Review: A Game 10 Years In The Making Still Managed To Feel Rushed In The End

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I’ve spouted this line a few times here before, but “Final Fantasy XV” was the premier reason why I ever began looking into the purchase of a Playstation 4 Pro. It’s ironic in a way that months later it’s actually the rest of the system’s library that has me still playing and happy I made the purchase to begin with while the latter, well, that’s been on Ebay a few times and still hasn’t sold. Not the start of the glowing review I had in mind prior to its purchase.

Gameplay

Let’s start with the positives.

For anyone familiar with the Final Fantasy series as a whole, the battle system was almost always a turn-based system. Players essentially waited their turn and had time to make offensive or defensive moves based on the circumstances in a battle. Final Fantasy 11, the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) and some of the newer titles like XII and XIII started to move toward an active battle system, one that gives the players more freedom of movement. If there were any barriers left in the series, Final Fantasy XV managed to knock them down, stomp on them and grind them into an unrecognizable pulp.

The saving grace in the latest installment to the storied franchise is the fast-paced and expansive battle system. The protagonist of the sometimes unexplainable story (more on that later) has the ability to warp-strike his enemies. Entering a battle with a warp and great sword to the skull of an enemy was always a lot of fun.

The teamwork system between Noctis and his three bros, Ignis, Prompto and Gladiolus is a nice replacement for limit breaks from earlier games of the series and frankly the only time the artificial intelligence works to the best of its ability. The secondary characters will assist Noctis in powerful combos when certain conditions are met, such as attacking a monster from a certain direction or by the weapon Noctis is wielding. Speaking of weapons, there is no short supply of weapons to choose from. Noctis can wield the entire gamut of arms from past and present Final Fantasy games. To give the player more flexibility, the d-pad allows the instantaneous swapping of weapons mid-fight.

To close out gameplay and the battle system, my major gripe is with the magic/summoning system. For a game that makes fire look as real as I’ve ever seen it in a video game I wish it gave me more reason to cast it. I rarely felt the need to cast magic, and when I did I’d miss the target completely because of the “Uncharted” style of grenade-tossing aiming mechanic. A clear lock-on system for casting magic was sorely missed here. Worse off was the summoning system. What used to be a large catalog of mythical creatures that could be called to your aid in battle for a damage boost has been dumbed down to a small handful of classic, overpowered summons that lack decent presentation. I’m OK with the way Titan and Ramuh enter battle in a very cinematic way. They have style and actually show how they’re inflicting damage on the enemy. Other summons such as Leviathon and Shiva felt so slopped together in their presentation … I’m pretty sure my mouth was agape in amazement the first time I summoned them in battle; not because of how awesome it looked but because of how terrible the sequence was. Everytime I was prompted to use them in battle (the ability to call them is based on circumstances like geographic location) I never did because it was just too depressing to watch.

Story

No great game can rest solely on a good story and no poor story can rest solely on great gameplay — the two need to work hand-in-hand. What’s a good story if the gameplay is disjointed and difficult? Unfortunately for Final Fantasy XV, the gameplay alone isn’t able to save the story.

Known typically for its decent storytelling, Square Enix failed miserably in this installment of the series. The basic premise is alright — two nations at war, one duped into agreeing on a marriage they think will keep the nations from fighting. War ensues while Noctis and his three friends are on a roadtrip to Noctis’ wedding … the world crumbles and so does the story.

In an odd marketing campaign for the game, the developers used a variety of mediums to help lay the groundwork for the story. A five-episode anime featuring the four protagonists was released on YouTube, each detailing their own background. Next came the CGI film entitled “Kingsglaive” starring voicework by some well-known stars such as Aaron Paul and Lena Headey. The events of the movie showcase what is happening in Noctis’ home country moments after he left to wed Princess Luna. The last piece of the puzzle (or so it should have been) came the release of the actual game. No one story works on its own — this supported by “Kingslaive’s” putrid $5.6 million at the box office. Together the three sources of information should have been enough to complete a well-thought out story, unfortunately, this wasn’t the case.

The story holds up for the first half of the game and then the wheels fall off completely. Outcry from gamers was so much so that Square Enix just released a massive update that changes a number of features in the game –an entire chapter was remade to help convey the story in a meaningful way. Proof that the game, while 10 years in the making, was pulled from the oven far too soon.

Housekeeping

There are a slews of in-game features I’d be remissed not to mention — both good and bad.

¯ Prompto’s photo mode. This is kind of a neat way to document your journey. At the end of each day you can cycle through the pictures he took of your group in battle or just hanging around the campfire.

¯ End-game content. Basically time spent in the game after you complete the main storyline is devoid of any substance. You can take on monster hunts or finish some mindless quests, but there’s nothing that has me coming back for more now that the main quest has been finished.

¯ Cheats. There’s something about games with “cheats” that make me turn away from them very quickly. There are items you can synthesis with your magic spells that increase your experience during battle. These gimmicks can be parlayed even further by using experience boosting food items and staying overnight in experience boosting hotels. I tried the hack and it worked too well … I leveled my characters from 66 to 99 after one battle. One Battle! Don’t even provide this option to players, it ruins the game.

¯ Updates and downloadable content. To its credit, Square Enix continues to make updates to the game and just recently released its first DLC package that lets you play as Gladiolus. The downside — these aren’t free. Downloadable content is a great idea, but when you add up the total cost between the initial purchase of the game and tack on an additional $30 we’re now pushing $100 for a complete game. It’s a great way for the industry to inflate the cost of the game without actually hitting you on the sticker price. Growing up, new games would top out around $49. Today, games are released at $59. Considering the quality of the games today I’d say a $10 rate of inflation for the industry isn’t that bad. The added content and cost, however, is not so great.

¯ Updates … the bad kind. The Playstation Pro was supposed to make games look and run better. While that has been accomplished for a number of games, Square Enix has failed to take advantage of the new capabilities the system has to offer. A recent update has unlocked the frame rate for Final Fantasy XV. While this is usually a good thing for games, meaning character movement is more fluid and without glitching, it worked opposite for FFXV. The lows and highs are so drastic that the game can actually make you feel motion sick. I fired the game up to check it out post-update and I must say, I didn’t last more than 10 minutes. I really hope this issue is addressed in further updates.

Final Thought

The hype for this game was real. From the release date unveiling event (the game was eventually delayed another two months – LOL) to the anime shorts and full-length star-studded CGI movie … the hype was really real. Unfortunately, for this Final Fantasy fan, the hype did not overcome what really could have been a great story paired with some of the most enjoyable combat gameplay I’ve seen. Fans of the series waited 10 years for the latest installment, I like to think we could have waited another one to have a more complete and fulfilling experience. 6.9/10

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