Game Review: Final Fantasy XV (Xbox One)

Final Fantasy has been a well-treasured franchise for decades, spanning countless titles from its numbered installments to various spin-offs and even its venture into feature films and more. Each release reinvents itself each and every time, bringing with it new stories, characters, and fantastic new worlds.

Back in 2009 SquareEnix released Final Fantasy XIII, a game that would then spawn two additional sequels. Final Fantasy XIII was intended to have one more game added to its collection; Final Fantasy Versus: XIII. This was meant to be a companion game taking place in the same Fabula Nova Crystallis series. This title was announced way back in 2006 and would eventually be retooled as Final Fantasy XV. Stripped of its connection to FF-XIII, this title would feature a whole new cast of characters in an equally new and original world.

Final Fantasy XV is easily the most contemporary of any Final Fantasy game thus far. What is here is something a bit more akin to our own world, with many locations looking like something you’d see on the back of a postcard. You’ll tour the large open world in your car, the Regalia, stopping at gas stations to refuel and even helping stranded motorists you encounter in your travels. You’ll camp under the stars with your Coleman branded tent, sitting in your Coleman branded chairs, all while eating a meal meant to boost your stats for the coming day.

The story present in Final Fantasy XV is preceded by a feature-length animated film and a short multi-episode cartoon series. That series; Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV, is interesting to watch should you want to know more about the individual characters, where Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is a CG animated masterpiece that sets up the state of the world that is around you during your time in Final Fantasy XV. While Brotherhood isn’t mandatory viewing, Kingsglaive, however; is. While the game does try to fill you in on events that took place in Kingsglaive, it does such a poor job trying to do so, making Kingsglaive essential to understanding much of what is going on all around you.

Final Fantasy XV is a coming of age story for Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum, as not only does he have to deal with the loss of his father, King Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII, but also that of the journey ahead of him as King. This quest will be a huge burden to not only him, but that of his friends who stand by his side. The news of his fathers’ death comes to the group early on as they are about to board a boat to Accordo’s capital city of Altissia, where Noctis is meant to wed Lady Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, the Oracle from Tenebrae. Tenebrae is a neutral territory caught between a war of two nations; Lucis and Niflheim. King Regis is killed during an attack on Lucis’s capital city Insomnia and the group fears the worst when they hear that Lady Lunafreya may have been killed in the attack as well. During the attack, the Lucis Crystal is stolen and Noctis is then charged with the task of retrieving it back. To do this he must gather the strength of mystical weapons granted to the Kings of Lucis, as well as from entities known to most Final Fantasy fans as Summons.

While the story is centered around two main characters; Noctis and Lunafreya, the gameplay aspects of the title follow Noctis and a group of his friends; Ignis Scientia, Gladiolus Amicitia, and Prompto Argentum. Each of his companions has completely different personalities and roles within the group. Gladiolus, who is often just referred to as Gladio, is the muscle of the group and will be the one you will depend on to bring the big damage during your battles. Ignis is a prodigy military tactician and is the brains of the group, often giving orders on how to go about a base infiltration. Ignis is also the cook of the group, finding ingredients and creating meals during your camping visits that will boost various stats for the following day. He is also your driver as you’ll often tour the countryside in your Regalia for a large portion of the game. Prompto, a friend of Noctis from a lower social class, is the light-hearted member of the group. He will take pictures during your adventures that you can view during your rest moments. He is fairly new to the group and sometimes is our fish out of water aspect for us to learn more about the group’s history.

There is a huge cast of supporting characters that will assist you on your journey to retrieve the crystal back from the clutches of Niflheim. There are Cid and Cindy; mechanics that work at Hammerhead, which is a destination spot you will visit hundreds of times during the course of the game. The fun and energized Cindy will tend to your car and send you out on missions to further enhance it. Cid, who was also a good friend of King Regis, will enhance your weaponry should you have the items for it. Lunafreya’s attendant, Gentiana is a very interesting character with a cool secret, and she’ll pop up randomly in some of Prompto’s pictures. Cor Leonis, a legendary warrior of Lucis, will join your party a few times to impart some wisdom upon Noctis. Then there is Iris, the sister to Gladio. She’s a fun and energetic young girl who enjoys spending as much time with Noctis as she can.

