[Review] Final Fantasy XV

ESRB:T
ONLINE:Yes ( Timed Quests )
INSTALL:64.04 GB
RELEASE DATE:November 29, 2016
PLATFORM:Playstation 4 ( Reviewed ), Xbox One
PUBLISHER:Square Enix
DEVELOPER:Square Enix
ONLINE PASS:Season Pass available ( $24.99 USD )

Foreword



Gameplay Video



Story


Final Fantasy XV is a very different kind of story in regards to the Final Fantasy series.

Sure, there are still magic and high fantasy elements involved – but this story is much more grounded than usual. It’s much more focused on the party and their exploits than the events that transpire themselves.

This…is the start of the game. Really sets the tone and personalities of every character in the party.

Tonally, it reminds me a bit of Final Fantasy VIII – the mix of more realistic character and world designs blended with the fantastical monsters and magics that the series is known for.

The story begins with Noctis and his friends/bodyguards, Prompto, Ignis and Gladiolus, saying their goodbyes to King Regis before leaving the city of Insomnia on a road trip for Noctis to marry Lunafreya of Tenebrae – a means of creating a pact between nations.

Unbeknownst to our crew, though, some very bad things are about to go down very soon. Things that they will be powerless to stop.

One of the main complaints I’ve seen levied against Final Fantasy XV is that the story makes little to no sense if you haven’t also seen Kingsglaive.

This isn’t exactly true. I, personally, haven’t seen Kingsglaive yet – and I more or less understood the main gist of what was going on throughout the game. Sure, there are some characters who appear and are introduced as if you already know who they are – which if you’ve seen the film, you do – and some things are glanced over in the main plot, but overall, the story still holds together and does an alright job of telling itself.

You see, XV is less about the events that occur, and more about how Noctis and the gang deal with those events.

The fall of Insomnia itself isn’t important, so it gets glossed over ( Noctis wasn’t there – the party had no involvement in it ) – what’s important to XV specifically, is how that event impacts the group – how do they react to the news? What do they do or try to do in response?

The events that are actually important to the main plot are told well and fleshed out properly.

Basically – don’t worry too much if you haven’t seen the film yet, it’s not as important as people make it out to be. That said, it likely will help make some characters feel more “complete” than they currently do.


Presentation


Shocker – a Final Fantasy game looks amazing.

In all seriousness, though – the world of Eos is gorgeous and expansive. There’s a lot to see in it, and the locations are quite varied.

I really enjoy the blend of realistic, grounded designs with the fantastic, almost ridiculous designs inherent to the Final Fantasy series.

Monster designs, for instance, hearken back to their original concepts, while being updated to be more believable. Some look almost unchanged, though, and it’s great.

The world of Eos is quite wide open – just don’t expect GTA levels of freedom.

I honestly can’t say too many bad things about the overall look of the game. The art and character designs are all great, and Square managed to blend fantasy with reality quite nicely.

The technical side of things, however – there I have a bit of a bone to pick with the game.

It runs fine – the framrate is generally stable, and there’s very little pop-in from what I’ve seen ( and after 80+ hours, I’ve seen quite a lot ). That’s not where my gripe lies, though.

For some, the issue of overscan is a minor, likely non-existent problem. Most TVs today don’t really have it too bad anymore – it’s a relic of a time when CRTs were still common. Overscan would cause a signal to stretch out to the very edges of the screen, due to tubes not being able to properly show the edges of the screen.

Today, this isn’t really an issue – but TVs still use overscan for no real reason. Most of the time, it’s not a problem, as you generally aren’t missing anything important in that small percentage of the screen that isn’t being shown, and most of the time, it’s only a very small amount of the picture that gets cut off.

But sometimes, you are – and that’s where my gripe with Final Fantasy XV comes in.

Initially, the game didn’t adhere to the PS4’s video settings regarding image scaling. Even if you set the edges of the PS4’s display all the way in – Final Fantasy XV would still stretch out past that.

This was an issue in the Judgment Disc Demo they released as well as in the main game – but oddly not in the Platinum Demo.

The problem this caused, is that the overscan would cause important information to be cut off. Health values, MP values, quest text and button guides – these things were either completely off screen, or severely obscured and cut in half.

