Back in high school a friend of mine showed me this cool gameplay video for a game then known as Final Fantasy Versus XIII. The game was being developed for the Playstation 3, and I was excited to see its release, especially since it was being developed by the team behind Kingdom Hearts.

In this trailer from 2006 you can see the very Kingdom Hearts-esque character design.

Though after many years, this game had no release and yet you’d still find the odd trailer for it on YouTube. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that they announced that this game would become the new Final Fantasy XV and that it would finally see a release.

Here’s a trailer from 2011, when it was still being developed for Playstation 3. You can see how there are similarities, but nothing from this video is in the final game aside from the characters and some designs.

Final Fantasy XV had an incredibly long development cycle. It first started as a side project the Kingdom Hearts team was working on, with director Tetsuya Nomura even. To hear this, I was very excited. Eventually though direction switched to Hajime Tabata, and the story was redone. The current version we have today has been in production since 2013.

This game had sky-high expectations by many, mostly due to it’s length of development time, and the fact that once a release date was announced it would get pushed back constantly. I intend to touch on most of the aspects of the game, and tell you what I think.

Story

Final Fantasy XV follows Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum and his entourage of bodyguards, Ignis, Gladioulus and Prompto. Super funky names, yep. The story, in a nutshell, is about the prince finding his betrothed for some political reason that they don’t seem to explain in the game, and trying to defeat the opposing military government of Nifflheim. Or at least, that’s what the summary on the box would have you think. I would highly suggest watching Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, it explains a lot of the political flim-flam, that they don’t explain in the first couple chapters of the game. (Watch until after the credits, as there is a scene that leads directly into the beginning of the game.)

Without giving away any spoilers in regards to the story, I can say that the story is good. Is it excellent? No. Is it wonderful? No, it’s just good. There are some plot holes, and just some overall oddness that perforates the story, but it definitely has the potential to be amazing. Apparently, though, Square-Enix is planning on releasing some free updates that will add more scenes to the story, that are supposed to help fill some of those plot holes. So that’s something to look forward to.

The story starts out pretty slow, and you’re able to basically do whatever you want until you get to a certain chapter when it picks up. After this point the only thing left to is progress the story, and chances are it will be the only thing you want to do.

Overall as a player, the story was enjoyable, and it really does pull you along later on in the game. I will confess that I found myself a bit confused at the end of the storyline, and I had to look on Reddit for a thorough explanation.

Visuals

I have to admit, that at the start of the game I was a little disappointed that the world wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped in regards to graphical fidelity. But after unlocking the first extra zone in the game, I realized it was just because the first area is mostly desert, and there is little in the way of foliage. The second area opens up into forests and just beautiful greenery.

The game is beautiful. You can tell the developers spent a tremendous amount of time designing Lucis and the other places you get to visit. Lucis is huge, and it’s a beautiful place to explore and drive through in the Regalia.

The combat effects are really wonderful, it’s great to see an RPG of this magnitude on the newest console hardware.

I’d say the one downside to the visuals is the character designs. The main characters are designed well, as they spent a lot of time on them, but the other characters just seem thrown together. Yes, there are quite a few random NPCs just wandering around, I understand spending little time on them, but the side-quest NPCs that you see several time, at least some of them seem a little underdone. But I’d argue that’s just one small thing in a large cast world.

Gameplay Mechanics

So this will be a very large section that I’m going to break down into parts since there is a massive variety of mechanics that I’d like to go over.

Combat

Combat is an essential, huge factor in this game, as it is in many other RPGs. This is the first main Final Fantasy game to feature this combat system. It’s very simple, yet advanced at the same time.

It first felt weird to me that I was fighting with four other guys at the same time, then I remember this game was originally designed by the director of Kingdom Hearts, where Sora fights with Donald and Goofy at the same time. Then I also remember that every single Final Fantasy game has a party system where you fight with others, just usually in a turn-based setting.

Combat is fairly simple, there is one button you hold to attack, one button you can hold to block or dodge, and a button to press to charge, and then obviously jump. Pretty straightforward, but it can get pretty intricate as the game goes on.

