Final Fantasy XV is among us. It lives and breathes the same air as the common folk. Before we talk of “The Pros and Cons of Final Fantasy XV”, let us take a second to appreciate a moment in gaming history. The fabled Final Fantasy XV, once Versus XIII, is finally available to play. Not only that; it’s actually good.
Good though it may be, Final Fantasy XV had the potential to be great. Amazing even, but Kingsglaive stands in its way. Though for every issue I have with Kingsglaive, there’s a moment to marvel at the beauty of an Astral summoning. For every annoyance caused by the group’s car (the Regalia), there’s a fantastic plot point mid-way through. Yet for every enjoyable plot point, there’s a completely unexplained occurrence dealt with off-screen that deserved screen time.
Join me as I throw out the pros and cons of Final Fantasy XV as I see them. For your reference, I’ve completed the main quest and spent fifty-six hours in the company of Noctis and co. Without spoilers, of course.
Please note: Our official Final Fantasy XV Review is now available to check out too.
Jaw-Dropping Moments of Graphical Brilliance
Final Fantasy XV is a consistently gorgeous game. Especially considering the sheer scope of the world it’s generating with little-to-no performance problems in my experience. Even amidst the consistency, there are stand-out moments. Whether it’s the first time you gaze out to sea from a beach-side resort or any time an Astral is summoned, the amount of times I put the controller down just to appreciate the moment is something I’ve lost count of.
This is a carefully crafted world that combines mystical elements with the grounded reality of cultural influence, be it the American-style diners and gas stations in Leide or the Gondola rides on the calm waters of the Italian-inspired Altissia. As a result, sometimes it can be a bit unforgiving. Trees in the Duscae region are grouped together in a way that makes navigation off the beaten path a bit of a chore at times. It’s moments like these that remind me this isn’t an open world playground, but rather a world built to be appreciated.
Half of the Game Has an Awesome Story
The second half of Final Fantasy XV gives you a warning. To paraphrase: you’re about to get down to business, so make sure you’re ready to go. From that particular point, the chapters start flying by, packed with a linearity you might not be used to. I don’t mean linearity in a derogatory sense though. The linear nature of the latter half of this game leads to the best story-telling it has to offer.
Not only is it impressive by Final Fantasy standards, it’s worthy of praise generally for the shift in tone it takes. As he did with Final Fantasy Type-0, Hajime Tabata takes the series to a darker place. I’ve promised to avoid spoilers, so I apologise for how vague I’m having to be. Suffice to say, the second part of the game is more than worthy of your time. Even if it does suffer hugely due to the game’s early mistakes. We’ll get to that later though.
Chocobo Riding and Leveling
Lucis is a big place, and walking around it quickly becomes a chore. Transportation methods are essential.
By chapter three, Final Fantasy XV gives up the awkward hand-holding act. For the most part, at least. You’re given the freedom to drive the Regalia at will and sure enough; you’ll likely realise you don’t want to. It’s sluggish, it essentially drives itself on-rails and it can’t venture off-road. What can go off-road, you ask? Chocobos!
The famous mellow-yellow chicken-horse becomes available to rent after a few missions at Wiz’s Chocobo Ranch. Once you’re given the Chocobo whistle, you can pay a rental fee for up to seven in-game days (which you can top up at any time). The whistle will allow you to call the Chocobo to any location in the over-world with very few exceptions.
By riding a Chocobo for long distances, it will level up. The increase in level comes with a boost to speed, stamina and/or a new skill to assist the party in battle. Either way, the Chocobo is the best method of travel in my experience, though it does suck that items can’t be picked up whilst mounted. Having to get off and back on again can be a pain when gathering materials.
In the beginning, Noctis and the boys are fairly proficient in combat. They can team up for basic combination attacks and each member has a level one technique to manually trigger as and when it suits you. It’s enjoyable, but I didn’t see much room for it to evolve. How wrong I was.
As Noctis gathers certain items and the player invests Ability Points (AP) in the “Teamwork” section of the Ascenion grid (like a simplified Sphere Grid), the amount of options available to you sky-rockets. This does result in a fair amount of menu visitation to equip the best weapons for the battle, but pulling off a warp strike at the back of an enemy to knock them over and have the team pounce on it with devastating Deathblows is incredibly satisfying.
Noctis has his own equivalent to a limit break that becomes more powerful with the acquisition of special weaponry. Not only that, the team’s tech bar abilities level up and new, more powerful techniques can be unlocked at the cost of more tech bar meters upon use.
Hunts: One Per Customer
At the local diners, players can engage in “Hunts”: bounties on local monsters that offer Gil and sometimes an item as a reward. Hunts soon become the primary source of income (Gil, as per usual), experience and are vital throughout the game to purchase better weapons and curatives without selling valuable crafting goods.
The logical decision would be to load up on Hunts and explore the area, picking the marks off as you go. Unfortunately, Square Enix has other ideas. Despite the huge world that should be able to populate numerous monsters, players can only take one Hunt at a time. It’s a nuisance when the target is a mile away and even fast-travel via the Regalia would force long loading screens in-between the fun combat, only to force your return in order to do it all over again.
Hunts are genuinely enjoyable as they pose challenging threats when taken at levels equivalent (or above) to your own party. I was soon discouraged from the Hunts when I got tired of travelling back to the diner just to pick up another contract. It gets tiresome and it needs to be addressed.
Kingsglaive Ruins the First Chapter of the Game
This section might get a bit rant-y, so feel free to skip it, but I hate Kingsglaive as a result of this game.