This is how the game should look. But if you have a television with overscan – you end up missing about 10-15% of your image, with important UI cutoff.

It’s not a fun time when you can’t see how much MP you have left – or how much HP Noctis and the rest are dealing with.

This is how much of the image is cut off due to overscan.

Thankfully, Square Enix heard the complaints and worked out a fix for the problem.

Sort of..

I appreciate that Square at least tried to solve the problem – it shows that they were listening – and truthfully, for the average player who has to deal with this issue – it’s fine fix.

For the people like myself, though – the people who write reviews and make videos for YouTube, the current fix isn’t super helpful.

Rather than simply scaling the UI in and leaving the actual game image alone, Square opted to scale the entire image down.

It’s not the most elegant solution.

As I mentioned before – for the average player, this works just fine. The image shows up completely with no problem if you’ve scaled your PS4’s display settings properly.

For those of us in the position of needing to capture footage, though – it creates a problem that isn’t great, and isn’t necessary. You’re stuck either leaving the overscan in place, adjusting the footage/image by scaling it back up in your editor of choice – which will cause your image to lose quality, leaving the distracting black border in place or, and most this is the most extreme choice – flat out buying a newer TV.

It’s aggravating, and does slightly mar the overall experience as it’s an added layer of frustration that shouldn’t be there.

If you have a newer TV without overscan, or you aren’t planning to review/LP the game, however, then this is a non-existent issue and isn’t something that should be factored in to your purchase decision.

If I have one gripe about the game’s technical side that might actually matter, it’s that the load times when switching maps and fast traveling can be a bit lengthy. Nowhere near as long as something like Sniper Ghost Warrior 3, mind you – but fairly lengthy.


Gameplay


The game is a lot of fun to play.

Final Fantasy XV is by far the most action-oriented, mainline Final Fantasy to date – but it’s certainly not a character action game. It’s no Devil May Cry or God of War, and you really shouldn’t try to play it as such.

It’s just a more action-focused, realtime RPG. There are no menus to deal with outside of your main menu that you use to equip weapons and accessories.

These are about the only menus you really deal with in-game.

There is no ATB this time, unlike the XIII games. You’re much more involved in the combat now. Similar to Kingdom Hearts, minus the menu.

On its surface, XV can seem a bit “button-mashy”, and that can work for the most part – but much like the XIII, there’s more depth here than seen at first glance.

In the traditional RPG way, enemies have weaknesses – either to specific weapon types, elements or both. This is represented in the damage numbers you see when hitting a foe – white is basic damage, purple indicates they resist that damage type, red/orange means they’re weak to it and green represents healing.

You can just ram on the attack button and beat most enemies, sure. But for later enemies, bosses and superbosses – that won’t fly. You’re going to need to plan ahead and try to exploit their weaknesses. Not just to take them down quickly, but to increase your chances of getting item drops as well.

Items that can be used to upgrade and create new weapons & accessories. Or items required for questlines.

One other thing that’s new to this game, is the ability to break enemy appendages. Attack an enemy’s limb or horn long enough, dealing enough damage and hitting it with a Break-capable weapon/attack, and you’ll break that appendage. Breaking an appendage can have a lot of different effects – from special, unique item drops, to debuffs to that creature’s stats and even sometimes causing the enemy to heavily stagger or fall over helpless.

It’s up to you to find out what appendages can be broken and what those breaks do when they happen, and then exploit that to turn the tides on a tougher enemy in battle.

Noctis also has access to a unique ability – the ability to warp. Using this warp ability, Noctis can engage enemies from long range and close the distance quickly – damaging them more depending on how far away he warped from – or warp out of the fight to rest at any predetermined warp point located near the battleground.

Doing so will allow Noct to regain lost MP, as well as slowly regen health.

On top of the various weapons, Noctis can concoct magic spells from the elements he finds near campgrounds.

The health system is a bit weird in XV. It acts a bit like XIII-2, where you have your base health, and take damage to it – but that base health can also be lowered in battle ( In XIII-2, this was known as Wounding. ). If you weren’t careful, you’d end up in a position where your health was so permanently low, any attack could kill you in one shot.

