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Review: Final Fantasy XV

81WyEyShisL._AC_SL1500_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)!

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Just try not to think about the details while you’re out there stabbing horses and stuff.

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.

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The few story missions that had big boss fights against summons were nice though.

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”.

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“Smokers are jokers!”

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.

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Can you overcome the ultimate fishing challenge?

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.

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Or you can just wander around on top of random rock formations finding hidden treasures. Whatever.

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.

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Hanging out with Leviathan

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!

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Will Final Fantasy XV make its development costs back?

Short answer? I doubt it. Although it might just scrape through.

Kotaku has reported that Final Fantasy XV sold 670,471 copies in Japan at retail in its first week. That might sound a lot, but it’s well down on the sales figures of previous entries. Final Fantasy XIII sold 1,516,532 copies in Japan in its first week, Final Fantasy XII sold 1.8 million and Final Fantasy X sold 1.7 million. Meanwhile, the behemoths that are Final Fantasy VII and VIII sold 2.03 million and 2.5 million, respectively, in their first week on sale in Japan.

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Admittedly, the 670,471 figure doesn’t include digital sales, and Square Enix noted that the game has broken the record for first-day digital sales in Japan. But even with those included, it seems unlikely that Final Fantasy XV topped the million mark – which must be worrying for Square Enix, considering that the game cost millions to make and was in development for ten years. And then there’s the huge marketing push in recent weeks, which will no doubt have cost a pretty penny.

There are no official figures on the total cost of development and marketing for Final Fantasy XV, but at a guess it’s likely to be above $100 million. Final Fantasy XV director Hajime Tabata revealed earlier this year that the game needs lifetime sales of 10 million copies to recoup its development costs, which, to quote this Kotaku article, is “more than any Final Fantasy game has ever sold except Final Fantasy VII, almost twice as much as The Witcher 3 has sold so far, and twice as much as Metal Gear Solid V has sold to date”.

Judging by the initial sales in Japan, it seems like it will be hard for them to get anywhere near the 10 million figure needed.

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However, it’s not all bad news. In the UK, Final Fantasy XV was the second-fastest-selling game in the Final Fantasy series to date, and worldwide, the game’s combined shipments and digital sales topped 5 million (note that’s shipments, not sales). So it seems that although the latest Final Fantasy game has seemingly underperformed in its native Japan, it has benefited from a strong following in the rest of the world.

The lower than expected Japanese sales aren’t particularly surprising. The country has seen a shift away from consoles towards mobile gaming in recent years, even though the gaming sector continues to grow in size overall. And it’s seeming increasingly unlikely that PS4 sales in Japan will eclipse Japanese sales of the PS3, even though the PS4 is selling like hotcakes everywhere else – the latest global sales figures put global PS4 sales north of 50 million.

There’s also the waning popularity of the Final Fantasy series as a whole in Japan, as shown by the gradual decline in sales figures through the years. And the switch to real-time combat in Final Fantasy XV could have put off many Japanese fans, even if it might appeal more to gamers in the west – but this is just speculation.

Whatever the reasons behind the sales figures, it will be interesting to see where Square Enix takes the series next – and I wouldn’t be surprised if the next numbered Final Fantasy entry was exclusive to mobile. Square Enix might not go the whole hog and mostly abandon console development, like Konami did, but it would make sense for them to follow the money. The majority of their revenue came from mobile last year, and with mobile development costs so much lower than console, it makes sense to invest less yet make more money.

After the years of development and spiralling costs for Final Fantasy XV, I’d be surprised if Square Enix took such a big risk again for number 16.

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What to make of Final Fantasy XV

I’ve never been a particular fan of the Final Fantasy games.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried to be.  I once collected pretty much all of the Final Fantasy games from I up to VIII with the intention of playing through them all. But I never did it.

I played through about half of IV and quite enjoyed it, but I couldn’t get more than an hour or two in to Final Fantasy VII before giving up. The same happened for Final Fantasy X. The bum-numbingly long cut scenes killed a lot of the enjoyment for me – the same reason that I drifted away from Metal Gear Solid (another game I really wanted to like). I ended up giving the games to my sister in the end.

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Now, a decade since its inception, Final Fantasy XV is finally on shop shelves. And from the viewpoint of an outsider looking in, it’s really bizarre. The cover depicts what looks like a Japanese boy band, who appear to be sponsored by Brylcreem. They clutch what surely must be foam swords, judging by the way they’re flinging them about. Of course, massive swords are a hallmark of the series, but they just look so odd in the hands of the members of SMAP.

The cast of Final Fantasy XV, a.k.a. SMAP.

The cast of Final Fantasy XV, a.k.a. SMAP.

Even more bizarrely, according to the trailer, they seem to be using swords against enemies with guns. What’s that old adage about bringing a knife to a gun fight? And they seem to be in a modern setting, but there’s dragons.

What the fuck is going on in this game?

Still, it does look pretty.

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Spiffing Reads: Final Fantasy XV, Titanfall 2 and the Best Halloween Costume

I ran out of time on Friday, so Spiffing Reads is a bit late this week. But just as packed full of goodness as ever.

Illustration: Sam Woolley

Illustration: Sam Woolley

Why I Play (Kotaku UK)

“Playing video games is, for me, part of a lifelong rejection of boredom.” Keza MacDonald, the chief ed of Kotaku UK, went on maternity leave last week, but she penned a rather brilliant article before she went. Take a look, it’s really rather good.

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20 years on, the Tomb Raider story told by the people who were there (Eurogamer)

This actually came out more than a week ago, but it’s so good I had to include it. It’s incredibly long, but well worth reading – the Tomb Raider saga, with its soaring highs and crushing lows, is emblematic of 90s gaming and the rise of big publishers.

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Finishing Final Fantasy (Eurogamer)

A surprisingly revealing look inside the offices of Square Enix as the developers rush to finish Final Fantasy XV, a game that’s been a decade in the making. I love the huge diorama they’ve made of the game world.

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This working Pokemon Go app costume is the most amazing creation you’ll see this year (Polygon)

Genius. Just genius. Make sure to watch the video.

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Titanfall is a victim of chest-beating pride (GamesIndustry.biz)

Some scathing criticism of EA and Respawn for scheduling Titanfall 2’s release a week after Battlefield 1 and a week before Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. “Respawn Entertainment, which will likely bear the brunt of any hardship resulting from the now-uncertain status of the Titanfall franchise … likely approved of the release date for reasons that are also more to do with dick-measuring than with commercial good sense; launching a week ahead of the new SF Call of Duty game from their old studio, Infinity Ward, would be a chance to prove that they’d surpassed their old franchise and a final two fingers to the publisher who humiliatingly kicked them out of their old studio six years ago.” Yowch.


Spiffing Reads is a regular feature where we pick out the best gaming articles of the week. If you’ve read anything interesting, please let us know in the comments.

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