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Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy XV
Β© 2016 Square Enix

Final Fantasy XV is an action RPG developed and published by Square Enix. Its first release was on Playstation 4 / Xbox One in 2016, then the game as been ported on Microsoft Windows in 2018. Initially, FF XV was known as Final Fantasy versus XIII and developed during the Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy project (the FF XIII universe). It’s first images appeared on 2006 and the game was scheduled for Playstation 3. After a director shift and a bump to the next generation consoles, the game’s story has been written and some of its characters repurposed or removed.

The setting of Final Fantasy XV takes place in the world of Eos, which is divided between four nations : Lucis, Accordo, Tenebrae, and Niflheim. Lucis, one of the biggest country, possesses a magical artifact known as the Crystal gifted by the antic world deities to the Caelum dynasty. For centuries, Lucis has been at war with the militaristic technologically advanced Empire Niflheim. Niflheim has subjugated Tenebrae and Accordo and now wants to conquer Lucis. Lucis’, capital Insomnia, remains protected by the Crystal’s power.

At the beginning of the game’s story, an armistice between Lucis and Niflheim is established because of the failing health of the current Lucis king. Nilfheim would gain control of all Lucian territories and an arranged marriage between the heir prince, Noctis Lucis Caelum and Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, the Oracle of Light from Tenebrae, is settled. However, shortly after the departure of the prince with his three friends, Ignis, Gladolius, and Prompto, to attend the marriage, they receive news about Nilfheim launching an all-out attack over Insomnia which conducted the city to fall, the king being murdered, and the Crystal stolen. With the help of the surviving royal guard members, Noctis is tasked to retrieve the Royal Arms, the magical weapons of the past Lucian kings, to rescue the Crystal and claims his thrown back to fulfill his destiny.

One of the most important of FF XV’s features is the transformation of the franchise to an open-world exploration gameplay. Final Fantasy has always been linear games with locations unlocking with the story progress and a fixed main story with some side-quests. If the precedent iterations, the two MMORPG aside, installed some better management for their side quests and got more opened in its exploration, the franchise never been this far in the concept at my knowledge. I haven’t played to the FF XIII series so I can’t tell if these games installed some basis or not for FF XV. Basically, FF XV is not a revolution for the open-world style. If you have played several games of this kind, you’ll be in known fields : a main quest that helps to unlock the various regions to explore, and various side quests to help your characters progressing and unlocking enhancements.

Most of the game’s exploration rely on traveling with the crew’s car, the Regalia. It’s basically a big road trip where the team can explore the vast territory and stay in camps or in cities for night. The area exploration can be made by foot, or with the Chocobo we can unlock with a side-quest at the beginning of the game. Noctis is the only character the player can control during the exploration. He can sprint during a limited time, jump, and perform context-based interactions. Talking about the interactions, they can be quickly irritating. Despite having the action appearing on screen (for instance : grab something on the ground), I’ve almost always had the character jumping because the button’s dynamic assignment wasn’t committed yet. Also, the quests givers are usually merchants and the player does not directly interacting with them for the quest parts but with another spot near the character. Because the character itself will only open its shop menu. So, you must ensure Noctis targets the right spot. Another thing that clearly bothered me during the exploration is the three companions. They’re ALWAYS in your feet ! They’re blocking you, obstructing you, that’s pretty annoying actually. Or they can be stuck in a wall or have difficulties to find their path, making Noctis alone in fights sometimes because they too far from it… The endless tale of the path finding in video games πŸ˜…. One positive thing is their animation are very nice and realistic.

When you’re not exploring by foot or by Chocobo, you use the Regalia to navigate to the various outposts, cities, and points of interests the car can reach. Basically, the Regalia is not an off-road truck and cannot go outside the main and small roads. So, you’ll drive between the various destinations. The car can be automatically set to a destination, Ignis will drive it and choose the shortest way. However, Noctis can takes the control for a manual drive by the player. During the drive sessions, the player can listen to a selection of Square-Enix’s titles soundtracks and the game’s soundtrack too. At the beginning of the game, I think the Regalia’s tank is a thimble or its fuel consumption is similar to a truck because the tank gets quickly drained. Of course, you can refuel the car at each outpost. However, when you unlock the various enhancements including the double tank and the fuel optimizations, install them ! And the road trip will be less stressful. Later in the game, the Regalia can be modified for going off-road, and even flight in the post endgame.

The game includes a day/night system which condition the ability to explore or drive by night. At the beginning of the game, Ignis will refuse to drive by night because it’s the moment when high level monsters, or daemons, appear on the roads and attack the gang. Noctis can drive manually if the player insists to pursue, until the player reaches a certain level and Ignis will accept to drive by night (with still the same risks, but you have the level to fight them). At the end of the day, the characters can camp or use a caravan in the outposts, or go to an hotel in the cities to rest. This step is important because it’s also the moment when the character’s stored experience is applied and they can level-up. This part of the gameplay annoyed me at the beginning, because until you can explore by night, you have to interrupt yourself and go back to your spot. Thankfully, the crew can teleport to the previous rest spot, and then teleport back to the car and continue. For the long travels between discovered outposts, a fast travel feature is available by paying in Gils a small fee and skip the drive part. However, it will fast forward too the day time to match the duration of the travel.