It’s just as weird in XV

As you fight, you take damage to your health. When a character’s health reaches zero (0), that character will “fall” in battle, but they won’t be knocked out. They’ll just be in critical condition until you health them – either by using an item, or reaching them and giving them a quick pat on the back to shake them out of it.

However, if that character continues to take damage while in critical condition – their base health with begin to fall. Should that happen, any healing you do will only heal up to that new base level.

For instance, let’s say Noctis has 1000 HP. If he takes 1000 HP worth of damage, he’ll go into critical health. If you use an item to heal him back to full HP and he’s taken no extra damage, he’ll be brought back to 1000 HP.

If he took damage between going critical and being healed – let’s say he took another 50 damage to his HP. His maximum HP will then be 950 – and healing him back to full will only heal him up to 950, unless you use an Elixir, which not only heals, but restores your HP back to max.

Should that character’s maximum HP fall to zero while in critical condition, then that character will be KO’d, and the only way to bring them back is to use a Phoenix Down.

You essentially have the equivalent of “Red Health” in a fighting game like Tekken Tag Tournament 2, where playing as a solo character against a tag team gives the solo player the added advantage of needing all of their red health depleted before they get knocked out.


There are a lot of little “quality-or-life” changes made to the game that make things just a little more convenient.

For instance, you can access a basic item shop from the Regalia ( Your main means of travel throughout the world of Eos.), meaning that you can easily stock up on basic healing items – like Potions and Hi-Potions – without needing to go all the way back to a town.

You can hold down the attack and/or the dodge button to automatically attack enemies with a basic Blitz combo, or automatically dodge enemy attacks at the cost of MP. However, holding down the dodge button while facing a large amount of enemies can be very bad news – as they can end up attacking so much that you very quickly run out of MP and end up in Stasis, which leaves you wide open to attack as you can no longer warp or phase dodge until your MP recovers ( Think of your MP more like a stamina bar than the usual MP bar. ).

Leveling up is a bit simpler this time around as well. Instead of 6-7 different “roles”, or complicated Sphere Grids/License Boards, you have a set of simple Skilltrees with abilities that you can learn, provided you have the skillpoints to do so.

The skilltrees are super simple, and contain a few useful perks that you may or may not want.

I actually like this setup, as it allows the perks to be just that – perks. You don’t have to get them if you don’t want them. A lot are simply bonuses that grant extra AP/XP to certain actions. Others grant bonuses to health/strength/MP, etc.

No dumping into stat points, no dealing with weird creature materials to get higher bonuses, no dealing with specific spheres to unlock specific skills.

As far as actually increasing your level – that got a little more complex, but not too much. As you fight enemies and complete quests & side quests, you gain experience points.

These points collect and build over time – however, you might notice that you never seem to level up when you collect them. This is because you need to bank your XP by resting – either at a campsite, or at a hotel.

Resting at a hotel will often provide you with a decent multiplier to your XP – multiplying it by up to 3 times depending on what hotel you sleep at. Hotels also allow your characters to get cleaned up after long excursions out in the world.

Campsites, however, offer a bigger benefit – rather than increasing your XP, they allow you to eat one of a plethora of meals that Ignis can cook. These meals will provide great buffs to the entire party. From increased attack, to increased XP gain or increased damage reduction.

Your party members also have favorite dishes – eating one will give that character a boost to how quickly their tech gauge fills.


Each character has a specific skill that they excel in – Noctis can fish, Gladio can hunt down rare healing items in battle, Ignis is the party’s cook and Prompto is a photographer.

All of these abilities has a use – though some are obviously less beneficial than others. Prompto’s photos don’t serve much purpose outside of documenting your adventure and providing some cool photos to share with your friends on PSN/XBL. Fishing with Noctis can provide you with ingredients either for cooking, selling, or using to craft/upgrade gear.

Gladio and Ignis provide the most useful abilities – Gladio can find healing items after battles, which can help keep you stocked up ( Trust me when I say this – you will be burning through potions throughout the game. ), while Ignis’ cooking skill provides the party with the buffs I mentioned earlier.

As these skills level up, they increase in usefulness – Noctis can catch rarer, bigger fish. Ignis gains new recipes, Gladio finds higher quality items, and Prompto gains new filters as well as the ability to take photos at different times, like during battles.

