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Posted September 4, 2016 by Adam Ghiggino in Feature
 
 

Final Fantasy XV Hands-on Preview


It’s been a couple of months since my last look at Final Fantasy XV, at E3 2016, and since then we’ve had to endure yet another (but hopefully the final) delay announcement for the game, now coming on 29 November. Rather than showcase a specific moment or battle like the E3 demo, the latest build I played through essentially contains the first few hours of the game, from opening cutscene to open world exploration and several key story moments. It’s the first demo I’ve played that gives me a real idea of the game’s structure, gameplay and narrative, and thankfully left a much better impression that the iffy Titan battle from E3.

As Tabata promised, Final Fantasy XV more or less starts you off with an open-world to explore. It’s not quite as straightforward as that, as you’re first shown a firey glimpse into the future, as an older version of our protagonist, Noctis. In this scene, the gloomy glam model faces off against some kind of demon, along with his three constant companions, together looking exactly like the retired post-rehab boy band members they are. You’re then junted back to the present as we see the events of the game are set in motion – Prince Noctis is sent forth from the kingdom of Lucis by his father, the King. He’s essentially on a road trip to his political wedding to Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, a component of a peace treaty Lucis is signing. Along for the ride are his three best buddies, forming the ‘Crownsguard’ – Ignis, Prompto and Gladiolus. The road trip is cut short by the royal car unceremoniously breaking down, as the party literally has to get out and push the car down the highway, while Florence + The Machine’s cover of ‘Stand by Me’ plays in the background. It’s about as bizarre an intro to a Final Fantasy game as you can imagine, but it kind of works, as the group banters back and forth and the camera flies into the air to reveal the logo.

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The game’s early hours open up the lands of Lucis to the player, in the regions closest to the capital city of Insomnia. Looking very much like the US Route 50, there’s a distinctly American feel to the design of Final Fantasy XV, from the flat desert roads to the gas stations replete with diners. After reaching a gas station, you’ll be left to your own devices while mechanic Cid and his busty daughter repair your car. The opening tutorial mission lets you get to grips with the battle mechanics as you search out squads of monsters for some cash to afford repairs.

The combat in FFXV definitely takes the mainline series further down the path of Action-RPGs, as the mechanics have been simplified even further from the earlier Episode Duscae demo released to the public. Noctis can switch from three weapons and one spell at any time, using the D-Pad, and while holding down the attack button is enough to launch into a simple combo of attacks. You can ‘point-warp’ to teleport to enemies from afar to surprise them, or to jump to high viewpoints and recover. While you can target enemies with point-warp, you don’t seem to be able to target viewpoints or other areas of interest, which makes it unwieldy to rotate the camera around and jump to them, as you’ll often just auto-lock onto an enemy instead. This niggle aside, switching between a sword, heavy sword and spear on the fly can actually be a lot of fun.

In some cases, your party’s tactician, Ignis, will gather the group around in a huddle before engaging in a fight, offering a plan of attack. If you follow his suggestion within a time limit, you can earn some extra AP. While your characters will gain EXP points and level up like in every Final Fantasy game (although not before camping for the night), AP controls what abilities they’re able to learn in a Sphere Grid/License Board-esque ‘astral’ plane accessible from the main menu. Your AP appears to be in a communal pool, and can be spent on any one character, at least in this demo, to learn abilities like defense, equipping extra accessories or (in Prompto’s case) the ability to take in-game screenshots. There didn’t seem to be a lot available straight off the bat in the menu I saw, and I actually accessed quite a few abilities of everyone’s grids in the opening hours, so hopefully the main game brings a little more to these.

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Once your car is repaired, you can go out and explore more of the kingdom of Lucis at your whim. There is an objective – making your way to a ferry to continue the journey, but it’s up to you whether you want to follow the path or go out and grind or take on some side missions. At one point, you hear a hunter crying for help, which opens up a potential side-quest you can follow, and which is a great idea for a Final Fantasy game. However, events like these don’t seem to be marked on your map or in the game world itself, and after searching for a few minutes I ultimately gave up on the mission. Driving itself is really just a means to get around, and there aren’t any complex or really fun mechanics behind it. You can just barely turn the car when it’s on the road, and you can’t collide with anything – ultimately the only things you really control are which road you take and when to park (which is a needlessly vague process involving holding down the X button for some time). You can also just let Ignis drive the car, although you’ll still have to wait the time it takes to get there. Fortunately, in an unexpectedly cool move, FFXV lets you listen to the radio, which features highlights from the soundtrack of many past Final Fantasy games, and even more music is available to purchase in shops around the game.

The way Final Fantasy XV wants to structure itself seems less like FF games of old and more like something contemporary, like The Witcher, and honestly I’m fine with this. There are a few times in the opening hours where you’ll have to track down a specific monster, or take on some side missions or jobs in order to get your characters to a certain level, and that keeps things pretty interesting. I will say one main line quest is a little convoluted – to get on board the ferry I mentioned previously, you first have to bargain with a local reporter who wants gemstones. It’s a weirdly written quest, an oddity in what is generally a pretty involving story. You get to know your party members through little comments they make throughout gameplay, and special ‘on tour’ events. For instance, Gladiolus wakes up Noctis early after one night camping for some early-morning training, so he can build up stamina by running on the beach. It’s actually a nice little mini-game that adds some variety and fits in with the bro-out atmosphere Square-Enix is going for with this party.

I don’t want to spoil too much of the opening hours of Final Fantasy XV so I’ll end my preview here, although I will say that if you’ve seen Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV you’ll have a good idea of what information Noctis is about to learn that turns his road trip on its head. While mechanically I still had a few problems with the game, I still really like the overall approach Square-Enix is taking with FFXV, from the explorable open world to the fast-paced action to the developing bromance. It did take me a little while to settle into the game’s atmosphere and gameplay, which is why I feel more positive about the game than after the E3 demo this year, and I hope the rest of the game can improve on the experience even more when it finally lands on 29 November.


Adam Ghiggino

 
Owner, Executive Editor of Rocket Chainsaw. I also edit TV, films and make average pancakes.


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