I love video games. I love them a lot. It’s arguable that I love video games as much as, possibly more than, I do Anime.
Video games are my favourite time sink, they form many of my fondest memories and they’re my career choice.
And no other genre of video game has touched my heart than that of JRPG’s. I love JRPG’s. They’re my favourite games to play, they make up the bulk of my game collection and they’re the reason I never get through more than a few games a year: because they’re so damn long and time consuming.
And amongst these many JRPG’s is a series that has always stood above the rest in its popularity: the Final Fantasy series. I’ve always been a pretty big Final Fantasy fan. My first exposure to the series was through a brief playing of Final Fantasy VII while my first real experience was with the series’ tenth instalment, unsurprisingly named, Final Fantasy X. Over the years, I played more entries from this gargantuan franchise from most of the numbered entries in the main series, to obscure spin-off titles such as Crystal Bearers, I’ve played my fair share of Final Fantasy games, and I’ve generally had a pretty great time with the series.
But ever since the release of Final Fantasy XIII, the series had begun to lose its spark for me. The game was awful. The gameplay was stale, the story was an incoherent mess with a god awful protagonist, the exploration was completely shelved in favour of narrow corridors of enemies and everything was just… Awful. Final Fantasy XIII sucked. It sucked hard. XIII-2 fixed a lot of the issues I had with it, but the damage had been done. Since then, the franchise has never felt the same. It’s felt stale and past its prime, something that I would never have come close to saying back in the days of Final Fantasy X.
However, there’s always been hope on the horizon, in the form of Final Fantasy XV, a game that started off as a spin-off titled Final Fantasy Versus XIII that eventually took the form of a main series title. This game looked incredible when it was originally showcased at the Tokyo Game Show back in 2006, and with each new reveal and every new piece of footage, the game served as a glimmer of hope for the franchise many fans thought we’d lost.
Now, after 10 years since its initial reveal, after a mass-marketing campaign that no other JRPG could ever dream of receiving, after a feature film, an Anime TV series and an immense series of development and localisation delays, Final Fantasy XV has been released. And boy, does it live up to the hype. I’m happy to say that, so far, after around 15 hours of combined gameplay between my girlfriend and I, this game is absolutely phenomenal.
First and foremost, the game has an incredibly well realised visual presentation. This game is absolutely stunning. The character models are appealing and the world is beautifully constructed. The setting is an insane combination of our real world and its modern age, with some science fiction and fantasy elements, and despite this strange and some what messy blend it works. It sounds crazy and it’s a little jarring at times, but my god does it work. It works so well and I honestly can’t explain why it works other than it just feels and looks so damn cool.
And beyond it’s aesthetic, the world itself just feels lived in. It feels alive. It has personality. It doesn’t feel like some artificial construct made for us to play around in, it feels like a real world, with real residents living very real lives as you wander around hunting monsters or drive around the vast landscapes and go fishing with your buddies. NPC’s have conversations with each other, they have interesting chats with your party, they go about their daily activities and they notice your presence. It feels like you’re a part of this world, as opposed to just exploring it to fulfil some pre-scripted story objectives.
Further adding to this sense of belonging is the vast amount of things to do in the world. Whether it be going on a hunt for a group of monsters to earn some Gil, or going on a quest to advance the narrative, or simply going for a drive in the games signature car: the Regalia to take in the breathtaking landscapes and scenery of the games world, you always feel like you’re really living in the world beyond simply being in control of the protagonist of a JRPG narrative. Final Fantasy XV is a game best experienced by taking your time, exploring the world and doing everything that said world has to offer. It’s provided an incredible feeling of discovery that I haven’t experienced in a video game since Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii. That was over 5 years ago. I’ve been playing this game for around 6 hours so far, and I’ve spent most of my time doing the little things. I’ve barely advanced the plot at all, and in a way, that’s great. I’m going to be playing this game for a long time.
And that’s not even touching on what makes up the bulk of the gameplay: the battle system, which is incredible in its own right. Breaking convention from the traditional, menu-driven, turn-based battle systems we’ve come to expect from the series, Final Fantasy XV’s battle system is a real-time battle system focusing primarily on commands mapped to specific buttons as opposed to options in a cluttered menu. It’s a nice breath of fresh air, it feels different and it’s goddamn frantic at times, which elevates the excitement of battles to levels I’ve never dreamt of seeing from a Final Fantasy game. Commands are handled by holding down the action button in real-time, so for example, you would hold down the attack button to chain a combo of attacks together against an enemy. While I initially had my worries and doubts about the whole “holding down the button” idea, and originally wished that the input was more of a button masher like Kingdom Hearts or Devil May Cry, there’s surprisingly a lot of depth to it, and it works incredibly well. Needing to switch commands in the midst of battle by changing the button you’re currently holding can create some really tense and frantic situations, and this, combined with a cover system, well-timed parries and counterattacks, an in depth Skill Tree levelling system and an incredibly useful and absolutely mental warping mechanic that allows you to warp towards enemies like a boss, makes for some truly excellent combat. It’s satisfying, it’s complete chaos at times, but most importantly, it’s just darn good fun. I haven’t had this much fun toppling giant monsters in forever.