In addition to these passive skills, each Noctis’ bros can learn other Tech skills – powerful attacks that require the use of 1, 2 or 3 Tech bars from the Tech gauge that fills as a battle goes on, depending on the skill.

These skills are really powerful, and some even result in Noctis teaming up with the skill user for even more powerful combination attacks. Not quite on the level of Limit Breaks, but powerful none-the-less.

All-in-all, Final Fantasy XV feels really good to play. It almost feels like what they wanted to do with Kingdom Hearts, but perhaps couldn’t pull off initially. Removing the need to select a menu option just to attack certainly helps the gameplay flow better – and I can only hope that Kingdom Hearts III follows suit.

Now, while I do have mostly positive things to say – there is at least one aspect of the gameplay that I don’t really like.

The summons.

I’m not a big fan of XV‘s summon system. For one – there just aren’t enough summons overall – there only appear to be 3-4 total. Where’s Odin? Where’s Doomtrain? Where’s Diablos? Cerberus?

More than the lack of summons overall, I’m disappointed that you don’t get to choose which Astral you get to summon at a given time. It feels like they’re random. They aren’t, but the requirements for summoning some of them are so specific, you may never see them. For instance – I never once saw Titan outside of the initial fight with him in the game. I generally always saw Ramuh.

Summoning shouldn’t be completely dependent on specific factors of the battle – the player should be able to choose who they summon for aid, rather than it being left to what feels like chance.

The sense of scale for some of the Astrals, like Ramuh (pictured), is off the charts. These are easily some of the most impressive moments in the game.

It’s probably the most disappointing part of the game for me – because the summons themselves are absolutely some of the most gorgeous moments of the game.


Replay Value


Like with most Final Fantasy games, replay value is a bit up to the player.

There is a New Game+ mode – but it doesn’t really do anything to change the game up on a subsequent playthrough – you just start over from the beginning with all of your gear and levels. Enemies don’t even scale with you – which is really disappointing.

If that doesn’t interest you – then you can just keep playing your main file even after you’ve beaten the game – saving clear data will start you back with your stats and gear after beating the last boss, but reset your progress to just before you faced them. This allows you to explore the world to your heart’s content and finish things up that you may have missed.

Like the dozens and dozens of hunt quests.

There are also hidden super dungeons that you can attempt to take on if you wish – these dungeons are much tough than the normal variants, and end with really powerful bosses.

On the trophy side of things, there’s nothing too hard here. Grinding to get the party’s skills up to Level 10 is probably going to be the most time consuming part of the Platinum/1000GS. Everything else will come mostly through natural progression.


Final Verdict


Overall, Final Fantasy XV has cemented itself as one of the better Final Fantasy games as of late. It’s not perfect by any means, and there is certainly some room for improvement – but it shows that they’ve taken what they’ve learned from the XIII and refined it, polishing it into a much better experience. The big, open overworld, the various little towns with shops and inns – pretty much everything fans have said they wanted in a Final Fantasy game is back again.


Closing Thoughts


In closing, Final Fantasy XV was well worth the wait. Sure there are a few missteps here and there – the summoning system is a bit of a let down, the plot almost requiring the need to watch an external film, that glaring overscan issue.

However, these are all minor, nitpicky problems that can easily be overlooked in the grand scheme of things. There’s a lot of game here – and it’s a game that plays, looks & runs amazingly well. Any game that I can play for 80+ hours and then want to play again right after is a game worth owning.

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PROS CONS
  • Tons of content and playtime.

  • Combat is fun and deep enough to be engaging.

  • Stellar visuals.
  • Most side quests end up being no more than fetch quests.

  • Summoning is a bit "enh", and feels almost useless.

  • Load times are fairly long when switching maps and fast travelling.

  • Airship doesn't unlock until endgame and is a bit hard to control/land.
  • FINAL VERDICT
    Click here or on the verdict image to the left for full disclosure of what these ratings mean!

    About James Headrick

    James is an aspiring game reviewer that plays primarily on the Playstation 3 & 4. He also works freelance as a graphic designer, doing print and branding based design.

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