The Final Fantasy franchise is widely regarded as the quintessential RPG. With its wacky characters, expansive worlds and a copious amount of melodrama, very few games can compete with the iconic title and its envious legacy. For Final Fantasy XV, the burden of such a legacy clearly weighs heavy on its shoulders.
Apart from a few impressive cutscenes and a compelling final act, the story of deposed Prince Noctis and his companions offers very little in capturing your affection and cementing itself as a classic.
The striking and bountiful world of Eos is full of side quests, treasures and various ingredients for your culinary expert, Ignis, to chop up. But, sadly, that’s it. Most of the game’s missions consist of frog scavenging, infrastructure maintenance and agreeing to countless monster hunts. Oddly enough, every vendor in Eos is destined to have their stock devoured by some nasty beast.
We first meet Noctis and his bodyguards en route to the young prince’s wedding; an arranged marriage to his childhood sweetheart, Luna, in the hope to unite their families’ opposing nations. Soon after, Noctis is informed that his fiancé’s father has orchestrated a coup on his home city and claiming stewardship of a powerful crystal.
In an effort to reclaim his throne and restore the world’s ‘Light’, Noctis must seek out the tombs of Lucis’ fallen kings and procure their royal arms. This adventure is not your traditional high-fantasy outing, as Noctis and crew regularly sleep in motels, eat at roadside diners, and frequently discuss the political state of the world.
Unlike its predecessors, FFXV embraces contemporary gaming principles. From the onset, you are free to explore the sprawling environments and tackle a litany of quests before ever touching the main narrative.
When you’re not sprinting across treacherous terrains or drifting on a Chocobo, you’re riding in a snazzy convertible. Although a lot is mentioned about the brotherly connection between the four friends, the Regalia is a vital member of your party.
Cruising through Duscae and Liede, you become to rely heavily on the car, and this falsely painted “open-world” would be even more daunting without it. Also, sitting back listening to your favourite Final Fantasy tracks on the radio, as the striking scenery of Eos floats by, is possibly one of the most enjoyable aspects of Final Fantasy XV.
It is, however, refreshing to see so many of the people that populate Eos are relatable. At first, they are incredibly endearing, but nearly 70 hours later you find yourself having the same conversations and being asked to do same mundane tasks as you were in the opening few hours.
And eventually, you become disinterested in what Eos has to offer and it’s terribly dull and generic inhabitants. There are over 80 side quests, and sadly only 14 story chapters. Dedicating your time to the locals’ real-world problems will eventually hinder your enjoyment of the main story.
For some bizarre reason, Square Enix refused to include a progression system, where enemies simultaneously level up with Noctis and company. So, when you inevitably reach the climatic, final act you are so ridiculously overpowered that bosses pose little, if any, challenge.
Joining the brooding prince on his journey are Gladiolus the muscle, Ignis the brains, and Prompto the comic relief- that’s about as much character development you’ll see unless you watch ‘Brotherhood’ on YouTube, a five-part miniseries detailing each character’s origins.
Your friends make for upbeat travel companions, offering tonnes of colourful banter and selfies. But it’s disappointing to see a group of supporting characters- with the most diverse backgrounds and peculiar personalities in the series’ history- relegated to nothing more than a gang of clichéd “bros.”
During the opening half of the game, missions are designed to familiarise you with the mechanics of Final Fantasy XV. When it comes to combat, there is a lot to manage- despite controlling one character, as opposed to your entire team- which may seem overwhelming at first, but juggling between menus and various abilities can be very satisfying.
Departing even further from the stereotypical turn-based RPG, FFXV combat system is a non-stop, fluid process of chaining attacks, dodging and healing.
Similar to Final Fantasy XIII, you rarely dictate the behaviour of your AI-controlled companions, but when you do it’s through a green tech-bar at the bottom of your screen. Noctis’ buddies each have a special move they can execute during battle; the only time you can issue these direct commands is when the party deal enough damage to fill up the meter.
Along the way, Noctis will call upon the power of Astrals, a group of supernatural beings that unleash a devastating, cinematic attack when an enemy is being a nuisance.
These Astrals, however, are quite temperamental and will only appear when it fits into their schedule. It’s quite upsetting that they feature so inconsistently, especially since we could always count on our summons to save the day in the past.
As you earn experience and level up, your party accumulates ability points that can be spent within the Ascension Grid menu -this game’s equivalent to the Sphere Grid and Crystarium.
The grid allows you to upgrade your friends’ behaviour in battle, bolster Noctis’ suite of skills and offers neat ways to gain extra AP. The menu is fractured into numerous categories, making it a tad bit difficult to navigate, but eventually you’ll find which avenue suits your party.
Presuming you moseyed through Final Fantasy XV, with minimal side tracking, it’s possible to beat the game in about 30+ hours. Compared to previous instalments, this is a very short Final Fantasy. The latter half of the story missions are surprisingly short and linear.
And then Chapter 13 happens. In no way is this a spoiler; I’m just preparing you because, my god, what were Square Enix thinking? Up until this point, FFXV had me gripped; the story had taken a very unexpected turn and intensity levels were soaring. Once you reach this point, just get through it as quickly as possible and enjoy the final couple of hours afterwards.
After the credits roll, the real fun begins. Final Fantasy XV’s endgame content is where the title truly shines. Obscenely, oversized monsters, legendary weapons and mysterious dungeons lie in wait if choose to seek them out.
Final Fantasy XV may not be the same game we saw or wanted ten years ago, but the backlash the series has received over the years is unwarranted.
There are moments of brilliance in FFXV that will transport you back to the days of Midgar and Spira. Many fans and outsiders will poke holes in the Noctis’ tale- be it the shallow story or lack of innovative content- but it would be a shame to dismiss the game entirely. Although Final Fantasy XV didn’t reignite the legacy, it’s a promising step towards it.