"Fans would have been bettered served with online video relaying the cutscenes."
News broke a little over a year ago regarding Hajime Tabata, director for Final Fantasy XV, leaving Square Enix. This meant that Square Enix cancelled three out of four DLC episodes planned for FFXV, leaving us with Ardyn alone. Of course, when something like this happens, all sorts of problems can occur internally, some of which involve the actual development of planned DLC. But that's just speculation.
Episode Ardyn is gorgeous, melodic, dramatic, sad, and horribly mindless all at once. When I first booted up FFXV after a year away, I had somehow forgotten exactly how beautiful and detailed the world is. The people, their fashion, and where they live pop off the screen as a sort of quasi-Japanese metropolis. This is thanks to expert execution in art direction and graphic design.
Shimomura once again reminds us why she's one of the titans of JRPG music with tracks that soothe the heart, calm the mind, and draw us into Lucis. She accentuates already tragic scenes that complement the narrative direction of the core game. In a JRPG, luminous composition and instrumentation can bring even the stalest and cringe-worthy words on a screen to life, but give it the drama of Final Fantasy — art is crafted.
Unfortunately, between the bookends of lore dumps and colorful cutscenes, the developers greet us with some of the most banal and mind-numbing game design I've witnessed in modern gaming. The world exploration and hidden "goodies" — I'm being generous here — are somehow worse than the original Assassin's Creed. When given the opportunity at the outset, I voraciously set out to just look
at Lucis and soak in the vibes; however, after reality set in, I couldn't wait to move on with the story. Please, release me into something with substance.
While the aesthetics drew me in, clumsily jumping on and warping to different ledges was more than just frustrating — it was underwhelming. Getting from place to place seemed like it should be intuitive and simple, but it was a fight with the controls and a sort of tug-of-war just to go from one disappointment to the next. That might seem like a ho-hum criticism, but when a fan of the series waits patiently for the one DLC — the first and final DLC — to come out after already feeling downtrodden about losing out on Lunafreya, Aranea, and Noctis...
Well, disappointment is tough to stomach. I understand Ardyn is supposed to be all-powerful, but almost every battle in the game could be summed up into slash, slash, dodge, dodge, summon Ifrit, win. On its face, this design makes sense. Yeah, some soldiers and special forces surely can't stand in the way of Ardyn, but find some way to spice up the combat. At a certain point, the designers need to understand that the message is received and that players need something to chew on. A couple big encounters enliven the battlefield, but only to a point. This two-hour romp can only offer so much depth in gameplay. What's the point of playing as Ardyn if there isn't even the slightest bit of tension? I was never one for cheat modes in games, and that's how Ardyn plays.
One last thing — the Archive. At first, players find diaries littered about that offer fun insight into the people around Ardyn. Loved it. However, once Lucis greets us, we are confronted with Archive items telling us about banners, lights, balloons, and red shirts in the streets whose entries could be surmised without any text whatsoever. Did you know destroying things in Lucis would cost them money? Who knew! Did you know the combatants with swords are trained with swords? Wow! Honestly, these logs are so incredibly lazy, they border on offensive. Why even show us this? Less is more. Not sure how these got green-lighted. A team lead somewhere saw this and thought: "Nailed it."
Square Enix cancelled three out four DLC last year, but after playing Episode Ardyn, it feels like they cancelled all four. Fans would have been bettered served with online video relaying the cutscenes. Those are the good parts of Episode Ardyn. Any "game" here feels like meaningless padding. While I love the gift wrapping and lore we've been provided, Episode Ardyn is actually a lump of coal.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.