There’s also a “Wait Mode” variant of the battle system. I’m yet to try it out and I’m not sure if I’ll bother with it too much, since I love the chaotic and quick pace of the real-time battles, but it’s pretty cool that the option is there for those who desire it.
However, it’s not all good on the gameplay side of things. There are several glitches and design issues that crop up from time to time. A lot of these are incredibly minor and don’t do a lot to take hinder the experience, such as a party member (particularly Ignis) randomly walking on the spot into a wall indefinitely, or the camera occasionally focusing on a tree for no apparent reason (apparently trees are super interesting). These are things that can and most likely will be fixed in the future (because patches are coming), and they’re hardly worth mentioning as a result. That being said, there are some issues that simply can’t be ignored, such as the itty bitty UI text. The font size is tiny. It’s often microscopic. Who were these menus made for? Ants?
This might be my TV, or my eyesight (which is awful), but it’s so darn tiny at times that I often struggle to read half of the super important information on my screen when I’m a few feet away from my television. I need to sit super close to my screen to make half of the text out clearly, and while that isn’t too big of a deal, it’s certainly not good for my eyes, which I’m sure you’ll not be surprised to learn are photosensitive. It’s definitely not related to sitting in a dark room for most of my teenage years and sleeping constantly *yawn*
In all seriousness though, I keep getting traumatic flashbacks to Xenoblade Chronicles X with its itty bitty font size. It’s not a game breaker for me, but it’s been a little frustrating at times. I hope this gets patched in the future.
Another issue I have with the gameplay is the controls of the Regalia. While driving around is one of the games highlights and adds a whole take on exploring such a large world through taking in the scenery via roadtrips, it kind of sucks that the car is on rails the whole time. While there is some degree of freedom in taking turns and doing some maneuvers I want to drive my car up a goddamn cliff Final Fantasy XV! But it’s not that big of a deal, just a slight disappointment.
In terms of the story, I haven’t really experienced enough of it pass much judgement on it at all. I’ve only seen up to around what I believe to be the midway point of Chapter 2, and I’m certainly taking my time with progressing through it, since I’m aiming to explore and do as many little things as I can instead of trying to rush through to the end. The characters are really fun, and the 4 main characters are fantastically well handled in terms of their personalities, dialogue and general banter they have together and the relationships they have with one another. They feel like a real group of friends and they’re all incredibly memorable characters. I particularly have a soft spot for Prompto and his tendency to take photos of the group throughout the course of their journey. He’s such a quirky and goofy little guy and I love him! He never fails to amuse me, especially when he hums the all too familiar victory music that’s become a staple for the series.
As for the narrative itself, it seems like it’s going to deliver on the epic side of things. The plot is aiming to be some sort of dramatic conflict between two mighty kingdoms with the protagonist being thrown right in the middle of it all. It has the potential to be something great as it goes on, and I have high hopes for what will unfold further down the line. I’ve heard a lot of complaints, but it seems a large chunk of these people haven’t watched the Kingsglaive movie or the Brotherhood Anime series. While I think it’s pretty lame that you need to have watched external media to fully appreciate the narrative of the game do yourselves a favour and just go do it. The movie is pretty great, and it’s like 90 minutes long. Save yourself the hassle and watch it. The same applies to the Anime. For how well they enhance the narrative experience, they are worth every minute of your time, and if you’re going to complain about the narrative without doing so, you’re being silly. Will it hold up in the end though? I sure hope so. Square Enix are very hit or miss when it comes to their stories. They’ve made some truly incredible tales like Final Fantasy VII and X, but also some really messy and incoherent ones like XIII. I guess I’ll need to wait and see (no spoilers please!)
In terms of the soundtrack, I don’t have much to say other than it’s freaking awesome. It’s epic, it’s grandiose and it’s perfectly fitting for a game of this nature and scope. It’s a Final Fantasy soundtrack. It’s incredible.
Final Fantasy XV is one of the most ambitious games I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. With such a long wait and agonising build-up spanning the length of a decade, I expected this game to be a disappointment. I was afraid this franchise would crash and burn as a result of its own lofty hopes and ambitions for this game. Yet, Final Fantasy XV has succeeded in its vision of being one of the most ambitious and grand scale JRPG’s ever created. It is a huge leap for the franchise and the JRPG genre as a whole, and I honestly can’t wait to experience more of this fantastic game.
So far this game has delivered on all of its promises and so much more. It has brought life back to a franchise I was beginning to lose faith in and has made way for a come back like no other.
A few fans seem disappointed with this game, naturally, but I’m not. This game is everything a Final Fantasy fan could ask for, and I for one could not be happier.
And with that, I’m off for a drive in the Regalia to take in some more of that beautiful scenery. Catch you later folks.
P.S – Buy this game. It’s amazing. Don’t have a PS4? There’s finally a reason to get one.
What are your First Impressions of Final Fantasy XV?