Full Disclosure: Back when I was younger and played the Final Fantasy games of yore, I had all the time in the world to explore giant open worlds, complete side quests, and grind out levels. As I’ve gotten older, and I’ve much less time on my plate, not only do I not have much time for these things, my patience for them has grown much thinner. Because of this, my capability for enjoyment for open world games such as Final Fantasy XV has reached its lowest point. I shouldn’t like Final Fantasy XV. But I do. Please keep this in mind as you read my review, that any complaints about such things related to the open world come from the mindset of a person with little patience for the things that are staples for the genre, and should be taken with a grain of salt. I hope you enjoy reading this review regardless, as an opinion outside of the norm.
When Final Fantasy XV was announced almost 10 years ago, I was 14, and just starting high school. Over the years, I’ve fawned over every trailer, and screenshot, and my excitement was rather high, but as time went on, through the delays and cancellations, my excitement wavered. I grew worried for what would become of the project I thought may never happen. Years later, as the time grew closer, and I was a few days from getting the game, I couldn’t believe it was actually happening, but I was thrilled to finally play, even though my reservations because of its troubled development cycle still weighed on me. But to my surprise Final Fantasy XV doesn’t feel, or play like a game that’s been in development for as long as it has. In fact, if it was announced a year ago, and released at the same time, I wouldn’t have been any the wiser. It’s a solid game, well worthy of your time. However, it is far from perfect, and my complaints are many, but thinking back, I really enjoyed my time spent traveling Lucis, and every time I wasn’t playing Final Fantasy XV, that’s what I wanted to be doing. So even though I look back and remember all the things that disappointed me most, Final Fantasy XV effected me in a positive way, and instilled in me a desire to play and not stop, and that’s something few games do these days for me. Much less an open world game such as this one.
Final Fantasy XV stars Noctis, crown prince of Lucis, who is joined by his three friends, Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto. Together, they journey to Noctis’ wedding with the oracle, Lunafreya. Lucis has been at war for years, and the wedding comes as a peace offering with the empire of Nilpheim, their enemy, who holds Luna prisoner. Early in the game however, things go south, and Noctis and his companions redirect their goals to a journey to do…something?
Yes, this here lies Final Fantasy XV’s biggest problem. Without buttering anything up, the story is told horribly. I could argue that maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention, or that I just didn’t catch everything, but time and time again, when the story was weaving its most important plot threads, instead of focusing on them, and their importance, they would instead just gloss over them. I only got a vague idea of what I was doing, only when halfway through doing it. That’s not to say that the story is bad. Towards the end, when things started to get going, I was genuinely interested in what was happening to Noctis and his friends, and I began to really care about them. Still, I wish I had a better grasp on the overall story to better understand the gravity of what was going on. It wasn’t even till towards the end of the game when I discovered who the big bad of the game really is. To say that things get a little convoluted is not too far off the mark.
When you’re not doing whatever it is you’re trying to do in the story, you can explore Final Fantasy XV’s massive open world. From the start, the world is filled with several side quests to run, or bounties to tackle. A majority of your traveling can be done by car. You and your friends can choose to drive your car to different towns, or landmarks, all the while listening to previous Final Fantasy soundtracks, along with new songs, or while listening to the guys chat, or comment on the scenery. That or you can just pay a small fee of 10 gil and fast travel there. Once you complete a specific side quest, you can ride chocobos as well, and of course, you can also walk, but given how huge the world is, you are not going to want to try to actually walk across the map. Likely, you’ll do a mixture of all three, and as you travel the world, and time flows, the day turns into night, where it’s so dark you can barely see, and darker, more powerful creatures will attack you. At night time, you can make camp, and have Ignis cook for you. Choosing your meal grants various stat bonuses for use in the next day. This is also where you go to turn in your XP that you’ve made since you last rested. Watching your level shoot up from all the quests you’ve done can be very gratifying.
As far as side quests, I didn’t really have a bad time doing a majority of them, but none of the ones I tried, which admittedly weren’t many as compared to the total amount in the game, were very interesting either. I asked a few friends on a few different occasions if they ran across any side quests that were must play, or that were especially interesting, exciting, or fun, and all of them weren’t able to give me a good answer. Final Fantasy XV commits the sin that a good majority of open world games commit: A multitude of side quests, but none with any real meat. From what I came across, most of the side quests are basic fetch quests, or something equally as simple. The only side quest I thought was really cool, was one that tasks you with tracking down, stalking, and finally killing a giant Behemoth, that has been terrorizing the local chocobos, but this quest only has depth to it because it was originally made as a quest for a demo for the game that was released before the game came out, and a few of the key moments from that mission were stripped out the game for the game’s final release. None of the side quests told any interesting stories, took me through any interesting gameplay moments, or offered anything of substance that made me want to stop playing through the game’s main missions to experience. Once I did enough quests to be able to be strong enough to take on the main missions, (which was more than I wished) I quickly returned to continuing the story. I understand that there are a bunch of cool side bosses that are hidden in the game including a battle with a giant monster that likely would have been more exciting than the behemoth fight, but I wasn’t willing to toil through the all the other side quests to try to find them, and I didn’t want to have to resort to using a guide, since none of the side quests specified which ones lead to these encounters. Again, maybe I did miss something cool due to my general lack of interest, but frankly, I would prefer these large open world games make less side quests, that instead have more substance. I don’t have time to deal with the boring to experience the good.
