Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC via Steam
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Windows Edition with all of the DLC included. The original release is a vastly different experience.
After 10 years from its initial announcement as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, Final Fantasy XV was finally released in November 2016 with Hajime Tabata as the head of the project. Unfortunately, the game didn’t live up to the high expectations set by the numerous teasers and promotions throughout the years, and its story was largely criticized by fans of the series. As an answer to the public’s mixed response, Square Enix announced that the development team would continue reworking the core game and planned to release additional content that would expand on the missing lore.
On March 6, 2018, the Royal Edition including all of the game’s upgrades was released for console players, along with the Windows equivalent of this “complete” version. As someone who isn’t a fan of the Final Fantasy series and tried to avoid the game at all costs after hearing the initial reviews, this news reignited my interest and I finally decided to give it a chance.
Final Fantasy XV tells the story of Noctis Lucis Caellum, a prince who embarks on a journey to meet and tie the knot with his childhood sweetheart and fiancée, Lunafreya Nox Fleuret. This marriage is meant to serve as a symbol of peace between the Kingdom of Lucis and the Nilfheim Empire. The prince’s journey is not a lonely one, for he is joined by his three close friends: Ignis Scientia, Gladiolus Amicitia, and Prompto Argentum.
The plot’s pacing is initially very good. However, as a whole, the story quests are short and they only take around 25 hours to complete. The content becomes messy from Chapter 9 to Chapter 11, since the plot previously focused on introducing the characters and exploring their links to help the players familiarize themselves instead of building up to the eventual conflict. After getting the transition into the more dramatic part of the game out of the way it manages to recover from these few bumps and it temporarily engages the player again. Sadly, after an extensive portion of gameplay the experience is bombarded with rushed backstories and explanations at the end of Chapter 13 and the beginning of Chapter 14, which are meant to lead to the final scenario of the story, but fail miserably trying to justify the messy reasoning behind its ending. Instead of letting the player participate in or at least witness the lore’s crucial backstories, every clarification is shoved into optional dialogue that the main protagonist can select in a conversation with NPCs. Because of this terrible decision, the player is alienated from the conflict and just ends up absorbing a massive amount of unmemorable information in an extremely short amount of time.
[spoiler] At the start, the story shows how Noctis’ trip began and it takes its time to slowly introduce recurring members of its secondary cast, like Cid and Cindy. Every step Noctis takes on his way to meeting Lunafreya is experienced first-hand by the player. There is a brief section in which a summarized version of the altercation that led to King Regis’ death is seen, but this event is fully shown in the Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV movie, so thankfully it’s not one of the segments with vague explanations.
Upon hearing about King Regis’ death at the hands of the Nilfheim Empire, Noctis sets off to ensure Lunafreya’s safety, as she was also present in his father’s chaotic meeting. While on his way to Altissia, her location, the prince makes frequent stops and takes on numerous adventures to gather the Royal Arms — the weapons of past kings that he must acquire to match his father’s power and reclaim his rightful position as the heir to the throne. Up until this point the development of the plot is good and all of the lore’s key points are shown and thoroughly explained. However, this drastically changes once Noctis gets to Altissia in Chapter 9, and I’ll soon elaborate on why this is the case.
Lunafreya’s role is as important or even more so than Noctis’, for she is a messenger of the Astrals (gods), also known as the Oracle. Because of the Oracle’s duty to guide her king, in Chapter 9 she decides to summon one of the six legendary Astrals, Leviathan. Her objective is to convince Leviathan to lend Noctis their power so that he can stand a chance against the darkness threatening to take over the world. Unfortunately, the ritual goes badly because Leviathan refuses to lend a human their power. Thus, Altissia starts being destroyed and Noctis’ safety is put in jeopardy when he is forced to fight the Astral.
If this summarized version of the act’s events sounds convoluted, my point is starting to get across. The game goes from gradual story development distributed across several chapters to disproportionate dramatic revelations in just an hour-long act. The chapter ends with the reveal of the main antagonist’s main intentions, Lunafreya’s anticlimactic death, and a ridiculous attempt at an angsty goodbye between Luna and Noctis despite the fact that she only had about 20 minutes of screentime up until this moment. I get that they were going for a tear-jerking moment but no, a childhood flashback before this is not even close to making me become attached to an incredibly boring Mary Sue.
