Review: Final Fantasy XV
“FINAL FANTASY XV” IS THE EMPTY SHELL VERSION OF A BRILLIANT IDEA.
The franchise that will probably live on until the end of days has had its ups and downs throughout the years. Opinions are always subjective, and a diehard fan’s opinion will always differ from a first-time player’s.
Coming from me, I went into “Final Fantasy XV” as a first-time player of the franchise. My experience with Final Fantasy games has always come secondhand, usually from watching my brother defeat Sephiroth in “Final Fantasy VII” and watching streamers on Twitch play through the other games. Yes, I have played parts of the franchise and have definitely experienced the classic turn-based combat system made famous in Final Fantasy. But it’s easy to not call me an expert.
However, I do not need to be an expert to see “Final Fantasy XV” doesn’t hit the same marks as previous installments in the series. To give it to you quickly: The game is the embodiment of an artist’s nightmare. What I mean by that is it’s the empty shell version of a brilliant idea.
Whenever an artist gets a new idea, it’s the greatest thing ever in their mind. After the pain and suffering an artist goes through to turn that idea into a reality, the final product is usually something completely different. It might be great but never matches the initial brilliant potential it had in the artist’s mind.
“Final Fantasy XV” will take 30-35 hours to complete during a casual playthrough, but after completion, it’s easy to recognize all of the empty space that should’ve supplied more hours of gameplay. From the gaping plot holes to the inconsistent character development to the questionable direction and to the new combat system; “Final Fantasy XV” falls in the same category as “Metal Gear Solid V.”
Meaning… What could’ve been the greatest game ever made wasn’t even finished.
GRAPHICS – 5
Top notch… especially the food and weapons.
Many critics have already stated their displeasure with how a good chunk of the game’s first half is spent traveling around in a car. However, many of those critics don’t care to take into account the fact that traveling through an open world is a part of most, if not all, Final Fantasy titles. The worlds of Final Fantasy are vast, holding many secrets and many locations, and the only way to find each one is usually through the use of a land and/or air vehicle or a Chocobo.
“Final Fantasy XV” gives you the choice of either traveling around Eos, the planet, manually or automatically in the shiny and pristine Regalia, with an option to drive off-road if you want. Taking the automatic route may be a little boring if you only watch Noctis and his friends sit and talk about absolutely nothing. But looking away from the characters and out into the world of Eos allows the player to take in all the hard work of the game’s designers and artists.
The world is beautiful, lush, and intriguing and populated by a plethora of eccentric creatures of all shapes and sizes, creating an immersion factor that’s tough to compete with. It’s an organic world that continues to live and breath with every nightfall, sunrise, rainstorm, and fog cloud. Barreling through a dense forest while riding on the back of a Chocobo during sunset is a striking experience, and then breaking out of the forest into an open plain with vistas of mountain ranges, herds of fantastic creatures, small towns, deserted cities, and alien-like monuments silhouetted against the setting sun sets the bar pretty high for Square Enix’s competitors.
With the exception of most NPC characters, which look as if they were given the bare minimum of detail, all of the character models are diverse and splendid, giving each a strong personality before they open their mouths. After they open their mouths is a different story that’ll be talked about later in this review, but for now, I cannot give enough praise to the design team and the graphic artists for the world they created.
Regardless of how the game’s overall experience turned out, the game looks beautiful in every way, all the way down to the brooding dungeons and the minuscule scratches on the Regalia’s gleaming rims.
GAMEPLAY (Mechanics, Style, & Difficulties) – 3
The game is cut into two halves. The first sets the player outside of the city of Insomnia, and the player is set free to roam and do whatever they want. For special items and experience points, the player can take on side quests and monster hunts, some of which can only be attempted at nighttime — when the real baddies come out.
Each character has a unique skill that can be leveled up as you explore the world. For example, the character Ignis is proficient in cooking, so every time the team stops to rest, he cooks them a meal and gains experience points towards his skill. The same goes for Noctis, who is fond of fishing. There are several fishing spots throughout the world where the player can participate in a fishing mini-game.
The first half of the game allows the player to mold their experience with lots to do and many hours needed to complete. Once all of it is done or once the player has reached high enough level to take on the main quest line, the game moves into the linear second half.
The second half begins when Noctis and his friends sail away from the main continent and cross over the “point of no return.” BUT! The developers added a feature that grants players the ability to return to the first half at any time they wish. This is great if there are any lingering side quests or monster hunts needing to be mopped up. It’s a cool mechanic that doesn’t make much sense when talking about logistics, but it’s nice for the player to know they can return to the open-world after the point of no return.
