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.
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.