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
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.
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