A Final Fantasy for Long Time Fans and for First Timers
I am a hardcore Final Fantasy fan. I won't hide the fact that this is my favorite RPG series to ever be made. However the quality of the games has consistently decreased since the release of Final Fantasy X on the PS2. Final Fantasy XII struggled with a boring story and very few characters I cared about. Final Fantasy XIII suffered from a very linear story that didn't open up until very late into the game. The characters were a little bit better but the story still suffered mightily. Here we are now at Final Fantasy XV and while the story isn't anything amazing, its gameplay and character development is some of the best from the franchise is what feels like a very long time.
This is where Final Fantasy XV shines. The battle system is fantastic and is just a blast. Even when I was grinding doing side quests and hunting monsters, it never felt boring. I was always excited to fight whatever came next and rarely ran from fights unless I was under leveled. The AI of your three partners and any other guest characters that join you don't sit around and dawdle and be ineffective. I never felt like it was me against the enemy and my partners which goes a long way to making the battle system fun. The days of Turn Based combat may be over but the inclusion of a Wait mode helps to plan your moves for those that want more a turn based feel to the battle system. However, I enjoyed the Active Battle system much more. While there aren't a ton of weapon options, there are some pretty cool weapons that only Noctis, the main character, can wield that are powerful at the cost of draining your health with every attack. Noctis also has a great mechanic that only he can do which is warping. By warping, you can pick a spot to go to during a fight to recharge your health and magic points as well as gain a tactical advantage. Noctis gains an attack bonus based on his weapon and how far from his target he is when he uses a warp strike. Some of the enemies are strong and weak to different weapons, reminding me of Final Fantasy X where you would change your party to properly fight the enemies you encounter. Instead of changing characters, you are now changing weapons on the fly to best match the enemy you encounter. Magic is an interesting aspect to the battle system where it is treated more like grenades. You craft your own spells using up to three different elements in fire, ice and lightning magic with the option to add an item to change the other effects of the spells you create. This system feels like a mix of the draw system from Final Fantasy 8 with the Mix ability from previous games. There are a few nods to previous Final Fantasy titles throughout this game. In the weapons department this is seen with Prompto's Machinery weapons which are all named after the Tools that Edgar uses in Final Fantasy 6. My favorite little nod is an endgame mission name that anyone who has played Final Fantasy 6 will absolutely love. Travelling is also done in a few ways. The main form of transportation is the Regalia, the royal car used by Noctis and his friends. You can let Ignis drive for you, drive the car yourself or use a fast travel feature through the car. The world is massive so I found myself using the fast travel feature a lot once the dialogue started becoming really repetitive. There are a ton of customization options for the Regalia and the best feature of the car is the ability to listen to old Final Fantasy OSTs while driving around. As far as missions and side quests go, there are a lot of different options as the game is very open in the beginning. I found myself 40 hours in by the end of chapter 3 with a party near level 38. The main game is a bit short but there is so much content in terms of side quests, hunting monsters and taking down Imperial bases that I still have more to do in the post game.
This game is really pretty. The various landscapes from dessert to marsh to volcano feel alive and look amazing. While I used fast travel a lot near the end of my playthrough, I still enjoyed the time spent driving around the world looking at all of the scenery. The monster's designs are all really interesting and at times can be a bit creepy. There is a post game hunt that was teased in the trailers that is one of the largest enemies seen on screen in any game I've played. The summons are very interesting in how they play within the story but in terms of design and graphics, they are a marvel to look at. There are two encounters with the summons that really blew my mind and had me on the edge of my seat. The game does have some issues with long loading between chapters which isn't a surprise with how large and graphically invested this game is but I had the luxury of playing on the PS4 where I could put the system into rest mode and pick up where I left off at any moment. There is only problems loading up areas when you finally get the airship which isn't until the post game. When flying around the world it is possible to move so fast and high up that the game will try its best to load everything but it is nothing that stopped me from enjoying the game.
