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          This has become, quite unabashedly, my favorite Final Fantasy title since the PlayStation 2 era. I would be willing to wager that this is the best showing Square-Enix has put forth in as much time as well.


10/10
Action JRPG
This is a Final Fantasy title with Kingdom Hearts or Crisis Core flare
$50, PC. Versions on other systems have variable pricing with DLC
Bias Points: I am a lifelong Final Fantasy fan, and want to like everything Square-Enix puts out.


I love Final Fantasy.

NP017 Final Fantasy Nintendo Power Cover

          My first exposure to the Final Fantasy series was an issue of Nintendo Power dedicated entirely to this game. I read it like a storybook from cover to cover. I did so to such a level that the binding decayed and the pages began coming apart. I kept it together in a folder I had doodled weapons on myself. It sat with all of the artwork I made as a bit of inspiration.
          The first entry into the series I played myself was Final Fantasy VII. VII, Breath of Fire III, Star Ocean: The Second Story, and Legend of Legaia were the Holy of Holies in my PlayStation collection and all bought in a thick stack at the same time. I did not know JRPGs were a specific genre, but I loved these games. I knew them in and out. I know the stories, the songs, the mechanics… everything. Final Fantasy VII gave me my first emotional shock in a game. It was likely at that moment that my love of video games went from their being a simple diversionary toy into a viable, in-depth medium.

          I have a theory. If you come to like the Final Fantasy series, the first one you play holds a special place in your heart. It may not remain your favorite, but you will always remember it fondly. It always makes the question of “Which Final Fantasy should I play first?” difficult to answer. Most games come with a “…but…” of some kind. XIII has some positive traits and holds to modern conventions, but the story is enraging and it contains many of the ills I throw against Square-Enix. XII is excellent but, until recently, was hard to find. XI and XIV are good, but they are MMOs and require time and dedication. The list can go on, and this is before considering the personal tastes of the person asking.
          But now I can solidly say that if you are a modern gamer you should start by playing Final Fantasy XV. This does not come lightly. My annoyance with Square-Enix in recent years has become downright toxic. If you read my reveiw of Star Ocean: The Last Hope you know what I mean. I recently put a damper on a friends’ excitement regarding Kingdom Hearts III with how incensed Square-Enix’s release practices make me. I am not proud that I was such a cantankerous old man about it. I am more upset that the merging of two companies that I loved the works of as a child keep making major missteps.
          I expected to eventually find something about this game that I just could not stomach. But I was surprised. I enjoyed this game. Well into the post game, I am still enjoying playing. In fact, I am looking regretting needing to put it down to get to other works and reviews. For the first time in a long while, from start to finish, I stayed immersed in the world. My writers’ brain didn’t pick at any aspect of the world building. My hobbyist game designer mentality didn’t take severe issues with any of the mechanics. I am in the post game and still enjoying myself. It’s like I am a child again, loading up Final Fantasy VII to see how my friends are all over again.

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          You see this message whenever you boot up Final Fantasy XV. As someone who is well and solidly jaded, I will say that Square-Enix lives up to this statement. This time. It lets me know that they still can make games correctly in my eyes. Let me share what I can of my experiences with you now.

Story

          The world of Eos bears the presence of gods. The Astrals, divine beings of immense power, still hold physical form. Some men strive for the gods’ power, namely the Empire of Niflheim. They have fused magic and technology and it has led to their rapid ascension on the worlds’ stage. Of equal measure is a family line, granted power handed down in contract with the gods themselves. It is in this time of tension that we meet our protagonist, Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum of the Kingdom of Insomnia. A fiery and chaotic struggle unfolds, as Noctis is badly burned and pulled into a protective space by his royal guard.

          We flashback to ten years prior. In order to ease tensions with the empire of Tenebrae Noctis has agreed to marry one of their royals, Lunafreya Nox Fleuret. With the wedding a few short days away, Noctis sets off with his retinue of protectors. A short drive to a nearby harbor will have them ferried along to Altissia. This autonomous area within the Empires’ borders will serve as nuetral ground for the wedding. However, some car trouble sidelines the young entourage shortly after leaving their Crown City.


          I prefer narratives to be forward facing, in that you do not know if there is a future. Even so, I am pleased with how this story is told. One thing I particularly like about this game is how quickly you get to play it. There is an option to play a tutorial if you are starting a new game. While guided, there are sections that just let you practice fighting to your hearts’ content with no restraint. If you skip this, you will be at a point by which you will be playing the game in less than ten minutes or so. The game is not front-loaded with exposition. You aren’t forced into a primer on the world. The story comes over time and is set out like breadcrumbs for you to follow, rather than a food contest you’re charged to complete in an hour.
          If you are returning to the Final Fantasy series you will find a lot of familiarities. A Crystal, an Empire aiming to tear the world apart, four protagonists. I remember when Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within came out. It had used story points that I easily picked up from games VII, VIII, and IX that I balked. While I hold the opinion it could have been a better movie, I have learned to appreciate the nuance between homage and blatant rip-off. XV has enough unique spins to be engaging in its own right. But there are ample callbacks for the casual and FF Fanatic alike.

Characters

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          While this title breaks from a ragtag group of misfits saving the world, this is one of the stronger casts I have seen in awhile. It is a case of quality over quantity. Even before considering each party members’ DLC episodes they have their own motivations. This goes for the protagonist party and supporting characters alike. Even some of the story points feel vital because characters refuse to cooperate, even knowing that you are on a world-saving mission.

