The previews and the demo for the long-awaited Final Fantasy XV made it one of the most anticipated Final Fantasy releases in quite some time (even if I didn’t actually get around to finally playing it until eight months after it came out), but could it possibly live up to all the hype that seemed to promise a return to greatness for the series? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to that question. This is one of those divisive games that you’ll either love or hate depending on what you want from your games, so I’ll just tell you what I took from it and maybe it’ll help you figure out which side of that fence you think you’re going to fall on.
So let’s start with the bad news. The bad news is that the story and the story-based missions, with a few rare exceptions, are pretty uneven and undercooked. You should know that something’s wrong right off the bat when the game starts by telling you that your father, the king, was killed and your country was overthrown by an evil empire, and conveys this information to you through a phone call and a newspaper. Oh, did you want to know exactly how this took place, or who this evil empire is, or who this Cor fellow is, or what the deal with your fiancee Lunafreya is and how and why she has the vitally important magic ring you need, or why her brother is apparently the commander of the military for the evil empire and has it out for you, or what all this business with royal magic, the crystal, and the demons plaguing the planet are? Well, too bad. You should have watched the prologue movie, Kingsglaive (not included)!
Luckily I had heard about this movie and watched it beforehand, so I knew most of the answers to these questions (although apparently I missed the fact that there was also a free anime mini-series released online that I was supposed to have watched beforehand too), but I can only imagine how vague and thin the plot must seem to anyone who jumped in without that introductory info dump. The game continues on in this fashion for quite some time, with barely a trace of a story in sight, which even then only really continues the same notion that you just need to keep gaining more power so you can go back and beat up that pesky evil empire, who is really evil because…reasons. You’re eventually clued in to the motivations of the villain, but not until the game’s just about over, which is about the only time there starts to be any new plot movement again.
The story missions themselves are one of the weakest aspects of the game too, most of them feeling very basic and restrictive compared to your adventures in the open world. You may have heard stories of the dreaded Chapter 13, where you’re trapped in an area without your standard weapons and your team, and end up running down dark, empty corridors and dealing with unpleasant forced stealth sections for so, so much longer than is at all necessary. Supposedly this section has undergone massive patching since release after so many fans complained about it, and even now it’s still the worst part of the game by far.
The characters are as hollow as the plot too. While your team isn’t outright unpleasant, and is certainly more likable than some previous Final Fantasy characters (Tidussssssssss!), they aren’t much more than flimsy anime stereotypes. There’s the semi-brooding leader, the strong one, the brainy one, and the dumb, kind of annoying one. There really isn’t much in the way of character development beyond that for anyone until the very end.
The many side quests throughout the game are also almost entirely lacking any kind of story to them. They are as basic as can be, and it was clear that no effort whatsoever was put into giving any of them any real purpose, other than to continue to help boost your power and wallet. It’s just a bunch of “Go here, kill this”, “Go here, pick this up”, and then “Ok, now do that thing ten more times until this quest chain arbitrarily ends”.
So…at this point it probably sounds like I really hated this game, doesn’t it? Well, don’t be so hasty, I still have to tell you the good news! The good news is that the open world section, which makes up the majority of the game, is absolutely amazing. It’s one of the most beautiful looking game worlds you’ll ever see and is just bursting with a huge variety of exotic locations to explore. You will most likely forget all about that big red story mission marker on your map, because you’ll be too busy scouring the map for all the little towns full of new shops and side quests, and deciding whether or not you should try to fight all these strange new creatures you keep coming across, and finding new fishing spots and getting lost in a frenzy of surprisingly fun serial fishing, and clearing out one of the various dungeon areas, and so on and so on.
There’s just so much ground to cover, so many sights to see, and so much content filling it all that even the most thorough of explorers will probably still never see quite everything there is to see. Whether you’re walking, riding a chocobo, or driving your fancy multi-mode car around, there’s always something to do, even if you weren’t looking for something. It’s a truly impressive feat of both visual and world design, even by Square-Enix standards.
The combat system is also extremely fun, so much that I didn’t even mind the lazy design of the piles and piles of side quests, because I was just having so much damn fun slaughtering my way across the countryside (though I understand that this may not be enough for some people). From the point warping system, to the various limit break powers, to the huge variety of weapons and gear, to the surprisingly complex magic creation system, it just never got old to me. In fact, I got so wrapped up in things that I went through over half the game without even really exploring just how detailed the magic system was, finally realizing that I could have been creating much crazier spells if I’d been using all those catalyst items I’d been hoarding.
The day/night and sleep cycles help add even more variety to things too. Creatures that are extremely difficult for lower levels start coming out at night, so until you’re much more powerful, you’ll have to take care in how you go about your journeys and carefully plan when and where you’ll be sleeping. Resting not only entirely heals your party and moves the clock to morning time, but it’s also when your gathered experience will be added to your character so you can level up. This is where you’ll find you have to make some choices, as you can decide to head to a nearby campsite to sleep out in the wild, which is free and gives you the option of cooking special meals that’ll give you various buffs and bonuses the next day, or you can find a town with a hotel, which cost money, but give you a bonus experience gain multiplier that rises depending on how fancy the place you stay is.
The game is also nice enough to let you come back to the open world at almost any time, even when you’ve found yourself whisked off to a strange new country by a story mission, you still have the option of teleporting back to carry on with your open world business. You can also continue on after the main campaign is over too, if you want to wrap up anything you left unfinished or tackle some of the crazy post-game content.
There’s actually quite a lot to do even after you’ve beaten everything in the main story and done every single quest you could find during that time. There are the high level hunts, including the mountain-sized Adamantoise, who is hyped as the most difficult enemy in the game (but really just has the most health and takes the longest to kill), as well as another new quest chain that makes you face off against some really tough new bosses to win some fancy new weapons.
There’s also a series of eight “super-dungeons” that are locked away inside a bunch of the dungeons you visited during the main game, which you can only get into afterwards. Each one gets increasingly difficult, leading up to a rough 100-floor dungeon packed full of nasty Tonberrys and such, and an even nastier final dungeon with only 60 floors, but no usable items allowed.
AND there’s also an extra super secret dungeon that you can only get to with some tricky flying, which has no enemies in it and is just an insane puzzle/platforming maze of doom that I never would have expected to see in a Final Fantasy game.
Point being, there is a hell of a lot to do in this game. I finally finished, having cleared out the majority of things to do (aside from the extra obsessive stuff like catching all 100 different types of fish, even though none of the fishing quests require it), at around 112 hours. I don’t think I’ve spent so much time on a Final Fantasy game, and had so much fun doing it, since the original PlayStation days. While the story issues will most likely keep Final Fantasy XV from replacing anyone’s pick for “favorite Final Fantasy game”, it’s still a step in the right direction and it gives me hope for the future of the series.
Before I go, let me drop a few closing tips regarding this fine game:
- For you 4K people out there, be aware that you have to manually enable HDR (and possibly change the performance selector) in settings to get the full power of the crazy graphics.
- Also, you can download A King’s Tale – Final Fantasy XV, a pretty fun little retro themed beat-em-up, for free on PS4 and Xbone
- Finally, if you’ve already played FFXV, check out my spoiler-packed rant about the meaning of the controversial and unusual ending of the game HERE and let me know what you think!