The main staple of a Final Fantasy title outside of being an RPG has been its story. Games like Final Fantasy 4, 6, 7, 9 and 10 all had amazing stories and characters. Final Fantasy 15's story is nowhere near the level of classic Final Fantasy stories but it also isn't as convoluted and boring as some of the other entries in the franchise. It is an acceptable story that is quite short but gives us a villain that is one of my favorites in a long time. The villain of this game is in the top tier list with such classic villains like Kefka and Sephiroth. There are a few moments in the story where the game succeeded in creating an emotion within me whether it be anger, shock, sadness or joy. At no time did the story bore me and the ending is one of the better endings at least in recent memory and was worth every moment to get there.
Where Final Fantasy 15 falters in its story a bit, the character development is where this game shines outside of its battle system. Four dudes go on a road trip seems like it would be ripe with jokes and it was for awhile. I didn't think I would care too much about the partner characters but the opposite happened. Whether it be Ignis, the caretaker of the group, Gladious, the bodyguard of the group, or Prompto, the youth of the group, I came to care about what happened to each of them as their limits were pushed and their struggles against the Empire. It could be a little annoying when Prompto would ask to pull over to take a photo of a famous landmark with the group to remember their journey but in our society this is exactly what we do. We take so many photos on our trips so why should video game characters be any different if they are a bit of a reflection on us. Gladious is the serious member of the bunch since he is the one who has to keep the party safe. Ignis being the caretaker can be somewhat overbearing but I came to care about his character throughout the story. There are a lot of changes that these characters go through during the course of the main story that shapes who they are and influences your opinion and empathy with them. The villain, as previously mentioned, also goes through a very interesting development that drew me in even further into the story.
The original soundtrack is pretty good. There aren't many new tracks that will be as remembered as fondly as something like the OSTs of Final Fantasy 6, 7 or 9. However, the best feature of the car is being able to listen to those soundtracks while driving around. There is also an item you can buy that allows you to listen to those tracks while running around the map but not in battle. Notable tracks include "Braver" which was composed by Afrojack for the game that is a fun EDM track with a bit of the Chocobo Theme thrown in for good measure. Some of the more heartfelt scenes are accompanied by some beautiful piano work as well. The sound design though was really good with a lot of the big action scenes having some really distinct and unique sound work done.
There is a good deal of post game stuff depending on how you play this game. You can always return to certain sections to continue finishing side quests or hunts you didn't finish on your first playthrough. I am the type of player who will do as many side quests as I can before advancing the main story so for me the post game was a bit more limited. However, each dungeon you complete in the game has a second section that is locked until the post game which encourage revisiting them for some hard fights and great treasure. There is also a hidden dungeon that, without spoiling anything, is one of the most unique and challenging dungeons in any RPG. It seriously can be a pain but is a demonstration of some of the best dungeon design to be offered. A recent patch also included a new game plus option but as of this review I have not started a new playthrough or a NG+ playthrough yet.
The story is probably the biggest con this game has going for it. There are parts of the story that feel shoed in or just don't make any sense to the player that hasn't seen the accompanying anime or movie that Square Enix made to build hype for the game. As amazing as the main villain is, their back story can be completely missed if the player isn't paying attention and going out of the way to read material located in key locations. Gameplay wise the biggest con is the lack of outfits for Noctis and the crew to wear and the equipment list really isn't that big as compared to other Final Fantasy games. Gil can be a bit hard to come by as well if you don't take the time to do hunts which pay well but some items shouldn't be sold as they can make some of the best magic in the game. The summons are really cool but you can't rely on them to help you much in battle purposes as well. Chapter 13 is also a huge mess but they are working on patching the game to make Chapter 13 less grueling.
Is it worth it?
Simply yes. This game is worth it in my opinion as a great entry point to new Final Fantasy players and veterans alike. While the story is weak, the characters are fantastic and the battle system is a blast. Dungeons are unique as well and there is plenty of post game content to keep you satisfied once you are done with the main quest. There are also four DLC episodes planned as well as future support for other events that will not be included in this review, should be a lot of fun and I am looking forward to them. 2016 will be looked back as the year that the JRPGs came out hyped and while some fell flat (Star Ocean 5 I'm looking right at you), Final Fantasy 15 was able to shine. While 2017 looks very promising (Persona 5, Dragon Quest XI, maybe a first look at the new Final Fantasy VII remake?) Final Fantasy 15 will keep you entertained and satisfied until they come out and is easily the best offer in this series since 10 on the PS2.