Noctis Lucis Caelum

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          The aforementioned Prince of Insomnia is our protagonist in the world of Eos.

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          Out of battle, each character has a Field Skill they specialize in. Noctis enjoys Fishing as a hobby. There are a number of fishing holes scattered around the game. As you level up the skill, you can catch larger fish, reduce the strain on your line, and spend less on tackle. The goods earned from fishing can be used as components in Elemancy (magic crafting), for Ignis’ Cooking skill, or simply sold for varying amounts of gil.

          Now here is a note I find odd and interesting. The running animation for Noctis always struck me as very strange somehow. I wrote it off as a norm of animation. Because this game looks more realistic, anything that is a little off is very jarring. As the backstory is revealed, a child-aged Noctis is frequently shown in a wheelchair. Due to some accident, he is said to still move with a pronounced limp. I do not know if the mere suggestion made me see it, but it looked to me as though this was present in the animation.
          Additionally, this was not the only part of the game that showed this. The Power of Kings known as Armiger is an ability you can come to develop. This is what lets Noctis’ father Regis maintain a 30-year wall around Insomnia. He is shown to walk only with the addition of a cane, leg brace, and nearby retainer. Later, when Noctis unlocks the Kingly Raiment of his father, you can see that Noctis also has a leg brace, but on his left leg.
          Further still, the severity of Noctis’ injury prevents him from ever utilizing Armiger to its fullest potential. Both he and Regis seem to have a troublesome time in battles needing the power due to the conditions of their bodies being less than whole. Even so, they persevere, giving some depth to the entire bloodline of character both featured and unseen.

          One aspect that Square-Enix has been driving me up the wall with for years is the naming of their characters. Cloud, Squall, and Lightning are all some weather event. Kingdom Hearts is far from exempt. And, again, don’t get me started on Star Ocean. At least this time around everyone has a strange name, so it comes off as a mark of culture rather than some branding of destiny that we are supposed to be surprised about.
          I brought this up with my friends. Prince “Night Light”, as I occasionally referred to Noctis, came from what slight Latin I have retained. A friend informed me that the name “Lucas” means ‘Lightbringer’. As such, our protagonist is one who brings Light into the Night. If you are like me that was a bit of a spoiler, however, it was well known in the story to all parties involved what would be required of Noctis.
          I digress…

Gladiolus Amicitia

          I am pleased that most of the characters have nicknames. Gladio comes from a family that has served the Royal Family of Insomnia for generations.

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          A Survivalist and consummate outdoorsman, Gladio will often find items in the aftermath of slaying foes. Most often these will be potions and other curatives. Gaining levels simply by running around on foot, you will begin to find items of resale value later on.

Ignis Scientia

          Ignis spent his life being groomed to be a retainer for Prince Noctis. This shows through in his serious demeanor, analytical approach, and attentiveness to detail.

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          Aside from being the Regalia‘s primary driver, he brings his passion for Cooking to bear for the party. Whenever your party camps at a Haven, Ignis will insist on preparing something for the party. Every meal comes with at least one bonus, and there are a few recipes that do not require any materials so you can always leave having eaten something.

Prompto Argentum

          Carefree and aloof, Prompto does not come from royal standing. However, he is no less valued by the group if for no other reason than for his mechanical acumen as well as his light heart. His upbeat attitude gives some balance to the gravitas held by the rest of the party. He is no less capable due to it.

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          He is the groups’ official Photographer. I can relate to this trait as I was deemed such in my group during my play of Final Fantasy XI. Be it in the midst of battle or during key events, Prompto will have a few handfuls of photos at the points of rest for you to add to a progressive scrapbook. As I use screenshots for my articles, I very appreciate to have an additional selection of curated images to choose from.

Regalia

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Yes, the car is a character.
Fight me.

          The Regalia is the first of many family heirlooms Noctis makes use of in this game. His father Regis once traveled the continent in his own adventure. The Regalia ferried him along.

          The Old Girl is a stalwart companion and Final Fantasy XV could not be the enjoyable road trip without her. Over the course of the game, you will be able to customize her appearance with a variety of color schemes, decals, and in the version of the game I am playing, a few differing traversal options.

Supporting Cast

Cindy Aurum and Cid Sophiar

          Lead Mechanic and Founder of Hammerhead Garage respectively, this duo is responsible for the care and upgrade of much of your tech. Least of all being the Regalia herself, for whom Cindy affectionally made the moniker “Old Girl”. Personally, I found myself returning to Hammerhead rather frequently, even if I didn’t need to.

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          In passing, I have heard some take issue with Cindy’s portrayal. My agreement comes not from a sexualized character per se, but from one of functionality. I do not know any mechanic that dresses in Cindy’s manner, at least not on the clock. And some of her design choices are… questionable.

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          Much as I said about Reimi from Star Ocean: The Last Hope, our first view of someone we should be taking seriously should likely not be a midbody shot highlighting their denim shorts. I do understand that she is supposed to be attractive, with a Girl Next Door vibe with Pin Up appeal. She even has a decal highlighting this. I would have been fine if there was a “Working Cindy” and “Time Off Cindy”.
          This could simply be a Western/American viewpoint on the matter. Maybe I am reading too much into it.

