Final Fantasy XV
Four guys on a road trip across America is the stuff of memories for many of today’s family men across this great nation of ours. Sit around a lunch table in your typical American office environment and you’ll hear the tales of youthful pasts and that “one summer” that is fondly remembered. If one of those guys is around the age of twenty-seven, then it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that the original announcement of the game we now know as Final Fantasy XV and that gentleman’s road trip tale occurred around the same time. Yes, it’s been over a decade since this game was announced (practically a century in game industry years), and the final product of this tumultuous and harried development cycle is now ready. Was it worth the wait? Is it a total trainwreck that maligns the franchise’s ever-waning reputation even further? Will this tale of four lads on a roadtrip finally deliver the ‘FF feels’ gamers crave? Sharpen that buster sword, my friends… we’re going to cut through it!
The majority of the tale told in FFXV centers on the road trip of Prince Noctis and his three friends. This isn’t a “Stand By Me” coming-of-age trip, but rather the tale of a prince being forced into adulthood. Noctis’ father has grown tired of staring at his son’s ridiculous hair and has ordered him to travel to a distant kingdom and marry Lady Lunafreya, an event that will unite the two kingdoms and strengthen their armistice. What starts out as a bachelor-party road trip turns into an adventure that fans of the genre will love, that is if you have the patience to get there. Much like a long road trip to either an anticipated or dreaded destination, the devil is in the details in-between.
Just in terms of storytelling and character development, it can be said without hesitation that this is a road trip worth taking. The story remains focused for most of the game (unlike other entries in the FF series), centering around the four lads and the tale of the two kingdoms. This compelling thrill ride across the Eos landscape delivers all of the requisite adventure you would expect from a Final Fantasy game, but it also throws in all the miles of uneventful road along the way.
Getting into Regalia (the car) itself, however, is like climbing aboard a ride at Disney. Just by getting into it you will experience a few thrills and chills, but ultimately the vehicle is on rails and you will end up at a predetermined destination in a timeframe decided by someone else (slightly faster with an upgrade). Yes, there;s plenty of on-rails downtime ahead to get to know our four adventurers, and watching their story unfold and their friendships solidify is a masterwork of storytelling, if your patience holds out. Each boy has a particular interest that facilitates character development and the sidequesting (photography, culinary delights, fishing and equipment enhancement) often serves as welcome diversions. The perils, pit-stops, adventure, boredom, whining over the radio and bad haircuts are all front and center. Take the time to savor the journey or hop on a chocobo and explore at a different pace.
The newly-revamped combat mechanics (Active Cross Battle System) are solid, if not more action-oriented. Players will need to think fast and be resolute during battles, and only the main character is capable of being controlled by the player. The combat commands are actually reflective of certain buttons on the controller, instead of the menu selection system of FF’s past titles. The main selections are attack, warp and defend. Warp sends players toward other targets or areas on the battlefield and defend blocks incoming attacks. It’s a very simplified method and quite effective overall. There are also options for slower paced players with the ‘wait mode’ that offers other choices to take if the player simply ceases to input commands.
Graphically gorgeous, audibly impressive (except in a few places where the music and sound design decisions are absolutely confounding) and totally immersive sums up Final Fantasy XV in one sentence. Is it a perfect entry into the series? Hell no. There’s some serious downtime and the car mechanics needed a lot more time to bake, but all in all the entire experience is worthy of its place and, most of all, worthy of your time and money. It’s a fine start to a new age of Final Fantasy titles and a welcome change from what has come before. Let’s call FFXV the ‘Black Chocobo’ that just needs to be mated with a ‘Wonderful Chocobo,’ which will bring gamers the ‘Gold Chocobo’ they desire.
Reviewed By: Russell Garbutt
Publisher: Square Enix
This review is based on a digital copy of Final Fantasy XV for the PlayStation 4 provided by Square Enix.