Because the wild is dangerous and the crew can meet several creatures, the game includes of course a battle system. In this iteration, good bye to the turn by turn system, the fights are directly on the maps, and the player controls Noctis during them (a skill later can help to switch to the other companions who have their own techniques). Basically, the battle system relies on three basic actions : attack, defend, items, which are quite automated. Maintaining the attack button will makes Noctis attack and chain, while maintaining the defense button will make Noctis evade attacks and parry if the timing is good. You can also cross attacks with your companions with several different skills they can equip. When using the companion’s skills, Noctis can chain a linked attack related to this technique. Noctis can also switch between 4 weapons to match the enemy’s weakness. The most preeminent Noctis’ feature is the warping. He can teleport and charge ennemies at distance and also reach safe spots to regenerate its magic of health points. The health points works differently from the previous iterations. If a character reaches to zero, he will be in “danger mode”, reducing its max available health. When the max health reaches to zero, the character dies and must be revived with an item. An optional “Wait Mode” is also available which pauses the fights, allowing the player to select the skills and targets to use. The companion’s AI can also perform contextual actions like linked attacks with Noctis or helping him.

Despite being an open-world game, FFXV still includes dungeons to explore without any loading time between them. This part of the game gets more traditional with various corridors branches to explore and enemies you will encounter, with a boss at the end (a more powerful enemy or just monsters popping in loop). When the dungeon exploration is finished, the player can return at the entrance using the map. In these areas, the player cannot use the “previous rest spot” neither the car back teleport.

Without any transition, let’s talk about the game’s visual and artistic direction. The Final Fantasy franchises has a reputation and FFXV does not make any exception : the game is beautiful. The areas are inspired by various real life locations like Tokyo, Venice or the Bahamas. Some places reminds the Transfagarasan road in Romania, while the first location reminds the desert roads of the USA. The lights effects are beautiful and very realistic, but there is also an issue. It basically works like an actual camera and can adapt the light sensitivity. The game’s camera (which has sometimes an erratic behavior) get very dark in low light rooms, like in the beach restaurant in the first region for instance. The place is very dark and it’s annoying because you can’t see the characters or have difficulties to interact. Also, the realistic shadowing is also sometimes annoying because it makes difficult to see collectable objects during the morning light. Yes, the artistic direction is awesome and beautiful, but for some actions, it’s not really practical.

Regarding the characters, well… I’m not a big fan of their designs. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of Nomura’s character design since FFX. I gladly enjoyed Akihiko Yoshida’s work on FFXIV, as I’ve enjoyed Nomura’s work on Xenoblade Chronicles 2, but for Final Fantasy I don’t like the artistic choice. The main issue I have with Noctis is his hairs… They’re too artificial, like a wig ! Is he bald and hiding it ? The integration is better for the others characters. I’ve also noticed Cindy (Cidney in Japanese version), Cid’s granddaughter, and brilliant auto mechanics, and also just a regular mechanic’s bimbo centerfold poster with her mini short and big boobs tightened. Well, I suppose you can’t avoid this kind of clichΓ©. It’s sad because the character is a brillant mechanic and has a lot of energy, but the cutscenes showing her servicing the Regalia are just a random “Bikini car wash” fanservice. Maybe I’m too old for this shit. Without any spoilers, Noctis gets a different skin in the last chapter of the game and this design was far nicer than its regular one. I think I would enjoyed it more during the whole play.

The story of FF XV is … Nice but difficult to follow. Not because of its complexity, the setting is quite simple and not very revolutionary, it reminds a lot the previous games. But Final Fantasy XV’s universe has been cut into several medias which hold a part of the setting itself. Basically, playing FF XV is like seeing a TV series and skipping episodes during the season. You have the feeling that the story is dotted and you know you’ve missed some informations. The main game is mostly a global conduct that connects the various cross media connections. This choice was made to avoid release a series of games like FF XIII. So to understand the whole setting, the player needs to also see the feature movie Final Fantasy XV : Kingsglaive which told the fall on Insomnia as pictured at the beginning of the game, watch the anime Brotherhood : Final Fantasy XV animated by A-1 Pictures under the direction of Square-Enix for having some background for the characters, play the Platinum Demo: Final Fantasy XV, play the freemium MMORPG Final Fantasy XV : A New Empire. And of course, the various DLC of the main game that extends the narrative (a chapter for the three friends, and the antagonist). Yes, that’s a good marketing plan… But that’s also awful for the player. That’s why I prefer to buy these kind of game years later when they’re available with all contents at a reduced price.

Despite being split into several cross-media, the main game’s narrative is not too short or reduced. The main story and the various side quests provides hours and hours of gameplay (it took me 35 hours to complete the story) and the open world exploration is very complete with a lot of secrets and hidden dungeons to discover. Since the story makes a time leap with its last chapters, restricting the access to the open-world region for a more closed one that drives the player to the game’s ending, a “time travel” feature is available. By using a specific menu entry during the rest screen, the player can go back to the open world, keeping the characters progression in order to beat the post endgame challenges. So, everything you’ve unlocked during the endgame will be available. This feature is pretty interesting because the game’s story progress very fast in the last chapters to a usual “non return point” where the world is very changed. So with this “time travel” feature, we can continue to explore the open world without requiring to bend over the story narrative.

Globally, the characters development is nice, but you clearly feel something’s missing because of the multimedia support of the game. Basically, you don’t really have the origins of the friendship between the four protagonists unless some little details that help to develop the main game’s story. But the rest is dispatched between the several other medias or DLC so you will have to play these chapters too if you want to understand some underlying parts of the characters relationships.

So, what can I summarize about this game… Final Fantasy XV is a very nice adaptation to the Final Fantasy franchise into the open world kind and also a well executed transformation into an action-RPG. The RPG mechanics have been quite simplified but the main features are still present. If the battle system seems to be simple at the first sight, it takes time to clearly master it and use its full potential. The game’s visual are magnificent and the Luminous Engine developed by Square-Enix’s subsidiaries Luminous Studios is a very serious competitor to the big names like the Unreal Engine. A great title of the franchise.

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