The next stop on my complaints train is the lack of background to some of the characters’ motivations in Chapter 10. All of the events are focused on the emotions of Noctis and his companions and the growing tension between them after the hardships in Altissia. Before explaining the main conflict that leads to the group’s strain, I’ll explain the source of such conflict and nitpick at its execution.
Ignis was somehow blinded in Altissia, yet for some reason, there is no explanation for it until you clear the game and play the Episode Ignis DLC. Okay, this is something I can accept at the time of writing this review because I already explored this missing content, but as I was playing the game I remember feeling confused and frustrated since the game was keeping a valuable piece of information from me.
Going back to Chapter 10, Noctis is distant from his friends as a result of being in the mourning stage following the loss of his father and his beloved. He also wants to stop by Lunafreya’s homeland to get closure. For some reason, this makes Gladio snap at him and tell him off for being immature and not getting over it. This kind of excessively aggressive reaction seems insensitive and uncalled for. The game tries to imply that Ignis losing his eyesight for Noctis was the last nail in the coffin for Gladio and made him lose his temper; nevertheless, it just comes off as unreasonable and Gladio seems like an asshole.
Although getting so worked up about a scene might also seem like an exaggeration, the problem is that the theme of the entire chapter is Gladio nitpicking at everything the prince does and overall ruining the team’s dynamics without a valid justification. Nobody calls him out on it, either. It’s only at the very end of the excruciating act that Ignis tells him off and forcefully dispels the tension among them. Considering this is everything that happens in the chapter, it’s all-around lazy writing.
The following acts are rather solid and I especially liked Chapter 12. It’s very interesting and adds depth to Gentiana, Lunafreya’s loyal companion and a messenger of the gods towards humankind. Gentiana is revealed to be Shiva, one of the six Astrals, and a touching flashback that exhibits the dynamics in her relationship with Lunafreya is shown, portraying Shiva as a compassionate god that was captivated by Lunafreya’s pure heart and was willing to support her as an advisor and a friend.
Unfortunately, the biggest fault in the story starts showing here, because the explanation behind the conflict between the Astrals and humankind—that directly ties to Noctis’ fate and his calling as the chosen king—is only explored through optional conversation options with Gentiana and rather fast-paced dialogue describing complex events. I probably only memorized half of the things she mentioned.
The worst offender or at least second-worst offender — I’m torn on which of the two final sections of the game I hate more — is Chapter 13. The entire chapter is wasted in an incredibly tedious and repetitive dungeon with no substantial revelations other than the fact that Daemons, monsters that wander in the world mostly at night, were originally humans and the magitek infantry, the army that serves the Nilfheim Empire, has human cyborgs among it. These facts are revealed via recordings and files spread throughout dull and linear gameplay segments, and I was honestly dead inside thanks to how anticlimactic everything was. Apparently, all of this was meant to build up to a “dramatic” revelation: Prompto found out he’s a magitek trooper from Nilfheim during the timeframe in which he was separated from the rest of the main cast in Chapter 12.
To be fair this could’ve been an interesting plot point but it was literally a two-minute conversation with Prompto sharing his discovery and the others cutting him off to say that he’s their friend and they don’t care about where he comes from. I was sincerely speechless after this scene as the entire chapter had been building up to it and the end result was astonishingly short and lazy. What even was the point of this?
The final sin happens at the very end of the chapter, once Noctis asks for the legendary Crystal’s power. The Crystal is supposed to eradicate the Daemons after physical contact with the chosen king, and yet it actually ends up trapping Noctis inside of it without a clear reason. Subsequent to this, Noctis has an encounter with the Astral Bahamut, who explains what the Crystal is, the reason behind what happened and the events that will happen in the future… through optional dialogue options.
All of these rushed justifications to the key points leading to the ending are terribly anticlimactic and kill whatever interest the player might have built in the overarching plot of the game. The strongest point of the story is its characters, but in the last part of the game, they are neglected in favor of the dull theology and magic lore.