The gameplay itself is… easy, or at least I found it to be a breeze, despite the camera system being frustratingly wonky at the wrong times. The only time I found the game a bit difficult is when I attempted a quest that was ten levels higher than my current experience, but I still completed it. With “Normal” and “Easy” as the only difficulty selections, if you do a bunch, not all, of the side quests, you’ll gain enough experience that’ll carry you through the rest of the game.
And where the ease of the game really comes into play is during combat. Noctis has the power of kings, which allows him to warp around and wield a wide range of weapons at once. The player can switch from a huge claymore, to slicin-n-dicin daggers or to a crossbow in a matter of seconds, creating combos that look and feel exceptional but aren’t necessary to be successful.
Magic, which has been a staple in the Final Fantasy franchise, returns in the 15th installment in an interesting way, where the player must farm the materials to actually create fire, ice, thunder, or a combination of the three. It can be used to imbue certain items and weapons to give them an extra edge or it can be used as a grenade to damage enemies. Using magic as an attack is a great way to take advantage of an enemy, although the magic’s area-of-effect also damages your party members, making it more obsolete than needed. With that said, magic isn’t required to be successful.
Noctis’s warp skill does allow for some pretty cool attacks and extra damage, but it isn’t required to be successful. The same goes for the other party members, who have their own special attacks called techniques. The player can activate these once a special bar is filled, and while the techniques do insane amounts damage and can heal the entire party… they are not required to be successful.
With smart tactics, timed counters, and patience, most of the game can be beaten with one weapon while holding the “O” button. And to make things even easier, when the player enters the third act of the game, Noctis receives a little item called the “Ring of Lucii.” This little ring takes the easy difficulty to another level. It has three abilities. The first drains an enemy’s health and gives it to Noctis. The second creates a vortex that sucks away any enemy in its vicinity, even if they have a full bar of health. The last is a counterattack that, when timed correctly, can kill enemies with one blow.
I get that the power of Lucii is beyond mighty and only the Chosen King can wield it, but using it so freely in the game, particularly in the lacking final dungeon where you face one weak enemy at a time, turns the game into a bore. This is also apparent during the so-called “final battle” when the Ring of Lucii can be used to clear out all of the gigantic and formidable in a matter of seconds. It’s cool to watch, sure, but is that really how an “epic” game should end?
It does say “A Final Fantasy for First-timers and Fans” at the title screen, but that doesn’t mean the player has to be babied along. Easy mode should definitely be for first-timers, but Normal mode should be a more difficult mode for the true fans and avid gamers. It’s way too easy for a gamer of my caliber (not bragging. I’m just saying I’ve played many, many video games).
With all of that said and despite the overly comfortable difficulty, I still had fun with mechanics and the combat. A battle can be won in many diverse ways, and I made sure to take a different route with each one. One battle I might’ve used a lot of magic and the next I used Noctis’s warp power to gain extra damage and have a more aesthetically pleasing experience. The choice to take the easy route is there, but it’s really up to the player to mold their own experience out of all the opportunities that present themselves. And to me, that says a lot about what this game “could” have been.
All in all, the combat style and mechanics of the game are pioneering and brilliant at times, but it’s the lack of difficulty and the simple combat methods that drag it down. It’s as if this system wasn’t completed because of financial and time issues, leaving behind the shell of something much greater.
STORY & SIDE QUESTS – 1.5
A quick note about the side quests: there are plenty of them that will give you hours of entertainment and intense battles, but in the end, they are only good for obtaining some cool items/weapons and gaining loads of experience. There’s really nothing wrong with that. I just prefer side quests that add a little more substance to a game and its universe.
What I really want to talk about is… the story…
I’m all for companies, developers, artists, and just about anybody trying to use multiple artistic mediums to tell one complete story. It worked for Star Wars’s “Shadows of the Empire” (that’s sadly no longer canon), which used a novel, comic book, and video game to tell its entire story. But attempting to tell a story in that way presents a lot of challenges, the hardest of which is making sure each piece of the puzzle can stand on its own.
“Final Fantasy XV” falls flat on its face in that department. If a player picks up the video game without watching “Brotherhood,” the prequel anime, or “Kingsglaive,” the prequel animated movie, then they will have a VERY HARD TIME UNDERSTANDING WHAT IS GOING ON.
AND! If they happen to watch all of the prequel material, they will STILL HAVE A VERY HARD TIME UNDERSTANDING WHAT IS GOING ON!
Let’s backtrack a bit.
Here’s the brief synopsis of the story: Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum is the Chosen King who will one day be called upon by a magical crystal to rid the world of darkness. He embarks on a trip with his pals to the city of Altissia, where he is to wed Lunafreya, the oracle destined to guide the Chosen King. But when the Imperial army of Nifelheim kills his father, the king, and destroy Noctis’s home city, his responsibilities as the Chosen King come sooner than he desires. Noctis now must get to Lunafreya, who is in possession of the Ring of Lucii, the very item that will allow Noctis to fulfill his destiny as the Chosen King, dispel the darkness, and save the world by sacrificing his life.
