From its opening sequences, Final Fantasy XV promised to be a Final Fantasy installment fit for fans and first-timers alike. And, as a newcomer to the series who had only heard the classic soundtracks and caught passing mentions of Moogles and Chocobos, Final Fantasy XV creates a captivating ride that coaxes players into the immersive Final Fantasy universe at a comfortable and enjoyable pace.
While still on the subject of the game’s opening; Final Fantasy XV has, without a doubt, one of the best video game openings I’ve ever seen, and it does so without employing action sequences or a summarized plot. The team of the protagonist Noctis and his friends Prompto, Gladiolus and Ignis truly feel like a tight-knit group from the get-go, with each character’s appearance perfectly capturing their personalities before they even have the chance to speak. When their adventure is quickly cut short by something as mundane as running out of gas, the situation feels uncannily relatable in such a fantastic world. The camera panning upwards with Florence + The Machine’s rendition of “Stand By Me” setting the tone as the quartet quips back and forth is enough to make any Final Fantasy beginner fall in love with the series immediately.
But while the four directable characters charm players in the beginning, their commentary and performance in-game unfortunately hits a mid-to-late-game lull. The post-combat dialogue becomes quite repetitive after a few short scuffles, to the point where you might find yourself finishing the character’s sentences before they have the chance. No matter how many skills and points I distributed into boosting the three teammates’ stats, I never really felt the impact of them in battle unless I was purposefully directing their movements. They were useful for some supplemental damage and convenient distractions, but I found myself taking more care of them than they were for me. Perhaps down the skill tree they’ll find their place, but it seems like quite the point investment to get to that point when Noctis can sufficiently handle most threats with just Gladiolus and an earth-shattering Dawnhammer.
Dawnhammer and other special team attacks are perfectly designed for the real-time combat that diverts from the turn-based combat Final Fantasy often employs. Each teammate has signature moves that can be unlocked to unveil their full potential, and the ingenious assaults provide some significant damage and much-welcome invincibility frames during the more hectic brawls. Noctis’ Warp attacks keep the combat free from delay as he blinks around the battlefield and crashes down upon enemies, but the camera doesn’t always keep up with Noctis’ speed. Locking onto one enemy requires holding a bumper and clicking a thumbstick, the thumbstick by default opening the map when pressed on its own. This controller mapping led to me constantly open the map mid-combat, a misclick frustrating enough to break any combat immersion. Once you get locked onto an enemy, the camera doesn’t get much better. The angles it forces you into don’t seem intuitive for real-time combat, and targeting individual body parts on larger foes seems like more trouble than it’s worth when you can just smash the enemy’s center of mass for sufficient results.
The magic combat system could also use a complete overhaul, as using it now is unnecessary and, frankly, dangerous to Noctis’ already fragile teammates. Why magic was designed to inflict damage on friends and foes alike is beyond me; it’s not like the magic attacks are narrow and directed, they’re massive explosions that hit multiple targets at once. A simple combat tactic that makes the team back off when Noctis targets an area with magic seems like a smart move, but the attempt to make magic a risk-reward decision falls flat due to poor implementation.
But combat is only part of a well-rounded RPG; the real test of time lies in the adventure the game offers, and boy, does FFXV offer an adventure. The side quests delicately balance both repetitive and one-time quests that result in rewarding items and experience. The rewards are clearly stated at the quests’ beginning so you can see if it’s worth pursuing, and the diversity of the objectives that range from food-gathering to dungeon-crawling to frog-catching provide options for any quest-seeker. The opportunity to further pursue these quests during end-game content relieves some pressure to get everything done at once, something that can be quite overwhelming in many RPGs. If you ever tire of running back and forth for quests, the bountiful Hunts available provide a burst of excitement as you hunt down wildlife and demons deep in their own habitats.
The story itself does have some moments that could be explained better. While it typically flows well, some parts do seems as though Noctis and the gang are thrown from place to place with little explanation as to how they got there. It’s mostly mid-game that this occurs; the early and late moments in the story are pretty tidy and pace the game well. The duration of the story when mixed with side quests and explorations creates quite the lengthy narrative while keeping players engaged throughout.
Despite the missteps during combat and some common AI faults that plague so many games with uncontrollable teammates, FFXV delivers a solid open-world RPG that definitely offers considerable replay value after completion. Longtime fans should enjoy the familiar universe, and newcomers to the series just might find themselves pulled in enough to take on past and future installments.