Ten agonizing years later, Final Fantasy XV arrives to breathe new life into the long-running JRPG franchise.
Final Fantasy XV (Xbox One)
Platform: PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: 11/29/2016
Developed by Square Enix
Published by Square Enix
Final Fantasy XV was originally revealed during Sony’s E3 2006 presentation as “Final Fantasy Versus XIII”, a spin-off to launch alongside the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy. Though originally developed to showcase the true potential of the PS3, Versus XIII evolved into something too extreme for Sony’s previous platform; apart from Duke Nukem Forever and other Sony-exclusive title The Last Guardian, Final Fantasy Versus XIII suffered one of the worst delays of recent history- locked in development for a whopping 10 years, until suitable consoles were released.
Players take the reigns of Noctis Lucis Caelum, son of Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII, King of Lucis. Accompanied by friends and advisers Gladiolus, Ignis and Prompto, Noctis is to wed the former princess of Tenebrae, Lunafreya Nox Fleuret; the arranged marriage of the two acts as a final seal on the armistice between the kingdoms of Lucis and the imperial Niflheim. The treaty is broken with an assault on the Lucian kingdom from the Niflheim Imperial Army, resulting in the death of King Regis, the fall of Lucian capital Insomnia, and the seizure of a magical artifact known as “the Crystal”, a large stone keeping the balance of light and darkness in check. In their absence, Noctis and company discover the fall of Lucis and the fabricated death of himself and Lunafreya through the news. Realizing Noctis’s sudden role as the new King of Lucis, Lunafreya and her guardian spirit Gentiana send him on a quest to find and assimilate the powers of the ancient kings, and receive the blessings of the Astrals- six ancient gods and titans of Eos. With Lunafreya’s Oracle abilities fading, Noctis must rise to the position of the true king by utilizing the combined might of the Astrals and his ancestors to retrieve the Crystal and put an end to the Niflheim empire’s plan to spread darkness across Eos.
The composite plot is no more than a tale of revenge and a rite of passage, but players may find themselves scratching their heads on multiple occasions due to missing information in the story. Without diving into spoiler territory, Ignis, Prompto and Gladiolus all have temporary absences from the game, whether it’s a conversation with an unexplained client, an off-screen hunting mission, or a bizarre story thread with a hastily lampshaded resolution; Gentiana somehow exists as two deities simultaneously, one of which is slain at some overlooked point in the story; select villains play a lesser role than originally believed, and are either thrust onto the side of justice, or are killed off without logical reason. As of this review, Final Fantasy XV developer and publisher Square Enix plans to address the “missing” details with future DLC, but for those who venture past the “point of no return” (Chapter 13), the extra content will be rendered null.
While the former Final Fantasy Versus XIII is now an official “numbered” title of the 30 year saga, Final Fantasy XV only feels like a chapter of the universe in name, story and visual aesthetic. Gone are the turn-based and slower tactical elements of previous games; Final Fantasy XV is a real-time action game reminiscent of Xenoblade Chronicles X,and the recent Monster Hunter games, including hints of Metal Gear Solid V– specifically The Phantom Pain. The entire game is broken up into five open-world areas, though each region will become unavailable at various points in the game- two of which, indefinitely. The majority of FFXV is spent in the open landscapes of Lucis, where Noctis and his party are free to drive about in the Regalia, a high-tech luxury sedan from the late King; the band of brothers are free to make long hikes on foot, however Chocobos are available for rent once a specific set of Side Quests are complete. For those who may want to speed up the pace of travel, players can Fast-Travel to previously visited campsites and towns for a small fee of 10 Gil- FFXV‘s in-game currency.
A gift from the late King Regis, the Regalia is the royal luxury car of choice for Noctis, Ignis, Prompto and Gladiolus. Ignis will take the wheel by default, however players will eventually gain control over the car past a certain point in the story. Enthusiasm should be kept minimum, as control should be used very loosely; the Regalia has the standard abilities of any other vehicle, though steering is practically non-existent, limiting players to just changing lanes and turning to exit or merge at intersections. The restrictive minimal controls make driving the Regalia a chore; the trip is far more relaxing with Ignis behind the wheel while the radio blares tunes from the anthology of Final Fantasy soundtracks. The Regalia itself can act as a Fast Travel point until the party wanders too far away or into a Dungeon; players can warp back to the Regalia through the Map, or have Cindy tow the car to their location for a fee. If the player somehow miraculously wrecks the car, Cindy can be commissioned to tow it back to Hammerhead for repairs.
