Final Fantasy XV Review (PlayStation 4)
There’s an old wrestling show called Heroes of Wrestling where founding Four Horsemen member Tully Blanchard said, “Ten years is bottled up inside me... ten years, at one time, is bottled up inside me!” He’s talking about being out of wrestling for a decade, but I imagine that same sentiment is felt by every person that boots up Final Fantasy XV for the first time. The latest in the storied franchise stars its own Four Horsemen, a quartet of heroes trusted with the fate of an entire realm, and I’ve waited 10 years to sink my teeth into it. Has the wait been worth it? Yes.. for the most part.
Final Fantasy XV follows Prince Noctis of Insomnia, the largest kingdom in the world of Eos. He is flanked by his three closest friends: Gladiolus, the muscle of the group and Noct’s personal bodyguard; Ignis, the team’s resident strategist and chef; and Prompto, an avid photographer. After learning of Noct’s father’s death and Insomnia’s occupation while the boys are traveling to the prince’s wedding, they set off to free their native land from their new oppressors by any means necessary. It’s an interesting story that plays out over 16 chapters, but a lot of the backstory is never truly explained without watching the companion movie Kingsglaive or anime Brotherhood. Far be it from me to complain about enjoying extra FF-related media, but I’d prefer those to be non-essential companion stories to the game and not vital information.
The four protagonists have been friends since childhood, and Final Fantasy XV does a fantastic job of capturing that bond throughout the game. Every walk, run, Chocobo ride, and trip in the car includes friendly banter between the four, with plenty of lighthearted jabs and jokes mixed in. It’s the kind of back-and-forth I've gotten into with my closest friends, and it never got annoying despite being constant. I barely heard the same lines repeated, which was impressive given how much conversation there is throughout. Eventually I felt like I could have been the fifth member of this group after getting to know them on this adventure. The dynamic between these four may be the most impressive part of the game, although it’s far from being the only thing that impressed me.
I’m not going to mince words when talking about the game’s look: Final Fantasy XV is damn beautiful. Every environment is picturesque, every vista brimming with beauty and color, and even the most minute details can make an impression. These graphical achievements hold up in the heat of battle, where they’re enhanced by fluid battle animations, awesome magic effects, and some of the most impressive summons Final Fantasy has ever seen. In other open-world games, I've fast traveled as much as possible and avoid conflict to keep the story moving. Final Fantasy XV compelled me to soak in every detail of its world and that’s truly commendable.
Even the auto-controlled car rides in the Regalia, the group’s customizable sports car, are enjoyable despite not really doing anything. The banter between the four is even better while in the car, with some lines that made me laugh out loud. Random extra missions will sometimes pop up and offer a chance to gain extra experience. Best of all, I could listen to soundtracks from previous Final Fantasy games that could be purchased throughout the game, an amazing inclusion that hit me right in the nostalgia. Driving to a major battle with the opening theme of Final Fantasy VII playing through the car speakers made the moment seem a little more epic.
Speaking of conflict, FFXV has moved away from the traditional turn-based system of my youth, instead implementing a Kingdom Hearts-style of free-form combat. This is the one area of the game where new players might have an advantage over FF fans of old. The rigidity and structure of that old format is replaced with complete freedom, and every battle can be approached in a new way that keeps the combat feeling fresh. Some battles let me tap into my stealth side by letting me warp to higher ground and do some recon. Others afforded me the element of surprise with a quick Warp Strike to the strongest enemy. Sometimes the tables were turned and an enemy I didn't see got the drop on me. Every battle was different, which is a far cry from what I'm used to when I think of Final Fantasy, and the re-imagination of the concept is wonderful.
After initiating a battle, the options get even deeper, as the game let me team up with my friends for dual attacks or cast insane-looking spells that morphed the terrain into a frozen tundra or even set it ablaze. I could switch between weapon types mid-battle, giving me the option of a slower and more powerful great sword or a quick one-handed weapon. All of these ideas and attacks come together to create a system that churned out unique battle after unique battle, and the monotony of the old turn-based system quickly became a passing memory from which I was more than happy to move on.
Even with all of these abilities the controller is mapped out in a way that everything felt comfortable in my hands, even if sometimes I pressed the wrong button looking for items and got the team attack pop-up menu. In the beginning of the game I’d press a wrong button or two during the more frantic battles, but Final Fantasy XV never punished me for it other than taking some normal damage and after a while the control issues ironed themselves out.
I can only think of one issue that constantly reared its ugly head during my playthrough, and that’s the inconsistent targeting mechanic paired with the twitchy camera. I could have the camera lined up perfectly on the enemy I want to target, an enemy right next to Noct on the battlefield, but when I pressed the button, I’d target someone further away and behind me. Then I'd be at two disadvantages: I couldn’t see who I was actually targeting since the camera wasn’t facing him, and I was also wide open to an attack from the original enemy I wanted to hit in the first place. It can be frustrating in the heat of battle, especially when one giant enemy has multiple points to be targeted and I focused on his left side instead of his right. One fight in particular against a Final Fantasy mainstay behemoth was lost for that reason, and it was more frustrating than a regular loss.
Camera issues notwithstanding, Final Fantasy XV was worth every second of that 10 year wait. The story pulled me in despite not giving me all of the backstory I craved, the four heroes were charming, witty, and fun to pal around with, the locales were gorgeous and a delight to look at, and the battle system was fast and frenetic. There were hints of nostalgia abound for the seasoned Final Fantasy vet, while also being accessible to new players. Final Fantasy XV is an ideal experience for a new age of the franchise, and I’m looking forward to diving back in to see what I missed the first time.
This review was completed using a digital voucher code for Final Fantasy XV on PlayStation 4 provided by the publisher.