“Final Fantasy XV” is an action RPG released on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2016. The most recent game in the Final Fantasy series, it has also been one of the most commercially successful Final Fantasy games. Due to a number of different circumstances, FFXV was in development for a decade, an eternity for game development time frames. Does the latest Final Fantasy game stand up that well against the rest of the series, or do the massive sales just reflect fan hype for the long-awaited release?
Story - 7/10
The story of FFXV was surprisingly good, given how cookie cutter the stories of the JRPG genre tend to be. Most could be summed up as, “an unlikely group of individuals band together to save the world.” In contrast, FFXV is filled with nuance, and more poignant interactions between characters. As much as the game starts off with a sort of “hanging out with my bros” feeling, it genuinely builds to something more significant and touching.
Every character in the main cast of FFXV has a depth and individuality that I haven’t seen in a game in a long time. Even without the tie-in content of the anime and other media, the characters seem so real and relatable. They have personality, they have quirks, they have skeletons in their closets. Some of the setbacks that the party experiences seem so much more devastating when they feel like people you actually know. Through the course of the story, every character experiences an absurd amount of growth and evolution. Watching this change, while following the party along their journey, is just such a joy.
As much as the playable area of FFXV feels small, I do like that it seems convincing. Instead of having a suspiciously linear sequence of towns and areas, Lucis is mostly open. There is a region of Lucis that is blocked off until a certain point in the story, but otherwise, it is primarily an open world that players can explore at their leisure. There are larger cities, smaller towns, and all the sorts of areas that one would expect in a real place. It just makes sense. The world of Eos isn’t my favorite Final Fantasy locale, but I did enjoy exploring it.
Length of FFXV is extremely variable, depending on how much players gravitate toward the main quest line. If you do only the core story, you could probably beat the game in 20 hours or so. I did a balanced mix of story and side quests, and finished the game in about 50 hours. Upon finishing the main quest, players can go back to complete other side quests, work on collectibles. Overall, you could probably sink somewhere in the ballpark of 80 to 100 hours for everything. I wouldn’t say this gives FFXV much replayability, but you can spend a lot of time doing non-story content.
The reason that I dock pretty much every point that I did from a perfect 10 on story is the existence of “Final Fantasy XV Universe.” This is a collection of extra tie-in material to explain more about the story of FFXV. In my opinion, any game should be able to stand alone and fully tell its story. Sure, you can add DLC to extended stories, or extra content, but the core game should be able to stand alone. While FFXV *can* stand alone, there is a huge amount of story content that is just entirely bypassed. If you want the full story, you have to play the demo, watch the movie, watch the anime, play the arcade game, and play the mobile game. For me, that is absolutely inexcusable. I understand that it allows Square Enix to recycle content from the decade-long development process that would otherwise be wasted, but I don’t want to play and watch so much other stuff just to get the full story for a single video game. I watched the anime, but I’m not wasting my time on all of the other media. I got from the story what the game gave me, and that’s all I’m bothering with.
General Gameplay - 7/10
Navigation in FFXV is pretty interesting. For most of the game, you use the Regalia as your primary mode of transportation. Players can either drive it themselves with Noctis in the driver’s seat, or pick a location on the map and have Ignis automatically navigate to it. Considering how long the load times are for the game, this usually ends up being faster than quick traveling. Something that isn’t offered by many games, especially those with such beautiful scenery, it’s nice to just sit back and look around as Iggy takes you to your destination.
Menus are mostly straightforward. The map is nice, in that you can scroll around manually, or step through a list of destinations. Items are sortable, and the “tactical” menu in combat can be stacked in whatever order you want. The Ascension grid is where you can spend AP to unlock sequential nodes of power ups. One menu that I didn’t really enjoy was the equipment screen. It isn’t very clear what you have equipped versus what you have selected for individual equipment types. Even when you understand that, I couldn’t find an easy way to determine stat changes for weapons and accessories without unequipping and then re-equipping them. Nothing terrible, but it does get annoying with as much as you might need to change equipment.
Inventory management isn’t much of an issue, since I didn’t encounter any limit on number of unique items, or how many items can be in a stack. While I never bought as many items as I could to try to max anything out, I consistently had enough items for use in combat without hitting a cap on them.