The star- and presumably only- mechanics of Lucis, Hammerhead’s Cid and Cindy are happy to customize and upgrade the Regalia however the player sees fit. Cindy offers a wide array of colors, decals and rims for the Regalia, though players can receive free paints by harvesting ingredients and ores in the wild. Though Cid will eventually offer his own weapon-based Side Quests, Cindy offers a series of scavenger hunts resulting in performance upgrades to Noctis’s ride. Cindy’s missions have players diving into increasingly-challenging situations ranging from trespassing on animal habitats to infiltrating an Imperial fort, but committed players are rewarded with a stronger, faster Regalia that’s even safe to drive in the perils of night.
For the truly dedicated, one of Cindy’s final post-game quests upgrades the Regalia in spectacular fashion, negating all of the previous qualms regarding the limited control mechanics.
What’s sure to catch hardcore Final Fantasy veterans by surprise, the title at times leans towards Bayonetta levels of fanatic gameplay, courtesy of Noctis’s ability to warp around the playing field with ease. The one and only playable character of FFXV [for now], Noctis can execute a series of attacks simply by holding the X Button; if the target leaves his attack range, players can tilt the stick towards the direction of the target while holding X to perform a short lunging attack. Players can lock onto individual enemies with RB, but LB is a multi-function button used to dodge, roll or parry an attack, depending on the situation. Noctis can perform a long-range Warp Strike with a physical weapon by pressing the B Button; Warp Strikes can be followed up by any other physical or magical attack. For a quick escape, players can launch Noctis to various Warp Points by holding B; these theoretically safe locations will also replenish Noctis’s HP and MP gauges. Players can equip and select up to four weapons and/or spells as indicated by a D-Pad map in the bottom-left corner; spells must recharge after each use, however physical weapons can be actively rotated in the midst of a combo.
Though Noctis is the only character players will actively control, however Ignis, Gladiolus and Prompto will all aide the prince in most of his battles. Each of the three friends can be equipped with two weapons- a primary and secondary- though each one specializes in specific weapon types; Gladiolus uses heavy weapons, Prompto is mainly reserved for firearms, Ignis specializes in daggers and short-swords. In the heat of battle, Noctis’s friends may leap in to perform a Link Strike for additional damage. Alternatively, players can call on one of his friends for an assist attack: A green bar above the weapon icons fills with each successful attack, until all three stocks are complete; once a segment of the bar is full, players can hold the Right Trigger and tap a direction on the D-Pad to call in Prompto for a powerful firearm shot, Gladiolus for a spinning sword strike, or have Ignis mark a series of targets for Noctis to attack in succession. Team-attacks end with a simple QTE (“quick-time event”) enabling Noctis to capitalize on the assist damage with his own ending strike. With proper execution and a full assist meter, players can chain together all three assists and Noctis QTE attacks for an incredibly effective six-part combo.
When the team’s individual HP bars reach zero, each character will enter a “Danger” state; a secondary health bar indicating the potential maximum health will decrease until the character ultimately falls in battle- a “Game Over” if said character is Noctis. Characters in the Danger phase can be resuscitated by holding RB when close, though an item can also be selected with the Y Button to revive any amount of health; it should be noted that when the maximum health bar decreases, the less health each character will have after each revival. Certain items (Hi-Elixr, Phoenix Down, etc.) will replenish the maximum health to 100%, but these are rather uncommon in the wild, and expensive when buying from vendors. While not as grim as the Danger state, Noctis will enter “Stasis” when the MP gauge hits zero, disabling his Warp Strike and all evasive abilities. The MP gauge automatically refills over time, but impatient players can speed up the process with items and Warp Points.
There is much to see and explore within the vast world of Final Fantasy XV, to a point where players can easily get distracted from the main task at hand- reuniting with Lunafreya for an arranged marriage. Active missions are shown in the Quests log within the main menu; Story Quests are colored red, Side Quests are listed in blue, followed by Bounty Quests in yellow. Both Story and Side Quests are handed to the player through various NPCs (“non-playable characters”) across the regions of Eos, though be warned that advancing the plot will eventually lock-out areas of the game for extended periods of time. Side Quests are guaranteed to reward the player with items, Gil, or experience points, however the majority of these distractions boil down to three mission types- fetch quests, monster-slaying and scavenger hunts. A sinful amount of Side Quests have Noctis running errands and cross-country deliveries for NPCs, many of which require a lengthy multi-day trip across Lucis. Some characters offer perks, such as the ability to use Chocobos as transport, but only after the boys slay a large creature for them, usually found in a dungeon. The most infuriating of Side Quests, two characters in particular require Noctis and company to search for small unmarked items within a predetermined area. Unless players are incredibly lucky- or have the Strategy Guide and YouTube handy- these scavenger hunts have the potential to last for quite some time, bringing in a new plethora of troubles.
