Platforms PC, PS4 (reviewed), XBO
Developer Square Enix
Publisher Square Enix
Release Date November 29, 2016

Review by Paul Shulver (@Shuvlarse)

The Final Fantasy franchise has come to define pretty much who I am as a gamer and I use it as a means for people to gauge my preferences. For example, you might have been asked to list a game you’re playing by someone and they’ve not heard of it and your response is ‘oh, it’s like Final Fantasy’. It’s instantly recognisable. I’ve played the majority of them and for me the standout titles are VII, VIII, IX and X which I consider to be somewhat of a backbone.

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They are the stories I grew up with and I always couldn’t wait to play through the next one. Final Fantasy XIII for me didn’t tick all the boxes and I’m not into online gaming and prefer my Final Fantasy experiences to be solitary ones. So, after 10 years of waiting I booked a week off work to dive head first into the world of Eos and Final Fantasy XV and this is what I made of it.

The universe of Final Fantasy XV has expanded significantly since the Final Fantasy Uncovered event in which a number of supplemental games and more pivotally the Final Fantasy XV Kingsglaive film and Brotherhood anime were announced. The film and the anime try desperately to fill you in on the lore and backstory of Final Fantasy XV as the game’s opening scenes and early chapters plonk you right in the middle of a number of events with very little in the way of explanation as to why anything is happening.

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I can only surmise that the introduction of the film and anime were as a result of the trilogy being short 2 games as without me having watched them I would have been well and truly in the dark. As the story progresses nothing ever becomes clearer. Having finished the game, I can tell you what generally happened in the 15 chapters I played through but not really tell you why. One minute you will be told ‘you need to do this’ and then a few chapters later that particular task is literally forgotten about, never to be spoken about again in favour of something new.

At one point one of your team tells you he’s leaving, no reason given, no explanation and then he just comes back, again, no explanation. These jarring moments happen with a frightening regularity which kind of detracts from the overall quest which doesn’t really reveal itself until you’re a few chapters from the end. It’s perplexing. By contrast to previous games, such as in Final Fantasy VII, you were bombing reactors until Sephiroth showed up and then it got real and you KNEW what you were doing. VIII you KNEW you had to stop the Sorceress, X you had a pilgrimage and again you KNEW you’d end up fighting SIN. XV I didn’t know anything.

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The game progresses through a mission style system much like that of Metal Gear Solid V, quests that will progress the story, side quests which won’t and then just a general free roam. The game itself is split into two halves, the half where you can go and do what you want and the half which is literally a single path all the way to the final boss.That said, the latter half moved relatively quickly but having spent so long in a free roaming area to then be sent repeatedly through dull concrete corridors, a train, where your objective was to ‘Walk around the train until it arrives’ and be without your comrades for a large part of it was underwhelming as a build up to the finale to say the least.

Having said that there is a lot to be said for the four main guys. Their friendship and your interactions with them is literally the glue that holds everything together. While the events of the game may not make much sense to you, it’s their dialogue which keeps it all somewhat grounded as whatever it is that’s going on seems to make sense to them. The more time you spend in the world with them carrying out side quests and generally just getting to know them, the more their personalities will develop and grow on you, naturally. If you can shelve the fact you are told absolutely nothing about them for the majority of the game and can just enjoy their personalities for what they are then you’ll be ok.

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The combat has changed significantly since the early days of the Duscae demo. I’m by no means a pro at it now but I did find myself fairing a lot better than I did previously. You have the option of ‘Active’ battle or ‘Wait’. Active will keep the battle rolling and you need to be inputting attack or defence commands on the fly while Wait will pause the battle as soon as you stop giving commands. The latter allows you to take a moment to scan your targets for weaknesses and target your next enemy with the battle resuming as soon as you start another attack.

Enabling this does seem like the battle will be very stop start, stop start, but I actually found it quite useful when dealing with larger groups of enemies. The magic system harks back to the VIII days as the resource is harvested from draw points in the world. Draw points are found around campsites and consist of Fire, Thunder and Ice elements. These three primary elements can be combined with each other and then further enhanced through an alchemy system called Elemancy. Magic can be combined with pretty much any item in the game to form magic recipes which can then be equipped and cast. I rarely used it as all casting creates an area of effect which also affects your party.

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In terms of performance I played Final Fantasy XV on an old Playstation 4 model which has never been cleaned. Pushing past 11 hours of uptime saw my game start to stutter. Severe graphical tearing, artefacts, menu lag, input lag and just overall slowdown. Given that this game was originally slated as being a PS3 exclusive, which used a very different architecture to the machines we use today and having a 10-year development cycle, I’m genuinely impressed they’ve got it to run as well at it does.

This is corroborated by the 4Chan user who was clearly involved in the development process claiming that 3 months before the slated September 30th release date the game barely ran on the Xbox One. Having finished the game, I can’t for the life of me begin to suggest why this game has been getting such high reviews as the main crux of any Final Fantasy title is undoubtedly its story and here it falls so far short of the mark. If anything I feel relieved for the developers and for Square Enix as this game’s development was quite clearly troubled.

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The fact that it has been so well received is an absolute testament to the hard work and dedication that these guys must have gone through to get it to the state it is in today. The pressure these guys must have been under, not only from a business perspective but also from the expectation of the fans was immense and I reckon I’m only scratching the surface when I say that blood sweat and tears went into this game. The feeling of relief must be incredible.

Even though for large parts of this game I felt completely distant from the story, the characters kept me engaged right through to the end, the last chapter being absolutely perfect. While running around Eos I was genuinely filled with hope that the Final Fantasy VII Remake and any subsequent mainstream Final Fantasy games would follow a similar format, albeit with more structure in terms of the narrative. If this game was intended to be part of a trilogy, then for me the decision to separate Final Fantasy VII into portions makes perfect sense.

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Had this been segmented as intended then we might have got three forty hour games which would have made for more of a journey, a fully fleshed out world, story and cast and made more of the story’s perfect resolution. I would love to see some sort of director’s cut or a no holds barred making of Final Fantasy XV as I am confident a lot of what was left out would add significantly to what is currently there.


Summary

Final Fantasy XV is a broken story but a better direction which has restored my faith in the franchise for future titles.  It’s an easy platinum or 1000g.

7


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