There aren’t many collectibles in the game, but there are several “Royal Arms” that can be obtained for extra benefits. Some are rather easy to obtain, others are pretty difficult. All in all, I think those have a good balance of difficulty and reward. The only unfortunate thing is that there are only 13 of them, so players who want more collectibles might be disappointed.
While variety may seem to be unnecessary, Square Enix decided to throw a stealth level in near the very end of the game. Early adopters hated the chapter, as it added entirely new game mechanics that made absolutely no sense. As such, Square Enix later changed the chapter to make it less cumbersome and offer an alternative route, but the decision to include it at all makes absolutely no sense.
Combat - 7/10
I make it no secret that I hate action RPG combat. For me, turn-based is the best way to experience an RPG. I’ll play action RPGs here and there, but most of them are just alright in my mind. Fortunately, the combat of FFXV was done really well in my mind. It isn’t quite button mash-y, but you also don’t have to be super precise and skillful with your inputs. Different weapon types have different mobility options, and there is an interesting dynamic between what you prefer to use as a player, and what individual enemies are weak to.
In addition to weapon resistance and immunity, most enemies also have weakness and resistance to elemental attacks. Elemancy in FFXV consists of combining elemental essence with items, and storing them in flasks. A flask can only have up to 3 casts of a particular spell, and each flask takes up one of your 4 maximum weapon slots. This means you can only have a single non-elemancy weapon equipped, if you have each of the 3 elements equipped. Changing equipment can be done on the fly, but it can also be really annoying to have to do it frequently to match.
Once you get the Ultima Weapon, you can mostly ignore the rest of the weapons and elements. For better or for worse, the damage of Ultima pretty much outweighs any sort of weaknesses and resistances otherwise. I probably spent the last quarter of the game with only Ultima equipped and had no issues that made me want to equip anything else. It’s broken, but that also means I don’t have to bother with swapping and type matching for every single enemy encounter.
Difficulty - 5/10
Unlike most previous Final Fantasy games, FFXV actually has difficulty levels. Easy mode makes Noctis effectively invincible, while normal mode does allow the party to die. The main benefit to playing on a difficulty higher than easy is a late-game trophy that requires the player to beat a certain boss without easy mode.
Otherwise, I think FFXV has a good difficulty level. Some criticize it for being too easy, but it isn’t so easy that hardcore players should be disappointed. I think it simply makes the game more approachable for new players. The game is, after all, “a Final Fantasy for Fans and First-Timers.” Most of the core content can be finished without much hassle, but the non-story content can be deceptively hard. It all depends on how much of the game you want to complete.
Graphics - 10/10
Despite my criticisms of the game, I will note that it is gorgeous. The environments are luscious and colorful. Enemies are varied and well-animated. As I mentioned before, it’s nice to just let Ignis drive and watch the water and the rolling hills of the Lucis region. I’m not one to typically care much about graphics, but FFXV is one of the best looking games I’ve ever played.
Music - 9/10
The music of FFXV is honestly fantastic. The original music for the game is great, but they also added in-game items that unlock music from previous Final Fantasy games to be played in the Regalia. FFVII is a favorite of most players, and you can live up that nostalgia by having the music played while driving around. If you like some of the more forgotten games of the series like FFIX, you can pick those tracks up as well. In addition the the score of FFXV and previous games that were included, there is also a cover of “Stand by Me,” performed by Florence + The Machine. I don’t even like that band, but their cover is simply amazing.
I wanted to hate the game for being an action RPG, but it ended up being nowhere near as bad as I anticipated. Fortunately, the story and characters make up for it by a huge margin.
No single video game should take 10 years to develop.
I maintain my position that tie-in content is absolutely awful, and should never be used in lieu of fully telling a story within a game.
Overall - 7/10
While I originally had low hopes for FFXV, I was pleasantly surprised when I finally played it. The story is great, besides the terrible decision to spread it out across multiple titles. The combat, despite it being an action RPG, really isn’t bad. The difficulty makes it approachable for long-time veterans of the series, as well as those who have never touched a Final Fantasy game. Graphics are music are absolutely incredible, and easily add to the appeal of the game. It definitely isn’t my favorite Final Fantasy game, but it was certainly an enjoyable play.