Outposts and designated encampments are the only safe-haven from the Daemons of the night thanks to their numerous lights and/or magical properties. Each Outpost contains some kind of resting area, be it a mobile home, hotel or high-class resort. Players may be charged an amount of Gil that scales with the quality of the rest area, though several mobile homes and story-driven locations are free to use at any time. If Noctis and the crew have a tough day ahead of them, it’s wise to rest at a designated campsite instead; not only do players have the option to participate in Training sessions with the rest of the party, but Ignis will end the day with a personally cooked meal, giving the four friends status perks over the course of the next day. Regardless of where players choose to sleep, this is the only way EXP is tallied; all experience points acquired over the course of the day are applied in a lump-sum once the party goes to bed.
Various resources can be harvested from the wilds of Lucis, listed as a Procurement on the Map. While vendors carry select items, but raw ore and ingredients can be found in small bundles throughout Lucis; resource deposits are shown as a pick-axe and a leaf on the map. Cuts of meat for Ignis can either be purchased, or obtained the traditional way- hunting. Not every animal is guaranteed to drop meat upon death, however the item drop-rate will marginally increase each time the Survival level raises for Ignis and Gladiolus. Quite possibly the most difficult resource to collect, players can engage in Noctis’s favorite past-time activity, fishing. Designated Fishing locations are generally located off the shores of lakes or on a pier, as shown by a fishing lure on the map. As with real fishing, this mini-game requires an abundance of patience, and micro-management of lures and other equipment; some Side Quests require Noctis to catch a peculiar type of fish, only obtainable with a specific lure.
Wherever the Prince of Lucis and his friends end up on their journey, shopkeepers and merchants are ready to restock their supply of ingredients, weapons, potions and a plethora of other items. Each Outpost is guaranteed to have at least one trader, however the represented stock varies between locations. If players forgot to grab an item before departing on an exceptionally long road trip, the Regalia itself contains a limited shop found within the navigation menu.
Tipsters are located within restaurants or near food stands in the various Outposts and cities of Lucis and Altissia. Indicated by a knife and fork on the map, these chefs will gladly supply the team with a stat-boosting meal and update the map with item and quest information. A Tipster may not be able to offer information at every visit, however he or she can still pinpoint quest items on the map for incomplete fetch-based Side Quests, such as Dave’s dog-tags or raw ore for Dino.
The vast world of Eos may not be as open as some might think, with players initially limited to just the region of Lucis. The realm of Atsilla is unlocked through story-progression, with four more one-stop locations to follow. Though players are introduced to such a massive playground filled with horizon-breaking landmarks, sections of Lucis are initially locked due to Imperial roadblocks and checkpoints. Indicated on the map by a red circle with the Niflheim Imperial Army insignia, these blockades are home to Niflheim’s stronger infantrymen, equipped with magic and destructive mech-suits. The main story will send players careening through several Imperial barricades, however the rest should only be approached once Noctis and his friends reach an appropriately high level.
Though primarily assigned to the Lucis region, the realm of Eos is home to many creatures of incredible variety and hostility. Noctis, Gladiolus, Ignis and Prompto are typically safe from aggressive wildlife when driving around in the Regalia, but animals may begin to stalk the party once the team is on-foot. A red bar accompanied by a sound-accent will notify players if they stray into an animal’s turf; a large red circle on the mini-map also indicates the area of potential danger. The sun warms many of Eos’s creatures on a regular basis, but the lands become home to severely powerful Daemons once night falls. If players aren’t careful, they may find themselves in a bind, struggling to fight against unreasonably powerful entities that can kill the entire party in mere moments.
Lucis is home to multiple Dungeons scattered across the region. Several are incorporated into Story Quests, but adventurous players may stumble across more unmarked catacombs on their own adventure. Due to the indoor, underground nature of these areas, the Dungeons pose a higher challenge than the normal game, courtesy of their Daemon-infested tunnels and walkways. It’s recommended that curious players have each party member up to at least Lvl 30 before wandering into a Dungeon outside the Story Quests; Noctis and his friends are guaranteed to run into a massive high-level boss before their escape into daylight.
Dungeon raids are encouraged as they possess a high quantity of items and an increased chance of Daemons dropping rare collectibles upon death. Some Dungeons may even lead straight to a Tomb upon completion. The final resting places of the former Kings of Lucis, Noctis can absorb the past fighting techniques of his lineage by interacting with their shrine; this knowledge manifests as a special weapon- the Royal Arms. The ethereal swords and axes of his ancestors, the Royal Arms are some of Noctis’s most powerful weapons; such power doesn’t come without a price, as Noctis loses a small amount of health with every strike. When players earn their first Royal Arm, Noctis gains the ability to perform the Amiger and Amiger Chain. The Amiger mechanic is essentially Final Fantasy XV‘s take on the berserk mode or Devil Trigger found in other character-action games; once the blue circle around the weapons icon is complete, players can activate Amiger with LB+RB, enabling Noctis to perform lighting-fast Royal Arm strikes without the cost of health and Stamina. Both shoulder buttons can be pressed again at any time during the Amiger mode to perform a full-team Amiger Chain attack.
