Final Fantasy XV (FFXV) is the latest release in Square Enix’s classic Final Fantasy series. Technically, this game has been out for at least a year or two, but only in 2018 was the Windows Edition released for PC players. The introduction scene when you boot up the game claims to be “a Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers,” implying that one does not need any prior experience with the series to enjoy this particular installment, and as a “first-timer” myself, I can certainly express agreement with that statement.
The Final Fantasy games, despite what the numerations seem to indicate, are actually not related story-wise at all, with each game taking place in a completely different universe. This particular iteration of Final Fantasy also features a completely different combat system from most of the previous games in the series, switching from a turn-based system into a real-time hack-and-slash that’s somewhat reminiscent of another Square Enix title, Nier: Automata (another fantastic game; going to shamelessly plug my previous review for it here). The story’s premise is centered around a young prince named Noctis, who’s forced to succeed the royal throne in order to save the world from being plunged into darkness, and to accomplish that he’s joined by three close friends.
From a technical perspective, the game looks great. The graphics are nice, the character detail is on point, and the world in general is very beautiful. The performance however leaves a little to be desired. On a new-generation, higher-end rig with an i5–8600k, GTX 1070, and 16 GB RAM, I was only getting about 50–70 frames per second playing through the game, and that’s on only medium/high settings on a 1080p monitor, where most other games would easily net 100+ on basically maxed settings. I don’t know how the optimization for the game is on lower-end systems, but I can’t imagine it to be a good experience for anybody with a lower-end system. As far as the controls go, for a PC port it’s not too bad. The controls can be a bit funky and can take some getting used to, but it feels pretty good after getting used to it, and you can always avoid that issue altogether by plugging in a controller which is what the game was initially designed for.
FFXV’s story is a pretty interesting one, and I actually enjoyed it, with a particular caveat. Square Enix released quite a few supplementary materials for the game to provide backstory and atmosphere before its actual release, including a movie called Kingsglaive and a short anime series called Brotherhood. You don’t have to watch those to enjoy the game, but without the details those materials provide the story can definitely have some confusing parts, which is a con in my book. There’s nothing wrong with having bonus material to support the story, but the story in the standalone game should not require having caught up on those bits in order to not be confused. That, combined with a rather railroaded second half that can feel a bit forced can definitely be off-putting to a few players who are trying to enjoy the narrative. While the core story may be a little shaky, I was a much bigger fan of the world building (some of the areas look amazing to travel through), as well as the overall design for the relevant characters, with particular props going to Noctis and his chemistry with his “choco-bros.” The way the four interact with each other is entertaining and feels very natural, and is pretty similar to how I would interact with my own close friends. General character interactions are also greatly improved by the voice acting (I played the English dub), which I felt was done extremely well for the most part. The four bros each have fantastic voice actors, and the voice actor for the main antagonist was also really strong as well. The only voice I disliked was Cindy’s voice actress, mainly because I felt that her southern accent was too over the top and exaggerated.
Outside of the main story, the majority of side quests are basically fetch quests, some more glorified than others (imagine Skyrim but in JRPG form), so there isn’t much writing to talk about regarding them. Fetch quests aren’t inherently a negative thing, but are more or less defined by the gameplay behind them. Fetch quests where the item(s) you need to get are found by killing a challenging monster are awesome, because usually from a gameplay perspective killing a big bad is fun, while fetch quests involving just searching some random area are boring and lazy in comparison. Most of FFXV’s fetch quests fall in the former category, so I didn’t have too many complaints.
FFXV’s greatness as a game is largely propped up by its combat system, which I found addictive. I have never played any of the prior Final Fantasy games, so I can’t say anything about the series’ classic turn-based system, but FFXV’s real-time combat mechanics really clicked with me. The combat does have quite a few mechanics to learn (the tutorial is recommended) beyond basic auto-attacks like warp strikes, techniques, link strikes, spells, and (spoilers) the Armiger. However, they’re not particularly difficult to learn so once you know how to use them they’re fairly easy to integrate into your arsenal. That said, how well you use those techniques is limited only by your creativity, and the potential depth for combat can actually get pretty deep by all the different ways you can use those skills to destroy your enemies. You also have the ability to switch gear and use items instantly in the middle of combat, so you can even make adjustments on the fly. To add even more flavor, once you unlock the appropriate perks, you can also switch to any of your bros during combat, allowing you to utilize their different skillsets (Gladiolus if you like swinging big swords, Prompto if you like shooting things, and Ignis if you like quick melee attacks with daggers). In my opinion, FFXV’s combat has a low skill floor as you don’t need to be a professional to beat it, but a relatively high skill ceiling with all the cool stuff you can do, which makes it really fun and accessible for gamers of all skill levels, from noobs to veterans.
While the combat mechanics are stellar, the character progression is something I’m less fascinated about. You gain ability points (AP) throughout the game from combat and other events, and can use those to give perks to Noctis, with the stronger abilities requiring more points to unlock. That’s not a bad thing, however some of the higher level perks require several hundred to 999 AP to unlock, which basically means you’re not really going to unlock those abilities unless you specifically grind for them. I don’t mind a little grinding every now and then, but excessive grinding to me feels like an artificial way of forcing players to play the game more. Now grinding is not necessary at all to beat the main game, but if you’re looking to tackle the post/end-game content which has a lot of really cool stuff, you’re going to be at a disadvantage if you don’t put in the time for the high level skills and gear. That said, the gameplay’s certainly fun enough to make grinding more tolerable than a lot of other games that also require you to grind to get the good stuff.
Outside of post-game, FFXV does have some additional bonus content outside of the main game in the form of DLC episodes, which let you play as different characters depending on the episode. Currently, at the time in which this review is written, there are episodes for each one of Noctis’s bros, and each episode adds a bit more to the main story in the perspective of whatever choco-bro you’re playing as. While you can always play as the bros in the main game by unlocking the right perks, but these episodes feature gameplay from only that particular bro, and if you complete the episode, you get access to additional skills when you play as them in the main game. I’ve had a lot of fun playing Gladiolus’s episode, and I plan to finish Prompto’s and Ignis’s as well when I get the time.
Overall, FFXV’s a solid game. Fairly well-written narrative (if you’re willing to consume the additional media released for it), great combat mechanics and enemy fights, and a lot of gameplay to exercise those combat mechanics. The progression can get a little grindy, but that won’t necessarily be an issue if you enjoy the grind (which isn’t that hard to do as the combat’s really fun). My only major gripe is the performance issues; I shouldn’t be getting only 50–70 frames per second given my specs and the settings I’m playing at. That said, if you have a rig that can handle this game, and if you enjoy open-world RPG’s, definitely give this game a chance.
Rating: Retail price on Steam is $10 cheaper than the standard $60 release price, but if you can get it for sub-$45 I would do that.