Final Fantasy XV

It took ten years to make and went through many changes, but the end result is something truly special. 

By Urian Brown December 14, 2016

I remember when this game was announced ten years ago. News of it crossed my ears in a middle school orchestra class from friends who were raving about the new Kingdom Hearts game that just came out (Kingdom Hearts 2). Of course, back then, it was announced as Final Fantasy XIII: Versus, alongside two other Final Fantasy XIII games. Well, I can finally say my collection of these games is complete—one game became Type-0 and the other...Final Fantasy XV! And I can also proudly say that, despite the ups and downs, the game was worth the wait.

I’ve played every single numbered Final Fantasy game (except for X and XI) as well as many of the spin-off titles. This game captures the spirit of many of those in a multitude of ways. But it also introduces some new concepts, one of which is the new battle system. The turn-based battle system is gone—replaced with a new, continuous action system and “wait mode” system. I can’t really comment on the wait mode battle system since I didn’t use it, nor did I find it necessary, but the battle system of this game is new and fresh. It's essentially real time, even allowing you to switch your weapons and accessories out mid-combat to adapt to new situations. Another new concept that defies tradition is how experience points are handled. You amass a bulk of exp over the course of a “day” in-game and camp out for some stat boosts or stay in a hotel for a boost in exp points. In other words, you don't automatically level up as you adventure, you have to rest to cash in your experience points. 

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The only problem with the battle system I had was how magic is used. You craft your own spells and put them in flasks that you collect over the course of the game. This part is fine, but friendly and self-fire seem inevitable. They are meant to be used as “nukes,” as a friend described it to me. You are supposed to use it from a distance to end a battle quickly. But it's seemingly impossible to not light one of your AI-controlled companions on fire. That being said, I don't regret accidentally setting Prompto on fire and listening to him scream in pain about how much it hurts. 

The gameplay itself isn’t really difficult. There are two settings, ”normal” and “easy.” I played normal and only got the game over screen once. I don’t think the game is intended to be difficult, but I hope they patch in more difficult gameplay modes later. The Ascension system is similar to the skill tree/sphere of games like X, XII, XIII. You can choose your skills by using an infinite amount of AP gained from doing various tasks. While it seems customizable, there's definitely a limit as to how much you actually can customize. But the battles themselves and your weapons give you a lot of freedom to experiment and create your own style.

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Now, about the story. I’ve already beaten it and am exploring the end-game content…so I will try to keep this as simple as possible. You’ll also want to watch the Brotherhood anime and Kingsglaive movie before playing this game. Your goal in this game is to get your character, Prince Noctis, to Altissia to marry Princess Lunafreya. Helping you are your three friends—Gladiolus, Prompto and Ignis. Noctis, as the prince, has special magic that allows him to use and switch out multiple weapons in combat. Gladiolus is the tank, using broadswords and shields for combat. Ignis is a dual knife user and sometimes uses a spear. Prompto uses a gun and something called “machines,” which look like heavy artillery boosters. What ends up as a simple road trip to a dock, turns into a crazy adventure! In the open world map, Noctis must fight his way to different locations, taking on hunts and sidequests for money, to find a way to get to Altissia and see Lunafreya again.

All of the characters have their own side skills too. The most important two are Ignis’s cooking for stat boosts and, surprisingly, Prompto’s photography skills. I encourage you to look through the photos he takes and save the ones you like. It’s an important detail in the game that is easily overlooked. Yes, you’ll get some derpy photos at times…but they do serve a purpose. The other skills are Gladiolus’s survival skill, which allows him to sometimes pick up useful items off the ground and Noctis’s fishing. 

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There is stuff to do all over the open-world map outside of the main story. There are ingredient locations, where you can find stuff for Ignis’s cooking. You can go fishing with Noctis for those ingredients too. There are treasure points and hidden treasure items on the ground everywhere. Another major optional component to the game are the royal weapons. These are a set of 13 weapons that Noctis can use. Half of them are story compulsive, but many are optional and hidden in dungeons full of tough enemies. These weapons are powerful but will eat away at your health. There is a way to rectify that and use them without hurting yourself, but it’s something that’s given to you later in the game. You can also, at a certain point, go and take on the imperial bases scattered throughout the map in covert missions. They were fun and had my heart racing at times. But some were just plain tedious. I discovered this feature by accident when my level 45-self raided a level 55 imperial base. I didn’t die, but…I was shaking through most of that fight.

