Platforms: Playstation 4 (reviewed) and Xbox One
Ten years. That’s how long Final Fantasy XV has been in development. It has gone through many major changes in the decade since it was originally announced as Final Fantasy Versus XIII. A designation as an official numbered entry in the series instead of an offshoot is pressure enough, but due to recent shortcomings in the legendary franchise, this entry became even more important. Against all odds though, Final Fantasy XV rises to the challenge overcoming its faults to deliver a unique and fun experience.
You play as Noctis, the reluctant prince due to be wed to the princess of another kingdom in order to unite them. To get this done, Noctis and his three closest friends pile into his car, the Regalia, and take a cross country road trip to get hitched. From here on out the open world is your oyster and this is where the game shines. Traveling from town to town, collecting quests, and just taking in the gorgeous scenery is a relaxing and cathartic experience. The land of Eos has a terrific sense of place and I didn’t mind spending hours upon hours running and driving all over it. However none of these elements come together without the glue that is your party. Ignis, Gladiolus, and Prompto rise above the obvious anime tropes they are based on to be some of my favorite party members in years. Prompto in particular is the star of the show. His constant enthusiasm is infectious, and I never get tired of him occasionally humming the Final Fantasy Victory Theme after battles.
Sadly the game’s story is its weakest part. Years of development clearly took its toll. The plot is full of holes and inconsistencies and on multiple occasions the motivations of characters felt completely unexplained. Late in the game the open world is traded in for one shot areas and long corridors with little personality. Chapter 13 is the most egregious example as it separates the group and plays out as a pseudo-stealth section. I applaud the developers willingness to try different approaches but not at the expense of fun. I will also say that the game at the very least sticks the landing with a satisfying conclusion for the four friends.
The open world is filled to the brim with hundreds of side quests and hunts. The side quests were generally no more complex than a simple fetch quest but, it was incredibly satisfying to run around checking off the list. Hunts are structured very similarly to the ones in the Monster Hunter series ranging from groups to single, large creatures. I just wish you could do more than one hunt at a time. The groups individual interests also factor into your travels. Ignis is a chef and will cook many dishes that offer different buffs and bonuses. Gladiolus will pick up items scattered across the battlefield. Prompto is the photographer and takes pictures of everything you do as well as real dumb/good selfies. Finally, Noctis loves fishing and, as far fishing mini games go, this game has a pretty good one.
The battle system in this game is also a huge departure for the series. While a hallmark of each Final Fantasy is a new battle system this is the first one to be almost completely active with pauses only coming for Noctis to heal and command the party. Noctis has the special ability to materialize weapons and warp to wherever he throws them. This keeps the battles frantic as you dart from enemy to enemy creating bursts of numbers and particle effects. I do wish the camera were better, particularly in tight quarters as it cost me health on many occasions. It was especially terrible during a few boss fights and battles with large groups. The AI for your party is also poor and I found myself having to babysit them way more than I would have liked.
The Regalia is essentially the fifth party member. Large portions of your time with the game are spent on the open road. The way you interact (or don’t) with the car is sure to be divisive. Choosing to drive manual is almost completely on rails with the inability to head off the road in any way. The magic happens when you choose automatic and let Ignis take the wheel. Taking in your surroundings and listening to every Final Fantasy soundtrack only enhances this games laid back nature. A late game addition to the car increases the speed at which you can get around but I still found myself sticking to automatic. It just wasn’t the same without it.
Final Fantasy XV is not a perfect game. Far from it in fact. But what it lacks in a coherent plot and polish it makes up for with heart in spades. The developers clearly enjoyed the game they were making and it bleeds through the whole experience. They took parts from the many RPG’s that came in between its announcement and release to create a wholly unique experience. I never lost that sense of joy when discovering a new location or one of the excellently designed dungeons. Eighty hours later and I can do nothing but look back on this game fondly, those problems only acting as small bumps in the road of an otherwise memorable ride.