Big production games like Final Fantasy XV, that have a very public and visible 10 year development cycle, are very far and few. They often suffer because of this process as they become mountains of hype in which people get so caught up, that their opinion of the game is formed way before they get their hands on it.
So we all must take the blinders off and ask: Does Final Fantasy XV live up to the hype?
Title: Final Fantasy XV
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4(Reviewed) and Xbox One
Release Date: November 29, 2016
MSRP: $59.99 (Review Copy Received)
This is a review coupled with a supplemental video review. You can watch the video review above, or read the full review of the game below.
Visually, Final Fantasy XV takes everyone for a ride through a landscape that is fairly uncommon within JRPGs. The bulk of the game sees the player exploring an area that more closely resembles the midwestern United States than a typical fantasy aesthetic.
Everything is presented in a way that is more grounded in reality, mixed with some future tech and magic. The style and visual appeal of the world is refreshing, it’s just a shame they don’t explore it more.
It is not without its faults however, as after 20 hours there were consistent graphical issue that occurred so much that it almost seemed it was a stylistic choice. Frame rate drops, graphics glitching out with red boxes around them when preforming team attacks, and odd lighting became the norm.
Character design seems to be at odds with itself as well. Where main characters related to the story seem more closely resembling that of typical JRPGs designs, everyone else falls into western design principles: as in looking more like a mix of Mass Effect and The Witcher. This also extends into the enemies of the game.
When you first start off, your focus is on daytime enemies that are typically the wildlife of the environments you are in, or mysterious and seemingly robotic soldiers. These are all refreshing and work really well with the setting and start of the story. They even rework some classic mobs to fit into the new aesthetic of the world, which are designed beautifully.
But as soon as night falls, however, enemies devolve back into a more recognizable Final Fantasy style, mostly consisting of Iron Giants, Tonberrys, and elemental Bombs. All of these monsters felt disjointed and out of place in the world they have created and presented to player. On top of this, they are extremely repetitive in their appearance at night.
Usually the Final Fantasy series spends a lot of time and effort fleshing out the visual aspects of magic and summons. Final Fantasy XV does not. While the summons you have access to are visually impressive, you can count how many there are on one hand. Magic almost seems like an afterthought, which is a real let down, especially considering they have been working on this game for 10 years.
Diving into gameplay, it must be recognized that there are really two ways to play this game. These include: straight story to story missions, or exploring the first and second area you come in contact with completely and enjoying the robust world, side quests, collecting, and hunts.
If you go from story to story mission, you quickly beat the game in 20 or so hours depending how good at the combat you are. You will also miss what’s good about the game, as the story missions are the weakest part of the game in general.
If you choose the latter, which is highly recommended, you will find a great and varied gaming experience, filled with well rounded and interesting characters that help make your road trip feel alive.
Going on hunts to tackle big monsters, getting upgrades for your car, looking for weapons of kings who have passed, and even fishing are all optional and far more enjoyable than the majority of the story missions. This is also where the challenge is in the game, as story missions provide no challenge at all.
When not in story missions, combat is fun and engaging, consisting of juggling different types of weapons while attacking, warping, dodging, and team attacks. The player, Prince Noctis, benefits from each weapon he has equipped (up to four), giving an interesting way to raise your attack and status.
His companions and friends Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus, benefit from two weapons as well as a main technique unique. These techniques can be unlocked and changed which can help score some big damage numbers, heal, or even distract monsters. The two main letdowns in combat are magic and the summons.
The magic system is convoluted and unintuitive. Even maxed out, magic is of little benefit, and can actually hurt your own team mates if done wrong. You’re never told how to do it right. On top of that, you have to go to specific locations through the map to “gather energy” which then needs to be crafted into magic.
Magic only consists of Fire, Blizzard, and Thunder spells that can be modified with items, which as stated above is never really explained, even in the tutorial they added in the pre patch. At the end of the game the magic spells Death, Holy, and Alterna (Final Fantasy XV’s version of the ability Black Hole) make an appearance.
They are just as lackluster as the rest of the spells and are treated as a gimmick. You’re forced to play sections that should have taken 40 minutes, which them become a two hour Resident Evil styled hallway crawl, complete with “jump scares.”
Summons feel epic when they trigger, but there are only four of them. Two of these are only available at the end of the game, which in turn can only be used if you are playing new game plus. You can’t just summon them either, you have to meet special requirements in battle (also not explained). Example: Ramuh will be the most common as the requirement is just to have a long battle.
Lastly on the subject of gameplay, we must talk about load times. The average load time is from 20 to 25 seconds, at one point I actually had a max load time over 52 seconds when I was revisiting the game after I beat it for the first time.
This happens every time you fast travel, enter a new chapter, or engage in a massive side quest with cut scenes. I ended up using this time to take bathroom breaks, or make a snack during the review. Hands down these are the longest load times I have seen in any AAA game ever released.
One of the best things about Final Fantasy XV is the soundtrack, and it’s very well done. You can also purchase all your favorite Final Fantasy soundtracks from stores around the map, to play in your car or a MP3 player you can buy in game.