If I ever thought the plot couldn’t get more half-assed than it already was, I was clearly wrong. Chapter 14 starts with a 10-year time skip and for some unknown reason Noctis wakes up on a deserted island in the real world — which was overwhelmed by darkness and thus lacks the presence of the sun. Lunafreya’s magical dog, Umbra, conveniently shows up with a note telling Noctis to go to Hammerhead, the place where his friends are. On his way there he runs into one of his allies, Talcott, who offers to give him a ride. Once he gets to Hammerhead his three best friends are waiting for him and briefly greet him, but the execution of the scene was poor. Despite the fact that they’re supposedly very shocked to see him, they just talk to him as usual and don’t seem all that surprised although they’re seeing a much older Noctis. The reunion was so short and disappointing that it basically foreshadowed the story would just continue going downhill from there.
After this brief get-together they head to confront Ardyn, the main antagonist, but as Bahamut had previously revealed, Noctis needs to sacrifice himself to gain enough power to vanquish Ardyn for good and make the sun rise again. The weak reasoning behind this is that since many sacrificed all for the king, he must sacrifice himself in return. In the end, Noctis dies and the sun rises again, and the game ends by showing him in the afterlife with Lunafreya.
All things considered, the last section of the game is just incredibly disappointing and seeing that it goes straight to the point, the lack of a proper build-up in the previous chapters really takes a toll on its ending. There is just no way for the player to sympathize with the lazy motivations explained in the lore and agree with Noctis’ fate. The fact that Noctis was meant to be sacrificed from the moment he was born is depressing, and the knowledge that his sacrifice is necessary to fix conflicts that weren’t caused by him nor directly involved him makes the ending very unsatisfying.[/spoiler]
In spite of the fact that I mostly have nothing but praise for the game, it’s important to remark that the plot is its lowest point. Final Fantasy XV is at its best in the moments it explores the relationships between Noctis and his companions, giving off a sense of brotherhood between its cast and thus making the player care about Ignis, Gladio, and Prompto as individuals instead of just seeing them as extras in Noctis’ journey. Regrettably, like other entries in the Final Fantasy series, in the long run, the game favors the main romance. Even though this formula has had its good moments, Final Fantasy XV is definitely not one of them. The main couple suffers from a severe lack of chemistry — they’ve been separated for twelve years, and during this long timeframe they’ve only interacted as pen pals — and the heroine has very little screen time, with most of it being flashbacks or shots of her interacting with other characters. This flaw wouldn’t be as lethal to the story if it weren’t for its ending, which favors the romantic aspect of the lore.
The gameplay is the field where Final Fantasy XV truly shines. The combat deviates from the series’ usual turn-based system in favor of action combat. The skill tree system from past entries is still present, but it’s much more entertaining because the upgrades unlocked through it can be seen in an open setting: unlocking more ways to dodge or more moves with invincibility frames, flashy new interactions during aerial conflicts, enhancements to the companion’s already good AI, among other features. Thanks to the changes in the complete edition of the game, the development team even included the possibility of switching characters mid-battle. I personally had a lot of fun trying out each different playstyle, and I couldn’t stop using Prompto after I found out that he has a third-person shooter system instead of the usual hack and slash. I had the time of my life in every fight.
The open world is a blast to explore and activities such as camping, moving around in a mount, gathering materials for cooking and collecting magic to craft spells — among others— come very naturally and don’t feel like you’re going out of your way nor disrupting your fun. Everything has great placement in the world and fast-traveling is incredibly cheap. The economy is also rather forgiving; whenever you’re running low on items or money you can take hunting quests that reward a lot of in-game currency to stock up on potions or antidotes. Taking into account that the combat is the highlight of the game, these hunting quests are exciting to complete too. I found myself getting to level 64 in Chapter 8 although the story quest’s recommended level was around 30, thanks to the fact that the combat and side-quests were more entertaining than the main plot.
The graphics are impressive and this is noticeable even if you’ve only seen them through screenshots; they especially stand out during cutscenes and when it comes to the character models. On the other hand, the environment’s visuals aren’t always noteworthy, and more often than not you will overlook any details they might hold since they’re pretty basic most of the time. Aside from this problem, there’s also a notorious deficiency in the graphics’ anti-aliasing, mostly in hair textures. For some reason, jagged edges are still a thing no matter which anti-aliasing option is selected in the settings.
