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Final Fantasy XV Review

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On 12/13/2016 at 12:00 PM by Julian Titus

What would a road trip be without some speed bumps?

A Final Fantasy for fans and first timers, but emphasis on the first timers.

When I was fourteen, we went on a family road trip to Disney World. Looking back at our photographs, you would think that it was a magical vacation filled with laughter and smiles. I remember a much different trip, filled with stress and a terrible tension between my parents. Final Fantasy XV is proving to be a very similar experience for me; I look back at my screenshots of this adventure and they only show the high points of my trip, and don’t reveal my frustrations and issues with the game.

Final Fantasy XV was marketed as a road trip with four protagonists, and in this respect Square Enix has nailed it. Piling into the Regalia, the car of the Lucian royalty, and setting out to reunite Prince Noctis with his bride to be (the Oracle Lunafreya) truly feels like a completely realized journey over the open road. The path is long and winding, road signs warn of chocobo crossings, and both the car and the stomachs of our heroes need to be refilled often. Even though Noctis is a prince, the group is low on funds most of the time, and often opt to camp out under the stars as opposed to staying at the many motels found at rest stops along the way. The need to stop during the night (lest you run afoul of deadly daemons) to rest, eat, and tally up the experience points of the day made my trip through Eos memorable.

There is also this odd but very cool aspect of 1950s Americana as seen through the lens of Japanese artists in 2016 that I found immensely compelling. While your car is sleek and modern and our heroes play a classic Squaresoft game on their smart phones, everything else looks like it comes from 1957. Much of the scenery feels like the legendary Route 66 in America, while the diners, gas stations, and every other vehicle Noctis and his friends encounter seem like something out of time.

The real stars of this game are the characters of Noctis, Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto. Awkward names and dreadful character designs aside, I don’t think I would have made it through Final Fantasy XV were it not for the strength of their characterizations. Each adds something special and unique to the mix: Ignis is the calm voice of reason (and a bit of a mother hen), while Gladio is the tough older brother who never sugar coats things. Prompto is the comic relief that may rub some people the wrong way, but I found my favorite moments in the game revolved around him. Even Noctis, who attended the “Cloud Strife School for Surly Heroes”, grew on me over the nearly 50 hours I spent with FF XV. Their dialogue is some of the best I’ve seen recently, and certainly sets a new bar for the Final Fantasy franchise. I found myself drawn to incredibly boring side quests over and over simply because I wanted to hear as much of their banter as I could. The quartet comments on everything, and it rarely comes across as stilted or awkward. I would constantly marvel at the way they would comment on the latest big story moment, even a long while after said moment had occurred.

I mentioned boring side quests, and that proved to be a recurring theme for me with Final Fantasy XV: boredom. People complained about Final Fantasy XIII being a series of corridors, and the development team seems to have taken that criticism to heart in the worst possible way. There is little to see or do in this vast, open world, and feels like it was designed by people who have never played anything made by Bethesda or Rockstar to understand how to populate large spaces. Getting anywhere in FF XV feels like a slog, and I was surprised at the lack of creatures present in the overworld. It was common for me to walk for upwards of ten minutes without encountering anything to fight unless I went far out of my way. Similarly, for as realistic as Eos appears at first glance, it is largely devoid of life, and I kept wondering where people live, as most buildings you encounter are abandoned derelicts. Compounding this problem for me is the fact that Noctis moves far too sluggishly for my taste. His walking slows down to a crawl when he enters towns and dungeons, the latter of which become incredibly tedious due to this fact. The Regalia is similarly slow, and as much as I enjoyed listening to the music of better Final Fantasy games as we went from point A to B, I got to a place where I was begging to have a car that could keep up with my Kia Soul on the highway.

While I was constantly bored by the world design of the game, at least I could depend on constantly being blown away by the graphical prowess of Final Fantasy XV. Simply put, this is the most gorgeous video game I have ever seen, and I was thankful that Prompto is an aspiring photographer that enjoys taking snapshots of the stunning vistas, detailed characters, and deadly-looking monsters we encountered on our journey. The lighting accentuates every aspect of the game’s impeccable art design, and the sheer scale of some of the bigger monsters is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. It’s a shame that the lip syncing is woefully lacking, and the final boss is devoid of that Final Fantasy spectacle I’ve come to expect from the series, but I would be surprised to see another game reach this level of “gorgeous beauty” for quite some time.

If only the game’s battle camera could capture that beauty in a way that made combat more enjoyable. While Final Fantasy XV is the most stunning game I’ve ever seen, it also boasts possibly the worst camera I’ve ever experienced. In wide open spaces the camera often gets hung up on the overabundant foliage, obscuring most of my view during the hectic battles. This issue is exacerbated in close quarters, where the camera can’t seem to figure out what to show, and never frames the action well. Fighting those aforementioned big monsters becomes more of a chore than a thrill, as the camera just can’t follow the action, or zooms in to the point that it looks like Noctis is squaring off against a wall. It added frustration to an already annoying battle system.

Ah, the battle system. Source of most of my issues with Final Fantasy XV. The reason I’ll likely never replay it. Without mincing words, this is my least favorite combat system in the mainline series. The player only controls Noctis, and gone are the deep and handy AI program routines for your other characters as seen in FF XII. Your partners kind of do their own thing, and seem to only target the same enemy as you if you’re right next to them, but even that isn’t assured. Attacking is handled by holding down a button, and evading/defending is done by holding down a different button. This results in fights that look impressive in videos but are lacking in any need for skill or strategy. Square Enix tried to add some depth by putting a lot of stock into enemies having weapon and elemental weakness and resistance, and doing certain attacks near your bros initiates a “link strike”, but I found these moves to rarely trigger with any reliability.