Each character can equip at least two weapons, with Noctis being able to equip four. This allows you to switch weapons mid-battle to do different kinds of damage. For example, if I have a large group of enemies in front of me, then I would be able to switch to my greatsword category and do sweeping damage to multiple enemies at once. I spent most of my time using a single-handed sword.

Magic is also different in this game. If you’ve played any Final Fantasy game you would know that each character can learn magic and different spells they can cast during battle. In Final Fantasy XV, Noctis uses this magic known as “elemancy” which allows him to harvest elements and combine them into flasks. So if I were to absorb some of the fire element, then I could put the fire into a flask with a certain potency and equip the flask.

Now, putting the magic into the flask does allow the other party members to be able to equip it, but I rarely did that in my playthrough because all of the flasks break like Molotov cocktails and hit everything in an AoE (area of effect), even your teammates.

This title also introduces a mode called “Wait Mode”. I only just started using this in my playthrough because I honestly didn’t know how to activate it. It’s actually really useful in tough battles. Basically when Noctis stops moving in a battle, time slows down for a few moments, allowing you figure out what you want to attack, where you want to attack and so forth.

For example, I was working on this quest where I needed to get an item that you can only get from this one monster, and specifically, by attacking it’s horn. In the fray of battle it’s difficult to aim for it’s horn and to attack it, so wait mode allowed me to aim for it’s horn easily, then I was able to charge and get the item I needed.

Summons work’s very differently in this game. If you consider Final Fantasy X for example, Yuna could summon an Aeon to battle in her stead, or (I think) in Final Fantasy VIII you could summon Ifrit or Shiva to do an attack to your enemies. You can’t do that in this title. Without spoiling much, you can do summons, but only once certain conditions have been met in battle. There still are a couple of them that I have not been able to summon, but when they do come around it’s so great.

Overall, I would say combat is enjoyable. There is a nice easy item menu to use items in battle, and with three other dudes fighting with you, doing combos with you, it’s just fun and simple. Though there is definitely a curve for the more difficult battles and bosses.

Ascension

Through the game you’ll earn AP, or what is known as Ability Points. These are spent in the Ascension menu. Imagine the skill tree for Final Fantasy X, and you’re in a similar place. It’s basically a set of skill trees, which really allow you to focus on what you want.

There is a tree for combat, exploration, teamwork, magic, etc. All sorts of things to choose from, and you spend your points building up your characters. Some of the skill on the trees are the the whole team, while some are for Noctis, while some are specifically for the other members.

Some of the skills are general, and actually allow you to earn more AP for doing what you normally do. There is one, I remember, that gives you extra AP for taking long rides in the Regalia. Super odd, but useful.

This is a really unique feature that lets you build your character around the way you play the game, and it’s great.

Skills

Aside from combat skills, each party member has a unique skill. Noctis fishes, Gladiolus scavenges, Ignis cooks, and Prompto takes photographs.They can level up these skills, and each level they gain some benefit that makes their skill better. It’s definitely an odd mechanics, but as you play the game you find an appreciation for it.

Apparently fishing is Noctis favorite hobby, he just loves it. So sprinkled around Lucis and other places, you’ll find fishing spots for him to cast his lure and catch some fish. I actually really enjoy fishing games, mostly because I don’t have the patience to actually fish. This little feature puts the patience back into fishing games. The fishing itself is simple to grasp, but it all depends on the fish. There were a couple of prize fish where I spent 15 minutes catching each one, after several tries.

Noctis is equipped with a rod, lure, fishing line, and a reel. You can find better ones as the game progresses, to make catching fish easier along the way. The fishing line is the most frustrating, because if you try to reel when there is tension, the durability goes down, and if it goes all the way down, the line snaps and you lose the fish and the lure. It gets annoying. But once you get the hang of it, it’s actually pretty fun, and some of the fish can be used for food!

Gladioulus’ skill is pretty passive, and I’d say its one of the most useful. Basically his ability allows him to find items at the end of battle. Usually Noctis is the only one rewarded with items from battles, but now so is Gladiolus. As his skill levels up and gets better, he will be able to find better items, ones that you can use in battle, some even that can heal, which proves to be extremely useful.