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Or maybe not.

Lunafreya Nox Flueret, Gentiana, Umbra, and Priya

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          Normally running parallel to the protagonist party are Lunafreya and her entourage. As Noctis comes from an unbroken line of Kings tasked with protecting the world, so does Lunafreya hail from a bloodline of Oracles. She is purposed with not only helping heal the scourges of the world but relay the plights of man to the gods.

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          In kind, Gentiana works in concert relaying the answers of the gods to man when they are unable to do so themselves. Priya is ever with Luna, while her partner Umbra acts as a go-between for Luna and Noctis, allowing them to keep in touch even though years have passed since their last meeting.
          Aside from these characters, everyone in the world feels important in some way. Nearly each of the named characters has a line of sidequests attributed to them. These will reveal to you the lions’ share of exotic locales the continent has to offer. Each outpost, gas station, and restaurant serve as starting points for adventures. Stocking up on items and, as I will discuss later, gaining buffs and redeeming Hunts.

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          There is a resounding theme of community in this game.
          Perhaps it is just me, but this game has quality over quantity. Final Fantasy XII (which also has a review in the works) contains named characters around every corner. Failing that, there are descriptive analyses of NPCs. So few of them have deep development. In fact, EVERYTHING has a name. Each individual section of an area has a different name. I tout this as one of the positive world-building aspects of the game, but it can be a bit overwhelming too.
          There are a few dozen named characters in XV, but each of them has a purpose. From the perspective of gaming, they provide quests and rewards. Whether you are hunting frogs, taking photos, or finding dog tags of other Hunter, the passions of the characters you help give glimpses into the world through its mechanics. Eos is not saturated with the text-based detail of XII’s Ivalice or Spira from X and X-2, but it does a lot with a little. The portions are just right to keep you hungry, at least they were for me.

Philosophy/Core Idea

          From pushing the Regalia to Hammerhead all the way through the end of the game, the importance of friendship is highlighted often. A rendition of Stand By Me, performed this time by Florence + the Machine, plays during the opening cinematic. This goes a long way to set the tone that while friendship may not be magic, camaraderie will be with you throughout your days come thick and thin.
          Perhaps it comes from my time in Final Fantasy XI, but each of the characters had a role they were more suited for than not. This made the characters vital, and it was noticed when they were absent for whatever reason. It changed the way the game was played.
          Alluding back to our Prince’s moniker, the Light of Hope being ever-present also resounds. I think one thing I like about the Final Fantasy series is that while our heroes always prevail, it does not bar the antagonists from succeeding. While I do not think I actually finished any Final Fantasy between II and VI, I know that Kefka Pallazo of VI did attain his goal of destroying the world. The only way to reach Ultimicia in VIII was to allow her to complete Time Compression. XII brought into question what the best path for mankind was, and it was troublesome to realize your goals without the enemy in some way also getting closer to theirs.
          Hearkening to the callbacks this entry contains it is unknown what the future holds. We do not know if the success of the party will be absolute or fall into some grey area. Through it, our “Warriors of Light” persevere together. That is always a welcome reminder.

Theming

          How to say all these things without spoiling the tale…
          As I said, each character of the game has a certain use. So when they are incapacitated it changes how the game is played. When they are entirely absent you notice that too. Everyone has strengths in battle, perks that they give on the field, and passive perks that go unnoticed, but add up.
          You play the whole game as Noctis himself more or less alone. You could go and discover every herb and vegetable growing site, every location of interest, and every hidden treasure on your own. But stopping in at a restaurant and talking to the proprietor will give you enough of a lead to spurn on exploration. And as you connect the dots you can find more trinkets on your own.
          So often when I play games it feels like my character(s) against the world. NPCs feel helpless or useless, confined to the world of their algorithms. In XV most NPCs do stay in towns and other settlements, the game world offers valid reasons for this. Even so, towns provide information outside themselves. I never left a town thinking it was a waste of time. It wasn’t just about items, it was about knowledge and insight. This was solidly designed in any case.

          The use of magic in this world is a strange one. Being in-full a call back to previous installments, the word “magitek” returns in XV. Once more an Empire makes augmented soldiers. Even so, the phenomenon of “magic” is foreign to much of the worlds’ populace. For example, Potions and like items don’t exist.
          The item descriptions of many of the goods are benign, but due to Noctis’ magic are granted supernatural effects. Outside of your party, “Potion” is a brand of sports’ drink. This small explanation sets your party apart from everyone else. It makes sense why you might find a “healing item” on a defeated soldier that they didn’t use. For them, it was just enriched water. As a Hunter, a group of professional monster slayers, this can also explain why your group of four relative amateurs is so much more effective than sizable swathes of those with decades of experience. They simply do not possess the means to spontaneously restore themselves in the field as you can.

