FFXV is fi­nally here and we’re al­ready ar­gu­ing about who’s who on the GM team. Ben’s a to­tal Prompto.

It’s bants in black pants as the Square Enix RPG buckles-up for a beast-bat­tling bro trip

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We’re in­tro­duced to Prince Noc­tis and his black-clad en­tourage of friends and sworn royal pro­tec­tors as they strug­gle to push the Re­galia, the crown’s con­vert­ible car, along the road af­ter it breaks down. Pre­vi­ous Fi­nal Fan­tasy games have opened with Mako Re­ac­tor as­saults as the ter­ror­ist arm of Green­peace, or fran­tic es­capes from fu­tur­is­tic ci­ties be­ing at­tacked by a gi­ant fish mon­ster who’s also your dad, but – fol­low­ing a brief glimpse of the fu­ture – this se­quel begins sim­ply with grunts of ex­er­tion backed by a Florence And The Ma­chine cover of ’60s soul song, Stand By Me. It might seem a strange choice, but it’s no co­in­ci­dence Square Enix went for this song as Fi­nal Fan­tasy XV’s theme. While Noc­tis and pals aren’t chil­dren, there are par­al­lels here with the ’80s com­ing-of-age movie of the same name, where four boys set out on a quest to find a dead body. FFXV is also a story where a trip away from home teaches a group of four boys about friend­ship, re­spon­si­bil­ity, loy­alty, and sac­ri­fice. Just as Aerith’s death or Nanaki’s tear-jerk­ing rev­e­la­tion about his fa­ther are more mem­o­rable than Fi­nal Fan­tasy VII’s apoc­a­lyp­tic threat, Fi­nal Fan­tasy XV ex­cels in its per­sonal mo­ments.

There’s a dooms­day plot here too, but un­for­tu­nately the main story thread is mostly a for­get­table mess that’s dif­fi­cult to fol­low, even with the tacked on scenes from the pre­quel movie, Kings­glaive: Fi­nal Fan­tasy XV, do­ing their best to fill in the gaps. Devel­op­ment on the game has been no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult – first an­nounced as a Fi­nal Fan­tasy XIII spin-off, the game has en­dured changes in per­son­nel, shifts in man­age­ment, a switch in plat­forms, a change of name, and more dur­ing the decade since it was first an­nounced. This trou­bled jour­ney is most vis­i­ble in the story, where seem­ingly im­por­tant char­ac­ters are in­tro­duced and sud­denly dropped, and many of the game’s most in­flu­en­tial events hap­pen off-screen. Some­times you have no idea why you’re do­ing some­thing, never mind the mo­ti­va­tions of oth­ers.

Lads, lads, lads

De­spite all this, though, it’s still en­joy­able be­cause of its solid back­bone – those four pals and their jour­ney to­gether on this RPG road trip. They may look like Thirty Sec­onds To Mars got drop­kicked through a comic con­ven­tion, but main char­ac­ter Noc­tis’ friends are a gen­uinely like­able bunch, each bring­ing some­thing to the group, and all de­vel­op­ing over the course of the story. There’s Gla­di­o­lus, a mul­let-sport­ing, beach-body-ready body­guard who isn’t as stoic as you’d ex­pect. Then there’s Ig­nis – com­posed and se­ri­ous, he’s your in­tel­lec­tual ad­vi­sor, and cooks stat-boost­ing food when­ever you make camp. You can tell he’s clever be­cause he wears glasses and sounds like a but­ler.

“they may look like thirty sec­onds to mars, but they’re a gen­uinely like­able bunch”

Lastly there’s Prompto, a low-born child­hood friend of Noc­tis and soul of the group. If he’s not hum­ming the Fi­nal Fan­tasy vic­tory jin­gle af­ter a bat­tle, he’ll be get­ting ex­cited at the prospect of rid­ing a Chocobo (rightly so) or tak­ing snaps with his cam­era.

Photo ops

Prompto’s cam­era is a stroke of ge­nius and leads to some touch­ing mo­ments. When­ever you make camp, he shares the day’s cap­tures with his friends. You’ll see group poses, solo shots, bat­tle pho­tos, scenic snaps and more. As the game draws to a close, th­ese pho­to­graphs are de­ployed to make heart­felt mo­ments res­onate, with ret­ro­spect af­ter a big story mo­ment com­pletely chang­ing the mean­ing of some im­ages.

The game’s struc­ture re­ally works to sup­port this emo­tional pay-off, too, with the stakes ris­ing and the game be­com­ing more lin­ear and fo­cused as the main quests roll on. The first half is mostly spent dick­ing around in the open world, be­ing dis­tracted by pin­ball minigames, mon­ster hunts, dun­geon delves, op­tional bosses, and fetch quests. There’s a spe­cific, com­fort­ing rhythm to this first act, driv­ing be­tween road­side din­ers for in­for­ma­tion and quests be­fore trekking into the wilds on-foot. When night falls, more vi­cious mon­sters spawn, so you’re en­cour­aged to make camp when you see the sun set­ting, giv­ing you an­other ex­cuse to sam­ple Ig­nis’ culi­nary skills, pe­ruse the day’s pho­tos, and bank any ex­pe­ri­ence earned, lev­el­ling up.

Lev­el­ling is done via a Fi­nal Fan­tasy X-es­que sphere grid, but don’t get too ex­cited – this is a baby ver­sion, stripped back and sim­pli­fied, split into dis­tinct sec­tions for ex­plo­ration, spe­cial abil­i­ties, team­mate skills, stats, and more. You won’t be turn­ing Noct into a dif­fer­ent build here. Ev­ery time you boot up the game, a mes­sage in­forms you this Fi­nal Fan­tasy “is for fans and first-timers”, and it cer­tainly rings true. This is the most ac­ces­si­ble Fi­nal Fan­tasy yet, and it’s by far the most west­ern­ised.

Barely an hour passes in Fi­nal Fan­tasy XV where you’re not slowly squeez­ing Noct and friends through a small gap like Lara Croft, sum­mons are mas­sive screen-fill­ing events, and some­times as you’re driv­ing along herds of an­i­mals will cross the road as the game wres­tles cam­era con­trol from you to make sure you’re look­ing. It’s des­per­ate to be cin­e­matic. One side mis­sion sees you hunt­ing for a be­he­moth called Dead­eye. This en­counter is teased through­out your ap­proach, with the beast peer­ing into a wreck­age as you creep through, be­fore you’re tasked with stalk­ing it through some fog and back to its lair for a fi­nal con­fronta­tion. The game is packed full of mem­o­rable set-pieces like this.

Com­bat is hy­per­ac­tive, cathar­tic fun that has you zip­ping be­tween en­e­mies with tele­port dashes, string­ing com­bos to­gether, switch­ing be­tween dif­fer­ent

“it’s a re­fresh­ing change of pace and an ex­cel­lent at­tempt to mod­ernise rpg com­bat”

For­mat PS4 (re­viewed), XO Pub­lisher Square Enix De­vel­oper Square Enix ETA Out now Play­ers 1

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