Final Fantasy XV review
[Reviewed on PS4]
With its sense of freedom and romance, the promise of new horizons and fresh adventure, the open road sums up what Final Fantasy XV is all about. In both its narrative and its very existence, this is a game about making sure destiny is fulfilled; the road acting as a visual metaphor for the journey towards achieving exactly that. Protagonist Prince Noctis is, whether he likes it or not, on a path to making sure his regal responsibilities are met and his destiny along with it. As an entity, the game itself bears the burden of reigniting the passions of a fanbase whose numbers have dwindled over the past decade thanks to a string of underwhelming releases in the face of stiffer competition across the RPG space.
Ultimately, FFXV succeeds in creating a new foundation upon which a series that was once unmatched amongst its genre peers can begin anew. Director Hajime Tabata has succeeded in delivering an RPG that possesses a unique personality, blending Western game design ideals into a Japanese sensibility without undermining the core fundamentals that made this franchise so popular in the first place. However, it insists on stumbling and hiccupping along the way to proving itself as something worth celebrating.
Once the honeymoon period is over and excitement at starting a new adventure has worn off it’s all too easy to dismiss FFXV, with its fetch quests, constant barrage of hollow NPCs and stat-heavy menus, as an MMO without the multiplayer element. Clearly, Tabata has been inspired by the success of FFXIV, as well as the box ticking objectives used in popular Western games from Assassin’s Creed to Fallout, and that influence threatens to overshadow the entire experience early on.
Bear with the repetition, though, and what seemed like a disparate offering starts coming into place and reveals itself as something oozing charm, character and complexity to the point where you want to continue playing simply because you’ve come to trust that there’s more it wants to give. The combination of its lavish setting, fairytale-esque cast, the juxtaposition of old and new game design concepts and its deliberate blend of the whacky with the serious provides a sense of security in that it quickly makes you feel like a part of its world as opposed to a visitor to it.
A large part of that welcome is delivered by the leading cast, made up of four friends travelling the world in what looks like a Bentley as designed by Gucci. You take direct control of Noctis, a man with a boy’s voice and the combat ability of a master swordsman, with the other three following in your wake and looking to you for direction.
It’s through the relationship that bonds these four that the game delivers a sense of authorship. The open world setting results in a core plot that is awkwardly told and difficult to care deeply about, but the characters and their growth over time provides ample space for an emotional connection to develop between player and game. This connection is strong enough to make you care about what’s happening to these four even if the core story beats influencing their journey lack any genuine interest or originality. Really, FFXV is a great example of how articulately drawn characters are able to overcome obvious deficiencies in narrative elsewhere.
The four also act as a representation of just how good this game is at fitting a huge quantity of different elements together. It would have been easy for Noctis and company to consistently step on each other’s feet, the chaos resulting in none of them being able to breathe and show their value. That doesn’t happen, though; the writing and arrangement of personalities meaning that they come together to feel like a single proposition as opposed to four elements in conflict.
Quite brilliantly, this skilful combination is found throughout the rest of the game. Combat is fast paced in comparison to other Final Fantasy outings, but it manages to sit snugly alongside a more meditative, calmer approach to exploration. Levelling up is slow and takes dedication once you’re past the lower levels, but this is straddled by a system of core and side quests, as well as monster hunts, mini-games, gear customisation and character interactions, which means you’re never left feeling as though you’re being stunted or refused a sense of progression.
It’s a rare feat to be able to include so many ideas and have all of them feel like both natural bedfellows and meaningful to engage with. Tabata has proven himself a director of great tact and thought through the delicacy in which elements are arranged, the vast offering of FFXV working to make this a game that should be equally interesting to both veteran fans and series newcomers.
FFXV, then, makes good on its promise that it would be a game worth waiting for. It’s the game that makes the entire franchise as relevant as it was in Nineties and early Noughties and it has fulfilled the destiny Square Enix wanted for it in that it has created a new platform from which even better things can be expected from it in the future. Without question, Final Fantasy is once again a giant within the RPG world.