          This may have more resonance as a Mechanic, but the Day/Night cycle in the game is rather telling. I am a sucker for pseudoscience. Have you ever seen a point in a story where the weather changes? Think of The Legend of Zelda, either Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess. During key parts of the game, the world is enveloped in rainfall to set a heavier mood.
          In XV as the balance between the light and the dark shifts so too does the amount of daylight that remains in the world. This is important because daemons, anachronistic creatures of terrifying power, roam the darkness. Even when the game begins the bastions of civilization are surrounded with sufficient illumination which keeps the daemons at bay. But travel, even by roads, stops after dark as daemons will erupt and attack anything living. Even the wildlife is largely absent at night, adding to the terror daemons project and can inflict.
          When the game begins, the sun will rise at about 6 AM, so too will your party. The sun sets around 7 PM and our heroes will begin turning on lights and suggest to rest around 8 PM. Daemons will begin to emerge to attack you between 9~10 PM. At 4 AM the sun will begin cresting the horizon. Any daemons that are still present take persistent damage due to the light.
          As events in the game progress, your days still start at sun up. However, that time comes later, between 8~10 AM. The sun sets earlier too, around 2~3 in the afternoon. This drastically alters how you play the game if you cannot handle a gauntlet of daemons by this point. The tensions in the world and story are strengthened by the presence of more aggressive and powerful daemons. But the fact that there are simply more of them is terrifying too. Beginning XV, I truly felt the world was mine. By the end, in which night was eternal, the world belonged to the daemons. In fact, I grew weary of combat at one point in the story because it simply did not end. So I avoided combat as much as I could.
          Speaking of monsters, one thing I noticed is that the wildlife actually has some life to it. As you are driving by on the road it is possible to see grazing and sleeping herds of animals. If other creatures enter their territory, a fight will ensue. Some creatures are docile, and will not attack you. More predatory creatures will ambush you. While I consider it a “small touch” to not have every enemy in the world out to get you, this was probably not a small element to program. I noticed and appreciated it. I did find it funny when dropships would try to ambush me while I was fighting a daemon, only to be taken out by said daemon while I reaped the rewards from it.

Mechanics (Controls and Handling)

          Perhaps it is due to my familiarity with the series, but I find a lot on offer in regards to gameplay. The whole of XV is set up to be accessible and user-friendly. The main game is rather straightforward, and I think can be stumbled through with veritable ease. The Hunts offer plenty of challenges in enemy arrangements, locations, and restrictions to access. There are abundant side quests to reward exploration.
          And, at any point there is major trouble, there are both Wait and Easy modes which can be used separately or in conjunction. Wait Mode will be elaborated upon below. Easy Mode allows Carbuncle to assist you with revival and statistical buffs if you happen to reach a point where you require the use of a Phoenix Down. This applies even to DLC content.
          Anyhow, down to brass tacks.

The Field

          As soon as you get the Regalia to the garage, you are free to run about the world as you wish. While the Main Questline will guide you and open more up, you can play around with that as you want.
          You start the game off the game proper at Hammerhead Garage. This falls under the general term of an Outpost. The most basic are simply Parking Spots, which allow you to fast travel to them for a small fee of 10 gil once discovered. More popular locals may have a variety of amenities. Caravans are common, and allow you to rest and tally your experience points earned. Additionally, they provide a small multiplier to experience points earned.
          After this, there will usually be some support for transportation. If this is a fueling station you can top up the Regalia‘s tank. Later in the game, you will have access to chocobos and can customize them at their home locale. There are often yellow chocobo rental ‘kiosks’ at places of this size. There are ordinarily vendors of some kind in these places. Weapons, leisure items, ingredients, and healing items can often be found for sale here. More importantly, to me at least, were the MEMORIES key items which let you play songs from other Square-Enix titles, mostly Final Fantasy installments.
          Next up there are restaurants. Hosting fast, dive, and comfort foods the proprietors can also mark your map with points of interest. This can include taking up Hunts. They will always reward gil, but for the first time, you can help increase your Hunter rank while also getting other items.
          Lastly, there are what can be classified as towns and cities. The number of NPCs in these places is much higher than normal and you are liable to find side quests here. There is usually a local variety of specialized goods, restaurants, and other services.
          Setting out from any of these Outposts allows you to explore the rest of the map. These include Fishing spots for Noctis’ Field Skill, procurement points for a variety of items, and other points of interest. As you need a respite, you can find Havens where you can Camp.

Camping

          One of my biggest questions in expansive games is why there is, so rarely, formal eating and sleeping settings. It has always been odd to see big, lush worlds in which no one ate anything. Conversely, Final Fantasy XV makes this a central mechanic.
          Havens are safe areas in the wilderness that all people can rest at. Powers which flow from the Oracles’ blessing endure and any seeking to survive a night safe from daemons should find one. For our needs, this is where we rest from each day. You gain experience not only for character levels but for the field skills. However, they are only tallied and redeemed from resting. A good strategy is as such:

-If you plan on going on a Hunt/Side Quest/Main Quest, start by camping and getting a food buff.
-Do your task.
-If you wish to and can afford it, find a hotel in your budget for an EXP redemption bonus. Otherwise, head to camp to rest and level up.

          I found this to be fairly evenly paced. Prompto always snaps at least one picture. As some recipes require no ingredients you can always cook something with Ignis. Unless you are driving and riding chocobos everywhere Gladio’s Survival will increase. I found Fishing to be the only skill that could not be done passively. However, depending on what you catch, you will have ample ingredients for Ignis to use.
          These will likely be the places in which you tally your experience points most frequently. As it costs you no money to rest here, you gain no additional bonus in this regard. Both your primary character level and your Field Skills will be tallied. I found that resting at every haven I came to, especially in the beginning of the game, set me up for all the passive bonuses quite nicely.

