REVIEW: Final Fantasy XV (XBox One)
THE GIST - Prince Noctis is on his way to get hitched. But when something crazy happens back home (which Square Enix decided to strip out of the game and turn into a CG animated movie sold separately), Noctis has to journey across the kingdom with his best buddies to collect power-ups, level up from PRINCE to KING, and win the game.
"YOU THINK TEN YEARS IS A LONG TIME?" - I won't harp on about FFXV's lengthy and tumultuous development history, because once you play the game it becomes apparent just how much trouble it was to get this out the door and onto shelves. At times - especially near the end - it feels more like a loosely connected series of vignettes than a cohesive experience.
But you know what? After finishing the game, I can say I'm fine with that. It's a flawed gem, versus the overdeveloped turd that was FFXIII. Which is a weird thing to say considering this is the game that took roughly a decade to release. It's hard to nail down exactly how I feel about it, I guess.
Combat feels like it's trying to be an action-RPG but sort of failing. The camera gets in your way from time to time (there are two ways to lock on to an enemy and neither one works all that well) but luckily for the most part all you have to do is hold RB + B to keep attacking an enemy. You can hold X to dodge incoming attacks or tap it at just the right time for a chance to parry, but when you're being swarmed by a group of similar-looking monsters it's hard to get the timing down (this system does work better in boss fights, though). There's a nifty mechanic wherein you can warp straight to an enemy for an attack or to out of reach places to recover your HP and MP while your friends duke it out like the plebeians that they are. Magic has been effectively reduced to powerful grenades that you make yourself with fire, blizzard, and lightning elements you find on the field. It's kind of funny because, as far as I can tell, there isn't really a way to tell your allies to get the fuck out of the way before you toss out a spell, and you get to watch them complain about your setting them on fire for a little bit.
Still, if anything the combat is flashy; there are several memorable fights throughout the game. It's typically not as rewarding from a pure skill perspective as something like Devil May Cry (or even one of the better action-RPGs like NieR), but it's pretty fun nonetheless.
Besides combat, you'll spend most of the actual play time cruising around the open world looking for sidequests. I'm usually pretty down on games going open world just because everyone else is doing it (cough MGSV), but I actually enjoyed it here. It felt like a real place to me, with towns and outposts and gas station diners, and listening to Noctis and his friends shoot the shit on a long car ride was occasionally entertaining. Once you beat the game, you do have the option to go back and finish any leftover sidequests (plus some new ones that open up post-game), and they've recently released a patch that adds New Game+ mode, so that's all appreciated.
The plot is odd because it's relatively straightforward for a Final Fantasy game, yet at times it's very vague. I'd almost say that the Kingsglaive movie is required viewing because it shows an important event that happens very early in the game's plot - an event that Noctis and crew literally just wake up one day and read in a newspaper otherwise - and it gives Lunafreya and King Regis a bit of character development that is sorely missing from the game itself.
What's here starts off pretty strong and then kind of breaks down a bit towards the end of the game. It feels like it ends too quickly...but on the other hand, at least it doesn't overstay its welcome (cough MGSV). The villain is pretty memorable, but I did have to check out the game's wiki afterwards to answer a few questions about their motivations and what uh...what exactly happened at the end there.
Presentation is something Square-Enix always excels at, and FFXV is no exception. The jaw-dropping summons and sweeping landscapes are visual stunners, and the soundtrack is among one of the best in the series, I feel. Load times can be a pain in the ass, but they're the only technical quibble I've run into while playing on XBox One.
THE VERDICT - I'm honestly just surprised the game turned out as good as it did, considering all it's been through. As someone who sat out the entirety of the FFXIII trilogy after playing through as much of the first game as I could before my body shut down in self-defense, I loved FFXV. It's quite rough around the edges - especially later in the game - but a lot of my favorite games are.
SCORE: 3.5 inappropriate pictures of Cindy taken by Prompto out of 5
+ Graphics, music, all that jazz
+ Open world that's actually fun to explore (COUGH MGSV)
+ Some memorable characters and set pieces
- Plot can be confusing, certain characters could've used more screen time
- Combat can be a bit spotty
- Certain events pretty obviously excised from the game in order to sell separately as DLC/movies