Final Fantasy XV (FFXV) has been a long time coming. The world first found out about the game when it was announced as Final Fantasy Versus XIII in 2006 and it’s walked a troubled path to release since then. Despite all this, the team behind the game persevered for a decade to deliver the game to fans eager to see where the next chapter in the beloved franchise will take them. While an open world action RPG may be a departure for Final Fantasy, the positives of these changes far outweigh the negatives.
The game begins with protagonist Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum embarking on a roadtrip to wed his betrothed Lady Lunafreya. Tragedy soon strikes, with the Prince’s father King Regis reported dead after an attack on Insomnia, the capital city of Lucis by the empire of Niflheim. Uncertainty and chaos reign as both Noctis and Lunafreya are also reported as dead.
What follows is a journey to reclaim the throne of Lucis, fuelled by a thirst for revenge. Noctis is a flawed protagonist, burdened by a lack of confidence. His story is as much about growing into his Princely obligations as it is about procuring the strength to launch a counterattack. Luckily the Prince is able to delegate and rely upon his friends Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto, who accompany him on his travels.
Gladiolus serves as Noctis’ stubborn moral compass, his toughness and charisma never failing to put the Prince into line. Ignis acts as the glue keeping the group together, with a seemingly unflappably cool personality. Prompto serves as the group’s positivity, with a quick wit and a dedication to photographing the journey. Together, this quartet prove to be ideal foils for one another, each in possession of complementary personalities that mesh together perfectly. Quite simply I love these characters, with their banter and heart to heart conversations fleshing them out to establish a ironclad emotional attachment.
The narrative built around these characters to test and temper their bond is both complex and mature. I had a clear understanding of the various cultures and factions that inhabit the world of Eos. The net effect of this is a greater understanding of character motivations, especially where the game’s villain is concerned. The antagonist’s reasons for doing what they do are strongly defined, making for a fascinating character who is unpredictable by their innate nature.
Unusually for a Final Fantasy title, the story that forms around these characters is told in a brisk manner. Cutscenes are short and there is relatively little exposition when compared to past entries in the series. This quicker pace ultimately meant that situations aren’t overly elaborated on, allowing for personal meanings to be explored. There is also a lived-in quality to the world, with character relationships having a sense of unspoken history that predates the journey. It feels refined and allowed me to invest into the story to a greater degree than if everything were explained to the nth degree.
FFXV’s conclusion also deserves to be mentioned. While I obviously have to be vague, the ending offers one of the most satisfying conclusions of any game in recent memory. It is an incredibly fitting and rewarding way to conclude the story, a narratively consistent climax to the emotional journey that preceded it.
While I feel the story alone is worth the price of admission, it is of course not all you'll be doing in FFXV. I very quickly warmed to what is an incredibly fast and fluid combat system that makes the entire experience feel fresh. At the heart of it are standard melee attacks and a dodging ability called phasing, where Noctis passes through enemy attacks. Each is achieved by simply holding a button. Knowing when to spot moments to attack or phase is a careful balancing act.
The most vaunted of Noctis’ abilities is warping, and it's responsible for making combat feel fast. This ability sees the Prince throw his weapon at a distant foe to instantly close the distance and perform a powerful strike. Aside from looking incredibly cool, it is useful for maintaining pressure on weakened enemies and making a quick escape when surrounded. There are also warp points in battle which allow for a temporary reprieve.
Rather uniquely, it’s phase and warp that consume Noctis’s MP bar, with magic changed to a consumable item. Elemancy is the means by which magic is crafted, with rechargeable pools of fire, ice, and lightning magic able to be mixed together into unique concoctions, with other items providing secondary effects like healing or additional power. The options are numerous, and every spell looks stunning when cast.
Not content with simply one sword in his arsenal, Noctis can wield a variety of melee weapons with different playstyles. The standard short sword or daggers are great for striking quickly, while the great sword offers reach and power at the expense of maneuverability, and shields can knock enemies off their feet and provide reliable defense. Armiger, the collectible weapons of the past kings of Lucis, offer even greater power at the cost of health when using them.
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