Before Final Fantasy XV, back in September, I considered Kingsglaive to be style over substance. A marvel to watch with meaningless central characters, needlessly forced in to the important plot of King Regis and the Crown City of Insomnia.
I could speak for days on why I dislike Kingsglaive’s characters and general plot. That said, it wasn’t a problem at the time. After all, the game would rectify any of the plot-holes caused by Kingsglaives existence. I can’t hate a company for marketing to the mainstream with celebrity stars, can I? Not if it doesn’t impact the game. It’ll only result in more people enjoying the final product.
Oh, but it DID impact the game…. (SPOILERS IN ITALICS)
Little did I realise at the time that Kingsglaive would basically become a slap-dash replacement for the beginning of a game Square Enix hadn’t bothered to complete.
The beginning of the game sees no character development or investment in the city of Insomnia. Noctis and Regis have a distant relationship at best; nothing like we’d seen in the trailers leading up to release. As the Empire’s ships descended upon Insomnia at the end of the first chapter, I grew gleeful with anticipation. “This is it!” I thought. “This is where we see Regis defend the capital and fall in the glorious Final Fantasy cinematics I love the series for!”. But no. Instead, there’s a 30-second edit of the Kingsglaive footage to remove the nonsense characters and show Regis falling to a Knight you NEVER FIGHT in the game (because he died in Kingsglaive).
(SPOILERS ABOVE FOR CHAPTER ONE)
As I talk about on this week’s podcast, the realisation that Kingsglaive had been integrated in to the game defeated me. The mediocre movie for the mainstream masses had replaced what should have been a sorrowful moment for Noctis, Regis and the city of Insomnia. It should have set up the Empire of Niflheim as legitimate antagonists but instead, it’s all watered down to a sub-plot in this tie-in movie with awful central characters.
It’s not all the fault of Kingsglaive, mind you. Having Noctis and Regis’ poignant moments relegated to obscure side-mission rewards (if you can find them) is shocking. Remember that scene in a recent trailer with Regis holding young Noctis by the Regalia, staring out at the looming giants (whilst caught in the rain) outside of the city walls? After fixty-six (56) in-game hours of play, I’ve yet to see that touching moment.
Final Fantasy XV’s greatest mistake is made within its first chapter. As a result, it negates any emotional investment I have in Noctis’ personal journey. If I don’t care about Insomnia, Regis or the crystal, why would I care about Noctis’ adventure to reclaim his throne? The answer is that I wouldn’t and I don’t. Luckily the second half of the game does a great job with the main antagonist to create a new investment that ultimately pays off for Noctis and his friends.
Regalia: Auto Mode or Illusion-of-Choice Mode?
I love the Regalia. She’s beautiful. If I were to own a car, I’d like it to be as regal as the Regalia is. I’d likely never have enough to Gil to make it happen, but that’s fine by me, because I’d never want to drive it. Not if it works in any way, shape or form as it does in Final Fantasy XV
When selecting the car (after the restrictions lift at Chapter Three) there are two main options: Auto or Manual. Auto has you set a location before Ignis drives you there. Manual puts Noctis behind the wheel, but if you’re expecting Forza Horizon, or even Mario Kart, you’re in for a rude awakening.
Accelerating on the road is slow (though it can be upgraded…. slowly through difficult side-quests). Even then, you’re essentially on-rails with the occasional option to turn on to a different road. What’s worse is that the GPS navigation system doesn’t work in manual mode, so enjoy opening the map to check you haven’t accidentally taken a wrong turn every 20 seconds.
Above all else, what renders the initial form of the Regalia useless is the inability to drive off-road. The game forces the use of it in order to fast travel anywhere, which makes sense in context, but in practice it’s just an unnecessary extra step in what should be a simple fast travel selection. Returning to the car to enter the car before you can fast travel.
So You’ve Heard it Can Fly?
Just a brief note: the Flying Regalia is NOT a part of the main story. It’s buried beneath side-quests and completely optional. So, you know; yet another disappointment. The coolest thing about that car isn’t essential in any way. Just grab a Chocobo.
Wait Mode Sucks
I’m not pulling any punches here: Wait Mode sucks. Not only does it suck, but it’s also the only way to scan enemies with Libra to determine their weaknesses, which makes it suck even more.
If Wait Mode is active, whenever the player lets go of all actionable button inputs, the game freezes. The item menu is still accessible, as is the camera, and it’s a great idea in theory. It becomes a nuisance when enemies are working through their death animations but aren’t quite dead, so Wait Mode decides it’s time to freeze. There’s no danger. The enemy is dying, but Wait Mode just wants to make sure. It’s not a huge problem, it’s just awkward and it froze up my game a couple of times as it became confused by lengthy death animations of some enemies.
To Libra or Not to Libra?
By switching to Active Mode, you can play Final Fantasy XV as it was meant to be played. Unfortunately, Libra is lost in the process. Knowing your enemy’s weaknesses is essential for equipping the characters with useful weaponry and magic. Of course, the Libra system is broken too. Enemy data isn’t stored. If you’ve scanned an enemy type before, you’ll have to scan again in the next encounter. Still, it’s preferable to switching weapons in and out before finding the one that makes orange numbers pop from enemies (indicating their weakness to it).
As a result, the awkward Wait Mode system is almost a necessity if you don’t want to fiddle with the menu screen as you jump in to every fight.
These are just a few of the points I can make about Final Fantasy XV. It’s vast, impressive and disappointing in some ways too. What are your pros and cons? I’m genuinely curious. Feel free to let your comments out down south. Thank you for reading!