"A Tale of Two Titles": Final Fantasy XV Review
FFXV has a great sense of scale and beauty but no backbone to support it. Playing this game feels like staring at a very impressive painting of a massive fantasy world, kind of empty after around 20 minutes. At a little over 30 hours in there wasn’t a clear goal, only an assumed one. The game drops you in, mumbles through some backstory on how this prince is supposed to marry the oracle and become the true king but none of that seems to matter to these four friends, which is where the game truly shines.
I genuinely liked these characters and their interactions throughout my 55 or so hour journey through FFXVs' open world. I enjoyed every exchange between the prince and his friends, even if occasionally they were inconsistent in tone. At one point the tough and determined Gladio scolded Noctis on his lack of sense of duty which seemed to come out of left field. They hadn’t spoken of this before, there was no inclination of tension between the two.
Some of the early narrative felt undeserved in this open world. When I met Lunafreya’s brother, Ravus, in the first compound I took out, I had no idea who he was or why the group hated him. Same thing with the next compound and Aranea Highwind. We’re told Ravus is a traitor and our enemy but even at that moment we’re not given reason enough to hate this character. Even having watched the anime tie in, I was still fairly confused as to what exactly we were doing and why we were doing it.
I understand that it’s Noctis’ fate to become the all-powerful king with the help of the gods, but all of that seems far away from what actually takes up the meat of the game... that is to say, an absolute ton of fetch quests. Honestly most of the game feels more like the MMO style FFXIV: A Realm Reborn than a new installment in this beloved franchise.
Most every sidequest I’ve played takes generally the same form. You meet the quest giver, they give you a grocery list of enemies to kill and you take off for a 5 to 10 minute ride to and from the quest site. The car rides are by far the most time consuming and useless mechanic. Even when it gives you the option to fast travel the loading times are so long that it would sometimes be quicker to just ride your chocobo.
The skill system within the game only served to further draw out the playtime as to max out each characters specialty countless hours must be logged. More hours than would have been played just running through the main story. Not once throughout the game did I rely on any of these special skills to overcome a challenge or finish a mission leaving me wondering why they were ever added in the first place.
The dungeons of Final Fantasy XV are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you gain a ton of XP for leveling and a fair amount of decent loot. On the other, there are platforming bits. The movement controls in this game are in no way conducive to having platforming sections. I’m still barely able to stop myself in correct fashion to get the button prompt to hop on my chocobo. Some of the problems I had with movement controls early on were remedied part way through after acclimating to them however it’s honestly hard to believe how this game, with over a decade of development, got them so wrong when others with less than half that time have gotten movement so right. I would understand these platforming portions if I were playing The Legend of Zelda but here they felt unwelcome.
Combat in Final Fantasy XV is incredibly simple and mostly satisfying. Holding circle to attack and square to dodge makes the game feel like a bad "beat ‘em up" action game. The clunky mechanics aren’t as responsive or quick as a more established action title like Devil May Cry or the older God of War games. I’d often stop my combo to dodge an incoming attack only to be hit anyway. Even with all that I had fun slicing up the deamons of Lucis.
Magic in FFXV is strange to say the least. You gather elemental resources in one of three flavors: fire, lightning, and ice. You then craft magical grenades that do phenomenal damage early in the game. However as the enemies grow stronger, this particular brand of magic becomes more and more pointless. These items serve no other purpose than giving your magic a slight advantage, turning a fire spell into Fira, and eventually Firaga.
Summons, the second magical attack, are seemingly random, only becoming available at either key points in the main questline and when you’re in danger of being killed in a tough fight. The third and final form of magic comes from a late game item you receive. The Ring of Lucii gives you three spells. Holding circle with the ring equipped casts Death which slowly withers enemies away until they explode into nothingness while adding slightly to your HP. Holding square counters and enemy attacks dodged with a flash of light and varying damage. Holding triangle shatters reality and removes enemies from the field completely. All three of these spells are next to useless in the open world and only help during specific linear portions of the game.
The late game story feels desperate to tie up all the loose ends it makes for itself by giving motivation to the games only real antagonist. Learning Ardyn’s backstory still doesn’t justify Final Fantasy XVs lack of early game story content however and makes the final showdown feel thin and unsatisfying. Again, Final Fantasy XV told the story they wanted to tell me but never showed me.
Overall Final Fantasy brings players on a fun but unnecessarily long slog through unrewarding challenges and, in the end, an unsatisfying story. I give it a 3 of 5.