On the villain side of the coin, there aren’t nearly as many threats as there are those who would stand by your side. There is Ravus Nox Fleuret, the brother to Lunafreya. He is the supreme commander of the imperial army. At first, I assumed he was going to be this big threat, but as his story is mostly non-existent, his motivations and eventual interactions with Noctis are baffling and make no sense. SquareEnix has stated that a future patch would contain more cutscenes and missions regarding this character to better flesh him out. There is Aranea Highwind, a mercenary dragoon in the service to Niflheim. I rather enjoyed her character and she took a turn that made the story even more interesting and her inclusion into some of the battles was a real highpoint of the game for me, it also helped that she has the coolest outfit among the characters as your main set of heroes rarely have much access to new threads.

There is lastly, Ardyn Izunia, the imperial Chancellor. Of all the characters that threaten your mission, he is the one you will see the most. There are dark secrets regarding this character, and be rest assured, you’ll discover each and every one of them. His motivations, body language, and voice acting is easily the best in the game and one of the best villains I’ve seen in this medium in quite some time.

Combat takes place in real-time as you hack, slash or shoot the various enemies around you. You can lock in and teleport to your foes via a warp strike and this skill can also be used to retreat should you need to heal. There is a wait mode that freezes the gameplay and allows you plan your attacks, but I didn’t care much for it as I prefer the real time nature of the combat. Combat is fast, fluid and thrilling; however, there are many moments where the camera can ruin your enjoyment. Regardless of battles taking place indoor or outdoors, the camera can get blocked by so many objects like tree’s, bushes, or hallways that it can be a bit of a nightmare during many intense battles. I tried changing the camera settings in-game, but many battles were still frustrating to take part in regardless of what settings I chose for the camera. In large open areas, the camera is nearly flawless, but have it take place in an area with a lot going on and be prepared to get frustrated.

Noctis has a few skills to use during battles called Link Strikes. These come in three flavors; Command, Parry, and Blindside. Command Strikes are assist attacks from your teammates that are fueled by a three-slot bar that fills up during combat. Each skill you equip to your teammate uses either one, two or three of these slots and are either big elaborate attacks or skills that can heal your party in a dire moment. Parry attacks allow you to follow through with an attack after a successful block, where Blindside Strikes are when you sneak up behind an enemy to strike. Both Parry and Blindside Strikes also are affected when one of the group is near Noctis, giving you a bit of strategy with how to go about your battles.

Noctis can be fitted with nearly any type of weapon or spell to truly make him the class you want to be, but only with the ability to equip four at once. Noctis has the ability to pull energy from mineral deposits to then compose into magic spells that are based on ice, fire or lightning. You will use various items and upgrades to Noctis himself to further enhance the potency or effect the spell has. Entire groups can be obliterated with a high concentrated spell, so make sure to pay attention during your crafting of these spells and what items you merge with them. When using wide range area effect spells, your teammates can be hit and take friendly fire damage, so be cautious when using your spells.

The various upgrades that you unlock for each of the group is through a system called The Astralsphere. This Astralsphere lets you upgrade through a selection of tabs; Magic, Recovery, Techniques, Combat, Teamwork, Stats, Exploration and Wait Mode. There is one more tab that you’ll eventually unlock that allows a certain upgrade to become far more effective. The currency to pay for these upgrades is called AP. You’ll earn AP from killing enemies, leveling up, completing quests and more basic things like simply driving around or riding your Chocobo. The more effective the skill the more AP it will cost and it can take a huge amount of AP to fully fill out each tab.

Quests in the game can take many forms, you have your story quests, side quests, and semi-random events that occur around the giant open world. You have hunting quests that see you taking down a single massive beast, or a group of smaller, more agile creatures. You’ll encounter stranded motorists that need a repair kit to get on their way, or an old soldier looking for dog tags so that the families of those who lost someone can finally find peace. There are Chocobo races to compete in, items to locate to upgrade your weapons and even more quests after you’ve beaten the main campaign.