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          This is where Ignis plies his culinary talents. As far as leveling this skill, more elaborate dishes provide greater bumps to this skill. That said, even recipes such as Flame Roasted Toast which cost the player no materials will add to the skill although minuscule. If you have a chocobo in tow you will have to feed them as well. There is an unlimited supply of Gyshal Greens which grant no particular bonus. At the top tier, Syklis Greens increase stamina for sprinting, native galloping speed, and jump height.
          While everyone eats, Prompto will share photos he has saved from the day. The more he has taken, the more this skill will grow. He can only keep ten, though finding and equipping the Camera Strap accessory allows him to keep fifteen.
          Noctis can also train against his allies here, which will earn some AP (explained later) and an accessory after each initial victory per tier.
          Resting at certain Havens activates a Tour sidequest with a given character. Completing them will grant a noticeable amount of AP and some insight into the adjoining character.
          At sun-up, whenever that happens to be, the party will set out. You can choose to wait until a certain time of day if you choose. Food buffs will not wear out any of their duration, but chocobo rental time will tick down.

Combat

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          While going through the world, you will, of course, come into contact with enemies to face. Most enemies you will see, and you can run around their area and avoid them. Some tamer creatures will not become aggressive at all. When the background music stops and a red bar begins to stretch across the top of the screen you are being watched. If it flashes, the battle music will kick in. Even then, leaving the perimeter of combat will have you graded and rewarded for your efforts accordingly.
          While it felt somewhat counterintuitive to me, the combat controls are very simple. On my Steam Controller, A (bottom face button) made Noctis jump, holding B went into a melee chain with the equipped weapon, holding X allowed for evading attacks via Phasing, and Y initiated a Warp Strikes. The latter can do more damage the further you travel to your target. This can be used to close distance or perhaps ascend to other body parts on larger subjects. This should be used cautiously. Warping and Phasing use up Noctis’ MP. When he attempts to use these skills when his MP is too low or wholly depleted, he is afflicted with the Stasis status. This will cause him to appear dizzy for a few seconds fully halting whatever action he was taking. This leaves him wide open for attacks. But as you can be wholly mobile in this game, you can navigate around enemies to Blindside them. If you are crafty you can remain in these blind spots and really rack up the damage.

          Unlike other Final Fantasy titles, you control Noctis full time. His allies attack and support on their own. I am impressed by this title because they actually do a good job of it. It sounds callous, but most of the time I did not need to worry about going out of my way to revive party members. I did not even need to stop to use an item for them unless it was a Phoenix Down.
          Even in the face of mighty foes, your party will be standing tall. And all the while they will be waylaying your enemies in their own way. However, if any of them are near to you while you Blindside and occasionally harry knocked over and Vulnerable foes, you can Link Strike with your allies. This will do significantly more damage than normal.

          Still, I supported them and they did the same with me. There is a green Tech Bar that will fill up over time. Along with weapons and attire, you can select with Tech you want each to use. Using them will increase the chances that they will land a critical hit, and many can have Noctis follow up for added damage.
          Each character has their own flavor, and this is expressed in their movesets. Personally, I have a 1-2-3 setup. Each Technique depletes the Tech Bar by a set amount. I have a technique at each point most of the time so that I can adjust damage and exploit the battlefield as I see fit on a moments’ notice.
          Gladiolus is certainly a tank. His damage output it high, his defense is stellar, and he is the only character that reaches maximum HP without special effort. If you are working up close and personal on the ground it is likely that Gladio will be Link Striking with you frequently. With his shield, he will be unmoved and unyielding to the adversary and protect Noctis as well. His greatswords allow him to do large damage to a wide area. Many of his techniques expand on this. They can take some time to aim and wind up but are powerful when they hit.

          Favored Technique: Impulse, 3 – Gladio swings his sword, causing a wave of energy to lash out. This can hit each enemy in range two or three times. From what I have noticed part of the attack hits behind Gladio, reducing the earlier stated need to be so picky about aiming the strike. Additionally, this attack can hit multiple body parts, even those above Gladio’s normal ground-bound reach. This can be a devastating attack on large opponents as it can hit them 3~6+ times. Once you get the Technique Limit Break, it is great for clearing out lesser enemies at the same time. Once I got this move I never looked back.
          Plus, it reminds me of Tachi: Fudo from Final Fantasy XI and my friend Rai.

          Ignis is a tactician through and through. His use of abilities like Libra will reveal enemy weaknesses to you. With his daggers and polearms, he can attack efficiently at most every range. His techniques are, similarly, situational. None are really a catch-all…

          Favored Technique: Overwhelm, 2 – …but that doesn’t stop me from trying. Ignis lets out a rallying cry, and all your allies bum rush a single opponent using every weapon at their disposal. Gladio has sword and shield, Prompto is shooting guns and machines, Ignis himself is letting fly with daggers and spears. For a LONG time, I thought Noctis was auto-attacking. This move was a terror, and I wasn’t even adding to it. When I pick the right weapon, it just ices the cake.
          Disclaimer: I have had Overwhelm just miss. Just completely miss an enemy, because I call for it and the enemy moved well out of range before it went off. I have had party members gets knocked down, thus removing them from the battle rotation. Sometimes I targeted the wrong section on large enemies (the arms of Iron Giant types was common) or would miss small, dodgy ones (Cactuars and Tonberries). But all the times it happened, it was me. I did not read the enemy, I did not heal my allies.
          That said… Overwhelm is directly responsible for some of the worse massacres I’ve delivered in this game. Rivaled only by Gladio’s Impulse, Prompto’s Trigger Happy, and anything The Royal Edition added for Noctis due to simplicity. However, I got Overwhelm fairly early. When you make an enemy Vulnerable, use Overwhelm, and keep them locked? There were difficult hunts that were made simple this way. Again, large enemies can be hit multiple times. While the targeting is singular, many of the moves used have an area of effect. I find that using Overwhelm on the toughest opponent will also do harm to the relative peons.

