Final Fantasy XV Review In Progress – Of Cars and Cactuars

November 29, 2016

After 10 years, 2 directors and one big name change, Final Fantasy XV is finally in our hands – in fact, very recently in our own hands. After downloading the 50GB install file on PS4, I’ve only been able to crack open the opening chapters of Square-Enix’s newest magnum opus, so my full review will have to wait until I’ve been able to dig a lot further into the game (and rest assured, I tend to dig uncomfortably deep into my Final Fantasy’s). Still, if you’re curious about my experience with the first 4-5 hours of the game, my impressions have been positive overall.

The Good

As director Hajime Tabata promised, Final Fantasy XV is open-world right off the bat. After the infamously strange pushing-a-car scene which opens the game, you’re sent on a couple of small fetch quests to test the waters, before basically being allowed to explore a chunk of the game world right off the bat. You can grind monster battles, take on a handful of sidequests and monster hunts from a job’s board, collect ingredients, dress up your protagonist Noctis and even pimp your car. It’s a pretty refreshing change of pace, and it forms a comfortable gameplay groove as you set out to tackle a few quests, bank EXP and AP from the battles and then level-up at the end of a game day by resting at a camp. You can overlevel for the main quest as well – fairly shortly after starting the game, I actually gained about 5 levels from one battle, by accidentally coming across a single Cactuar (a staple of the series) and defeating it through sheer luck and determination.

The combat also feels polished from previous builds and demos I’ve played, and I’ve gained an appreciation for the ‘wait’ mode Tabata introduced to bring a more tactical element to gameplay. Noctis can analyse opponents in this mode to learn exactly what weapons or spells they may be weak to. It’s fun switching between weapon classes on the fly, or warp-striking enemies from great distances, or trying to attack enemies’ backs to initiate a devastating link attack with your buddies. It’s still an Action-RPG, as opposed to the pure turn-based combat of the early series, but it’s definitely more tactical than I was expecting.

There’s quite a lot to explore around points of interest in the map – while the desert itself can feel empty aside from monster encounters and a few treasure pick-ups, there are small pit-stops and gas stations that have all kinds of goodies. From diners and auto shops to weapon sellers, noticeboards and chocobo rental services, there’s quite a bit to see and do.

Voice acting is rather good across the board, even if the story-telling itself isn’t quite there (more on that in the next section). Your main party has already formed by the start of the game, and unless you’ve watched the preceding anime series Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV, you might be left wondering who exactly each of these guys are, and what their connection to Noctis is. However, the actors themselves do a good job conveying personality through friendly banter, even if Prompto is apparently designed to be grating to everybody in the party.


The Not So Good

The storytelling, so far, is a bit all over the shop. I have the benefit of having taken the time to watch Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV on YouTube as it was released, as well as the CGI feature film Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV in cinemas, so I more or less know what’s going on at the outset of Final Fantasy XV. If you haven’t done your required reading, you’ll most likely find it tough understanding what’s going on and to whom. There is a tutorial with a few short paragraphs that can get you somewhat up to speed, but there is a lot of information and exposition that has been dispensed with – probably so that the game can start with its impressive open-world opening. Kingsglaive in particular is literally the cut first act of the game, from back when it was still Final Fantasy Versus XIII, which makes it pretty vital information, and the developers seem to have realised this – as clips of it have been somewhat awkwardly re-inserted at several points, despite some design inconsistencies with the rest of the game. Again, I’m only in the first few hours of the game, and I need to play more to get a view on how the whole story comes together, but the opening definitely puts the emphasis on questing and not so much on cohesive storytelling.

Your mode of transport is rather limited as well – the Regalia car. After repairing the car, you’re allowed to drive it for a brief period, to discover it handles pretty sluggishly. While you can move the car into oncoming traffic, and even overturn it if you miss a corner and plow into something, the game tries to magnetise you to the right side of the road at all times, and keep you on track. You can’t drive offroad either, having to find parking spots and towns to actually go out exploring. For the remainder of Chapter 1, you’re actually not allowed to drive the car at all again, as Ignis takes over ‘auto’ control and you just have to sit and wait until you arrive. At least you can buy some retro Final Fantasy music CD’s at item shops to keep yourself entertained.


The Ugly

Despite the game world generally looking quite pretty, in a Route 66 kind of way, there are still some fairly significant graphical issues. One very noticeable one is the way water in the game handles reflections – it tends to wig out and reflect all sorts of things, even Noctis no matter how far away he is. At other times, it just takes on a flat single colour. Given a big mini-game is centered around fishing and staring at the water for long periods of time, it’s a hiccup I would have thought would be resolved for release (and the 1.01 patch I played with).

Also, yes, fishing is indeed a mini-game in Final Fantasy XV, with several types of rods, lines and lures.

So, those are my initial impressions of the game. I’ll be powering through the rest of the game in every waking hour I can for the next few days, so stay tuned to the site for the full review where my impressions may be confirmed or overturned, and I’ll pass a final judgment on the game.