Final Fantasy XV – Post-Launch – Review
Platform – PS4, Xbox One
Developer – Square Enix Business Division 2
Publisher – Square Enix
MSRP – $59.99
Editor’s Note – This game was reviewed on the Xbox One with review copy being provided by Gaming Instincts.
Final Fantasy games had always been larger than life, with millions of blindly devoted fans to the franchise, the series has been successfully recognized as more than just RPG games, it is one of the most iconic brands in the gaming world.
That being said, the Final Fantasy namesake itself has been recently going through dark times, starting from the mediocre Final Fantasy XIII to the botched launch of Final Fantasy XIV, the series had started to lose everything that made the games great and fun to begin with, such as engaging story-lines, memorable characters, and great game design in general. I guess the best thing that you could still say about the recent Final Fantasy games nowadays is that they still feature amazing soundtrack.
Square-Enix has certainly taken notice and responsibility for the damage they put their flagship Final Fantasy brand and they took it upon themselves to right the wrongs that they committed, starting from re-developing Final Fantasy XIV from scratch and relaunching it as “Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn” which in the end, their efforts paid off and it turned out to be a great and fun MMORPG, and also they decided to break all connections of Final Fantasy Versus XIII with the original Final Fantasy XIII which both games were supposed to be in the same universe, and decided to make Versus XIII it into it it’s own numbered entry into the series, otherwise known as Final Fantasy XV.
Now rambling aside, after waiting for this game for 10 years and being my sole reason of purchasing a PlayStation 3 back in the day, the wait is finally over, and fans around the world finally got their hands on the much awaited Final Fantasy XV, myself included, and the first thing I will say to all of you readers, is that rest assured, this game is better than Final Fantasy XIII or any of it’s sequels. However, is this game worthy of being on the top 5 Final Fantasy games of all time, or just simply above Final Fantasy XIII but nothing else…. Find out more on Gaming Instincts in-depth review of Final Fantasy XV.
Storyline, Characters and Setting
Without spoiling anything and going into too much details, the game takes place in the fictional world of “Eos”, the Lucian heir to the throne, Noctis Lucis Caelum along with his three buddies, the mother of the group,”Ignis”, the big brother and tough guy of the group, “Gladiolus”, and the childish happy-go-lucky “Prompto”, set on a journey to reclaim “Lucis”, their homeland, from the grasp of the Niflheim empire and recover the Crystal of Lucis that has been safeguarded by all of the Lucian kings for generations.
One of the highlights of this game are the main characters, Noctis, Ignis, Gladio and Prompto, when you start the game, you can see them interacting with each other in ways that really makes you feel that they are brothers, from the jokes they make to each other while you are driving the Regalia, to the times where you set a camp with them, I often found myself really enjoying these moments that you spend with them.
Each characters have their strengths and weaknesses and they pretty much complement each other, compensating one another for both their virtues and their faults, for example: Noctis as a person, is just clueless on what it means to be a king and to bear all the responsibility that it entails, while Ignis, with his vast knowledge, helps Noctis understand his position and what he must do. Gladio comes from a family that has long served the kings of Lucis as their shields, and Gladio accepts this task for familiar reasons but most of all because Noctis is one of his closest friends and familiar ties or not, he will protect his sworn brothers with his life, all while prompto is just there to provide plot-relief and just about the most comical moments on the entire game, but as childish and immature as he may be, he does have his dark sides and his burdens as a person that you get to uncover as you spend time with your buddies doing side-quests and staying at hotels.
The story of the game itself has very good foundations, it has the definite qualifications of being worthy of a Final Fantasy story, it is actually deeper than the game portrays it, as there are pieces of the story all scattered around an anime based on the game called “Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV” and the CG movie, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. however, this is one of the first flaws that the game has in the story department, in my opinion, there shouldn’t be the need of all these separate stories to be featured in separate medium forms, as a result, a lot of the highlight moments that the story had were pretty much scattered around, leaving the game bone dry of these special moments that otherwise would have made the story of the game much more enjoyable. As good as the story actually is, you are really not going to find out much about it in the actual game as it is. In order to have a good idea of what is going on, you will certainly need to watch the anime and the movie prior to playing the game in order to really comprehend what is going on, for instance, one of the main antagonist, Emperor Iedolas, appears in the game for two times at most, you don’t really get to know who he is and why is he doing what he is doing. There aren’t many meaningful of scenes of the man that was behind the invasion of Lucis which set Noctis to the path of reclaiming the throne from Emperor Iedolas. Obviously you are left wondering why this character was not featured in the main game, only to find out that he played a major role in the movie Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV and you need to watch that movie in order to find out more about him.