Final Fantasy stories are almost always complicated, supernatural, and drawn-out, so that’s not what I’m complaining about here. What I am complaining about is the presentation of the plot.
Plain and simple, it’s unfinished. In no way is what’s given as a story in “Final Fantasy XV” was supposed to be the finished product. That’s not a guess or a hunch. Playing through the game proves it to be an all-out fact that will disappoint the player in the end. It’s offensive to see the plot reach the break into Act Two, when the Imperial army commits its evil deed, and all that’s shown is a pitiful montage compiled of footage from “Kingsglaive” that doesn’t fully explain why Noctis’s father is killed and the city is destroyed.
This artistic choice is not friendly to any players who could only afford one piece of the puzzle. If the game was a fulfilling experience on its own and the prequel material and DLC are for players to gain a little extra insight into the universe and its characters, then the “Final Fantasy XV” puzzle could’ve been one of the greatest things ever created.
It’s not, and it’s especially apparent when several plot points and key moments of character development are conveyed through text during loadings screens. That’s when you know there was a more elaborate experience being developed before the time and money ran out.
I’ve seen it happen in lots of games recently, and what I hate even more is when DLC must be released to “finish” the game. DLC should not finish anything. It should add to the experience. The consumer should not be forced to pay exuberant amounts of money for additives to fill empty spaces that were blatantly left behind.
“Final Fantasy XV’s” DLC falls into the same category. Without the events that occur in the DLC’s “Episodes,” the main game is left with empty voids enveloped around three of its main characters. For example, during the battle of Altissia, Ignis somehow loses his eyesight. It’s obvious he made a sacrifice to save Noctis, but what happened is never fully explained in the main game. The third chapter of “Episode Ignis” final sheds light on the event, filling a major gap in the story.
If in the main game Ignis explained what had happened in an exceptional monologue with some flashbacks and then the DLC allowed the player to live through his story, that would’ve been a better way to handle it. But no… the story brushes Ignis’s efforts under the rug and the player gets negligence entitled, “Don’t Worry About It Right Now” in its place. The same goes for moments with Gladiolus and Prompto, forcing the player to buy the DLC, which is an extra $25, to fully understand something they’ve already dropped $60 for. Maybe the developers originally intended for the DLC to be a part of the main game, because there are times in other Final Fantasy titles where the player must take control of a supporting character, but it’s too late to mend that mistake.
CHARACTERS & VOICE ACTING – 2.5
I have a love/hate relationship with this category.
I’ll say this outright, though. In spite of what many people think, the voice acting is incredible. What Darin De Paul did with Ardyn, the antagonist, and Ray Chase did with Noctis surprisingly kept me engaged at the game’s weakest times. Even though I might’ve been lost or a little confused about what was going on, the voice acting was always there to re-immerse me, especially during the one-on-one scenes Noctis has with each of his friends.
Voice actors generally have no say about the script or decide the direction of the characters. All they can do is bring a developed character to life with their voices and personalities, so they cannot be blamed if their characters come off as “bland.” They are just written poorly.
With the exception of Noctis’s relationships with his friends, the character development, choices, motivations, and personalities are so inconsistent with each other that it’s tough to take anything seriously. The epitome of which occurs right in the beginning. Prince Noctis learns his father has been killed and his city has been destroyed, rendering him upset for one scene. Then, once the cutscene finishes, the player returns to the freedom of the open world and Noctis returns to his private, shy, quiet self who just rides around with his friends, kills monsters and takes pictures.
Even when the player chooses to immediately continue with the main quest, Noctis and his friends act as if what happened is insignificant, depicting them as passive characters. Seriously, Noctis walks around moping, not wanting to be king, yet he still searches for the weapons of past kings and the Astral summons because “someone told him to do it.” And then there are GREAT scenes where Noctis has emotional breakdowns and admits his fear of responsibility, yet when the cutscene ends, what happens? Noctis returns to his private, shy, quiet self who loves to fish and eat popsicles during sunsets.
Man: “Hey Noctis! You need the power of all six Astral summons in order to defeat the darkness.”
The characters and their actions are so disjointed with the events occurring in the story that it’s downright confusing. Noctis claims he has a dying need to get to Lunafreya, yet that motivation quickly dwindles when he decides to fish at a lake for hours instead of fighting to find his so-called “beloved.” Then there are the scenes where the main characters repeatedly and obliviously decide to follow the Chancellor of the Imperial Army, the very man that killed Noctis’s father, into an obvious trap… but there’s no need for me to explain any further. The story and motivations are bad.
Having the freedom of an open world is wonderful for “Final Fantasy XV’s” gameplay, but it hurts the story and its characters because the focus is never right in the player’s mind and in the minds of the characters.
