November 29th 2016 marked a very special date for fans of one of gaming’s most beloved and recognised JRPG series. After a decade of surprise trailers, title changes and prolonged delays, Final Fantasy XV made it’s way on to our consoles leaving fantasy fanatics excited but sceptical at the outcome of ten years of hard work. Things that are this long in production normally go one of two ways; brilliantly or disastrously. I’m by no means an expert when it comes to Final Fantasy, in fact I’ve only played XII, VII and XIII all the way through which makes me look like a piece of shit in the eyes of hardcore fans but something about it grabbed me and I’ve been hooked ever since. I have a decent amount of knowledge when it comes to other games in the series (mainly everything after VII and a smidgen of everything before that) which sort of puts me in the middle of the ‘A Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers’ motto that Final Fantasy XV displays before the title screen. I’m a fan, albeit but not so dedicated that I’ve played every instalment in the series and at the same time I’m not a first-timer. That said, when I first laid eyes on the trailer for Final Fantasy VERSUS XIII back in the day, to say I was hella pumped was an understatement. Ten years later and a lot has changed but was I right to be excited when I first laid eyes on this ‘Fantasy based on reality’?.
Before I dive into this, I want people to know that I WILL NOT BE KEEPING THIS ARTICLE SPOILER FREE. The game has been out for almost two months now and if you’re still avoiding spoilers then, tough, I waited a long time for this puppy, I want to get into the good stuff. As with every Final Fantasy game, we are introduced to a new story and cast each time. In the case of XV, we play as Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum who is setting off on a journey to get married to the lovely Lady Lunafreya Nox Fleuret accompanied by his pals/entourage; Gladiolous, Ignis and Prompto. Things don’t go to plan and before they even get to meet Luna, the kingdom of Lucis has been overthrown by the Empire, the Crystal is taken and Noctis’ dad, King Regis, is murdered. With that Noctis and his bros take on the mammoth task of reclaiming Insomnia’s throne and defeating the Empire once and for all.
Now for the most part the story stays consistent and confusion free, unlike XIII which was a clusterfuck and I still don’t understand several years later. However, some plot points left me scratching my head. For example, Gladio leaves the party for a full chapter but we never find out the reason behind his departure. This could be where the promised DLC comes in which is due to be released in March along with two other episodes focusing on Ignis and Prompto individually. All the characters have their parts to play and I honestly had a hard time picking a favourite from the four of them. Noctis comes across as a typical emo pretty boy visually but his personality is quite likeable. He’s got a sense of humour and when you hear him interact with the others, even his father, you’ll find yourself forgetting he’s actually royalty. Gladio is Noctis’ bodyguard who is tough as nails but he’s got a soft spot too which are both shown in equal measure. And let me say when I understand him on a spiritual level when it comes to Cup Noodles, I really do see him as a human being and not just a bunch of pixels and testosterone. Ignis acts as the tactician of the four. He’s serious, has tremendous respect for the Prince and basically is the mum of the group. However that doesn’t make him boring or irritating in anyway. He’s humorous and can easily keep his cool in heated situations making him a respected member of the party. Last up is Prompto, Noctis’ friend who him and his photos of the boy’s journey have been a firm favourite with many. For the most part he’s just a normal guy but there’s a lot to him than just his spunky personality and I often found myself feeling sympathetic towards him when his flaws show. If you’re looking for some background on the characters I would highly recommend watching Final Fantasy XV: Brotherhood which is a short anime series that gives us a brief insight to everyone’s lives before their main journey.
