Well, here we are. After nine years… yes, NINE YEARS after Final Fantasy Versus XIII was first announced at E3 2006 we have a playable version of the game. Now under the moniker of Final Fantasy XV, the game couldn’t be more far removed from the rest of the main entries if it tried. Though starting with FFXI the franchise has been drifting further and further away from its single player turn-based RPG roots, so I guess I should not be surprised at this point.
But enough about the history, let’s talk about the here and now. Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae is a demo/companion content to the upcoming full release and has come bundled with Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. I spent several hours with FFXV last night (far more than I ever commit to a demo) and I’ve just been itching to get my thoughts written down. This is what I came up with (if you plan on playing this yourself, keep in mind there may be spoilers, if you can even call it that):
1. The demo opens with group of four dudes waking up in a tent together (not kidding). You learn that the main character, Noctis, and his three companions were out for a spin in their convertible when the thing broke down and they had to make camp outdoors. Despite being royalty, Prince Noctis doesn’t have enough cash to cover the repair bill and this situation eventually leads into one that usually happens when a bunch of guys get together for a road trip: they go do something stupid. Namely, poaching a Behemoth and turning in its parts for reward money. And thus, your adventure begins.
2. Let me just say that the game looks stunning. The area in which you given to play in is massive, with mountains and trees stretching out far into the distance. The characters animate well too and the cutscenes are quite gorgeous. That being said, I did expect a bit more on account of not only the development time, but also the move to PS4. Also, the frame rate likes to chug along when there’s too much going on at once.
3. The soundtrack certainly delivers, as one might expect. The rendition of the Chocobo theme as well as the return of the victory fanfare when your characters level up are particularly noteworthy. The chosen voice cast is pretty solid as well, even though the main party all sound so gruff, it’s hard to distinguish between them save for the one accent in the group. Speaking of accents, we are also introduced to a female mechanic who for all intents and purposes seems to be a female Cid (she is called either Cidney or Cindy, I couldn’t tell from the dub). And apparently, because she’s a mechanic she is given a heavy southern accent. Okay then.
4. As you wander about the massive field, you may be assaulted by random critters or dropships that rain enemy soldiers (okay?) that want to ruin your day. Combat feels like a fusion of Dragon Age: Inquisition and Kingdom Hearts. Holding down the square button will auto-attack for you, whereas L1 will dodge attacks when held. Attacks can be parried if the button is pressed at the right time, resulting in a counter attack. A selection of abilities can be accessed with the directional pad and executed with triangle that causes weapons to materialize out of the air and launch an attack, such as a Dragoon Jump or health siphoning move. Defending and using abilities consumes MP that can be restored by landing blows, hiding behind something, or using Noctis’ warping ability to dangle from a nearby cliff. Speaking of that warp ability, it’s the single most useful technique in your arsenal. Noctis can throw his sword at foes and at obstacles to instantaneously transport himself there and do damage.
5. Since Noctis is the only playable character, your fellow party members generally do their own thing. If you or your comrades’ hit points drops to 0, you’ll enter a state where taking more damage will lower your maximum HP. You can help them up and they’ll likewise help you, but your HP will only go back up to the new maximum after sustaining damage. Potions can build this back up, but if your max hit points dips below zero, it’s game over.
6. The combat isn’t without its issues. First and foremost, the camera is your greatest enemy. Between being swarmed with enemies and your fellow party members fighting back, the action gets incredibly chaotic. You can lock onto foes, but as they run around you the camera spins along with them, and it never seems to lock onto the correct enemy. Also, sometimes the lock on function doesn’t always seem to work, as I’ve tried utilizing it when foes are a good distance away and it didn’t do anything.
7. FFXV has an impressive sense of scale. As was mentioned before, the world looks incredibly large, and many of its creatures are equally as massive (including the Behemoth you’re hunting). Also, you may see things like trees fall in the distance as the wildlife moves about the landscape. The biggest problem with this large world is that it takes forever to get anywhere. Without the car at your disposal, running is slow and many of the landmarks are incredibly spread out without any sort of fast travel. I even ran into some chocobos that I wasn’t allowed to ride.
8. When you’re ready to rest up and save, or if you just want to level up, you have to make camp somewhere. Setting up a camp turns your gained XP into added levels for your party, but has the added benefit of allowing food to be cooked for additional stat bonuses. These bonuses last until night falls, giving an added purpose to the day/night cycle that’s been put in place.
9. The first encounter with Deadeye (the behemoth) goes very badly. Ignis comes up with a plan to lure the creature into an explosion, then dealing a killing blow. This ends with your party running away and regrouping. You’ll later discover a cave that leads to the acquisition of the Ramuh summon, which can be activated when your HP runs out. With this new skill in tow, you can give Deadeye another spin. Words cannot express how wickedly awesome the Ramuh summon is in practice (seriously, go watch a video for it). The scorching land that’s left behind will leave you with a loss of words.
10. The demo ends on a bit of an aggravating note, as when you finally sell the Behemoth Horn for a boatload of cash, Cidney does not even accept the money that you worked so hard to get. I mean, it’s a nice gesture and all, but damn what a slap in the face. You are then free to cruise around in your convertible or end the demo right there.
I’m not going the lie, the game is still in need of some work. The bones are pretty solid though and if they manage to tie in a good narrative, it will make the decade wait seem worth it. I have my fingers crossed at any rate.
Final Fantasy XV releases sometime in 2015 (maybe) for the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One.