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It’s been a long and winding road, but after a decade of development, Final Fantasy XV has finally been released. It was originally announced back in 2006 as a spin-off titled to Final Fantasy XIII called Final Fantasy Versus XIII. After a troubled development cycle, the game was rebranded as a mainstream entry in 2007. When the Playstation 4 and Xbox One were announced, it was changed yet again to be a next-generation game. After six years in planning and early development, it was announced to be only about a quarter finished. The game was publicly rebranded in 2013, when regular updates, gameplay videos, and eventually demos began releasing. In the meantime the game has gotten an anime series titled Final Fantasy XV: Brotherhood, a CGI feature film called Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, and a planned mobile tie-in.
Now, after all that time, the game is finally here, and we can answer the question. Was it worth the wait?
Fortunately, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. While the game isn’t without issues, it’s an excellent game in its own right and a long-needed jumpstart for the brand.
Final Fantasy XV tells the story of Noctis Lucis Caelum, the heir to the throne of the kingdom of Lucis. Noctis, aided by his four companions Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto, embarks on a quest to retake his homeland when it’s seized by the evil militaristic empire of Niflheim. The plot is, unfortunately, one of the weak points for the game. It’s not particularly original or inspired. In classic fashion the straightforward premise gets quickly bogged down with the addition of magic crystals, magical beings, and different dimensions. There’s a lot of underutilized ideas in the story. Noctis’ romantic relationship with his fiancée Lunafreya is never given much depth. The real bulk of the story is contained mostly in the final third of the game. The real draw here however is the incredible relationship that’s formed between Noctis and his three companions.
Unlike in previous games, the four primary party members aren’t strangers. They’re longtime friends who have been traveling together for years. Their relationship forms the real heart of the game. For a series known for melodrama and ridiculous characters, Noctis, Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto seem like real human beings with real connections to each other. The guys have witty banter during long car rides and helping each other up in battles. You really get a sense that these characters care for each other and really are dear friends. Watching their relationship deepen and evolve over the course of the game is more than enough to compel players through the 30+ hour campaign.
The game is absolutely gorgeous as well, with stunning visuals and animations bolstered by incredible art design. From the sweeping, wide-open plains and mountains to little touches like the way Noctis and his companions interact with each other, the game is a joy to watch in motion. The players traverse the beautiful world of Eos via the Regalia, a stylish car that provides one of the game’s unique ideas. Final Fantasy XV often plays like a road trip game. When traversing the land you drive across vast distances, make pit stops at gas stations and diners, and help out those in need along the way.
This “road trip” aesthetic is one of the most compelling and original parts of Final Fantasy XV. While past games have had tent items, this is the first that really has a camping mechanic. Sitting with your three friends around a campfire under the stars makes it an unique experience that doesn’t feel quite like Final Fantasy. It also doesn’t feel quite like any other game I’ve ever played. Catching glimpses of huge monsters in the distance while driving the Regalia inspires a sense of awe.
One of the game’s flaws is when this idea comes apart. Without delving into spoilers, the final third of the game restricts the open world in favor of story focus. Much of the draws of the game, like the open world exploration, are locked until completion of the game. This leaves the focus almost entirely on story and the new combat system.
Like many Final Fantasy games, XV comes with a new battle system. Unlike the series’ previous turn-based combat, this game relies on real-time action. Instead of using a menu to select attacks, players run around the battlefield and attack using a control style more reminiscent of hack-and-slash video games. Noctis is the only character controlled directly however. His three companions can all be controlled via commands and be used to coordinate beautiful and satisfying team-up attacks.
While satisfying to play, the switch away from turn-based combat unfortunately removed some of the depth of the gameplay. Keeping your gear updated and being a good player relies less on strategy and more on skill with the controls, which can take a little while to get used to. This sacrifice of combat depth is most apparent in the aforementioned final sequence of the game. The combat can get repetitive and simplistic, since at that point you’re bound to have mastered the mechanics of the game.
This is not to say that Final Fantasy XV isn’t worth the time to play. While it’s certainly not flawless, it’s an unique game that’s a joy to witness in motion. The journey of Noctis and his friends isn’t an unique story. However the world and the cast of characters have enough heart, beauty, and originality to make it a great adventure to embark on.