Final Fantasy XV Video Review

Score 65Simply put, Final Fantasy XV doesn’t feel originally inspired, and after ten years of development I expect more than a regrouping of ideas from other successful games. While it’s simplistic and fun battle system has me excited for Kingdom Hearts 3 and the Final Fantasy 7 remake, it’s overly simplistic and uninspired approach leaves nothing to strategize or contemplate. It feels like a stepping stone experience that’s already six inches below the ground, elevating no one to the heights of what makes the Final Fantasy series memorable.

*A simplistic and fun battle system that brings something new to the table.
*The world of Eos is breathtaking.
*Riding around on Chocobos is amazing.

*The game compromises everything great about Final Fantasy for ‘first-timers.’
*The story and weird tone is laughably bad.
*A lot of bugs and glitches break immersion.

Final Fantasy XV starts off lamenting that this entry as one for fans and newcomers alike, but when you boil it down to the core gameplay and storyline, you’ll find an experience similar to Mystic Quest. It’s simplistic plot and action-oriented gameplay delivers on what it says it’s going to be, but it feels so uninspired and lacks the imagination you’d expect from Square-Enix’s flagship series. I’m sure those unfamiliar with ‘Ar-Pee-Gees’ will get a kick out of this entry, but for those of us who have played them before may feel disappointed in how vanilla this experience truly is.

I know that first paragraph is going to turn a lot of you off, with you thinking I’m just some kind of hater- but I’m really not. I was very excited to finally play this game. It looks amazing, and the graphics are truly something everyone should behold- but as you get further along in the game, problems begin poking their ugly heads out, and no amount of polish can make me ignore fundamental problems with the game’s design.

You take on the role of Noctus, a young prince who decides to leave his kingdom behind for a little fun. His father, the King of Lucis, gives him the go ahead, despite knowing that the peace treaty between them and the neighboring Niflheim could go wrong. Noctus is arranged to marry their princess Lunafreya, so he decides to sew his wild oats out on the road with his three friends and guards. Shortly after leaving, they breakdown in a small town, only to discover soon after that their kingdom has been overthrown and that the king is dead.

In order to take the kingdom back, Noctus must journey to several hidden temples throughout the land of Lucis, in search of spectral weapons that hold the essence of the past kings- or something like that. Honestly, this part gets very convoluted, very quickly, leading to you taking on titans holding up meteors to taking on giant dragons in castles. You spend the majority of the time reacting to events as opposed to understanding why you’re on any given path. I really disliked Final Fantasy XIII for this very reason, and while the story seems simple and focused at first, it gets derailed and flies off into incomprehension very quickly.

Not only does the game have a problem with weaving an understandable storyline, but it’s also tone-death. The gang jokes around and worries about inconsequential things the day after finding that their King has been slayed and their nation is in peril. This makes your crew, which already feels like a group from an experimental Hot Topic ad, seem like they either don’t care or aren’t smart enough to fully understand the situation.

As you probably already know, the developers wanted to go with a softer crew, and keep it focused to just four main party members. I liked this decision, despite me enjoying the occasional new party member. They each have their own skills ranging from photography, cooking, survival and fishing, and that’s what makes up the majority of their characters. Promptos, the weakest of the crew, focuses entirely on snapping random photos throughout your quest, while Ignis cooks meals and Gladiolus “survives” I guess. Besides finding new recipes with unique temporary stat boosts, these ‘skills’ don’t really change the gameplay at all. If you’re not into video game fishing, then you’ll have no reason to really take advantage of Noctus’ skill either. Promptos’ random photo taking is on the other hand, pretty cool. He actually captures moments in your gameplay and not only staged photos, which is a very innovative addition and made me want to choose the best candid shots for our album of memories.

For such a small, close-knit party, I was expecting some conflict within the group- but they spend the entirety of the game lightly ribbing and flirting with one another. There was only one scene where one of the members gives a stern pep-talk- outside of that though it’s sunshine and lollipops for our kingdom-less knights. You also have Gladiolus’ sister coming onto you- which could be conflict- but that never goes anywhere either. To be honest, despite how much I disliked Final Fantasy XIII’s storyline, at least it got out of bed.

Now, the actual gameplay is pretty fun. While I’m a big fan of turn-based RPGs, this game does a brilliant job of blending the best elements into an action-oriented experience. Basic attacks consist of strike and roll gameplay, where Demon Soul fans should feel right at home. Chaining combos together feel satisfying and taking out a room of enemies with just your sword feels fantastic. When you do take a knock, the easiest way to heal yourself is through potions, which the game seems to have a stronger focus on than previous entries. Open your in-battle menu by holding the R2 button, and choosing which potion goes to who. It’s quick, but adds that chess-like strategy you like to see in these kind of games.

Sadly, this simplicity doesn’t translate over to the magic in game. Instead of having a MP meter like in previous installments, you now have flasks that hold onto three basic elements (fire, ice and electricity) that you use to combine to make spells. In order to make a spell, you have to open the menu, combine these elements, and then equip them. Once you use one of these spells three times, it disappears from you weapons, making you reopen your menu mid-battle to replenish it. This is by far one of the worst ways to handle your magic system, and makes using spells a chore when you have to reload every 3 shots. You also have to wait to use spells as there’s a time delay across all of them. You can also ma ke health spells, but considering the wait period and reloading, you’ll most likely just put your Gil into a large potion supply.

