Driving along an empty road in a black convertible named Regalia; I look to the beautifully barren desert, the rolling dust storms in the distance and the local wildlife roaming the landscape. Here, the driver remotely raises the roof of the car and takes a sip of his coffee. It is this brilliant attention to small details, as well as the majesty of the scenery, that draws you into the world of Final Fantasy XV.
After ten years in development and a string of failed titles, Square Enix have finally brought back the magic of their JRPG blockbusters. But, there are a number of glaring issues that detract from Final Fantasy’s glorious return.
Which brings us to the story. Playing as Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum on his way to marry his childhood friend Lunafreya, disaster strikes. Noctis, along with his bodyguard Gladiolus, butler Ignis, and old friend Prompto, are thrown into the open world. This sequence is complimented With Florence and the Machine’s rendition of ‘Stand by Me’, powering you through. Unfortunately this story is ignored for eight of fourteen of the game’s chapters, in favor of repetitive side quests.
Square Enix have finally brought back the magic of their JRPG blockbusters
I am a huge fan of open world games, their expansive landscapes instilling a deep sense of adventure and excitement. However, there has to be more to do than fetch quests, and in Final Fantasy XV there quite simply isn’t. ‘Go and get this person that thing’ or ‘hunt this and bring me back some part of it’. That’s how most quests tend to go. While the variations of terrain and fauna can keep you interested for a while, by the forty-hour mark the novelty is well and truly gone.
When we do finally get back to the main plot, the game then does away with the open world. All that PR marketed adventuring gone, and instead the player is forced into a series of cramped, linear levels. This would be fine, if the plot was good enough to stand on its own two feet.
It’s a simple ‘villain has claimed the throne, you must take it back’ tale that just doesn’t quite hold together. Random important reveals happen off screen, are shown in prequel films only available as a separate purchase or glossed over so quickly you can barely register them. So much has been left out and overlooked that Square Enix are currently having to rehire the cast to film new scenes and attempt to clear up the story.
It is the set pieces (and god, are some of them good!) and the relationships between your four party members that hold the game together. Their interactions and friendly jabs at each other along with Prompto’s photographs that you can check out makes the game feel more like a long road trip rather than an apocalyptic scenario. By the end of the game, I had formed a genuine attachment to the characters.
Final Fantasy’s traditional turn-based combat system has returned, but with a twist, to keep it with the times. Now, instead of standing around while an enemy prepares to obliterate you, you can dodge! There is also a great range of weaponry; from swords to pistols to motorized saws, and it’s up to you to pick the right tool for the job. Fighting a flying enemy who’s just flown out of reach? You’ll need Prompto to shoot it out of the sky. A rhinoceros-like enemy with particularly thick skin? Gladio can break through it with his great sword. It’s these realistic traits to different foes as well as ‘link strikes’, which see your teammates working together to score critical hits, that make spectacular bosses and a truly immersive experience.
Tension, atmosphere, immersion, it’s all there
However, this immersion is affected by technical issues. One boss fight in particular, against the water god Leviathan, demonstrates this. Noctis becomes trapped in a giant tsunami and is forced to fight this massive beast. Yoko Shimomura’s brilliantly majestic score rages in the background. Tension, atmosphere, immersion, it’s all there. Until, suddenly a stream of water hits you, gushing through an off camera building, and throws you across the battlefield to your death.
It’s these glitches and bugs, alongside the lack of a real story, that prevent Final Fantasy XV from raising itself higher than the likes of ‘The Last of Us’, ‘Bioshock’ and even some of its predecessors, but it does sit comfortably among them. As comfortably as sitting in the back of a convertible with three friends, driving through a desert drinking coffee.