The biggest issue with the story itself is that the game does not tell it to you as it should, the direction of the game is plagued with inconsistencies and events that feel incomplete, as if key moments from the game were cut, and it becomes pretty evident as you keep playing. Often you find bosses that were overly developed for nothing, like the battle with Loki, when you first meet him, it gives you the impression that this character is going mean business to you throughout the game, however, you only fight him once in the game, and no real scenes or meaningful story sequences are given to this character, pretty much downsizing him to a measly boss battle that once it’s over, that’s it for that character. This is just one of the many events that you feel were cut from the main story-line, which judging from the change of directors during development of the game, it became evident that the previous director of the game, Tetsuya Nomura didn’t really knew what he was doing.
Overall, it’s an enjoyable story once you start discovering it on your own, but the game fails miserably on telling you the bigger picture, it’s only after the later chapters that things start to become engaging and the game really starts to picks up, which should not be the case in a Final Fantasy game, each and every story moment should be engaging you and keeping you tight to your seat until the ending of the game, and that was not successfully achieved in Final Fantasy XV.
Gameplay and Exploration
Of course, no Final Fantasy would technically be worthy of bearing the title if it didn’t offer stellar RPG gameplay and it is my joy to say that this is one of the main features that the game does right, especially in comparison to Final Fantasy XIII. The gameplay of Final Fantasy XV is certainly one of the best ever featured in a Final Fantasy game, it borrows heavily from open world games like Grand Theft Auto V, it uses the signature battle system featured in the Kingdom hearts series and offers a quest-based progression system heavily influenced by the franchise’s newest MMORPG entry, Final Fantasy XIV, mixing it together to create an outstanding balance of open world exploration, thrilling battle sequences and lots of quests to do in order to power-up your characters both leveling wise and equipment as well.
Noctis controls are smooth and responsive for the most part, the game now gives you the ability to jump, which becomes necessary in order to climb up structures and rocks for further exploration. While the jump function works, it’s somewhat clunky and there are certain dungeons that require you to do a bit of platforming, the jump function can often fail you and it could lead you to your death if you are not careful. the biggest problem with the jump function is that is triggered by pressing A on the Xbox Controller, while the button configuration may seem logical for a jump button, not so much when you discover that the A button is the action button in the game. It will be the button you will use to talk to NPCs, accept quests, open doors, etc, and the jumping action will often get in the way of the context sensitive function of the game, for example: there are times where you are going to accept a side-quests from a character and occasionally there are delays for the side-quests action to appear on screen, and since you are near the character, it is assumed that by tapping the A button you can just accept the side-quests and that’s it, but instead, it will lead to Noctis Jumping unwillingly and that gets heavily in the way of accepting side-quests or simply talking to characters.
One of the most important aspects about the open world based gameplay, is that the game never really tries to tell you what kind of way you should play the game, you can choose to either wander around Lucis and visit the towns featured in the game while doing some quests along the way, or you can just follow the story based questing system to the end and that’s it, although the latter is not recommended as doing quests is somewhat essential in order to build up your characters enough to take on later bosses.
Lucis is a joy to explore, an Italian-American inspired world, filled with secrets, goodies, and dungeons to discover, this is a fresh new feature added to the Final Fantasy formula, the open world elements featured in this games are akin to what games like grand theft auto offer in terms of depth and exploration, and while the world is not nearly as detailed and big as the GTA games, it does have its fair share of secrets and wonders to discover, making it feel more like an open world adventure game than a typical Final Fantasy game, and while purists of the old Final Fantasy games may criticize this direction of the game, it is easy to tell that this game was made for both fans of the series and newcomers alike.
My favorite aspect of the quest based gameplay is that there’s so many quests to do during the game that you can go at it at your own pace and suddenly, you discover that you have leveled up quite a bit and found yourself some really cool items to equip your characters with, and it just makes you keep doing more and more quests, powering up your characters even more to the point that most of the enemies of the main storyline become pushovers for you and if you are like me that likes to level up your characters to ensure a major ass-kicking to the upcoming bosses in the game, then you will have a lot of fun with the questing system.
