It almost feels surreal to say this, after all, it has been 10 long years, but Final Fantasy XV is finally close to its release and it is a complete game that can be played from start to end. From the announcement of the game in 2006, to the rebranding at E3 2013, where the game was revealed to be the next mainline Final Fantasy game leading to its release in 2016, it has been a wild ride so far.
Originally set to be released as an action-based spin-off to Final Fantasy XIII, it was the first Final Fantasy game to be directed by acclaimed director Tetsuya Nomura. Nomura has been well known among fans for his work on Kingdom Hearts series and he was also an integral part of the Final Fantasy development team during the golden age of the franchise. His artwork has been the main focus of every Final Fantasy going all the way back to Final Fantasy VII.
Unfortunately the game just didn’t really enter proper production until late in 2011, and it was mostly at conceptual and planning stage at that time, where majority of the work done was on the CGI cutscenes, which were then used to create promotional trailers. The first proper footage of the gameplay didn’t release until 2011, and it was still targeting the PS3 as the platform.
It took 2 years of silence but the game was finally shown at E3 2013 and rebranded as a mainline Final Fantasy game and announced for the current generation consoles. This announcement was celebrated by the fans and community alike. Tetsuya Nomura was soon announced to be replaced by Hajime Tabata as the game director in 2014. This caused some controversy and cast some fear over the state of the game, but now that the game has finally been released, it can be said with confidence that Hajime Tabata has done an excellent job in bringing the world of Final Fantasy XV to life.
So this begs the question, is Final Fantasy XV worth the 10 years of wait? The answer to this depends on how much you were invested in the world and characters seen in the countless promotional trailers before it was officially rebranded as the next mainline Final Fantasy XV. Despite the transition to a mainline game and the change to a different director, the game has retained most of its core plot and gameplay themes, but it is hard to argue that it has also lost a good chunk of the story and side characters along the way. This is an unfortunate case that tends to happen with games that usually go through long development cycle as it is the case for Final Fantasy XV.
The transition to a different director has resulted in the original vision being compromised in some way, and in this regard, it feels a lot like Final Fantasy XII which had a rather abrupt ending after a really strong opening. Final Fantasy XV is actually the opposite of it, while it has an average opening that doesn’t really take time to explain the world or its characters, it ends on a high note and I won’t lie, it has one of my favorite Final Fantasy ending in the series.
The story of the game is focused on the royal Prince Noctis of the Kingdom of Lucis, who is tasked by his father, King Regis, to go meet his fiance Luna in Altissia. While it has been stressed by the director Tabata that the game doesn’t really need the players to watch the other media that was released for Final Fantasy XV, mainly a short anime series ‘Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV’ and a full length CGI movie ‘Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV’, I personally recommend to watch both of them in order to get the basic idea of the world and story before starting with the game.
The game starts with Noctis along with his childhood friends Prompto, Gladio and Ignis, who were specifically instructed by King Regis to accompany Noctis on his journey to Altissia. He also gives Noctis his royal car, Regalia, so that he can use it to travel to his destination. What the party didn’t expect was the car breaking down in the middle of their journey, leaving them stranded in a desert area called Leidi in the game. This area will be the introduction to the game’s world as the party makes their way to a service station called Hammerhead, managed by Cid. Cid has a grand daughter called Cidney, who agrees to help the party repair the car if they can do some work for her in return.
This sounds boring, right? It actually is, for the most part. In term of story, the game takes its sweet time in getting the story to properly take off, but while it lacks story in the beginning few chapters, it more than makes up for it with the freedom to explore the open world. We are free to go anywhere on the world map and despite being the starting area, there are plenty of secrets to be discovered there. This adds a sense of discovery and exploration that prevails from the start of the game and continues all the way till the end.
The story of the game is perhaps the one that suffers the most in this transition to an open world design. While the story is not bad, it lacks in execution and tries to overcome this through the use of narrative exposition. There aren’t as many cutscene that detail the plot of the game as we continue through our journey, but the narrative is detailed to a greater degree in the background, which might make it easy to miss for those who tend to rush through the game to reach the ending. There are also some baffling choices made when it comes to the story, as many of the major plot elements happen off-screen resulting in a feeling a disappointment. Some of the main characters that appear to have a major role are killed off-screen without any proper explanation, or they go through some change that deserves proper explanation yet it is nowhere to be found.
It will be easy to lose track of the story since a lot of the elements presented in the story lose their impact if we don’t pay much attention to the events in the world. There are texts and lore scattered throughout the world map that provides some interesting backstory to the events presented in the game. We will also hear about some of the key events through radio, or we will hear NPCs talking about them during our journey. The main party is composed of Noctis and his childhood friends and it is the banter between them that makes the game standout among others. The way they comment on the events that are on-going during our journey or joke about them, it is this particular aspect that makes the road trip so memorable. When we will finally reach the end of the game – without spoiling much – it will be an emotionally powerful ending for the players who have invested a considerable amount of their time in the game’s open world.
Final Fantasy XV takes a completely different approach for its gameplay, which focuses on action based combat in real-time with the ability to dodge or parry an attack. There are also multiple weapons to choose from in the game and we can equip four of them in total. Switching the weapons in real-time during the middle of combat or using parry and counter brings a sense of satisfaction that is unmatched. Noctis also has the ability to conduct Warp Strikes on the enemy, which increase the damage output depending on the distance between him and the enemy. We can also warp to a high point in mid battle to recover our HP and MP. Since warping requires MP, we can easily run out of MP which triggers a ‘stasis’ state where Noctis is unable to cast Wrap Strike. Thankfully MP is gradually regenerated, but it can also be recovered through the use of items like Ether or Elixir.
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