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 is 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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This is the first thing you see 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. It lets me know that they still can make games correctly. Let me share what I can of my experiences with you now.

Story Premise/Narrative

The world of Eos still has the influence of the gods. The Astrals, divine beings of immense power, still hold physical form within the world. Some men strive for the gods’ power, namely the Kingdom of Tenebrae. 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 an earlier time, 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.


While I prefer narratives to be forward facing, in that you do not know if there is a future, that is a personal preference. 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. 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 familarity. 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 blatent 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

While this title breaks from a rag tag group of misfits saving the world, this is one of the stronger casts I have seen in awhile. In the main story alone, the characters 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 the our protagonist in the world of Eos.

Out of battle, Noctis enjoys Fishing as a hobby. There are a number of fishing holes scattered around the game. I will speak more on this when it comes to game mechanics.

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 Noctus, 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.

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.

A Survivalist and consumate outdoorsman, Gladio will often find items in the aftermath of battle. Occasionally these will be potions and other curatives. Other times these will be items of resale value and other materials.

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.

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 in the group if for no other reason than for his mechanical accumen.

He is the groups’ official Photographer. I can relate 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 am 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 Noctus makes use of in this game. His father Regis once travelled the continent in his own adventure. The Regalia ferried him along.

The Old Girl is a stalwart companion as far as am concerned. Final Fantasy XV would not be the enjoyable roadtrip without her, so she gets special mention here.

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.

Lunafreya Nox Flueret, Gentiana, Umbra, and Priya

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. 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.

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.
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. Eos is not saturated with text-based detail of 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.

Overall Thesis – Speak about the characters as a whole, and how they work to highlight the Story, Theming, and Mechanics

Not a necessary point, but it may be good to flesh out the main cast if applicable.

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 and the Machine, plays during the opening cinematic. This goes a long way to set the tone that while friendship may not be magic, comradary 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.

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 to do.

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,

Can you play the whole game as Noctis himself, more or less alone? Certainly, more or less. 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 the lions’ share of that information. It gives enough to set out after, and 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 their own world and algorithms. While most do stay in town, the game world offers valid reason 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.

Overall Thesis – Speak on an overarching theme in the game, if any. If not exists per the plot, discuss how other elements are tied together to make a world.

e.g. – Devil May Cry will is not expected to have deep philosophical meaning. However, the gameplay, cutscenes, music, and stage design work together to build a world that is deeper than one might expect.

Music, Graphical Conveyance, Magical Industry, World Building

Potions don’t exist. In the sense that in the item descriptions many of the goods are benign, but due to Noctis’ magic are granted supernatural effects. “Potion” are just regular sports drinks for everone else. This small explanation sets your party apart from everyone else. It makes sense why you might find a “healing item” on a defeat soldier that they didn’t use. As a Hunter, this can also explain why your group of four relative ametuers 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? as the balance between the light and the dark shifts SO2 does the amount of daylight that remains in the world.

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 Field

In my opinion this game leans heavily towards Kingdom Hearts. The world is big and open, and you can see it all.

Leveling Systems, Play Styles, Nuts and Bolts. If noteworthy Saving options

Glitch Report

While new to PC, Final Fantasy XV was on at least the PlayStation 4 for some time. List any major bugs or noticeable hang ups during play.

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 farIf noteworthy, community and mod support

Closing

I have spent an inordinante 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 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 definately. But it stands well on its own.

I am hopeful this trend continues and improves.