          Prompto is the least sturdy character. Without the DLC attire, his HP floats around 5,000 even at level 120. With the Tundra Attire, it lifts a bit. However, the majority of his weapons are ranged. In that vein, many also have some special status effect to them and could be used accordingly.

          Favored Technique: Eh… If I have to use a one bar technique to stick to my 1-2-3 setting, Piercer gets picked. It is quick, Noctis can chain with it, it will have a high critical rate and end game, and can be used quickly. If you are sitting on a full Tech bar you can break a targets’ appendage(s with good aim) and then target Overwhelm for some high damage. Starshell can be useful, especially when dealing with daemons, and the same tactic as with Piercer. Just switch Starshell in after Piercer has done the breaking. These both cost one segment of the tech bar.
          That said, Trigger Happy can be a powerful move. It can spray a target, and lastly the area, with bullets, all capable of inflicting the attached status ailment of the equipped gun if the enemy is vulnerable.

          All of this happens in the field. No blinking into a pocket battle dimension. Early in the game, much of the battle landscapes have a place you can target and Warp to. This will allow you to survey the environment and recover your MP in exchange for Stamina.
          Most of the time the battles will be fairly simple, though in some cases you can use the arena to your advantage. However, sometimes the arenas work against you. Large enemies with sweeping attacks and massive areas of magical effect placed in small areas mean you must be aggressive, defensive, and attentive to the health of your party all at once.
          Rewards for combat always include some amount of experience points added to your pool. If allies recommended battle strategies, you will gain AP. Also, you can receive items from fallen foes, broken appendages, and Gladio’s Survival skill.

AP and the Ascension Grid

          This all important resource lets you improve your party from the Ascension portion of the main menu. Due to some of the DLC bonuses, I earned a lot more than I think I would have otherwise. It took completing the game, all the quests, catching most varieties of fish once, auto-driving, camping, and then grinding via Warp Strike killing enemies to get the Ascension Grid filled out in my first play though, and that was only with the DLC items.
          Akin to the Sphere Grid, Licence Board, or Chrysarium from X, XII, and XII respectively, the Ascension menu gives you a place to apply AP to improve your parties’ effectiveness. The landscape is broad reaching. Depending on your play style some will be invaluable. Others passive, but welcome. While others can go without use. You can still effectively learn to use each portion and be that much more effective.

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          After playing the demo the first place I started was Exploration. These provide a number of passive boons. These range from longer lasting buffs from Ignis’ meals at Camp to greater quantities of items that Gladio can find via Survival. To me, of greatest import were those that granted AP, and XP to a lesser degree, while traversing and engaging in other tasks. These are small individually. But after they have activated enough to offset their purchase cost they are solid investments.

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          Combat focuses on Noctis and his in-battle capabilities. This improves his dodging, aerial offense, reduce MP lost by dodging, and provide bonuses for precisely controlling him among other bonuses.

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          Teamwork focuses on the interplay between the party members, and also gives them new attack and countering options.

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          Stats paves the way to boost your parameters. RPGs are numbers games and every little bit helps. That said, you do not get a lot of numberical buffers here. More valuable, I think, is the capacity to equip more accessories all at the same time.

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          When you choose to use Wait rather than Active battle style, you may not even notice a difference. When you come to a standstill the action will halt, allowing you take a solid look at your surroundings. I tried this at the beginning of the game and, finding I did not need it, switched to Active. However, it did come in handy in fighting Omega so I won’t knock it.
          When Waiting, a bar ticks down showing you that you only have a limited time to plan and execute what you wish to do. One of the later boons in this section is to halt this entirely. When it came to Omega, there is one spot it is vulnerable, and being able to stop and target it made things easier for me.
          This part of the Ascenion grid boosts damage, analyzes more swiftly, and makes Wait Mode a powerful strategic tool if you choose to use it.

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          Armiger is an “ascended state” that Noctis comes into early in the game. It allows you to wield multiple legendary weapons simultaneously. This segment of the grid makes it more efficent and lets you gain more by way of AP and XP in its use.

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          This segment streamlines the Elemancy mechanic, which is the use of magical energy to make spells. There are elemental deposits dotted around the world, mostly near Havens. Once extracted, the energy can be mixed in Flasks. Putting items into the mix gives some added oomph and other special effects. This, in essence, gives you a set of magical grenades. These can be equipped to all the characters. Nodes on this section of the grid add more potency, allows additional spells to be created per crafting, grants more energy per extraction, and offers to add AP to every spell used.
          Elemancy went mostly unused by me for much of the game. The crafting system is actually rather fair. Even a single portion of elemental energy will give you about three spells even without Ascension progress. Additionally, there are plenty of items that will cause you to be healed when using the spell, or grant greater experience gains.
          While all the characters can have spells equipped, I have seen them used less than a handful of times. This not wholly unwelcome as there is friendly fire to worry about. Both the initial spell and the aftereffects can harm allies too, making spell use prohibitive without precaution.

