ByMike Charest, writer at Creators.co
Mike Charest

If you know anything about the Final Fantasy franchise, you know there’s nothing particularly final about it. The series took on some big changes for this 15th chronicle in an attempt to both modernize the series and provide a logical starting point for new fans. I’m a little late to the review party on this one, but have been playing the game since its release.

'Final Fantasy XV': For Fans And Newcomers Alike

[Credit: Square Enix]
[Credit: Square Enix]

Final Fantasy XV faced some degree of an uphill battle. It isn’t perfect, and the new gameplay format naturally bothers some of the more stubborn traditionalists that think turn-based combat is the only way to go. As a fan who always felt these games would’ve been more action-based if the crazy animations were possible in 1997, I welcome a gameplay pace that finally feels worthy of these insanely skilled characters. Cloud standing there, waiting to take a punch always did look weird. And the franchise’s decision to beat the mediocre Final Fantasy XIII material into the dirt clearly suggested it was time for a change.

Balance

[Credit: Square Enix]
[Credit: Square Enix]

Final Fantasy XV achieves an odd form of balance that some players may find jarring. I personally felt the game knew exactly how to shift gears between larger than life thrills, relaxing downtime, and devastating heartbreak. Granted, the gang tends to dive headfirst from one to the other. But I didn’t feel as if any sudden shifts in tone were out of place or distracting. Square Enix even goes for a complete change in format halfway through the game, transitioning from a blissful open-world to one of the more breakneck linear stretches in recent gaming.

Of the 55 hours I played before the credits rolled, 45 of them were spent during the first half of the main story. Again, fans of either style may be taken aback by how the game evolves, but it is as perfectly paced as such a bold move can be. As a reward, the post-game content sends you back to the open-world to explore a wealth of new quest options and gameplay opportunities.

You'll feel like one of the guys. [Credit: Square Enix]
You'll feel like one of the guys. [Credit: Square Enix]

Square makes a clear effort to establish a world that feels more realistic, without abandoning the core principles of this fantasy-based franchise. Well, except Moogles, who suffer a horrible fate as decoy plushies with zero live appearances. But the world’s overall beauty and style successfully convey the idea that this game really is about four friends, who just so happen to be surrounded by monsters and magic.

There’s something very cool and different about driving around in a convertible luxury car, then hopping out to slay beasts with swords while a futuristic airship swoops by to drop off a fleet of armored machine gunners. Final Fantasy has always supported a union between medieval and futuristic fiction, but this marriage may be at its strongest in this particular chapter of the series’ history.

Give The Regalia A Chance!

[Credit: Square Enix]
[Credit: Square Enix]

There are a few constant mechanics that may be off-putting to less patient gamers, but they can be very easily dealt with and avoided. Many have complained about the Regalia, and the tremendous amount of time spent riding around in a car with minimal control. You even have to pay for gas, as well as pay for hotel rooms when there isn’t a nearby campground. The simple solution for this is the same solution for any problem in life: money!

Final Fantasy XV arms Noctis and company with more money than you’ll ever need. Don’t have the time or tolerance for that eight minute drive? Ten Gil is literally nothing in the grand scheme of this adventure. You can fast-travel your way to victory. If you’re anything like me, you may actually be fond of the way-less-repetitive-than-it-could-be banter between the guys and develop a real connection to the characters in their calmer moments. If you’re smart, you also know to take those minutes to check your phone while you effortlessly generate insane amounts of Ability Points/AP.

Fight Like A King

Team-up moves lead to Avenger-level goodness
Team-up moves lead to Avenger-level goodness

Aside from the routine chores that may split a few juries, Final Fantasy XV’s gameplay is extremely satisfying. Something as simple as chained attacks via holding a button makes you feel like you’re not button-mashing, which flows smoothly into the more advanced commands. The playable Noctis is absolutely armed to the teeth with increasingly absurd abilities that enable a godlike potential.

The game counters any smugness you might accumulate by throwing greater and greater challenges at you, keeping a well-paced adventure balanced every step of the way. Fights are fast and furious, but not exhausting. Post-game boss fights enter the realm of physically draining, but bonus content is meant to test the player’s limits. It’s tough to have a bad time while using one of the more refined combat systems and user-friendly skill trees in modern gaming.

'Final Fantasy XV': The Ninja Turtles

One could describe the boss battles in this game as threatening
One could describe the boss battles in this game as threatening

The story ramps up (no spoilers here) as time goes on, continuing to up the stakes from one chapter to the next. But FFXV is above all a character-driven (pun intended) experience. The guys take a simple but beautifully executed Ninja Turtles formula and apply it to the Final Fantasy universe. There’s the leader, the abrasive tough guy, the exceptionally smart one, and the comic relief. The reason it works so well, however, is because each character is layered and goes beyond their assigned Ninja Turtle role.

The tough guy loves to read. The comic relief gets a touching backstory. The stoic leader displays a dry sarcasm from time to time. They may be anchored by signature traits but, just like any of us, there’s much more to them. The four leads legitimately feel like real people. This gives every minute of the overarching story additional context. In a game that is ultimately about friendship and brotherhood, the importance of that team chemistry supersedes any background conflict with the evil empire.

The One-Way Ticket To Feeladelphia

The scenery in Final Fantasy XV doesn't suck
The scenery in Final Fantasy XV doesn't suck

The story itself uses an intentionally slow and ambiguous start to build these vital relationships. Once the story reaches Chapter 9 of 15 (the 14th serving as the actual finale due to post-game content), the plot acquires a laser focus and vaults into what is essentially an epic movie. Remember that jaunty joyride you just frolicked through for 40+ hours? It was all a trap.

Final Fantasy lulls you into a false sense of security, only to devour the souls of unsuspecting gamers. Final Fantasy is no stranger to emotion, and XV is no exception. If I were forced to nitpick, I’d actually say the characters tend to under-react to some of the dire circumstances presented in the story’s second act. Fortunately, this is addressed and fixed very thoroughly in the third. But one could argue that the cast is emotionally inconsistent in certain phases of the game. All things considered, the adventure takes on an increasingly heavy emotional weight, culminating in an extraordinarily memorable finale. It does so while maintaining the sense of fun and heart that took you this far, pleasing the balance of darkness and light that Square seems to love so much.

The Verdict

Final Fantasy XV not so subtly sells itself as a Final Fantasy for fans and newcomers alike. They do so by literally displaying “A Final Fantasy for fans and newcomers alike” every time you fire up the game. Between the game’s presentation and quality, this is an excellent starting point for anyone who might be loosely interested in the Final Fantasy series. I know 15 can be an intimidating number, but don’t hesitate to jump right in to this standalone adventure. The story is strong, the gameplay is stronger, and the characters are strongest. It’s an incredibly fun and satisfying game you can play at your own pace en route to an emotional payoff that’ll stay with you for a long time. I don’t know if Final Fantasy ever really “left” but, if it did, Final Fantasy is definitely back.

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