Final Fantasy XV (FFXV) is the latest entry in the seminal RPG series that is a mainstay of Square-Enix (SE). In it you play the role of Noctis; a prince on his way to his royal wedding accompanied by his retainers. This is the first game in the main series to truly cross into being an action RPG, and SE bills it as “A Final Fantasy for Fans and First Timers”.
This distinction may be great for first timers, but is a bit of a mixed bag for fans. There’s a bit of something for everyone, and a lot of small details they get right, but the gameplay itself is a major barrier to enjoying the game; all in all it has the fundamental problem of lacking challenge.
It’s easy to believe early on that the combat system is just entirely broken and unbalanced, but through careful observation you learn that most of these design decisions were made deliberately, presumably in order to appeal to a younger generation. The down side is a game with between long invincibility frames for moves that regenerate in seconds, the ability to raise yourself from the dead, and a number of dominant strategies (cheap, plentiful items) you learn early, you get a combat system entirely devoid of risk. Losing never being a serious concern except in the most dire situations where you are both extremely careless and extremely under-prepared; you have to go out of your way to get there.
The combat system however is not the only measure of this game. What it lacks in challenge, FFXV makes up for with excellent world building, great characterization, and attention to detail unlike almost any other game in history. The game starts in an open world segment, as you and your retainers roam around the map on a road-trip, advancing the story at your leisure. This road trip is one of the better aspects, as it appropriately captures the feel and tone of an American road trip across the mid-west with frequent stops (both intended and unintended), exploring random discoveries, and taking photo opportunities at unique landmarks.
Almost all of the main characters have complex personalities, deep motivations, and lots of dialogue throughout the course of their adventure. This leads into a main plot that is fairly well fleshed out with no notable plot holes that I discovered and strong consistency. If narrative is your primary reason for enjoying Final Fantasy, this is among the best.
The narrative does have its flaws though. One major flaw is that much of the prequel/sidequel material for the game is not optional. The anime series Brotherhood, and the prequel movie Kingsglaive cover major parts of the story that are not told in the game itself. This is a major downside if you don’t wish to invest the $20 or so to buy the supplemental material, because it does leave you with a flawed perception of the story otherwise.
The other major flaw is the entirety of chapter 13 which breaks the pacing of the game. This chapter involves a shift in tone to what would best be described as a “bad resident evil”. It lasts entirely too long (hours), and is an absolute slog to get through. To their credit, SE has recognized this major flaw and committed to improving chapter 13 with further updates.
As a whole, FFXV is a game that is well worth playing. It’s excellent in so many ways, but has a few rough edges that significantly tarnish the game. It’s difficult to unanimously sing praises for, but it’s still a worthy entry in the Final Fantasy series.