The world in Final Fantasy XV is so vast, that just walking from point A to point B can easily take more than 30 minutes to achieve, fortunately your royal dad sets you off on your journey with a nice ride called “The Regalia”, which is the car where you and your buddies will use to explore the vast world of Lucis while having fun doing so. There are two ways that you can use the car, the main way the game pushes it on you is that you can have Ignis drive the car for you, this is essentially an automatic drive mode and all you need to do is just tell Ignis where you want to go and he will drive the car for you to your desired destination, or if you like to have as much hands on as possible with every aspect of the gameplay, you can also choose to drive the car yourself. While having Ignis drive the car for you works very well, I cannot say the same when you choose to drive it yourself, the reason is that if you choose to drive it yourself, all you really need to do is just press R2 to have the car going on it’s own, never really giving you the need for you to steer the car unless you either need to make a turn or a U-turn. It’s definitely more like semi automatic controls instead of manual controls but they are there, and players that wanted to have more control of the car will certainly feel disappointed by the manual controls. The game fortunately gives you the option of fast traveling for a measly 10 gil if you already traveled to a certain destination. At some point, I later found myself just paying for the fast travel as it becomes tedious to go back and forth when doing side-quests.
Battle System and Character Progression.
The battle system of Final Fantasy XV is certainly one of the bests aspects of the game. As mentioned before, it is based on the same battle system of the highly acclaimed Kingdom Hearts series. The battle system features fast paced combat with lots of possible combinations on how to approach certain enemies, for instance, if you are the kind that likes to use magic, then you can fine tune your tactics in order to have your party deal more magic based offensive damage, or if you just like to melee enemies without having to think too much on what element is effective against certain enemies, then this game caters to you as well, you can leave it to Ignis to buff you up with the appropriate elements that you need in order to deal extra damage.
As you can see, the flexibility of the battle system is what really sets it apart from other Final Fantasy games, Noctis has a plethora of weapons at his disposals, ranging from blades, spears, heavy blades, daggers, scepters and so on. Each weapon has a unique way to use it and Noctis will perform different kinds of special attacks when wielding a different kind of weapon. Your buddies are stuck with two specific sets of weapons that you can equip, for example, Gladio can equip a heavy blade and a shield, Ignis can use dual daggers and spears, while Prompto uses pistols and machine based weapons such as the Bioblaster.
The characters have their own special skills that you can trigger when the tech bar is at a certain percentage, depending on the skills that you equip your characters with, the cost of the tech bar may increase, some skills can take as much as three tech bars which is the limit that the tech bar gauge offers. Obviously such skills are the ones that deal the most damage or the most useful ones, however, all skills are useful in their own way and it depends on the gameplay style of each player to determine which are the ones that are worth equipping to their characters.
Noctis is the only character in the game who can create and absorb magic, thanks to a system called, “Elemancy”. This system allows you to create your own magic spells using various elements that you will find on the field or dungeons; you can stack up to 99 of each element and the more number of elements you use to create your magic, the more powerful it will become, and you can also opt to combine your elements with items that you randomly find in the game in order to make your magic more versatile, for example, you can use potions along with your elements to create a healing based magic attack that will both attack the enemy and heal yourself as well, or you can use elements plus some rare coins that you find in order to form an “Expericast”, which if used against enemies, increases your EXP gain from that enemy dramatically. Overall there are tons of possibilities to create different kinds of spells and again it will be up to the player to decide which spells and skills will suit the player’s character build.
In order to develop the maximum potential of you party, the game employs a system called “Ascension”, which is very similar to the sphere grid system used in Final Fantasy X. players will need to gather AP points in order to purchase skills, new stats, bonus perks and so on. This mechanic is one of the flaws of the character progression, as AP is mostly gained by the way you complete battles, side quests, making camp, training with Gladio or just enabling the perks of gaining AP while driving, running Chocobos, Etc. If your intent is to complete the ascension, this will take a lot of grinding to do, as the amount of AP points that you earn is scarce, and there are several skills that are worth as much as 999 AP, so be prepared to do a lot of mundane grinding if you want to complete the ascension.