Ignis’ ability is cooking. Ignis cooks when the player decides to make camp at a haven to rest. (I will be going over resting later on.) All of his food gives status boosts to all the characters in your party for the entire next day. As this skill gets better, he unlocks new and better recipes, but he can also discover new recipes by finding a certain ingredient, eating at a restaurant, or buying a recipe book. It’s an extremely useful skill, but you have to have to get ingredients he needs to actually cook the meal for him to make it. Each character also has a variety of favorite meals, which will give them yet another boost for the day. The developers also modeled all the food, and as someone who likes to cook and eat, it always makes me hungry.

Prompto’s ability probably seems like the most random, but it’s actually pretty cool. During the day, before you rest, Prompto automatically takes pictures of the day, as a record of their adventure. Sometimes you get cool and funny pictures of the character posing, and other times you can get some super awesome pictures of combat. Each day he takes about 10 pictures, and you can choose which ones to save for the archive, which you can go back to and look at them for fun or share online. As he levels up his skill, he unlocks new filters, and if you don’t like them, you can turn them off.

I thought these skills were cool additions to the game, especially in regards to fishing and cooking it allowed me to look for more things. And Prompto’s photos were always fun to look through when the characters rested.

The Regalia

So you might be like me, and think that having a car to drive around is kind of weird. Ignis is the auto-pilot for the player, but you can drive if you so desire. The first time I drove I discovered that the car is basically on a track. You can’t go off-road unless there is a dirt road there to drive on. But the Regalia is a super essential piece of the game, without getting anywhere would make you want to die.

The car is great, because the map is just so huge! Sometimes you can fast travel, but sometimes it decides that you’re going to drive there, and it can take awhile. I drove the almost five miles across the map, and I was able to switch a load of laundry and do a variety of things during the drive.

I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures, and the car is kind of gothic in style, but it can be customized! There are several quests that allow you to upgrade the car, make it go faster, better lights, etc. But you can also change the color of both interior and exterior, and even add decals! Yes, you can even unlock the flying version you’ve seen in the trailers, but it’s definitely a late-game thing. I will also add that you can’t just land anywhere, it had to be a road, and you might crash and die. You can also buy new tracks to listen to in the car, mostly its past Final Fantasy game music, so its nice to sit back and drive to nostalgic music and enjoy the beautiful visuals of the game.

Resting

Resting is a huge facet of the game, and is really essential. Consider any RPG you’ve ever played, after a battle you gain experience and with enough experience you can level up. It’s the same in this game, except in this game you don’t get the experience right away.

Experience for the day is continuously tallied up, until you rest. Once you rest, you’re experience is tabulated on your level and you can potentially level up. But where you rest is also extremely important.

A haven is camping spot, you can find them located throughout Lucis. The guys set up camp, enjoy the evening and then you fast forward to the next morning. The benefit of camping is that Ignis will cook a meal, which will benefit you for the next day. Camping also allows you to go on “tours” with your party members. For example, Gladiolus wanted to go fishing with Noctis at one specific haven, and that only occurred there specifically.

But if you’re in a town, and not anywhere close to a haven you can go to a hotel, or some outposts have an RV to stay in. There’s an upside and downside to this. Staying at a hotel, depending on how nice it is, will boost your experience earned from resting. The downside is that Ignis doesn’t cook, but you could always eat a restaurant for a buff for the day.

I found this to be a really neat feature that was just fun. I found myself trying to camp as often as possible trying to level up Ignis’ cooking skill.

Other

In this section, I’m going to go over a few features that I’ve lightly explored and won’t be able to say a lot about.