The guys share an infectious chemistry that you can’t help but love and when things take a turn in chapter nine the whole demeanour of the group changes leaving you feeling helpless and anxious upon discovering things will never be what they used to be for the lads. Other major additions to the cast such as Iris, Lunafreya, Cor, Gentiana, Aranea, Ravus and Ardyn make for a diverse mix of personalities, however I can’t help but feel that some of these other main roles weren’t explored far enough. Sure they were spoken about but the lack of screen time with some characters leaves you with half the knowledge you’d expect. As for voice acting, well it’s not Oscar-worthy but then again it wouldn’t be a Final Fantasy game without some cheesy lines. The strongest of the bunch for me was definitely Ray Chase (Noctis), Darin De Paul (Ardyn) and Amy Shiels (Luna). I played the game in English since I didn’t want to be distracted by subtitles when watching cutscenes but with renowned native voice actors such as Tatsuhisa Suzuki and Mamoru Miyano in the Japanese cast I have no doubt Square-Enix did a grand job in picking Nippon’s finest Seiyuu’s.
On to game play and I’ve got to say I was slightly apprehensive at the thought of the combat being real time and I was even more put off at the fact they wanted to make it like Kingdom Hearts. I’ve not played any of these games but I am a firm believer that Disney and Final Fantasy should stay far away from each other, the idea of it just doesn’t sit well with me. The combat is fast paced and fun. Noctis is acrobatic in battle which is satisfying to watch but as you’d expect you’re also forced to think about your fellow party members. Often times it can look clumsy with the mix of enemies and warping from one nastie to another, especially when you are in smaller environments and trying to manoeuvre the camera into a sensible position is occasionally infuriating.
That said I did loved some more challenging battles that had my party on their last legs which is something that I adore about Final Fantasy‘s combat. Just when you think you’re getting somewhere, an enemy can unexpectedly unleash chaos on your team and before you can say ‘gysahl greens’ the game over screen if staring you in the face. When you find yourself in a pickle, the game will normally prompt you to use a summon which can deal massive amounts of damage and are pleasing to witness in their epic glory. Magic works a bit differently in Final Fantasy XV. By absorbing elemental properties from your travels, Noct can convert them into fire, blizzard and thunder spells. You can also combine these to make a mixture of two or three and there’s also the option to add loot to them in order to gain more benefits making the combinations endless. The ascension system acts a little like the Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X. You spend AP and your party gets stronger in the areas you want to focus on be it magic, physical attacks, stats and even team work.
There’s an abundance of side quests in Final Fantasy XV and these range from hunts (much like those in Final Fantasy XII which are challenging and enjoyable) and the standard ‘please do this for me’ one which players are accustomed to. The vast expanse of Eos can be quite overwhelming to begin with but cruising in the Regalia whilst listening to previous additions in the series’ soundtracks and taking in the scenery is really quite nice. Chocobo’s are also back and cuter than ever and if you have a strong enough bond with your feathered friend, they’ll even help you out in battle. Altissia is one of the most beautiful and well designed area’s I have ever seen in gaming and the battle with Leviathan blew my mind. I was completely entranced by everything in that chapter and the cutscene between Luna and Noctis at the end of it had me whimpering and crying ‘nononononononO’ throughout. Overall the game as a whole is graphically beautiful, I just wish there was more CGI cutscenes. My main qualm with the environment was when things got increasingly linear after Prompto is held captive by Neiflheim’s weirdo chancellor, Ardyn, and by how much the game is against you wandering around at night.
Putting the minor negatives to one side, I’ve got to say, Final Fantasy XV was worth the wait. Sure, I’m a little disappointed at some things we didn’t get to see that were displayed in earlier trailers but I expected changes over a decade plus of production. Character designer Tetsuya Nomura and director Hajime Tabata have done a fabulous job on creating a main cast that are human and charismatic along with a story line that oozes everything fantasy lovers crave with a modern twist. You’ll be sobbing at the final cutscenes but also feel satisfied and left thinking about not only Noctis’ fate but that of his loyal companions’ with the open conclusion to an epic and memorable adventure that will find itself in the hearts of many fans and first timers alike. It offers a ray of hope for players who lost faith in the series’ noticeable slump in recent years and I sincerely pray that Square-Enix continue to bring out main titles as enticing as this long awaited and well polished masterpiece.