Fi­nal Fan­tasy XV

PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Square Enix For­mat PS4 (tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now

Yu Suzuki posited re­cently that the most in­ter­est­ing games aren’t the ones whose ev­ery el­e­ment com­bines har­mo­niously, but those with jagged edges. He’d prob­a­bly like Fi­nal Fan­tasy XV, which proves to be spikier than any of Tet­suya No­mura’s de­signs. That such a lux­u­ri­ous pro­duc­tion should turn out to be so scrappy in places isn’t re­ally a sur­prise: ten years of de­vel­op­ment means ten years’ worth of ac­cu­mu­lated ideas, and the fin­ished game sug­gests that di­rec­tor Ha­jime Ta­bata and his team weren’t sure quite what to leave out. The re­sults are in­con­sis­tent. Here we have an open-world game that ends up fun­nelling you into cor­ri­dors. A road trip where your car is all but glued to the tar­mac. At­ten­tion has been lav­ished upon mouth-wa­ter­ingly de­tailed ren­ders of food­stuffs, but the cam­era barely qual­i­fies as func­tional dur­ing in­door skir­mishes. It fea­tures a gen­uinely pro­gres­sive take on male re­la­tion­ships, yet its treat­ment of its fe­male cast is ret­ro­grade. And it con­tains a se­ries of mis­sions where Noc­tis Lu­cis Caelum, heir to the king­dom, is asked to re­trieve lost dog­tags for a man named Dave.

There’s some­thing to be said for a mega-bud­get game this de­ter­minedly weird, how­ever, and FFXV sets out its stall from its open­ing mo­ments. Four men push a car slowly down the road. “Not ex­actly a fairy­tale be­gin­ning,” grunts the mus­cu­lar Gla­di­o­lus, who, along­side nerdy driver-cum-chef Ig­nis and pup­py­ishly ea­ger pho­tog­ra­pher Prompto, joins the player-con­trolled Prince Noc­tis on this off­beat road trip. Since Noc­tis is soon to be mar­ried, it’s apt that what fol­lows – at least for the first half of the jour­ney – should cap­ture the ca­ma­raderie of a stag hol­i­day. Sure, there’s no al­co­hol in­volved, and a few more face-offs with fan­tas­ti­cal beasts than you’d ex­pect, but th­ese like­able young men share a rap­port that car­ries the game dur­ing its bumpier stretches. The per­for­mances are ad­e­quate rather than ex­cel­lent, but ev­ery­thing from the way the group bonds over food around a camp­fire at the end of each in-game day to the af­fec­tion­ate ver­bal spar­ring as they jog to­wards the next way­point works to sell their friend­ship.

They’re good com­pany, in other words, and as such you’re happy to fall in with the re­laxed rhythm of the early chap­ters. Choose to take the wheel, and you can sim­ply squeeze the ac­cel­er­a­tor to fol­low the road au­to­mat­i­cally, only reach­ing for the ana­logue stick when it’s time to pull in at a park­ing stop. Let Ig­nis drive and you’ll au­to­mat­i­cally cruise to your des­ti­na­tion, al­low­ing you to take in the views while you fid­dle with the in-car stereo, choos­ing from a se­lec­tion of fa­mil­iar themes from past games. You can hop out at any time, but you’ll rarely feel the need, with reg­u­lar stops along the route to fill up with gas and stock up on items. It finds a sweet spot be­tween free­dom and gen­tle guid­ance: map icons de­not­ing points of in­ter­est will only ap­pear once you’ve ei­ther lo­cated them by sim­ply ex­plor­ing the lo­cal area or spo­ken to a restau­rant owner, who will point you to­wards pro­cure­ment spots and send you to clear out a given num­ber of mon­sters from spe­cific ar­eas.

There are hints of Dragon’s Dogma and Xenoblade Chron­i­cles in the com­bat, which is dy­namic and flex­i­ble with­out ever feel­ing in­tu­itive or ele­gant. Rather than tap­ping a but­ton to at­tack, you hold it down, pulling off sim­ple com­bos with di­rec­tions on the ana­logue stick and swap­ping weapons via the D-pad. You’ll hold an­other but­ton to phase through en­emy at­tacks, though this costs MP, which can be re­filled by find­ing the space to drink a restora­tive or by warp­ing to higher ground, where your health bar is re­plen­ished. Th­ese are the ideal spots from which to un­leash warp strikes, which launch you to­wards op­po­nents, with dam­age mul­ti­plied by dis­tance. All the while, your team­mates mer­rily whale away, un­til you com­mand them to pull off a spe­cial move which con­sumes an­other gauge. Ig­nis, for ex­am­ple, has a Re­group ac­tion which sees you all briefly with­draw from the front­line for a top-up to HP and MP, re­duc­ing the reliance on con­sum­ables. It’s ex­cit­ing at first, but its lim­i­ta­tions grad­u­ally be­come clear. Magic is one ca­su­alty: since each spell pro­duces pow­er­ful area ef­fects and you can’t di­rect your al­lies in gen­eral com­bat, there’s lit­tle point in hand­ing them a spell that’s as likely to hit you as your op­po­nents, and while you can use them more pru­dently, there’s noth­ing to stop the AI from wan­der­ing into the path of the fire­ball you just hurled. Sum­mons are as spec­tac­u­lar as they are rare, and the con­di­tions that need to be ful­filled for their ar­rival will of­ten see them ab­sent dur­ing lengthy boss fights yet present to oblit­er­ate the last of a group of can­non fod­der. The cam­era sim­ply can­not cope with tight spa­ces, but also strug­gles with larger guardians, leav­ing it all but im­pos­si­ble to gauge when an at­tack is about to land. Only some­times will you be given a but­ton prompt to dodge and then parry to turn the ta­bles; that, too, can ob­scure the ac­tion.

As for the story, it doesn’t re­ally kick in un­til the sec­ond half, and when it does, you may wish it hadn’t. With no one but the four leads of­fered any kind of char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment, it’s im­pos­si­ble to in­vest in the plot, not least since it all but re­quires you to have seen CGI pre­quel Kings­glaive to make sense of it all. The reins are steadily pulled tighter, and at­tempts to vary the pace – in­clud­ing te­dious stealth in­ter­ludes and crude cat­tle-prod scares – fall flat. By then, Fi­nal Fan­tasy XV has gen­er­ated just about enough good­will to take you through to the cred­its and be­yond. But even as you re­flect on the rar­ity of a block­buster that’s will­ing to take real risks, you’ll be left with the un­com­fort­able re­al­i­sa­tion that ten years wasn’t quite long enough, af­ter all. Those jagged edges are, in the end, just a lit­tle too sharp.

Since Noc­tis is soon to be mar­ried, it’s apt that what fol­lows should cap­ture the ca­ma­raderie of a stag hol­i­day


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