Final Fantasy XV
Boy Bands vs The Apocalypse, writes Heidi Kemps
It’s been a long, rough road for Final Fantasy XV. When the game was announced as part of a larger “Fabula Nova Crystallis” mythology spanning three games – under its original name of Final Fantasy Versus XIII – it was a PlayStation 3 exclusive. But the spotlight soon shifted to Final Fantasy XIII proper, and as that game received the bulk of Square-Enix’s international publicity push, Final Fantasy Versus XIII fell by the wayside. As years went by with only brief staff assurances that “it’s still being worked on”, fans assumed the game was vapourware.
Now, here we are, 10 years later, and Final Fantasy XV is a very real game. It’s been a long time coming, and in a few short months, we’re going to be playing a game many people believed might not even exist. The strange journey of this game through the annals of development hell, however, may be nothing compared to the road-tripping, monster-slaying, warp-jumping RPG trek we’ll soon be partaking in.
A HERO’S JOURNEY
The hero of Final Fantasy XV is young Noctis, Prince of the kingdom of Lucis. Many years ago, all of the countries in the world of Eos possessed a crystal that granted them immense power. Of course, over the course of many conflicts, most of the crystals were destroyed. The sole remaining crystal is now in the hands of Lucis, which has made use of its energies to bolster its magic power. Because of this, Lucis has been locked in fierce political struggles with the other nations of the world.
The empire of Niflheim has worked to advance its technological prowess to match that of Lucis. Through its military might, the empire has
managed to subjugate most of the rest of the world. A peace treaty is proposed between Niflheim and Lucis, but at the ceremony where the paper is to be signed, Niflheim launches a brutal attack, and the entire royal family is reported to have perished in the struggle.
In truth, Prince Noctis, along with several faithful companions, are far away from the carnage in Lucis. Noctis begins a journey to reclaim his kingdom and take revenge on Niflheim, but he has one hell of a long road ahead of him.
HERE IN MY CAR
Square-Enix is presenting Final Fantasy XV as a “leading-edge” game. They’re seeking no less than for this title to become the sort of vaunted genre classic previous Final Fantasies have ascended to, and the past 10 years of development have been poured into making the game exemplary in visuals, world interaction, and combat. At a stage event at this year’s E3, several staff members of the game came up to explain just what makes FFXV so special.
One of these factors is the theme of a “road-trip adventure". The roadtrip theme was chosen, explained Director Hajime Tabata, because it’s a relatable sort of journey for many people: driving around the world in a car, seeing the sights, and stopping at things that catch your fancy.
The road trip doesn’t begin particularly well, however. When you begin the game, Noctis and his companions are stuck pushing a broken-down car along the road. Not exactly a princely thing to be doing, but better than being stuck in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, you manage to get the car to the mechanic Cindy, and the game immediately opens up to you. “We want to give you the freedom to explore the world right away,” Tabata explained.
In some ways, FFXV’s world feels fairly grounded – at least, at first. Your first few steps of freedom will take you into a sprawling outback, littered with shrubs, rocks, and mounds of dirt that stretch out as far as you can see. It’s not the prettiest of sights, but there’s something instantly relatable about it if you’ve ever taken a lengthy road trip. It’s later that you’ll be encountering the sort of massive summons and monsters that remind you that, yes, you’re playing a Final Fantasy game.
Of course, nondescript wilderness won’t be the only thing you see in FFXV, as you both drive and walk around, you might catch a glimpse of certain sights in the distance – such a a South-East Asian-inspired casino town. If it catches your eye, you can go there and check it out. The feeling of, “Hey, this looks cool - I want to investigate it,” is something the developers are hoping you’ll really enjoy about travelling in FFXV. (Thankfully, if you’re the type that wants to just watch the world pass by rather than sit behind the wheel, you can have the game auto-steer to specific locations.)
Noctis isn’t alone in his road journey across Eos, however. He’s accompanied by three faithful companions: Gladiolus, Noctis’s loyal bodyguard; Ignis, a brother-figure and master tactician; and Prompto, a dear friend of Noctis. While Final Fantasy XV is a single-player game, you’ll be spending plenty of time with your teammates, bonding across your journey as both dear friends and comrades-in-arms.
“Even though it’s a single-player game, it’s very much designed so that your companions feel like living, breathing people,” said Tabata. One such example Tabata gave was during the game’s camping scenes. Final Fantasy XV features an in-game day/night cycle, and when the team sets up camp for the night, they can do things like cook for each other, have conversations, and build their individual skills.
The other factor that makes FFXV so “leading-edge” is the game’s real-time battles. As the Final Fantasy series has evolved, there’s been a gradual shift away from the blue-backed menus of Final Fantasies past to more dynamic, real-time combat that feels more akin to that of an action game. Final Fantasy XV moves it more solidly into the “action” part of “action-RPG".
“You feel a more visceral, physical involvement in the combat of FFXV,” says Tabata. “It really feels great.”
The combat engine, this time around, is dubbed the 'Active Cross Battle System'. You’ll mostly be in direct control of a single character, Noctis, and rather than picking commands from a menu, you’ll be using controller face buttons to access them with ease in the heat of combat. Positioning is done in realtime with the analogue sticks, and there’s no transition screen from map to battle – where you go in the world is also where you fight. While your companions are AI-controlled for the most part, you’ll be able to issue them special commands mid-battle if you need their assistance. In some battles – such as the demo shown at E3 with the massive Titan – you may also need to engage in QTE-style events during specific moments.
Don’t like real-time combat? You’re in luck – as per FF tradition, there’s also a 'wait mode' for folks who might prefer something a little closer to traditional RPG combat. When wait mode is turned on, the player can momentarily pause the action, view their surroundings, target specific enemies, and choose their action before things resume motion again.
A key component of combat will be wise use of magical skills, and there will be several points in the game where you’ll need some more effective spells. In order to power up these attacks, you’ll need to find special areas of the world where you can gather energy. By using this energy, you can customise magic to have additional effects. We saw Noctis wielding a fire spell that had an HP-restoring effect tacked onto it, meaning that the spell would heal its user while simultaneously dealing damage to foes. While we’re not yet sure just how many possibilities this magic-making system offers, it has the potential to be incredibly cool.
Within just a few short months, we’ll be hitting the road with Noctis and friends. While there’s still a bit of trepidation towards FFXV from the franchise faithful after recent series missteps, Square Enix is hoping that the fast-paced combat, large explorable world, and character dynamics will make FFXV as important to the current generation of JRPGs as FFVII was 20 years ago. When the game releases on the 30th of September, it’ll feel like the end of one long adventure, and the start of an entirely new one.
Someone call Tom Cruise. War of the Worlds just arrived
Could be a screenshot from another game. Isn't. That's Final Fantasy!