There’s also no variety with your spells. It’s just fire and fira spells. No Holy, no shockwave or Doomsday- just various levels of frost and lightning. I haven’t seen a lazier attempt at a magic system since Quest 64. It does have some strategy however, as throwing it out with your friends in the blast radius will hurt them as well, so you have to be smart about when you throw down the thunder. When you do, it does leave a scorched earth behind, meaning any battling that ends up over the area results in residual damage. Even worst than the magic system however, is the summons system. It is SO frustrating to see a staple of the series get limited to what I can only describe as being random. Once you have access to a summon, you’ll only ever see it when the game allows you to use them. When exactly and under what circumstances are you able to bring their awesomeness into the situation? Well, it seems like most only come around when you’re about to lose a battle.

In fact, the whole game is weighted against you losing in any battle. I only lost once, and that was to see what would happen. At any point, you can simply run from a battle, especially since you limp even after your energy has been depleted. In games with similar battle systems *cough* Zenoblades *cough*, when you try to escape the creatures run after you, making your retreat very difficult. In XV, you can just run outside of the fight area, and the enemy group will just forget about you, even though you’re still in eyesight and you had started the fight. You can instantly use a multitude of Phoenix Down potions as well, meaning no battle will ever put you down as long as you have supplies.

Another way the game is simplified for the worst is the customization to your characters. You don’t find helmets or chest plates with particular effects anymore, but rather an all encompassing ‘attachments’ menu. You’ll have an assortment of anklets and chokers for your emo crew to wear, but they can only wear between 1 and 3 of these accessories at a time. This is a gross simplification of something that would have provided some strategy, but instead you’ll most likely boost your HP as much as you can instead. There’s also a way to change your clothing, but there’s only two options- either the emo outfits, or some bro-wear that’ll make everyone at the frat party jealous. Why even include an outfit option when I can’t find any new clothing!?

Even the adventure aspect of the game is limiting. When you first get out onto the open road, it’s exhilarating. Look at this huge, open map, where I’ll be able to run around and seek out new equipment and missions. Sadly, these roadways are nothing more than hallways in the look and shape of roads. Most of the time, you’re unable to venture down into that canyon, as it’s only there for looks. Or there IS a thing down there, but you have to drive there through a specific road or navigate a particular walkway. When the game does have open areas, this is where it gets really engaging. Your crew riding through forests on the backs of chocobos is what pure adventure is, and it’s a shame there’s only a few areas where this is really possible, because man- those giant chicken horses are fun as hell to ride.

But no matter what you try, the road either has a wall you can’t jump over next to it, or some earthly barrier keeping you from cutting across the map. It would’ve been nice to forge your own path, but sadly you’re stuck driving the vehicle. You don’t even get to really drive, instead you’re just accelerating on a laid-out track, like a toy car on one of your childhood racetracks. Freedom is not the choice of going clockwise or counterclockwise, but the ability to jump off a cliff into a small river. I did enjoy having a crossing of buffalo-esque creatures stop me on my path, so maybe that’s worth your hands ultimately being tied, but these designated paths destroy the freedom of a convertible and the open road.

I wish I were done with my complaints, but despite all of that, there’s still bugs in the game. You interact with objects in the world with the same button as jump, and you’ll feel so stupid anytime you go to activate a switch but instead keep jumping next to it because the game won’t register the event. There’s no controller mapping, even though I can think of much better ways to lay it out so I won’t face this problem. The camera system also feels like a forgotten element entirely, getting stuck in bushes and walls in almost every battle. Sometimes battles will just end despite enemies still being there. Pixelated glitches fill the screen mid-battle. Characters’ dialogue sometimes get snipped off too early. There’s not enough after battle chatter, so you hear the same lines over and over. Reflection effects literally glitch out destroying the horizon. There’s just so many shortcuts and weird decisions made here, I wonder what the 10 years of development was for.

It’s like I keep giving the game concessions on making an easier experience for newcomers, while the game gives up on key traits for the series to focus on nothing in particular. This doesn’t feel more focused, it simply feels lazy. It’s beautiful, no doubt about it- but it doesn’t retain any of the elements that made me fall in love with the series. It’s choices are based on convenience rather than building a world. I guarantee you, seeing Coleman and Cup Noodle product placement in my fantasy game doesn’t whisk me away from the real world.

Simply put, Final Fantasy XV doesn’t feel originally inspired, and after ten years of development I expect more than a regrouping of ideas from other successful games. While it’s simplistic and fun battle system has me excited for Kingdom Hearts 3 and the Final Fantasy 7 remake, it’s overly simplistic and uninspired approach leaves nothing to strategize or contemplate. It feels like a stepping stone experience that’s already six inches below the ground, elevating no one to the heights of what makes the Final Fantasy series memorable.

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