Review: Final Fantasy XV – Bros before Chocobos
It’s been a long time in the making, but after going through several direction changes, Square Enix finally gave us Final Fantasy XV. Was it worth the wait?
The journey of Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum is one full of tribulations, self-reflection, and ultimately becoming what he thought it was too weak to ever become. In short: It’s like a whole bunch of other coming of age stories you’ve heard before.
While the plot isn’t exactly groundbreaking, it is enthralling to see play out. If you remember Final Fantasy X-2’s super “Girl Power” heavy theme, Final Fantasy XV serves almost as the “Bromance” alternative.
Prince Noctis, who’s set to marry the Oracle Lunafreya takes his crew on a pre-wedding road trip across Eos while Insomnia is overthrown by the Empire. Alongside him are his best friend Prompto – a kid who no one liked that wanted a friend so bad he reached out to the only person as isolated as he was, Ignis – Noctis’ long-time advisor and caretaker, and Gladiolus – sworn member of the King’s guard and bodyguard for Prince Noctis. While they are an unlikely group of people to make a friendship story about, the four come together in the most touching story about four dudes camping and killing monsters ever told.
If the plot summation here confuses you, there’s a good chance the real one will be even worse. Given the hype for the upcoming game, Square Enix released a series of Anime cartoons entitled Final Fantasy XV Brotherhood which tells part of the backstory, while the rest of the events are told in a feature-length animated movie called Kingsglaive. In order to really understand what’s going on, you’re probably going to want to watch both of these films, though thankfully there are places to get 10-minute crash courses instead of having to spend three hours watching movies (though they’re pretty cool movies if you don’t mind spending the time).
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Noctis sets out to do battle with the Empire by seeking to retrieve the Royal Arms of former Kings. Along the way, he realizes that the arms aren’t going to be enough and for some reason, he has terrible headaches which turn out to be visions of what’s to come and some sort of telepathic communication from the Astrals known as The Six. These are, for all intents and purposes yet another term for Summons/Guardian Forces/Espers/Aeons, because of course, we need another reason to call them by something else.
The first Astral you encounter is Titan, and you’ll gain access to the others as the story continues on. While it’s always nice to see the summons return, you can only summon them when your party is in danger which makes them kind of useless to actually use. When you go to use them, you have to hold down the L2 or Left Trigger button down until the summon actually happens – I mention this here because the game does a terrible job of explaining it.
Speaking of terrible, let’s talk about the camera in Final Fantasy XV. It’s awful. Combat is real-time, fast-paced, and feels incredibly good. It’s like Kingdom Hearts combat turned up to 11, which is awesome. The biggest problem with the combat isn’t the combat itself, but because of how annoying the in-game camera is, Noctis will often go flying in the wrong direction when using Warp Strike without any sort of rhyme or reason. You’ll attack and he’ll swing the wrong way, or you’ll dash and he’ll go in the opposite direction of where you aim. When the combat works, it’s incredibly engaging, but when it’s messed up by the camera, fights become obscenely frustrating. In difficult fights with daemons like Yojimbo which can kill you in one hit, it’s literally a life or death situation.
Don’t get me wrong, I can’t stress how solid combat is most of the time. I hate grinding but actually found myself grinding like crazy because combat was a blast. I was level 37 before I moved on past chapter three.
While combat is fun, there are issues with weapon balancing – mainly that there’s no real reason to actually use the Royal Arms (though they give nice stat bonuses if you carry them in your equipped slots) because they drain your health, and more often than not the damage they do isn’t much better than a normal weapon. The Royal Arms ignore elemental resistances and what not, but I had just as much success sticking to the Greatswords as I did use any other weapon.
In fact, by the time I got to end game, I had gotten the Iron Duke, which is a Greatsword with over 500 damage, rendering everything else fairly worthless. Noctis is the only character who can use normal swords, but there’s no reason to since the Greatsword is slower but does much better damage per hit.
Giving Prompto machine weapons increases his damage output, and while Ignis does decent with a Lance, he’s better off with Daggers because he can poison enemies with them. Between Gladio and Noctis wrecking shop with Greatswords, there wasn’t any reason to worry about how much dps Ignis (who’s way better as a support type character than a damage dealer anyway) or Prompto actually did.
I highly suggest mastering Prompto’s Gravisphere and Gladio’s Cyclone together for ideal results. Most of the skills are in desperate need of a buff in order to be useful at all.
Summoning the Astrals helps in a pinch, but it’s not at all necessary. Almost all of the abilities you can teach your allies are also fairly worthless. Prompto’s Gravisphere is the only move he’s got that’s worth using, Ignis’ Regroup is the only one he’s got worth using (though later on, you get an ability which makes him imbue Noctis’ weapon with the enemies weakness which is decent) and Gladio at least has good choices with Dawnhammer and Cyclone.
On top of that, Noctis’ fishing is a good way to get easy EXP without having to do battles, but it serves little purpose aside from some side quests. Ignis’ cooking is a great skill and will save you a lot of Gil once you learn recipes instead of having to buy expensive food – but by the time you learn those, it’s faster to buy the meal from the vendor (and money isn’t much of an issue as you get stronger.)
Prompto’s photography skill is a cool way for the game to autosave screenshots but serves very little purpose. Gladio’s survival is probably the best of all four skills, but because you have to walk so much to level it up, there’s pretty much no reason to ride a Chocobo unless you just want to get there faster and the Regalia can’t fast travel to it.
There’s also one other small issue – the world itself. While the outdoor areas feel alive with the chance you might run into an enemy at any moment (or get a drop ship full of Empire soldiers on your head if you stand still too long) the cities are populated with people who just take up space.
While playing The Witcher 3, the areas feel alive – you’ll see wildlife running around, and people in cities are doing menial tasks as if they’re actually alive, Final Fantasy XV’s cities feel like people are just there to make the city look populated and nothing else. To quote Josh, “Why aren’t these people scared? The city just fell and there’s a guy perfectly content to stand around and sell fucking Cup Noodles?”
If you’ve made it this far, congrats. You’ve taken the time to read actual critical analysis instead of just hyperbole and praise. It’s important that you know about the issues present in the game before you’re told that in spite of all that is wrong, it’s still an incredible adventure.
Final Fantasy XV’s story definitely leaves things to the imagination (or scouring the internet for answers) but it’s still a fascinating tale. People are complaining about the plot holes and Square Enix has already pledged to add more into the game to improve the experience for players – but it’s fairly unnecessary.
As it stands, there are questions to ask and things that are a little bit confusing, but it mostly makes sense and watching Noctis grow from a Hot Topic shopping angst filled Millenial to finding the inner strength it takes to become a King is a fantastic journey. Add in the plethora of side quests and a ton of monster hunts, and Final Fantasy XV will give you a good 60-80 hours of a satisfying game from beginning to end.
There are also hidden bonus dungeons which are far harder than anything else you’ll encounter and more secret weapons to find. The only real problem you’ll have is finding the time to dedicate to yet another fantastic Final Fantasy tale.