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One of the things that made me interested in Final Fantasy XV was not the amount of negativity surrounding the media as it was portraying our protagonist and his loyal band of friends as a boyband going on a road trip around the world as a war amongst countries rages in the background.
While on the surface it does appear as a road trip story, it quickly shows you (and with the help of a short novel, movie as well as an anime series) that it’s a more modern interpretation of the series’ earliest games…and do listen because you might know the story well, as it has been told throughout time of our generations: four warriors freely exploring dangerous wilderness, discovering exciting towns, outfitting themselves with weapons, gear and magic to take on frightening monsters and embarking on a quest to avert an appending apocalypse waiting to happen.
Our protagonist, Prince Noctis is leaving the protection of his home city for the first time in order to complete a marriage with someone from another city, to which his father hopes it will prevent the war that is coming.
As the game opens, the four leading men — who incidentally wear “uniforms” that make them look like they’ve just stepped off a Tokyo catwalk — are pushing their fancy out-of-fuel car down the road and engaging in playful anime-style banter while a bizarrely great cover of “Stand by Me” plays in the background, in a magnificent sequence that sets the tone for the entire game.
From what is being shown, XV feels like a logical evolution for series fans, but it isn’t militantly inaccessible for newcomers.
The theme of the four friends off in a world they’ve never seen before carries throughout the entire game, with all the systems neatly connected together.
For example, Ignus is a passionate cook, which not only affects the conversations the characters have (and the banter, while constant, is consistently good), but it also offers incentive to go off the beaten path and find rare ingredients to add to your inventory.
Gladiolus will help assist you by finding items in the wild, or if needed, makes a critical attack that can stun the monster you’re fighting.
When you stop to camp at night your items will determine what dishes Ignus can cook, with each giving different bonuses to the party for the next day (important if you’re planning to go into a big battle).
Why are you stopping to camp? Well, because it’s the only time your characters can level up and becoming stronger depending on all the experience they’d gained since their last camp. Oh, and because terrifying demons roam the land at night.
Every aspect of the game — including the simplified magic system, the way travelling relies on your car, the main story that has you recovering relics and earning the favour of the gods, even the techno-fantasy-meets-rural-america vibe of the towns — works to support the feeling of an epic journey with your best friends.
This is a game where one of your party members snaps photos constantly, even while he’s firing guns at enemies that can certainly kill him, for the sole purpose of looking at the photos over dinner later that night.
As brilliant and endearing as this humungous game is, its biggest weakness is probably that it doesn’t care to explain all its many intersecting systems and aspects to you as well as it should.
Combat is a good example of this. A modern, MMO-inspired system where you target enemies and hold about to automatically attack, it can be very satisfying once you’ve got your head around it but for me that didn’t happen until many hours into the story.
Every element of the system — dodging, warping, switching weapons on the fly, determining enemy weaknesses, mixing magic from energy you pull from the earth, commanding allies to use their special abilities, using items to keep from dying — is there from the get go and is pretty overwhelming.
Features are thrown at you — like powerful weapons that sap your strength, the ability to learn new skills, the option to pause the action when you’re standing skill — but you’re more or less on your own when it comes to working out how to use each one.
In a game that I’ll easily sink a hundred hours into it’s probably not going to be a huge deal in the end, but the first dozen hours in Final Fantasy XV is partly refreshing in its focus and partly a disorienting blur. Also for the love of Ramuh remember to save your game constantly.
SCORE: 9 out of 10
This is one of my favourite Final Fantasy games of the franchise and it’s one I’d encourage any previous Final Fantasy fan to consider. Besides the brilliant nods to the series past — adorable retro touches like pixel art character menus and classic game soundtracks you can buy in servos and listen to in the Regalia — this is a game that’s doing something new and great with what’s come before. It’s the fondest I’ve felt about the series and I look forward to how this new beginning in Square Enix’s adventure will turn out.
For everyone else, this is a weird, wonderful and very Japanese epic about friendship and fighting. It requires an investment of time and learning, but what you get back is one of the warmest and most unique role-playing experiences of the generation so far.