The problem with the majority of the side quests is their lack of any type of narrative. These types of random event quests get boring fast as they are simply the exact quest over and over again. I would drive past a broken down car or find the hunter in town to collect dog tags, again and again, and it would be the same quest and have the same lines of dialogue each time. There is a lady who will send you out on quests to track down certain frogs or kill certain creatures and while theses quests at times can feel very similar to one another, the stories behind each quest at least changes.

The main quests usually have some interesting battles or environments to explore, as do the dungeons that you’ll discover around the map. These meaty distractions are easily the best parts of Final Fantasy XV, it is just a shame they are vastly outweighed by the more cookie-cutter filler quests. Some quests can only be completed during a certain time of day, and when the sun goes down, out come the demons. Driving at night can become a bit of an annoyance as your car will instantly pull to the side when any demons show up and can lead to you either taking them on, or running away, leaving your car behind. The problem with some of these encounters is sometimes the enemies will out-level your characters by such a large amount that taking them on becomes a pointless affair.

Visually, Final Fantasy XV is flat out gorgeous. Locations are almost jaw-dropping as are some of the character models. I don’t know how many times I had to turn the camera while riding in the car to get a better look at some of the scenery. There are a few issues visually like some weak NPC models or the repeating people in each town, but these are small issues that don’t really hurt the overall experience. I will say that the world being so similar to that of ours does hurt the ‘Fantasy’ part of what Final Fantasy has entertained us with in the past, but that aside, this is the best looking Final Fantasy game so far.

The audio in the game can at times be a bit hit and miss, but the chatter between Noctis and crew is the game’s real highlight, I just wish it didn’t repeat so much. Voice acting across the board is fairly decent to even great, with characters like Noctis and Ardyn Izunia having some of the best moments. Music is usually really strong in Final Fantasy games, but the title lacks anything new that truly stands out and relies too much on what came before it. You can listen to almost the entire soundtrack of nearly every Final Fantasy game while traveling in the car, or on foot via an MP3 player you buy in-game.

While there is much to like about the content offered, there are sadly a lot of issues that prevent the game from being great. I’ve already mentioned the camera/environment issues that lead to some frustrating battles, the bland side quests that lack any strong narrative to stay interesting, and the chatter between characters can repeat too often and lose its charm. Some of the main issues I had aside from those pertain to the excess loading times the game has and the on-rails nature of its driving. You’ll be in the car often, and while you can fast travel, it does restrict the fun nature of the characters, and the ability to explore and find new secrets and enemies to kill. The driving, however; can become tedious as some drives can exceed over ten minutes and feature little to no dialogue between your party. The fast travel system has a few menu quirks that would often result in me accidentally selecting Hammerhead as my destination and then making me wait through a long load time to then correct my mistake and find where I had originally wanted to go.

The jump button might be my biggest complaint as they combined it with the interaction button for picking up items, getting on your Chocobo or any other action that has you interact with something or someone. I don’t know how many times I stood there jumping like an idiot when I was trying to interact with something and it became my biggest annoyance during my 80+ hours with the game. Lastly, the summons. While these moments of requesting assistance from the creatures, beasts, and fantastical characters are jaw-dropping and some of the coolest things in the game, triggering them can at times be confusing. I spent time researching the exact manner in which you are able to summon these, but often it felt like it became more random than dealing with any sort of special conditions for summoning them. I wish a better system had been implemented for them as the current system is just far too unreliable for them to really work as intended.

Despite the issues and annoyances I had with the game, I really enjoyed my time with Final Fantasy XV. There is definitely a sense of padding added to the game as the overall campaign here isn’t terribly long. There is, however; much left to explore after completing the main story, so make sure to keep playing once the credits roll. The cast of characters are more grounded than those of past games but are part of some great moments throughout the time I spent with the game. The journey to discover what Noctis is capable of and what it means for him to be King was rather exciting and enjoyable right to the last moment. Exploring the countryside and locating a good spot for camp for Ignis to fashion up a tasty looking meal is charming and frankly, echo’s a lot of what the game offers.

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