There is no doubt that Final Fantasy is one of the greatest series in gaming. From pixel beginnings to hair that Treseme would be jealous of, it has shaped much of the gaming world and has hit hard as a JRPG powerhouse for as long as I can remember.
I have written before on how Final Fantasy IX is one of my favourite games, stories, and experiences of all time (here, if you’re interested) and have been a longstanding fan of Square Enix mostly because of this. Their games played a huge part in my childhood and helped teach me what a good story is. It should be no surprise, then, that I was eagerly awaiting FF XV for those 10 years, and sunk my grubby little paws into it as soon as I could.
As with any new instalment in a major series, the hype train left the station long ago and was chugging with full force. Many fans ate up every teaser, scoured the internet for a tweet, a post, an article that would hint at something besides another delay. Though, along with this there was a lot of speculation and doubt surrounding FF XV’s release, with the gaming world becoming increasingly suspicious of developers and unwilling to choo-choo along as they previously were. Even Square Enix as a studio were feeling the heat prior to launch, with such a long production cycle bringing changes to key players (Tetsuya Nomura originally created the games concept, characters, and tale and served as its director, before being replaced by Hajime Tabata in 2014, eight years into development) and to core story, game play mechanics, and direction meaning FF XV has to sell 10 million copies to break even. To put that in perspective: Final Fantasy VII, arguably the most successful title in the series, has sold 11 million copies to date. That’s 19 years of sales, and they need to match it.
With such heavy blocks to push and so many hearts to break, FF XV really sits on a precipice. Would it end up like No Mans Sky, and crash and burn in its expectations? Or would it be that epic JRPG we’ve been dreaming of?
The answer seems to be, overwhelmingly, the latter.
The game is now, reportedly, the fastest selling title in the series’ history; with 5 million copies either sold to retail or downloaded online as of December 1st. And, after spending a few hours with it, it’s not hard to see why.
It is a breath of fresh air. It’s beautiful, suave, and full of bromance. It remembers the past, and roots itself in classics for the series (here’s lookin at you, Cid) while remaining in the present. It is new enough, and different enough, to seem fresh and clean and yet familiar. Square Enix did a fantastic job in creating, what they are calling, “a Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers”.
They learnt their lesson from FF XIII, giving you an open world with story threaded throughout rather than a strictly linear path. You are encouraged to explore, but cleverly kept within certain boundaries that you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t look hard enough.
Certain areas are off limits, presumably saved for story progression, but you will run into battles with beasts far beyond your capability if you are not careful. This leads you away from areas of the map, keeping you in the territory they want you in – but there’s nothing stopping you from tackling the fight. After all, there’s treasure to collect, ingredients to pick, and friendship to form over the horizon.
And this friendship is, perhaps, the best part of the game so far (I am currently about 5 hours in). You play as Noctis Lucis Caelum, heir to the Lucien throne. Your world, Eos, is currently at war. A foreign power known as Niflheim has overthrown each nation of Eos and retains dominion over them through military prowess.
Our journey opens on the eve of peace negotiations between the kingdoms of Lucis and Niflheim, wherein Noctis becomes betrothed to Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, princess of the Royal Family of Tenebrae. A marriage of convenience, perhaps, but one which seems fitting – she is a dear childhood friend of Noctis.
With this decided, Noctis and his friends – Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto – head out on a Broadtrip to complete the nuptials and place their land in the kind hands of peace.
As with every Final Fantasy, your party members play a huge role in both the story and experience of the game. There is conflict and romance, and quite often a huge threatening reason for them to be together. This particular foursome, however, are together from the off simply because they want to be. The banter and bromance never ends, with each of the four being unique personalities who work and flow with one another so well that their friendship is completely believable. It’s real, and alive, and a pleasure to be a part of.
In addition to this, the games graphics, soundtrack, and game play are marvellous. The soundtrack would slot well with previous titles’ delicious melodies with tunes long running and well known echoing throughout the breezy, light, and smooth sounds of XV. Adorable shout outs crop up now and then – so far I have heard Prompto humming the victory battle music after a fight, and the group whistling the inn resting music at a camp – which blend well and garner more love for this group of boys. And as you travel the world in the Regalia (Noctis’ jet black convertible) you can sooth your battle worn mind with the soundtracks of previous games – or listen to Gladiolus’ rock road trip playlist if you want to be hardcore about it – which is such a clever feature that seems so effortless and simple, but is beautiful none the less.
And all of this undertone pairs wonderfully with the games’ graphics. The same stunning character models of XIII return, with the aid of modern technology to pick it up another notch. The environments are bright beaches, lush forests, arid deserts, bustling city-scapes, and everything in between. All packed with detailed NPC’s, all expertly crafted, brimming with fine touches. Neon lights glow from motels, sand scrapes the dry dunes, brilliant blue water washes delicately along the beach. It’s spectacular, and really makes each area brim with new life; and aids with the longstanding series theme of nature vs technology well.
Game play was a hot button issue going in, with many players becoming increasingly hostile towards the series’ departure from turn based battle systems and intricate item management. But XV does it well, with a wait system allowing you to take your time and choose your next move; adding a nod to the turn based style in a fluid and open combat system that feels much more flush and well put together than it did in XIII. The battle system seems similar to that of Kingdom Hearts, another Square Enix title, which has long been praised for its feel and flow; and it translates wonderfully here. You feel more in control of your party, being able to give commands to each and the power trigger special attacks called Techniques to up your damage, and custom each characters’ load-out to suit your next fights needs.
Of course, each character has their weapon of choice, but you can also equip them with crafted spells or secondary weapons, upgrade them individually or as a team. There is a real focus on overcoming the foe together, with a collaboration of the four being the best and most steadfast way to victory. It is a good feeling.
So, would I recommend this game? Absolutely. It is stunning, enjoyable, witty, and a welcome edition to the series.
But I’m going to stop talking now, and turn my 5 hours of playtime into 50.