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Summons are back in this game too! And while I’ve been singing the praises of FFXV, I think this is the worst system for summons in a Final Fantasy game yet. All of the summons (by all I mean three really, although there are six Astrals, you can really only use three of them) appear under specific conditions and you get them by beating certain parts of the main story. I never summoned Titan after I got him, so I have no idea how to summon him. I got Ramuh a number of times, though. My understanding is that if a battle goes on for too long, he’ll appear. Leviathan and Bahamut are story mandated uses, as is Shiva most of the time, and Ifrit is…there…somewhere. Summons are nearly pointless outside of the main story, so don’t get too excited about them as you get them. They look cool, though!

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I’d like to address the elephant in the room for this game which is, “is it just a happy bro road trip?” And my answer to that is—no. Halfway through the game, the road trip ends as you are tunneled towards a very specific end point. It’s kind of the opposite of Final Fantasy XIII, which tunneled you (sometimes literally) in the beginning, then opened up in the end. I don’t mind that the story narrowed after a certain point. It makes sense, after all, that Noctis can’t go around picking up rainbow frogs forever. Plus, you get an option to go back in time to the open world map after the game comes to a very definitive end. Unfortunately, this tunnel of an ending is a little too tunneled in my opinion. Everything outside of that tunnel is kind of ignored. Things happen and you, as the player, have no idea what those things are unless you get to very specific points. For example, something happens to one character and if you didn’t listen to the radio on the train at a specific point, you’d never know that happens. Square Enix has already addressed the problems with Chapter 13 and has plans to change it and make it more…well…not the mess that it is.

The villain of the game, Ardyn Izunia, is probably one of the best Final Fantasy villains to date. I’d put him on par with Kefka from Final Fantasy VI in terms of his villain-ness. He follows your character throughout the game, helping you complete specific tasks. He is obviously suspicious from the first moment you meet him at the docks, but Noctis and the gang listen to him anyways, because…I don’t know why, actually. He is clearly suspicious…I guess he was their only lead? I actually ended up liking Ardyn a lot. He was the driving force of the game, to say the least.

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There is end-game content for this game, which isn’t typical of a Final Fantasy game. Your last save point after you defeat the last boss and watch all the credit scenes is a rest area where you can sleep and wake up in the past. You have the options of going back to Altissia and the open-world map. I have yet to go back to Altissia, so I have no idea what you’d do there except for fish and get some rare items and do some more hunts. But the main open-world location is where the action is at. At this point, you'll get the flying car…which caused my only game over when I crashed it. You also have new gear that allows you to take on challenging content. And you have access to that legendary Adamantoise fight…and that thing is literally a mountain! So, while the ending seems finite, there’s still plenty to do after it’s done.

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Final thoughts…I loved this game, even with its ups and downs. The downs would be stuff like Chapter 13, which is a frustrating mess that will make you angry as you try not to die from lack of weapons while monsters rip you apart. But, despite that, I had, and am still having a lot of fun. I'm in the end-game content, and I am still getting my achievements (I ended the game at 83%...but one of my trophies glitched!). The characters are all really fun and the side characters are also amazing. Especially the one slightly-playable female dragoon character. She was seriously cool! If you never played a Final Fantasy game or if you’re on the fence about playing it, I’d say just do it. The story mode doesn’t take that long. I clocked in at 52 hours when I finished the story and that was after doing close to 100 side quests. I know people who beat it much faster. The music and visuals in this game are also beautiful and on-point. The world really comes to life the more you play. It’s easy to get lost in it and fun to explore. Who knows, you might even find some really cool hidden dungeon and get your butt handed to you like I did! 

Hint: Don’t throw out any of the treasure items you get…even if it’s called something like “rusty metal scrap.” These items can lead to some of the most powerful weapons in the game. Also, warp a lot so you can to avoid using elixirs for MP and HP. Aaaand…the exp boosts from the hotels are great, but camping is great too! Plus, there are hidden side quests in certain camping spots. 

by Marlene First