Overall, the battles system works well enough and the battles are a lot of fun, once you get your character suited up, complete your ascension and level up enough, the later battles in the game ramp up the adrenaline by a lot and it is one of those moments where Final Fantasy XV really shines.
Final Fantasy games in the past were also known for pushing the edge of visual fidelity with each iteration of the franchise, and as mediocre as Final Fantasy XIII was, you could never deny that when that game came out, it featured one of the best graphics ever seen, it really showed what the PS3 and Xbox 360 were capable off as game consoles. The same can not be said for Final Fantasy XV however, the graphics of this game are inconsistent at best, and while it boast high-res characters, top notch CG visuals, and terrific art style that is evident on any character you meet or every boss you fight, it somehow struggles to keep the visual spectacle consistent throughout the entire game.
The game boasts Square-Enix’s proprietary engine called “Luminous Studio”, a game engine that has been expanded and improved throughout the development of the game while tossing out the previous Chrystal Tools Engine that was being used during development on the PS3. The Luminous engine enables massive open-world rendering, particle effects and real-time global illumination.
The best part about the visuals easily are the advanced global illumination and lighting effects that the game engine employs during the open world sections of the game, the beautiful mornings and nights, the shadows around the city structure, these elements really showcases the power of the Luminous engine and it definitely shows that it’s being held back by the current generation of hardware available.
Another aspect of the visuals that this game excels with are the animations of the characters, when you start controlling Noctis and moving around, you are going to experience very smooth and realistic animation cycles, it shows effective use of complex animation layering, allowing the characters to move in different ways when turning around, going down a slope, jumping and falling, running fast, getting tired. All of this feels really natural and it makes running around with Noctis a pleasure to behold.
There will be some dungeons and zones that will look outdated to current gen standards, specially the areas where you start the tutorial of the game, however, there will also be times, especially during daytime in the open world you’ll be wowed by the intricate details surrounding the cities, the water reflections of the sun etc.
Frame-rates of the game were also very inconsistent, while the Xbox One handled the game very well, there were definitely times that the game struggled to keep a consistent 30 fps, but a no point during the game I encountered awful frame-rates that impeded my gameplay.
If you want to experience this game at it’s fullest graphically, you might want to get it for the PS4 Pro or the Xbox One X as those platforms allow for bigger draw distances, better texture resolution, 4K resolution, and 60FPS gameplay, offering the definitive experience of the game.
Post-game, Updates and DLC
Now this is the bread and butter feature of the game, this were the game starts taking off and becoming quite an amazing game. The story quests themselves are good and all, but the moments where you are going to have the most fun with the game is with the amount of things to do, both pre-game and post game. As mentioned before, you can go at the game at your own pace, if you feel like completing all the quests and the beat the game, suit yourself, but the content that awaits after you finish the game is the content that will truly put your skills to the test.
After you finish the game, you can unlock the “Regalia Type F”; which will allow you to take to the skies, and also you’ll find a quests that will give you access to alternate versions of the dungeons that you already visited, with much tougher enemies scattered around, and if you were complaining that the game is too easy, then these post-game dungeons will satisfy your hunger for challenge, plus it unlocks new hunts, weekly quests, and just a plethora of things to do after the game ends.
And to this day, I’m still playing and doing everything in the game because is that much fun just go around and kill monsters and do quests, this is my favorite aspect of the game, the amount of things that you can do is what makes up for the lack of story content that the game offers, and you will find yourself forgiving it because it is that much fun and engaging to explore what the game has to offer after it ends.
Square has post-game DLC content offered for those who choose to pay the premium for it, the first one is Episode Gladio and it’s followed by Episode Prompto and Episode Ignis. These pieces of DLC aim to tell you the stories of what happened to each of the crew after they get separated at certain points in the game and it aims to expand the story more, and while it is a shame that story moments were deliberately removed in order to make way for DLC content in the game, it’s better than nothing.
Square-Enix also released some updates to the criticized chapter 13 of the game, adding some scenes of Emperor Iedolas, Ardin and Ravus. Chapter 13 is infamous for featuring a long dungeon where all you have to do is move forward on your own without your party or weapons, overcoming enemies without such weapons all while having Ardin trolling you. This dungeon can be a drag to some and Square took notice of that and decided to add a section where you can play as Gladio while also adding additional story sequences. while this update is better than nothing when it comes to story, it still doesn’t give you enough of it to make this chapter more interesting, there should have been much more story development going on the chapter that’s considered to be the last dungeon of the game, I especially thought that the Ravus story sequences and his sudden resolve to be loyal to Noctis needed much more development to arrive to that conclusion. Overall, while I certainly welcome Square-Enix commitment to update the game so it tells itself better, I think this is an issue that won’t be resolved with just patches alone.