Final Fantasy XV was often touted as a road trip game and experience during Square Enix’s marketing campaign. Fortunately, this road trip is full of spectacular sights and landmarks, even if they tend to stray from the motifs of the Final Fantasy label. The epic nature of the adventure is reflected in both the scope the scale of Eos: The first truly open-world game in the franchise, Final Fantasy XV has an impressive draw-distance only capable due to the capabilities of the PS4 and Xbox One; if players can see it on the horizon, there’s a high chance they can explore it.
Some are locked-off for story purposes, but players have an opportunity to travel to such screen-filling locations as the mystic Disc of Cauthess, the volcanic Rock of Ravatogh, Taelpar Crag, and the incredible city of Altissia. Rather than a glorified playground, FFXV actually feels like a living world thanks to its self-contained communities and environments. Though road-traffic is minimum, the towns and cities of Eos are full of activity with bustling markets, recreational spots and nods to events in neighboring areas. Some of the smaller Outposts may begin to resemble each other after hours on the road, however players can still get a sense of the social and political classes of Eos from the architecture, condition and features of each location, from the rest-stop station of Hammerhead, to the working-woman city of Lestallum and the Roman-inspired political water city of Altissia.
Video games are no stranger to product placement; if used correctly, the use of real-world companies and logos can further immerse the audience in the world of the game. With Panasonic phones appearing in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, the series is already familiar with the tactic, however Final Fantasy XV straddles the line between acceptable promotion and gross advertisement. Between FFXV and the CG film Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, nine real-world organizations are represented:
An Audi R8 “Star of Lucis”, signs and billboards for Beats Electronics and Uniqlo clothing, the iconic Japan Air Lines overhead crane, and a Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch are all present in the prequel/companion movie Kingsglaive; while not as obvious as the film’s product-placement, the clothes worn by the four protagonists, Lunafreya and Cor Leonis were all designed by Roen Creative Director Hiromu Takahara; due to a promotional giveaway with Square Enix’s Play Arts Kai division, American Express stickers can also be found on the windows of some shops in FFXV.
The most direct form of advertisement belongs to Nissin Cup Noodles: Not only are the popular ramen cups featured on numerous billboards and signs across Eos, but Cup Noodles gets its very own Side Quest, initiated at a Nissin Cup Noodles truck in Lestallum. In a moment of food-crazed passion, Gladiolus convinces the team to hunt for their own ingredients to spice up their Cup Noodles. What begins as an admittedly laughable quest involving Gladiolus’s unyielding love for Cup Noodles quickly morphs into a shameless marketing push, with the climax being what sounds like a line-for-line product blurb praising the appeal of Nissin Cup Noodles delivered through the four friends.
The presence of Nissin Cup Noodles in Final Fantasy XV will forever live on in humorous infamy, not just as a shameless plug disguised as an in-game mission, but also a commercial that swaps key elements out for Cup Noodles.
A surprising amount of Final Fantasy XV‘s in-game soundtrack is reserved for music of the previous games. Nearly the entire legacy of the numbered titles can be found within the game, however players must actively purchase these selections of tracks from vendors across Eos. Bizarrely, this is one of the few Final Fantasy games where the original soundtrack isn’t one of the strongest points; very few tracks can be described as “memorable” outside the anthem of Chapter 14 and the incredible battle hymn that backs some of the more intimidating challenges such as the Astrals and a certain post-game hunting challenge. The strategic use of “Stand By Me” (covered by Florence + The Machine) does a fantastic job of expressing the relationship between Noctis and his friends, however just like the Nissin Cup Noodles mission, it feels slightly misplaced against the rest of the game- a song from 1962 appears in a distant fantasy-future not of our timeline.
Final Fantasy XV is a majestic departure from the traditions of old, demanding the attention of life-long fans and Action genre enthusiasts, but its current state is marred with plot-holes and occasional bugs. Both the Xbox One and PS4 versions suffer from the occasional loss of sound and dialogue, and frequent error messages when attempting to share screenshots on Facebook and Twitter. When FFXV isn’t dealing with a glitch, players are taken for an incredible road-trip. Until Square Enix releases the patches and updates to essentially finalize the game, this long-awaited installment sits just a few notches under perfection.