On top of side quests, you can also access bounties by talking to the owners of restaurants. Similarly to the regular side quests, these lack much depth, and are just simple “Go here. Fight x amount of enemies” quests. What makes that worse is that bounties are the only way to make money in the game, meaning if you’re not doing them regularly, you’re not going to be able to buy the recovery items, or stronger weapons you desperately need for the tough battles in the game. It makes sense, since bounties are actual jobs, but it would have been nice to have gotten a small amount of money for each of the side quests, or even the story missions I did.
About halfway through the game, the game switches gears, and Noctis and crew leave the open world area that you’ve spent the majority of the game traveling. Here the game switches to a more linear form of story telling. This was Square Enix’s attempt at making a seamless cinematic storytelling experience. However, the delivery is hit or miss. This section of the game contains some of the game’s best moments, with epic set pieces, insane boss fights, gripping character interactions, and cool story twists. However, in light of games in the past few years that have done cinematic story telling successfully, Final Fantasy XV is somewhat lacking in some moments, and this would occasionally take me out of the experience. For example, there’s one moment in the game where everything is coming crumbling down around Noctis. Noctis is told to take a leap of faith and jump off of a nearby ledge. I held the run button and made for the ledge, and when I reached it, I instinctively pressed the jump button. However, instead of bravely jumping into the unknown, Noctis just jumped into an invisible wall, something the game is full of. The action button appeared on the screen, and I pressed it to jump again, but again, he jumped in place. The game wanted me to sit and wait a second after the action prompt appears to press it. Noctis finally jumped, and the resulting scene was cool, but the immersion I could have felt if my first jump worked, or if the game took over and did the jump for me, like so many games these days do, was completely lost.
This is actually a constant annoyance throughout the game, though not for the same reason. When you walk up to a door, try to crawl through a hole, or shimmy through a crevice, or any other manner of action, an action prompt appears. However, you are required to pause a moment before pressing the button, or Noctis jumps in place, something I often instinctively failed at doing. I imagine this was put in the game to keep you from accidentally performing unwanted actions mid battle, but I felt it annoyed me much more than it helped me. A minor annoyance, sure, but an annoyance, and a constant one, all the same.
I can’t talk about the second half of the game though, without mentioning ch. 13. This is easily the worst chapter in the game, and it is also the longest. The game strips you of your weapon, and your party members, and forces you to mostly hide from the enemies you encounter. Your only method of attack is annoyingly slow, and tedious, and since the stealth mechanics in this section are wildly underdeveloped, you’ll often be caught and forced to engage in these mundane battles. And again, this is made worse because the chapter felt like it went on forever. It is as if the developers wanted to make a game in a completely different genre here, but because it’s only for one chapter, were not able to successfully implement any of the new mechanics at all. It’s baffling to me that after so many years of development, that nobody was able to figure out that this chapter was a flop. That it wasn’t heavily remixed, or even entirely scrapped, will forever be a mystery to me.
I may have seemed pretty negative so far at this point in the review, but remember, I still really liked it. Final Fantasy XV is primarily, a very fun game to play, and for me, that’s probably mostly due to the combat. In this game, you can switch between several main weapons, including swords, guns, daggers, and lances. To attack, you simply hold the attack button, and push and hold the stick in one of three directions to add variations to your combos. When you need to parry, a button prompt will appear, and you must hold that button until the attack is parried, and then counter with the attack button. if you attack an enemy from behind, you get an attack bonus. If you do that near a party member, you’ll get a link strike, and the two of you will do a flashy, more powerful attack. Press the warp button, and you can warp to specific landmarks to refill your mana and catch your breath, or use it to warp attack enemies, and get an attack bonus. On top of that, you can also command your party members to do their own special attacks, that you can follow up with your own. The battle system is simple, yet deep, especially when you find yourself juggling resources, and watching your party’s health and status. This is where the game felt more like games in the previous entries in this series, where strategy is a bigger deal, although it never became as deeply involved as most of those. However, other action games have provided a more seamless combat experience. Some weapons feel less useful, even if the enemy you are fighting is weak to it, only because some weapons allow you to switch between parrying and blocking more easily than others. I found myself gravitating towards those weapons, and because of this, I feel like I used the sword type of weapons throughout the majority of the game. Still though, the combat never stopped being fun regardless, and so it was a favorite feature of mine.
Final Fantasy XV is plagued with a multitude of issues, yet I can’t help but feel like I can easily recommend it to almost anyone. The combat is fun, the set pieces can be awesome, and the story, while confusing, can be gripping too. Even when I didn’t know what was going on, I still wanted to know what would happen next. On top of that, while I’ve liked other Final Fantasy characters more, I found myself caring about what happens to Noctis, Ignis, Gladiolus, and Prompto throughout their journey, especially at the very end of it. Anytime I’ve been stopped and asked what I think of Final Fantasy XV, I’ve always easily stated that it’s fantastic, without going into my issues, because to a majority of players, these issues were my own, and likely won’t effect the average gamer. At least not to the extent that they effected me. I was worried about this game, but that was a mistake. Final Fantasy XV is very different, but it’s still a great experience. Whether you love Final Fantasy, or have never played one in your life, I definitely recommend you give Final Fantasy XV a shot!