As of June 26 2017, Square-Enix released a significant update to the game that takes over 8gb of storage space, it involves a preparation update for the upcoming Episode Prompto DLC, tracks of Episode Prompto DLC to the music player, various bug fixes, and the addition of the modification for the Regalia called, “The Regalia Type-D” which allows the vehicle go off roads and roam the open world more freely and not be restricted to just driving on roads. This is a welcome update to the game as it allows an easier and more enjoyable exploration of the open world which originally could only be done by foot or by riding Chocobos.
Overall, Square-Enix has been continually improving the game since launch, the biggest highlights of the update history are the additions to the lacking chapter 13, the continual performance upgrades done to the Xbox version of the game, PlayStation 4 Pro features including 60FPS gameplay and 4K up-scaling for PS4 pro users, Xbox One X users will be getting the same features as the PS4 Pro although it remains unclear whether the game will feature native 4K visuals or if it’ll use the same checker-boarding technique like the PS4 Pro does. There are also improvements to the interface, allowing you to resize your screen and last but not least, time quests added which mostly consists on hunting down strong monsters or completing other challenges; these quests reward you with more EXP, GIL, Items and Oracle Ascension coins. This particular update definitely adds to the lasting appeal of the game as it gives you incentive to keep coming back to it and that is always a good thing.
Voices and Soundtrack
The sound department of Final Fantasy XV is nothing but stellar, Ray Chase, Christopher L. Parson, Adam Croasdell and Robbie Daymond did an outstanding job as the voices of Noctis, Gladio Ignis and Prompto. Both English and Japanese are superb, and while the writing of the dialogs is nothing to write home about, the characters sound believable and a lot the gags that were present in the japanese version of the game were translated very well to the English version of it, so no translation issues are present at least with the English version.
Now the biggest praise that I have to give to this game is in the music department. In my humble opinion, master composer Yoko Shimomura gave Nobuo Uematsu a run for its money. The soundtrack of this game is to die for, in fact, it’s probably more epic than the game itself and it would shine even more if it was featured in a more perfect game. The soundtrack features a combination of orchestrated music with some country, jazz, relaxing pianos, industrial and some rock even, all composed together beautifully to keep the vibe of the game going.
Another great neat feature is that the game also allows you to purchase soundtracks from other Final Fantasy games and you can play them while you are driving the Regalia, or if you opt to purchase an MP3 player in the game, you can put whatever soundtrack you want while you are roaming around, so if you prefer the OST of other games in the series, this feature has you covered, as for me though, the only times I’ve ever put in tracks from the other games is when I was driving the Regalia, as driving around doesn’t have any background music, but for the rest of the game, I left it to Yoko Shimomura for my ear-sounding pleasure.
At the end of the day, it’s really hard to rate this game, it has features mainly in the story department that don’t reflect the greatness of what Final Fantasy games were in the past, however, at the same time, It has the fantastic gameplay and music that the series is known for, it even goes beyond that, and while the direction and story of the game might be its Achilles Heel, the fun questing based gameplay and exploration, the adrenaline pumped battle system, the post game content, and amazing soundtrack more than makes up for it. This is a game that is worth playing because it’s just plain fun to play, and if you are one of those gamers that can overlook a good but mediocrely told story in favor of having a blast just by running around, doing quests, battling enemies and growing up in power, then you are going to find that Final Fantasy XV is worth every penny and even the DLC just because it expands more on the story and it pumps it up with tons of additional content to enjoy which definitely gives you a reason to keep coming back to the game.
Final Fantasy XV might be a far-cry of the greatness of Final Fantasy VII and it looks like that future Final Fantasy games are destined to live under the shadows of the amazing Final Fantasy games that graced us during the fifth generation of gaming, however, it certainly deserves it’s place in the series and I dare say it is definitely in one of my top 10 Final Fantasy games. If the series keeps going in this direction of gameplay while offering the same quality of story that previous games in the franchise were known for, then sign me up because I want more of it.