Out on the road.
My long history and love for RPGs is well established at this point and of course, this extends to the myriad of entries in the Final Fantasy series.
Suffice to say, there are more Final Fantasy games that I’ve completed than there are ones I haven’t but the most recent trilogy of games have left a bad taste in my mouth.
While I certainly wouldn’t say that they were terrible games but I felt that the series was going down the wrong path as the games felt as though they were more focused on style over substance. The depth and challenge of the combat felt like a thing of the past as everything was becoming overly streamlined. The characters and the world they inhabited was filled with silly, extremely convoluted concepts and ideas that were taken way too seriously for their own good.
All in all, It would not be an exaggeration to say that I haven’t genuinely liked a main Final Fantasy game since FFX.
So, when they finally revealed FFXV and showed gameplay quite unlike anything I’ve seen before, I hoped that this new direction would be a step back towards what made Final Fantasy iconic and synonymous with JRPGs.
After a lengthy road trip around the Eos, I can say that even though I hit some rough patches along the journey, I don’t regret taking the ride.
First and foremost, what is immediately apparent about FFXV is that it’s an absolute feast for the eyes. The incredibly high detailed characters models, fluid animations and a variety of lighting/particle effects, it’s a title that really showcases what the current generation is all about.
The performance of the title is also quite admirable as well on the PS4 Pro, retaining a solid 30FPS without issues and given the framerate concerns of the previous released demos, it’s telling how much effort the developers put into making it as smooth of an experience as possible while looking phenomenal.
Outside the visuals, the original soundtrack is also quite exceptional and manages to hit all the right notes to fit the mood of every scene. It also helps that FFXV includes selection from basically every other game in the series that the player can listen to while riding in the car or on the go using a portable music device.
Setting an automatic destination and shuffling through some classic tunes was one of my favorite activities and that’s a situation that came up quite often.
Given that this is a title that stars only four proper party members from start to finish, they had to be an exceptional bunch and luckily, they are.
Noctis, Ignis, Gladiolus and Prompto couldn’t be any more different from one another but the bonds they’ve formed over their long relationship shined through in their interactions with each other.
In fact, the best writing in FFXV isn’t in the story or major plot elements but in the quieter moments where the four are just hitting it off, talking about whatever is on their mind.
Even a character like Prompto who plays the role of comic relief showed more nuances to his personality than the typical tropes would have me believe and I found myself liking all four companions rather quickly.
However, this makes it all the more pitiable that the overarching storyline and plot doesn’t do these great bunch of characters justice as it feels utterly fragmented and terribly messy.
Having seen both Kingsglaive and Brotherhood, I felt I was fully prepared to go in with the proper knowledge of the backstory but even with all that extra information, the beats in the story would often skip over huge chunks of major events.
To give specific examples would be to spoil the game so I will refrain from doing so but I don’t speak in hyperbole by saying that it felt like many of the most interesting parts of the game were happening off screen.
With the season pass content looming over the release schedule, I can’t help but ponder if they chose to remove these crucial parts of the story to sell as DLC and if that is indeed the case, SquareEnix has chosen to sabotage the quality of their own game.
Regardless, what remains is a wholly unsatisfying story that’s as difficult to understand as it is to care about.
Luckily, the simple act of going around the vast open world in search of side quests and bounties was enjoyable enough so I found myself taking it easy and ignoring the story missions whenever possible.
As for the combat, it’s a unique blend of action and strategy that looks incredibly flashy. Even though Noctis is the only playable character, the other three would aid with powerful link-attacks and meter based techniques that could change the tide of battle.
Attacking is a simple matter of holding down the circle button and evading attacks is just as easy by holding the square button but it can still get pretty chaotic when facing off against multiple opponents.
Noctis is able to use an ability to warp strike enemies and teleport from one foe to another in the blink of an eye which makes for encounters that can last only a matter of a few seconds.
When everything is working out, the combat feels fluid and strategic as I changed my weapons on the fly to best suit the situation but there were plenty of situations where I was bombarded with too many enemies, some with ranged weapons that would interrupt my attacks which was quite frustrating.
The camera could also become quite obstructive in areas with trees, bushes or even in tight corridors where it would often get stuck inside the wall.
As for the overall challenge of the combat itself, items were far too effective in FFXV and I found that with a proper stock of items, I could basically defeat anything.
Even though magic is quite effective when used correctly, since I was healing exclusively through items, it wasn’t necessary and became completely forgotten some time.
Also, while the option to quick travel to locations I’ve been to before was most welcome, the load times to use said, “quick” travel was incredibly long, often lasting more than a minute at times.
Given the large size of the open world, it’s all but mandatory to use the quick travel to be efficient but by doing so, I felt like I had to have something other than FFXV open so I wouldn’t get bored during these lulls in the action.
The side activities like fishing, arena betting, chocobo racing and more were fairly enjoyable in their own right and served their purpose by adding a bit of much needed variety into the experience.
With such a lengthy and troubled development cycle, it was really anyone’s guess how FFXV would turn out in the end. Even though I’m relatively pleased with the outcome as the four friends carry the moment to moment gameplay with grace, the disjointed and lackluster storyline leaves an indelible mark on what is otherwise an incredibly well crafted RPG well worth experiencing.
Fun Tidbit – My proud tradition of destroying RPGs continues.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.