The PC version of the game has a lot of graphics enhancements such as the Nvidia HairWorks. Enabling this option dramatically improves the appearance of any hair in-game, making some monsters look majestic. This option and other Nvidia rendering techniques are pretty taxing and you will need a really good computer setup to turn them on without sacrificing the performance of the game.
Music-wise, I had very high expectations considering the main composer is the great Yoko Shimomura, who also works in the Kingdom Hearts series — which I’m a big fan of. The soundtrack is good, but it suffers from a problem prominent in many other games nowadays: while some tracks are masterpieces, others are flat and not memorable at all. All of the battle music is great, especially the tracks used during boss battles and the DLCs, but the ambient tracks don’t stand out much.
The DLC are great, amazing, beautiful, everything I could’ve ever wanted. There’s a need to separate these from my critiques about the lore in the main game because they offer a very different and positive experience.
Episode Gladiolus is incredibly exciting with all of its boss battles and the soundtrack is exquisite from start to end. The music nicely compliments Gladio’s struggle proving himself as a worthy bodyguard for the prince and the overwhelming emotions throughout every step and every battle. I definitely recommend listening to Shield of the King and Battle on the Big Bridge.
The gameplay as Gladio is different from the more aggressive hack and slash as Noctis, since you have to focus on blocking attacks at the right time to survive as well as increase a “rage” meter that amplifies your damage. The use of this kind of system in a DLC filled with boss fights is a smart move that helps the player become more immersed in these moments.
Episode Prompto had my favorite gameplay since I’m keen on playing third-person shooters. The music was emotional and went along really well with the theme of self-discovery in Prompto’s story. Despite the fact that the plot didn’t inspire me as much as Episode Gladiolus, I especially loved the last cutscenes of the DLC. They were visually stunning and very emotional; the visuals went through the roof and conveyed feelings through scenography in a way you usually wouldn’t see in games.
Episode Ignis is by far the best DLC and deserves special recognition for its quality in graphics, music, combat, and storytelling. In just 2 hours it delivers by adding insane depth to Ignis’ character and pulling the player into the most heart-wrenching moments they’ll see throughout their entire playthrough. Even better, although the angst is extremely well executed and a fundamental part of the story, the DLC still offers emotional compensation for the all the ugly crying it causes. Make sure to check the Alternate Happy Ending to the main story, which is unlocked after clearing Episode Ignis for the first time.
The Comrades Multiplayer Expansion is rather disappointing, to say the least. It’s meant to be an alternative created to enjoy the game with friends; however, the combat is completely stripped of all of its fun features. Unlike in the gameplay as Noctis, there are no shared techniques with your companions, no fancy moves, and no ability trees. This means that the combat just involves having someone around to heal you while you hold down left-click to damage the enemy with whatever weapon you chose to use. Taking into account that the co-op mode’s prevailing feature is multiplayer hunting quests, this means the players can only participate in a bunch of boring battle missions. No thanks. I don’t consider this optional mode a reason to lower my personal scoring of a mainly single-player game, but it’s still a point worth analyzing since it’s a disappointing feature.
As a whole, all of the downloadable content was a pleasure to play and it definitely improved an otherwise mediocre story. In the end, Noctis’ friends got as much development as he did and their backstories helped to fill some of the gaping holes the project’s team left in the original plot.
“A Final Fantasy for Fans and First-Timers” is the first line shown upon opening the game, and this truly is the case with Final Fantasy XV. Square Enix managed to introduce an appealing entry to newcomers to the series, incorporating eye candy and the trendy mix of action-based combat with an open world setting. In spite of the fact that I was initially reluctant, I’m glad I ended up playing such a great game. Not only was it incredibly entertaining, managing to suck me in for over 70 hours, but it also changed my perspective on new Final Fantasy releases and restored my faith in the future of the series as a whole.
Final Fantasy XV offers great combat, gameplay, music and additional content to make for a largely immersive experience that will leave a long-lasting impression on the player. The four main characters are interesting and charming, but the heroine is bland and severely lacks screen time. The plot takes a turn for the worse after shifting its focus to the romantic aspect of the story, yet the side-quests and cast interactions throughout the open world’s progression help you overlook this negative aspect of the game. This amazing project by Hajime Tabata is probably the best option for newcomers to the Final Fantasy series.