The music selection had a lot of care taken to make the world sound impressive. This gives a nice level of immersion that will make spending tens of hours in gametime pass by in the blink of an eye. Dynamic sound adds to this in a way that completes the package with a nice red bow.
As for voice acting, it has a massive range – from cringe to great. It has to be said, this is one of the better voice acted games in the series. Some of the best voice work is presented when you are just traveling the world, seeing different sights, or discovering new things.
It is truly amazing to see so much dialogue and clever banter when you are just traveling around. It took 20 hours of free travel to hear once piece of repeated dialog while roaming the world, which is astonishing and a large part of what makes the game enjoyable.
It is now time to talk about the weakest part of this game, the story. I will be doing my best to explain the major problems with the story without spoiling any of it. So fear not when reading below.
Final Fantasy XV’s story is a massive mess of plot holes and unexplained events.
The side missions give more character development to all parties involved then the actual story. Not only is the story riddled with holes and unexplained events, you can actually complete the main story arc within 20 hours.
This estimate includes moving at a leisurely pace, jumping from mission to mission, and that is being generous. Obviously this is not the ideal way to play, but the game does not encourage players to do anything but go from mission to mission.
As for unexplained events, there are two major ones that deal directly with your companions on your journey. This is huge as we really never get a sense for who these people are outside of banter and the way they act.
You know what everyone’s hobbies are as they are made into game mechanics. If you stick with the story and don’t engage in the side missions, none of those except Prompto have any relevance.
Even major character interaction and developments are not explained unless you trigger them at special locations, which are nowhere near the story mission points.
The first unexplained event comes half way through the story. You see one character just saying “Hey I have to take care of something” only to leave and come back with a couple scars. When everyone is asking “What the hell happened?” he just says “You should see the other guy” and laughs.
This left me asking myself, wait what other guy? None of this gets answered or mentioned again. The second unexplained event is thrown in at the very end of the game to explain a character’s origins that were never alluded to, examined, or used in any part of the story or side missions.
This is one of the most interesting aspects of the game. It is an absolute travesty that it was never given room to breath and really has no impact on anything except being used as a Deus Ex Machina mechanic to move forward through a mission.
Speaking of the many Deus Ex Machina plot devices in the game, there is one that is magically presented with no explanation around chapter 8 of 15, which is used when you need to travel to a previously unaccessible region, only to find it open now. If this happened earlier, it would negate the main conflict in the game.
As mentioned above, the majority of the game is in chapters 1 through 8, and from 9 to 15 its a liner mess of “why” and missed opportunity. Normally I try to stay away from the word “feel” in a review, but I have to say it feels like the last half of the game was totally rushed and suffered from some unseen development hell.
You can even see it in the levels of the monsters, skill trees, and areas you explore at the end of the game, which caps around level 50. Even the last boss fight is an unfulfilling mess that uses nothing you have gained over the course of the game whatsoever. This carries over to include your own companions who have traveled with you for 99% of the game.
The most tragic part of Final Fantasy XV’s story is that there is a better story, plot, conclusion, and use of everything you have gained in the game already built into the game. This is rewarded to the players for completing side quests and meeting NPCs throughout the world.
You can totally glance over it if you like, unless you use the short cut mentioned above. The fact is when I found it, I audibly cursed and yelled “Why is this not the major plot conflict of the story?!”
Even the main villain of this game does not make any contextual sense in any of his action and only gives you some minor explanations at the very end. It is even mentioned by your companions that realistically this is all really dumb, and it is.
Final Fantasy XV fights itself at every turn. The melee and team combat is great while the magic and summoning is a total waste. The beginning of the game is amazing while the ending is rushed, uninteresting, makes no sense, and does not thematically explain itself well enough to justify any of it.
Everything outside the story missions is a lot of fun, but the story missions themselves are a massive disappointment. It almost seems like there were two games being developed at the same time.
The first is an amazingly interesting world-exploration game filled with great characters, interesting concepts, with the potential to expand; or a nonsensical, linear story game that feels it does not need to explain major portions of itself and leaves the player asking themselves “Why?” constantly. The world exploration, side quests, hunts, and clever travel banter is worth the purchase but the main story is not.
Final Fantasy XV was reviewed on Playstation 4 using a digital copy provided by Square Enix. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 7
- Great exploration, in an interesting world.
- Great side quests and hunts, that will bring challenge at the pace of the player.
- Amazing banter among your companion that makes them feel real.
- The story is hands down terrible.
- Magic and Summons are a wasted opportunity.
- Most of the mechanics are sole used outside of the story.
(Writers Note: I wanted to love this game so badly, it’s been 10 years in the making. I have been following it for years; playing the demos at E3 every time it was available and managing to stay away from all spoilers even when leaks dropped. I have put over 80 hours into this game to give you all the most thorough review possible. It should also noted that the majority of review copies for this game were sent out two days before its release even though leakers had the game sent to them early. The day one reviews mostly came from groups with early preview access as well, for what its worth.)
Final Fantasy XV
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