(There are no spoilers in this review.)
After 63 hours of gameplay and my first platinum trophy ever, I can safely say that Final Fantasy XV is a return to form for Square Enix and one of the greatest main installments of the franchise. While nostalgia will keep it from gracing the top of many older fan favorite lists (myself included, FF IX will always be #1 to me), it could easily become the widely talked about favorite for the next generation of Final Fantasy fans.
Let’s get one thing straight, the Final Fantasy franchise has always been one of the most innovative in the gaming industry. Its redefined turn-based combat at least half a dozen times, reset the bar of what constitutes jaw-dropping CG with each new main installment, and consistently given fans brand new casts of characters that will live on in the hearts of gamers everywhere for decades. As new as FF XV may feel, innovation is what many gamers have to come to expect from the franchise and it’s largely why it’s done so well over the last 30 years.
However, despite its long history of innovation, the franchise has been stuck in a rut in many ways. The main story is almost always the same, with the same stakes, same object lessons and same beats, despite the different players involved. While the combat has routinely been revamped, it’s also always been largely the same and Square has been remiss to move away from turn-based combat. Then there are the shared aspects of each installment that some fans revere with religious zealotry – each game better have a technological genius named Cid, Biggs and Wedge better make an appearance, don’t forget the usual summons, etc etc.
Final Fantasy XV does a great job giving fans nostalgia boners without going too far over the top and remaining an incredibly innovative game for the franchise, if not the JRPG genre.
The new active combat system is easily the most standout change. While you can turn on Wait Mode and turn the game into something more reminiscent of its turn-based counterparts, combat runs smoothly without it and I never felt the need or desire to turn it on. Getting in and out of combat is a breeze, warping never seems to get old or be any less cool after the 100,000th time, and for something so different it’s quite easy to get accustomed to.
That being said, at first it also feels very watered down. Holding one button for attacks and another for defense while leaving your character to do all the work is frustratingly dull at first, often leaving you knocked on the ground time and time again. Your targeting reticule’s ADHD nature makes groups of targets a chore, fast groups of enemies in particular can be a real problem as the constant barrage of attacks leave you wondering how you’ll ever get a hit in or even kill one target.
The key is playing with your AI teammates and utilizing their abilities to create space, deftly maneuver the battlefield and deal large amounts of damage. The chaos a lot of creatures bring, while frustrating, makes sense considering the world and your circumstances. You play as four guys that, while trained, are still just four buddies traversing a dangerous world. The game does a phenomenal job utilizing the combat system to further ingratiate the main moral of the story – brotherhood/friendship.
If you’ve played a Final Fantasy game before then the story certainly won’t surprise you. I guessed all the main beats after watching Kingsglaive. A predictable story isn’t necessarily a bad one though. Despite knowing what was going to happen, I was still engrossed and enthralled enough that it never felt boring. The game kept me wanting to progress to see more and take things to their ultimate conclusion.
What was most surprising was the gut punch the game delivered at the very end. It wasn’t until it was all over that I realized just how well the game did of making me care about the four main characters. Only a few movies with dogs have been able to hit me in the feels as much as FF XV did, and being able to do that despite me guessing the entire plot a month before that game even came out makes it all that much more impressive.
While I could go into detail about every little aspect and feature in the game, I think you’ve gotten the point by now.
Overall, Final Fantasy XV is an excellent game for both newcomers and franchise vets alike. It’s easily one of the best games to come out this year and probably my third favorite in the franchise after IX and VII, and I’m genuinely looking forward to spin-off titles for the next few years. If you have the chance, I highly suggest picking it up and playing it as soon as possible.