Second Pass: Final Fantasy XV Review – Almost a Long Road Too Far

Second Pass Review (May 16, 2018):

With the post game and impressive parade of strung content burying me into an effective tomb, it took me a while to really dip back into my Noctis suit. I have qualms calling the wait worthwhile but I can’t allure of the updates.

Square Enix has never, ever done so much to support a Final Fantasy game post launch in both free and paid ways. I’m talking quantity in this pass as I can’t speak to the quality of each piece, but there’s still a deserved pat on the back coming their way. What updates I’ve felt and seen haven’t taken me to many new places or solved my nagging issues with the fractured realism of my original playthrough.

In fact, my time-honored tradition of taking a stab at the hidden bosses has felt more grind than fun, which is a first for me for Final Fantasy. The banking of XP seems to hurt the endgame trek where you’re taking on hour-long dungeons of enemies with the hope that you have every ailment covered or you’ll not grow at all with a freak, accidental death. I’ve taken on the secrets of X – a turn based chess game – and XII – as mechanical as endgames get – with little bother, so it does strike me as noteworthy that Final fantasy XV feels as unbalanced in that aspect as it does.

As far as any updates to the original score, I don’t feel the need to dock any further points. Square has still crafted something special that is evolving as a chrysalis longer than any of their previous games, and it’s starting to feel like the huge money toss the company made back in 2016 is going to be worth it after all.

Original review appeared on The Gamer Square December 13th, 2016.

Inside the vast, dangerous kingdom of Lucis is an allegory this legendary series has been building to with this numbered entry for nearly (sic). There is an endgame in sight from the very beginning, Prince Noctis and his following trio on the road to regain lost honor, and a long, long journey to find this crew ready to face down that final gate. That beautiful, integral commandment of the main Final Fantasy entries – grow and learn with your characters – very nearly turns sour in this all-too-accurate allegory, due to the main lesson you feel you’re both learning is how to walk long, empty distances.

The open-world approach in Final Fantasy XV just plain feels off in more than one way. That’s partially a result of a lot of experimentation on Square Enix’s part, Hajime Tabata’s team leaving series staples more as singular posts instead of vital struts in this built-again tower. The approach of the team to realism (i.e. Noctis getting tired after sprinting) hamstrings the desire to run out any length of distance from the roads. Yet, walk the terrain you must as that’s where the beasts roam, the treasure hides, and the missions culminate, adding literal hours to game time just through travel. This isn’t a blanket negative as you do have opportunities to improve your squad along the way, but it sucks the desire for fetch missions, of which many exist, straight out of your bones.

Final Fantasy XV
“We’re coming to you live from Sharp Flower Stadium…”

Even so, this is a real open-world able to be wandered by foot from the start, but it is highly recommended that you use the unofficial fifth member of this hero squad: The Regalia. Your royal car is fully equipped to be your ferry from parking spot to settlement, its life-like detail being a boon for that realistic approach from the development team. This ride has a shop, serves as fast-travel, and even allows for Final Fantasy soundtracks to play as your glide to your next objective. Driving itself is another aspect that misses the mark as you have all the control of Sewer Shark over where you’ll turn next. It’s a simplified system to a fault, causing a wreck or two of the black beauty when you’re making an easy turn.

The last aspect of the world that does Final Fantasy XV no favors is the oddity of enemy spawns. Many times, beasts would phase in from Endor or somewhere as the team slammed into their hides. Imperial troopers will sometimes drop from ships two or three spawns at a time, giving your team no time to recover health between. This seems like a smaller gripe as escaping is usually simple enough, but I never wanted to escape. I wanted to fight to get Prompto toughened up or give Ignis another level on his team skill, not run due to a sudden barrage of weird spawn timing.

That desire to fight spawns for the delightful fun that is the combat system. Noctis is the star as he warps from enemy to wall and back, finding leverage from behind or the side to break defenses open for the other three to lean into. This is an integrated mixture of debuffs and active-time battle that hasn’t been in this series until now, and it’s an infusion of strategy via angles that makes every encounter engaging. Magic is relegated to specialized situations and seems actively discouraged by making each element a physical, collectible resource while healing is left to potions for the most part, highlighting the sword-twirling combat even more. The visually intimidating summons are also a rare treat with extremely specific conditions that, nonetheless, clear swathes of enemies at a time and can charge your controller batteries with excitement.

Leveling is a different beast entirely when compared to other Final Fantasy games. You only bank experience when out in the wild, not filling your level bar officially until you hit either an inn or a campground. This gives a meaning to inns and the dangerous night time that keeps you mindful of your placement in the landscape. Ability upgrades come the way of a more compressed version of the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X in split categories, which compounds further with some upgradable weapons. This creates a rewarding, fully-fledged system that you won’t find in other games because of Final Fantasy XV’s unique structuring.

Final Fantasy XV
You’ll have the backs of their heads memorized.

The story presented is certainly one of the stronger aspects of Final Fantasy XV, but does have a few drawbacks. The conceit works with Noctis’ family and kingdom suffer a tragedy as he’s off to wed, leaving he and his crew to work their way back after weakening their massive enemy. Most characters have familiar framing from the series’ past with the setting and context making them feel slightly fresher than you would expect. The best moments capture the emotional core set up by the previous dozens of hours worth of playtime, but it’s often again that you’ll feel the grind of time-extended conceits. That’s not to mention the scenes that feel truncated, slicing further emotional potential, without any apparent reason why. There’s a disconnect when so much care and effort went into the world’s realistic approach, but then story – the lure of Final Fantasy for most – feels jumpy and incomplete overall.

Even with that feeling, disappointment is sparse as the main story, frankly, isn’t even the meat of the story-based experience. That honor belongs to the four travelers, showcasing their personalities by respective skills, quips, and ways of protecting the turbulent throne. These traits shine through in car rides, organic quest acquisitions, brotherly advice, battle cries, victory humming, and so many other small factors that give them the most life in this game’s ensemble. The gripes here seem pithy in oft-repeated dialog and some repeated babysitting from Ignis especially, but those are easily absorbed without too much of a fight.

The bushels of enjoyment to be had in Final Fantasy XV aren’t weighed down by much, but the weight is still great. The feeling of grinding in an RPG can run down to the bone, having players grit their teeth through a hugely expansive experience. Final Fantasy XV never reaches to that level thanks to the combat and story. Just a few extra corners trimmed on the realism and descriptive story bits could’ve made this among Final Fantasy elite. Even so, there’s an undeniable pleasure in seeing this allegory finally come to a crescendo, flying high on a trip well-enough traveled.

Final Fantasy XV Score:

8/10

 

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