fantasy fan. The simple fact is though that there are a lot of much better RPGs out there, and this game would struggle to have gained half the attention and praise without the Final Fantasy name attached.