Video games

Final Fantasy XV: Video Game Review

Final Fantasy XV is, technically, not the most recent Final Fantasy Game (that would be VII Remake: Part 1) but it is the most recent mainline little in the series. With the next game, XVI, having been announced, I decided now was a good time to focus my attention on beating XV.

Final Fantasy XV starts as a road trip, and then proceeds to go right to hell – for the characters, not for the story. Prince Noctis, of the Kingdom of Lucis, goes on a road trip with his friends and bodyguards on the way to his wedding. Said bodyguards being burly swordsman Gladiolus, wise-cracking gunslinger Prompto, and studious lancer and glasses-boy Ignis. The wedding being with Lunafreya, the Oracle of the kingdom of Tenebrae, and who Noctis knew as a kid, but who they haven’t seen for years since.

However, first their car breaks down. Then, while they’re waiting for repairs, the neighboring Empire of Niflheim invades Lucis during a peace treaty signing, killing Noctis’ father. This forces Noctis and company to have to change their plans. Now they have to go forth to collect the power of the previous kings of Lucis through their weapons, and making bonds with various Gods (summons) before reclaiming the throne. Through all of this they’re contending with Imperial forces, and the machinations of a mysterious Imperial court advisor, Ardyn Izuna, whose actions (initially, both help and hinder the actions of our heroes).

Where the game at its best through the interplay of your party members and the act of exploring the worlds. To cover the last one first, Final Fantasy, unlike most of XIII, puts the majority of the game in a fairly wide-open world. It’s still not as expansive in scope as the events of the 32-bit Final Fantasy games (VII, VIII, and IX), but it’s as big as you can get without splitting the game between an abstracted overworld and specific points of light in the game world. The player is able to freely explore the environment, with the only main limitations being the party’s level in comparison with monsters in the environment, and some areas being plot-gated early on.

Screen shot of the Final Fantasy XV showing the party driving in their car, the Regalia.

This works well with the road-trip nature of Final Fantasy XV’s story. You’re driving your vehicle – the Regalia (either somewhat directly controlling it or letting Ignis drive while you enjoy the scenery) – through these wide-open spaces, and getting to visually enjoy them, before pulling off to the side of the road to travel cross country to various quest objectives or places you want to explore. To fit with this more modern-inspired setting, the small villages you’d normally find in previous games are replaced with, effectively, truck stops – small little settlements with a gas station, a hotel, and a diner, with a couple of larger settlements throughout the game world.

As you travel, and adventure, rather than gaining experience and leveling spontaneously while adventuring – the game takes a cue from the structure that’s advised in some of the older tabletop RPGs – while you gain XP by slaying monsters and completing quests, you don’t actually level up until you rest at a campsite or inn. Resting at an inn costs you money, but because it’s a more comfortable rest, you get a multiplier for your XP gain. However, on the other hand, if you rest at a campsite, Ignis can prepare a meal using ingredients that you’ve purchased (or picked up from gather points in the environment, by fishing, or by slaying monsters) to make a meal that will provide stat bonuses. You can buy meals from restaurants in town, but they have a smaller selection. That said, the first time you buy a meal from any restaurant, Ignis will learn that recipe just by trying it, and can prepare it at any campsite (if you have the ingredients). Additionally, you can buy cookbooks from shops, and if you collect all the right ingredients for a recipe, there’s also a chance that Ignis will just come up with it spontaneously.

Where this works well with the worldbuilding is it gives the environment a strong sense of the old fantasy trope of monsters having started to become more aggressive and dangerous. We have the trappings of a modern society, with towns and settlements that were built as stopovers when it was safer, and the roads were more travelled. However, as things have become more dangerous, you can also see that things have become more abandoned, outside of few places.

And, as you explore the world, you’re also getting plenty of banter from your party members. The four have really strong chemistry, and well realized personality types. Admittely, those are variants on some pretty standard archtypes that, if you’ve seen Ouran High School Host Club, you’ll probably recognize most of them (Keet, Wild, and Cool for Prompto, Gladio, and Ignis, respectively). While the lack of female party members did have the game face some justifiable controversy, it also does give a sense that part of the character’s design decisions were also made to be attractive to female audiences – and probably to fuel doujinshi. It’s not for nothing that the first point where you have control of the characters – as they’re pushing the car, you basically have the camera paying loving attention to Gladio’s black-leather-pants-clad ass.

That said, the female characters we get are underutilized. Lunafreya is the woman Noctis is due to marry, but she has ultimately little narrative agency. Cid’s daughter is the first character we encounter, but she’s also very much played for fanservice. The one who spends any time in the party is Aranea Highwind, a dragoon, but she’s in the party for a shockingly short time, and doesn’t get much development. While this might be a conscious decision to minimize the number of characters who could potentially be in heterosexual relationships with the protagonists, it’s still not great.

Final Fantasy XV does have some very real flaws though, specifically with the magic system. The traditional Final Fantasy magic structure is not here, with the focus shifting specifically to elemental magic. You gather elemental magic energy at various gather points, and combine it with reagents (usually monster parts and consumables) to have different magical effects – putting variations on your classic Fire, Fira, and Firaga (etc.) spells. Where things fall down though, is when it comes to healing. You can apply modifiers to spells so they heal the caster through particular reagents, but what you don’t get are the old standbys like Esuna, or any of the status effect curing spells. Theoretically, it could have been done so when you caught your party members in the blast of a spell, they’d gain the same beneficial effects you did, and through the use of status effect removing items, you could use the spell as a sort of force modifier – to apply the removal effect to multiple characters at once and to increase the number of uses you’d have otherwise. No such luck.

Instead, your resource balance for healing is based strictly on what healing items you have with you, and in turn how much money you have to spend to stock up on them. I still found myself, at the end of the game, with healing items to spare, but I also suspect I spent more money stocking up on those items than I did picking them up in the game world.

The overall narrative of Final Fantasy XV is darker than other games I’ve beaten in the series, with the victory being more clearly pyrric, than other games in the series – the world is saved, but at a significant personal cost for the protagonists. It’s not a unique ending for anime and anime-related media. Indeed, this kind of ending is what drew me to anime when I was in middle school and high school. It’s still certainly less of a clear-cut happy ending than some of the other games in the series that I’ve played.

The combat for the game is more action-based, with an option to have a sort of turn-based inspired mode, which is a less polished version of the combat system that was used in Final Fantasy VII Remake. It didn’t take me long to get the hang of it, but I did like the FFVII Remake version more.

Ultimately, I did enjoy this game, and liked playing it long enough to go through almost all of the side-quests and play all the DLC episodes. I may pick up the novel that adapts the episodes that were meant to be the game’s conclusion later, and will review it here.

Final Fantasy XV is available for purchase on PC (this Humble Store link helps to support the site), and on Xbox and Playstation consoles (links are Amazon Affiliate links).

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