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          Recovery improves how effective you and your allies heal each other. Some enhance self-care, others can quickly bring a party member back in the fight if the assisting member is at high health. Some grant defensive buffs for pulling someone out of Danger status. This is the basis of a safety net. Typically, as long as one ally is standing, the rest can be pulled up in swift order.

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          Techniques unlock more abilities that can be utilized via the Tech Bar. The ones mentioned in the Mechanic>Combat section are the ones that I feel are worth chasing, and swiftly. It is expensive to max out but worthwhile to have options.
          I am not 100% certain if this was a DLC addition, but there are also nodes here that allow you to change to other characters, controlling them as they did in combat in their respective Episodes.

          In comparison to the systems in other Final Fantasy entries, I found the Ascension system useful because it was so comprehensive. I recall that the last node I redeemed was for getting experience points from Fishing. I did not fish enough for it to be viable in the main game and once I was in the post game I had ample opportunity at spamming experience. Magic and Elemancy were also low on the list. As such, you can prioritize what is of import to you and your play style. Additionally, the path is a lot less nebulous.

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The Menu

The rest of the menu screen has the standard fare.

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          Map and Quests will lead you to a screen with an overview of the world. The former will allow you to set a marker for custom destinations as well as see all major outposts, dungeons revealed, quest destinations, and change your self-set destination. The latter gives you a quick listing of active quests and where their next stage will take place. Main quests are fairly solidly displayed on the map. Only one Side Quest or Hunt can be indicated on the minimap at a given time.

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          Gear allows you to equip the party with the weapons and wares for combat. Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto each have a primary and auxilary weapon to choose from. While they can all equip spells in the second slot, I have rarely seen them used. Noctis, on the other hand, can use every weapon type you come across. Additionally, he can have four equipped at a time and freely switch between them. Some stats, like HP, are increased even when the weapon isn’t actively used. For instance, I used swords nearly exclusively. The other equipment slots were aimed at increasing my efficacy.
          The party can also equip accessories and different ensembles of Attire. Each of these can alter stats in a variety of ways and, along with balancing with the effects of food, can allow you to play what would otherwise be above your head. For example, if you have a Ribbon equipped, neither your Attire nor food need to grant you status immunity. You can then boost defenses and your offensive stats, or whatever you prefer.

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          Skills show you the progress of he Field abilities mentioned earlier: Fishing, Survival, Cooking, and Photography.

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          Elemancy is where you make spells.

          Items is a self-explanatory menu option, listing out all the items collected during your travels.

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          Archives contain a variety of references. These included Bestiary, Fishing records, Recipe(h)s, character dossiers, and world lore, the last of which was added into the March editions of the game as I understand it.

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          Timed Quests are similar to the games’ DLC, in that it relies on what I am calling “peripheral data”. Each of these quests is active for a twenty-four hour period. Complitiong them provides QP. QP is saved outside of all of your save files independently. As such, you can stockpile enough QP to start a new game with a hefty amount of gil, AP, or rare items.

          Aside from all of this, you will have a quick look at each of the party members, their progress to the next level, active buffs, AP, and gil accumulated, and remaining time on chocobo rental periods.

Replay Value

          The replay value of this game is enormous, especially when compared to other Final Fantasy titles. One of my biggest complaints of the series thus far is that it always requires a fresh start, unlike say Chrono Trigger. With such an old and well-lauded game being designed for it, it was always surprising to see Square not include it in later titles. To date, only sequels and spin-offs have had New Game Plus. I welcome its addition here and look forward to its inclusion in future installments.

          Once you finish the game, aside from being treated to some cosmetic alterations, you can restart the story. Not only can you start it from the beginning, but by using Chapter Select, you can begin from the start from any of those segments. If you are trying to fill out your bestiary and missed an enemy or four found in a certain chapter (like me) you can jump to that chapter directly. And when ready to restart the story, you can select whichever file you wish to go from as long as it has Game Clear data recorded. From what I can tell, the only thing that is lost is the quest and map progression. Everything else, from your Gear, levels, chocobos, is all retained.

          On top of this, I have to talk about the DLC. It may not be a model for other works to follow, but in this game, I feel it is done right.
          First off, the “starter kit” that is provided is perfectly set. Tools for the fishing mini-game gave me plenty of time to learn the ropes, and because they were the second best it did not eliminate the usefulness of quests to gain better items.
          The “Fanfare” items provide AP based upon top marks for combat performance. With an A+ grade, you will get…

…1 AP for Offense, charted by damage inflicted with the Warriors’ Fanfare.
…4 AP for Finesse, charted by blindsides, parrying, dodging, and other defensive measures with the Technicians’ Fanfare.
…2 AP for Time, charted by how quickly you finish an encounter with the Blitzers’ Fanfare.

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          While seven is the maximum, I normally earned three. The strength of your opponents does not directly matter in gaining these bonuses. Whether the strongest bosses or utter peons, you can earn equal amounts of AP. One or three AP may seem small. But when going after 999 AP nodes, every little bit helps. Wearing these accessories full time kept me on an even keel with bosses and heartier marks as I progressed in the game. At the very least, it is MUCH better than earning no AP at the end of a battle.

