"While it is not the stellar titan we hoped for, it's certainly Final Fantasy, and we can all be thankful for that."
Final Fantasy XV's long-awaited PC port is already a resounding success among consumers and critics alike. What's offered here is an insight into the game itself and not necessarily the PC iteration. Although Square Enix has been known to botch initial releases on PC — even to date — FFXV has experienced noticeably fewer hiccups, and by the writing of this review, most have already been resolved. What's left is quite possibly one of the most visually impressive titles to exist yet, and with a capable package to boot.
FFXV is the story of Noctis and his three friends who go on a road trip, eat crazy good food, and kill a thing or two. Or it's about Noctis and his three friends who travel the countryside doing fetch quests for power plants, auto shops, and chefs. Or it's about Noctis' attempt to reunite with his long-lost friend Lunafreya in order to find peace between his kingdom and the empire. Really, FFXV is what you make of it because there's a lot to dig into, and of all the Final Fantasies, this one probably offers the most freedom in how players wish to experience the story and gameplay.
Some have criticized FFXV for its quartet of archetypal friends: the brawny, temperamental shield; the skirt-chasing, upbeat friend; the classy intellectual; and the stoic lead. Nothing really new here in terms of JRPGs, but as always, the execution is what determines its success. As suggested, not everyone's going to like the crew, but in this reviewer's eyes, this is quite possibly the most convincing bond I've seen in an RPG squad to date. The characters work so well off of each other and feel like they've been together for a long time. There's a comfort in how they joke with each other and a known trust when one criticizes another.
Yet, I still wanted more. By the end of the game, I experienced pangs of loss, but something was amiss. Despite the strong script, the development in the characters, and more than capable voice acting, something was just...off. Maybe it's because the game itself doesn't offer a sufficient backstory about the characters. Or perhaps it's the repetitious lines following a battle, complaints about the heat while running through a barren wasteland, and comments about Noctis' cleanliness. Again and again. It could also be that I kind of tanked the experience for myself because I chose not to complete the game until I had done all of the sidequests and thus felt so detached from the chemistry amongst the party.
Then again, a more well-crafted game would offer a fuller experience no matter how someone chooses to play. I have such conflicted feelings here because if I had played the game "as intended" — and what does that even mean — then I might have gotten more out of the ending. Instead of taking my own metaphorical road trip away from the plot, I could have just completed it and then done the sidequests. Or maybe I could have done them more sparingly. As a reviewer, I try to objectively critique games as best as I can, so I don't know whether to judge this aspect based on a sidequest-free experience, a play-however-the-hell-you want experience, or some combination thereof. I think FFXV has the potential to be much more powerful if one sets aside the distractions, but shouldn't Square Enix work to satisfy all potential routes?
For those not in the know, FFXV is probably the most action RPG-oriented entry in the series yet, and whether or not that's a success is worthy of debate. During several battles, I caught myself smashing attack, with the occasional ability and warp strike. Even in more contentious battles, spamming seems to be the soup du jour. Yes, some positioning and reactive blocking is important, but once the battle system is figured out, knocking enemies vulnerable becomes a relatively mindless affair. Add in the fact that potions can be used for near-endless reviving, and what initially appears as an intense affair soon loses its ferocity.
What do you mean potions are used for reviving? Clearly, "fenix downs" are for reviving! Well, yes and no. FFXV is a "Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers." In this way, FFXV has really departed from the typical formula. Elixirs are used willy-nilly, phoenix downs are a valuable commodity for much of the game, and potions are useful from start to finish. Summons are basically emergency eject buttons that end almost all battles, no matter how hard the foe is, and magic is essentially just fire, ice, and thunder. Clearly, this title both aligns itself with its brethren while also holding them at arm's length. To me, this still very much feels like a Final Fantasy despite the myriad differences.
As stated earlier, FFXV is an astonishing feat of graphical superiority in the gaming industry, with astounding art direction to boot. All animations flow smoothly, including the ever-loving grass! When driving around, one minute I'm in a wasteland, and the next I'm in a rich forest. The transitions are natural and mimic much of what one might expect to exist in the real world. Every corner of Eos is covered in beauty. This certainly takes the edge off of the fetch quests. In fact, these quests almost serve to push players to explore more of the world. For several dozens of hours, this place was a veritable utopia of ecological wonder. I can easily see myself booting FFXV up again in a year just to walk around and enjoy the fertile landscape. Cutscenes are exquisite, cities are bustling, seemingly needless detail rests almost everywhere, and the world simply feels like it could actually exist. I'm sure in ten years I'll be eating these words, but for now, this is the pinnacle of gaming visuals.
The musical experience is good, but it does not stand up to the visuals. A quick search through YouTube will reveal several covers of Somnus, and while that is a truly exceptional piece, the entire soundtrack does not maintain the same standard. Without a doubt, this is a good soundtrack, but it's not quite what we're used to experiencing with Final Fantasy. At times, I found myself quite tired of one of the battle themes, and that was before the sidequest scouring. The voice acting, on the other hand, is outstanding. In fact, I sampled the Japanese and English during my experience, and I actually prefer the English voice acting quite a bit. The voices, while stereotypical of each character, add a layer of authenticity not often found in RPGs. When characters are excited, angry, or forlorn, the performances get behind that emotion.
Unfortunately, I have to say that the controls in FFXV are probably the weakest component of the game, and while this is by no means a deal breaker, it is significant in an action RPG. I lost track of how many times I tried to revive a character in battle and simply rolled past them or got stuck using an ability in battle when all I wanted to do was move around. Sometimes, I even thought I was targeting an enemy with shift and ended up warp striking outside of the battle, resetting a number of important stats. Again, this won't ruin the experience, but it's certainly an occasional annoyance.
I've spent over 100 hours on FFXV, almost completing the game, and that doesn't include the DLC that I haven't touched. Clearly, I like this game. While the post-game content is lackluster at best, the dungeons and monotony create a Zen-like experience and rhythm that is addicting when it isn't exciting, which is most of the time. I just love this world; I wish I had more quality time with the characters. While FFXV is at times engrossing and beautiful, it can also feel like a pretty, hollow shell. The last quarter of the game feels rushed, as if the developers had to wrap things up under pressure, and that's after waiting over a decade for this to come out. While it is not the stellar titan we hoped for, it's certainly Final Fantasy, and we can all be thankful for that.
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.