  • Dungeons – (This is actually a large feature of the game, but I don’t have too much to say about it.) I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure there hasn’t been a main Final Fantasy game featuring dungeons like these. I’d compare the dungeons almost to Skyrim, they tend to be vast, filled with monsters, a boss at the end, and rewards. They were fun to explore, and there was a definite variety to them which was nice. They weren’t something that I dreaded doing, so I really appreciated them.
  • Chocobos – As any other Final Fantasy game this one includes Chocobo, and yes you can ride them. There is a whole feature where you can race them, win new dyes to change their color, or medals and things to outfit them with. But I have not done it. In fact I only rode the Chocobo a few times, one time specifically where the Regalia is unavailable, and there are the next fastest thing to get to your destination.
  • Arena – There is indeed a combat arena, but it’s not like you might think. Basically you, as the player, get to bet on a cockfight between monsters. It’s really simple, but some of the prizes include weapons and items that you can only get from there. You can buy a variety of horns that allow you to help the monster you’ve bet on, but you’re only allowed to use the horn sometimes. I did this for a little while, but it wasn’t super exciting for me.
  • Hunting – Hunting is basically bounty hunting. Most restaurant tipsters will hold bounties for a variety of different monsters, even sometimes a boss. Each bounty you complete will give you a reward and start to help you rank up, which will allow you to go the more challenging hunts. Some of the hunts spawn specific monsters you might need for certain items, and they might even spawn certain bosses for you to defeat. I mostly only did this to get items I needed or to initiate boss battles.
  • Umbra – Umbra is a dog, and in the storyline he travels with a book that Noctis and Lady Lunafreya use to communicate. At a certain point into the game though he allows you to travel back in time. There is a certain chapter in the game, where you’re unable to go back to Lucis and finish the sidequests or whatever. So Umbra allows you to travel back with you’re current party stats and do exactly that. I finished the game, and then was able to travel back in time and finish all the stuff I wanted to do .
    • This is the only way to access the post-game content, and I will say there is quite a bit of it. Dungeons and monsters that only become available once the main storyline is complete. It’s a very useful feature.

Overall

So now that I’ve told you about the game and it’s features, I should probably tell you exactly how I feel about it, huh?  Well I liked it. It’s a lot of fun. I beat the main story after 34 hours of play, which was a combo of the main game, plus side quests, and now at 58 hours I’m still working on it. It’s a great game.

It’s not amazing, nor is it super awesome. But it’s a step in the right direction for the Final Fantasy series, they really took a page out of Bethesda’s book for this game, and you can see it. The game is vast, there is a ton of lore to discover, and there is just so much to do. Like Skyrim or Oblivion for example, there are hours and hours of content outside the main storyline and thats great. It doesn’t get boring.

The dungeons were fun, fishing was fun, hunting was fun. The developers did an excellent job making the game fun, and I think that’s what kept me playing it.

This is the very first Final Fantasy game aside from Crisis Core that I’ve ever beaten, and I’ve played 7, 8, 9, 10, 10-2, and 13. I just straight up never had the patience for the turn-based system, but I loved the storylines so I’d play them as far as I could then I’d always get stuck on  a boss. With this combat system, it was so much more enjoyable to play through.

I loved the setting, this weird combo of medieval sword use, kingdoms, princes and such, blended with cell-phones, cars, video games and tech. It was a great combo that makes this game unique. After watching Kingsglaive I was super disappointed that I didn’t get to spend that much time in Insomnia, but I have hopes for the DLC.

Unfortunately the story is the downside in this game. It felt like they were too busy making this game expansive, and filled with a variety of unique features, the story suffered for it. I have hopes for the coming free updates that are supposed to help the story, but as it stands right now, it’s just a bit confusing.

I’d argue that a person should not have to watch a movie, then a TV show to understand what is going on in a video game. The story has wonderful potential, but the execution and pacing was just not right. For clarification, I think it would be best to say that the story is good, but the execution of said story is the problem. There are so many holes and missed opportunities you just wonder what happened during development. I can only hope that the patches will help mend and address some of the problems.

The voice acting is a bit distracting at first, at least the English voice acting is. I’d say that the English voice actors did a great job, but since the Japanese voice actors did the motion capture for the characters, sometimes the voices didn’t really fit the characters. I’m considering playing the game with the Japanese voices once they release the New Game+ mode.

Again, this game is great. And its well-worth the money if you’re a fan of RPGs or a longtime fan of Final Fantasy, but it’s not amazing. I have hopes for the updates, but as of right now, it has it’s issues. If I had to give a rating, I’d rate this game somewhere in the B range. There is definitely a lot of good, but when it’s the story that bogs it down, it’s gonna suffer in the end. Honestly though, you should give it a try.

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If you’re looking for a good concise summary of the story, a Reddit user has done just that. You can find it here, but be warned, it’s all spoilers. Click at your own risk.

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