MUSIC – 5
Yoko Shimomura composed the music for “Kingdom Hearts.”
The music in this game is brilliant. It’s amazing. It saves many terrible parts of this game. It does its job.
No need to expand on it. Let’s move on. Bravo, Yoko. Bravo.
BUGS & GLITCHES – 3.5
There weren’t too many bugs, but there were a few.
Most occurred during combat when character models kept clipping through each other because of the chaos shambling around. Another glitch is sometimes warp-strikes were obvious hits yet no damage was taken. Nothing too major, and definitely not enough to deduct a lot of points.
Though, there were a few occurrences when character models didn’t load correctly in cutscenes and would appear in awkward positions for a few seconds before righting themselves. Other times characters would be frozen in mid-air until someone walked past them and they’d reset into their correct position.
The biggest occurred when I finished “Episode Prompto” and Prompto’s character model remained suspended in mid-air while his snowmobile is on the ground and the credits are rolling.
That’s the most blatant of bugs. Other than that, it was smooth sailing from beginning to end.
DLC – 3.5
As I said before, DLC should add to the experience, not finish it. Sadly, that’s just the nature of DLC/Expansions nowadays and it probably will not be changing soon.
The DLC for “Final Fantasy XV” had the potential to only add to the experience if the main game wasn’t riddled with so many holes. But in this case, it fills in some of those holes by answering many questions and rendering the mess of a game into a more completed mess.
Still, a $25 price is reasonable for the content. With each “Episode” being short and sweet, they’ll keep you invested for a few hours as they strap you into three action-packed thrill rides. You’ll never claim you wasted your money or felt ripped-off. Only during “Episode Prompto” did I feel a little cheated for my money, but the episode shed light on Prompto’s character arc, which was missing from the main game, so it wasn’t a rip-off in the end.
Overall, the DLC/Season Pass is worth the money. Now that the main game has decreased significantly in price, purchasing everything, including the anime and animated feature, will run you between $60-70… and that includes the surprisingly decent multiplayer expansion.
Here are the scores:
Episode Gladiolus – 4
Episode Ignis – 4
Episode Prompto – 2
Multiplayer Expansion: Comrades – 3 (so far)
Haven’t been able to play too much of “Comrades” as of right now. So far, it’s an interesting concept that is very fun to play, including being able to create your own member of the Kingsglaive. However, it has the potential to become very repetitive and boring without friends. I’m hoping the solo missions continue to be engaging and that the party missions become more than “hunt this” and “defend that”.
If they don’t, the expansion still sets you up for a few hours of fun.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE – 3.5
In spite of the problems that riddle this game into a disappointment… I had fun. Side quests can be completed, several items and weapons and treasures can be discovered, and many upon many places can be explored in the first half of the game, making it very tough not to be slightly entertained, at least.
During the few compelling scenes and the awesome main quest battles, especially against a couple of the Astral summons, your heart strings will be pulled and your entertainment bone will be tickled. You won’t be able to stop feeling a sense of satisfaction after taking down formidable foes and while watching the world live and breathe around you. And even though the final fight is kind of cheesy and stupid, there’s still a sense of accomplishment after defeating the main antagonist.
The game is fun and has many high points, but not enough to reach the heights it was once meant to reach.
REPLAY VALUE – 2
I’ll keep playing “Comrades” until it runs its course.
As for the main game, I do want to complete all of the side quests and dungeons at some point, but I have no interest in replaying the main-quest line. The plot holes and inconsistent characters and their actions are too painful for me to experience again.
Also, special timed events occur every few months, which grant the player access to new weapons and attires. I definitely will be checking those out as they are released over the next few months.
Make sure to check me out on Twitch at twitch.tv/brunhofer as I play the next game up for review!
- Gameplay (Mechanics, Style, & Difficulty)
- Story & Side Quests
- Characters & Voice Acting
- Bugs & Glitches
- Entertainment Value
- Replay Value
"Final Fantasy XV" had the formula to be one of the greatest games ever made. Sadly, the formula was dissolved down to a simple, disappointing recipe with some promising ingredients. Enjoy the fluidity and diversity of the combat and enjoy the brilliant moments of voice acting and the very few compelling scenes. Once those have done their jobs, you’ll be left with an unfinished mess that’s confused about its own existence.
You’ll need to watch an anime, an animated feature, and play through three DLC “Episodes” to save yourself from some confusion, but it won’t rid you of it all. Multiple questions will be raised, leading you to Wikipedia many times, and your eyes will roll often until Noctis whispers, “Thank you” and the credits roll.
Yet despite all of its faults, the game is fun and the multiplayer expansion lengthens its shelf life. The special community events and updates do give hope for the future, but right now "Final Fantasy XV" will leave you treading water instead of surfing the waves.