          Many of the Attire options were fun and, failing that, situationally useful. Noctis’ Royal Raiment is not only stylish in being something that I would wear, but the most favorable attire option for me.
          Along with this comes an array of weapons. What could be equipped by others I did. But I find the Ragnarok to still be useful. It is expertly balanced. Much like the fishing gear, it is not the best sword out there. It will soon be outclassed in regular damage. However, the stronger Warp Strikes kept it in my rotation for a long time, especially when I had to restort to hit-and-run tactics. Using this helped cement my normal three AP after battle due to the Fanfare items, coming atop Warp Strike finishers.

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          With the unveiling of Omega and the Rare Metal accessory, you can make Noctis a true glass cannon. Even with enemies of level 140, I could regularly inflict 10,000+ damage on regular hits. As such, this weapon was balanced for the life of any given file.

          Moving on to meatier fare, Final Fantasy XV is Noctis’ story. Each segment of story DLC shows the world apart from Noctis. It does what I hoped Compilation of Final Fantasy VII would have become: A selection of games that reveal more about the world and characters, tailored more to each characters’ idiom.
          Normally, in cases like this, I would recommend playing the DLCs as is appropriate for the story. There is a small caveat. Each of the DLCs adds something tangible to the main game, and I simply love that. Completing each segment as it arises in the story is sensible, but leaves these items becoming outclassed sooner than not.

          For reference…

-Episode Gladiolus occurs during Chapter 7. The earliest DLC, Gladiolus’ rewards are top tier for the longest time. You still have some time to engage in hunts and the like before hitting a “point of no return” of sorts.
-Episode Ignis occurs during Chapter 9, though playing at Chapter 10 filled in gaps for me nicely. However, his reward weapons’ usefulness was debatable at this point, and he was not particularly effective for some time due to the story.
-Episode Prompto occurs during Chapter 12~13. Prompto’s return leaves little space to use his spiffy new weapon. Additionally, events have him toting an armament of comparable use nearly as soon as he returns.
-The Comrades Expansion occurs between Chapters 13 and 14 and adds recipes rather than weapons.

          When I spoke of Timed Quests I used the phrase “peripheral data”. The rewards from the DLC function in the same way. Once you have beaten Episodes Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto as well as had seven qualified chefs treat you from Comrades (unsure if this is one at a time or all at once as I only learned after the fact) these items will be available to all files associated to your profile.
          This means that your supporting party members will have weapons strong enough to be solid up until the latter half of the game, or the harder dungeon and quest rewards. You’ll have additional outfits to choose from allowing for increased health, resistances, damage output, and item drop rates. Ignis will have seven new recipes. Some can be made with effort early on, and some are valuable even in the post game.
          This leaves you with a choice. Complete the DLC and risk a few spoilers for better gear, or accept that the tools are still viable, and will be there to really have fun with if you ever start the game over in a regular setting.

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          Something that everyone can enjoy equally is The Royal Vessel. It allows for some exceedingly challenging fishing, and in one instance makes way for a titan of a recipe. Though it will take a lot to stockpile the needed fish.

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          Granting unlimited sprinting, guaranteed critical hits, boosted stats, and greater experience gain makes this a titanic meal. The last two are part of a buff called “Prime” so there is not a “wasted slot” as with some other bonuses. Atop this, this food is a favorite of Noctis and so the Tech Bar fills up faster, again saving a buff slot normally needing “Technician” to activate. Five buffs from one dish is nothing to snuff at. Again… the Tuna you need to catch is.

          Lastly, for the achievement hunters, most of the achievements are not terribly heinous, especially in the main game. Few of them are “Complete EVERYTHING”, but rather “Make a good show of substantial progress.” For instance, one achievement is filling up 80% of the Datalog. I inadvertently skipped most of Chapter 13 by switching from Noctis to Gladio and Ignis. (There will be an option to play Chapter 13, Verse 2 from the main menu after the game has been beaten.) A solid amount of the entries were here. However, while completing the Menace Beneath Lucis questline, I earned this. Even without a lot of fishing and recipe work, I managed this. The funny this is because there are no 100% achievements I am more driven to complete everything the game has on offer.
          This game will give back what you put in. Participate and complete the DLC, and you will gain permanent rewards, even in new games. Switch into New Game Plus and you will have the advantage of weapons, money, equipment, and information on enemies to plan your attacks. Have real fun customizing the Regalia as you see fit. You do not need to come back immediately. But when you do, you are likely to have more fun than you remember.

Closing

          I have spent an inordinate amount of time within my first single player go-round of this game. I legitimately enjoy everything about it. It hits many familiar notes as to be a comfort yet expansive and fresh enough that I have not tired of it.
          I am skeptical of myself. Between this, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, and Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, I must seem like I am singing the praises of Square-Enix fervently.
          Here is the caveat. I was a fan of Square, and of Enix. I have been ludicrously critical of the results Square-Enix has unveiled since their merging. While I wanted to continue liking what I played, for a long while I simply couldn’t. But now I can.
          One good point is nice. But now I am seeing a pattern, which is of greater import. I am seeing signs of a company that listens to not only their native but the global audience. I am seeing a library of thirty years being brought definitively into the realm of accessibility.
          Final Fantasy XV is a good game, hands down. When compared to some of the other more recent FFs, most definitely. But it stands well on its own.

I am hopeful this trend continues and improves.

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