Indeed, I found the bulk of the combat to be unreliable. Noctis can throw his blade towards an enemy he’s locked on to and warp to them, performing a “warp strike”. Sadly, the lock on would frequently drop, and that perfect attack I had lined up would be wasted as he would teleport in a different direction. Magic spells, which operate like grenades now, would be highly inconsistent in terms of area of effect and damage, and I became less and less likely to employ them. The special limit techniques that your crew learn throughout the game also vary wildly in execution; sometimes they hit in a big way, and other times they completely whiff, and there was never any rhyme or reason as to why one or the other would occur. Compounding on my frustrations is that dreadful battle camera, which would often lead to enemies attacking me from off screen, which is a cardinal sin in any action game. Of course, Final Fantasy XV can’t quite decide what kind of game it is. It has the veneer of an action/role playing game, but still has a couple toes in the traditional RPG pool, and that doesn’t do it any favors as it stands.

I enjoyed Final Fantasy XV, even though the game fought me every step of the way. While the combat and open world were largely unsatisfying for me (and occupy the bulk of the adventure), I was taken away by the charm of the four protagonists and the sheer majesty of the graphics. This review is peppered with the snapshots of my actual adventure, and as I look at them, I smile at the memory of certain events and moments. If you look at these photos you will probably think I had a perfect and wonderful time in Eos, but just like any photo, the story behind the picture is far more complicated.



Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.




12/13/2016 at 01:07 PM

Due to my compulsion to do every side quest (and most hunts) available, I am 30 hours into the game and have only just completed chapter 6.  I find myself mostly agreeing with this review though.  I really like the world, but it does get boring after awhile.  I think my need to do all the side quests has really exacerbated this issue and I am going to try to force myself to focus on the story for awhile before I burn myself out.

I also agree with alot of your combat issues.  I find myself mostly just quickly pushing the warp strike button until my MP depletes. While I don't really have problems with link strikes working, I have alot of issues with the camera.  Luckily the wait mode helps to get around this, but it's still a pretty big problem.  

My main concern with the magic isn''t that it works like grenades, but rather the manner in which you have to fill it back up every time you deplete it.  It is annoying to have to take the time to go find a camp site, then either park and get out of the car or jump off my chocobo, and then have run to each of the 3 elemental deposits (which are often spaced rather far apart considering how slow you run) and then have to stop in front of them, make sure you face them correctly, and then drain them.  

Speaking of that, I also have issues interacting with basically everything due to the camera.  I often find myself jumping 3 or 4 times while trying to interact with an item or a person.  Or when trying to talk to a person who also gives a quest it becomes annoying to have to line up the camera just right in order to select either 'talk' or 'quest' (and then sometimes it switches just a hair instantly before I press X, so I still choose the wrong one).

Despite all the complaining, like you I am still overall really enjoying the game.  The charm of the main characters and the beauty of the world have alot to do with it. 

Julian Titus Senior Editor

12/13/2016 at 06:29 PM

Oh man, I'm right there with you when it comes to interacting with things. Besides jumping around like an idiot over and over, I also think the window for the button prompt is really small, and it's easy to pass something. Have you noticed that the game is slow to tell you what you're picking up, too? Been a small source of annoyance for me.

I also got sidetracked with the side quests and hunts, and probably was around that amount of time logged at chapter 7. The game really churns through chapters 9-12 really quickly. I wish the side quests felt more organic, instead of having a handfull of people just doling out quest after quest, and I wish you could accept multiple hunts at a time. I think FF XII also did this, but the hunts were at least more interesting.


12/14/2016 at 09:59 AM

Yeah, I've noticed the slowness in telling you what you picked up.  Also, sometimes I'll have to pick up each of 3 items individually, other times it seems to pick them all up at once.  I'm not sure why this occurs, since I can't tell that I'm doing anything differently.  And I'm completely with you on the multiple hunts.  They are boring enough anyways, so I would much prefer just to have all of them available to tackle whenever I am near one than have to keep going back between every single one.

Catherine Hauser Staff Alumnus

12/19/2016 at 11:48 AM

I think I stood in a diner for five minutes trying to feather touch my joystick to get Noctis to stand correctly so that when I hit X he would interact with the "Quest" and not just talk to the guy behind the counter.

Daniel Iverson Staff Alumnus

12/13/2016 at 01:34 PM

I agree regarding the design of the open world. Bethesda and Rockstar might be the best examples of how to do it right, but even Square Enix itself has done significantly better before - and recently, too! I thought the world of XIV (A Realm Reborn era) was a lot more alive and vibrant than this.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

12/13/2016 at 06:30 PM

Yeah, throughout my play through I kept thinking that A Realm Reborn (and even FF XII) did most of this stuff better, especially when it came to the area designs and populating them with enemies.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

12/13/2016 at 02:00 PM

"The Cloud Strife School for Surly Heroes"-- I was so into the review that I thought it was a literal place in the game.  LOL! That camera system sounds like a real bummer.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

12/13/2016 at 06:31 PM

It's a fully acredited school, funded by Shinra.

Blake Turner Staff Writer

12/13/2016 at 05:53 PM

The combat is absolutely terrible - until you switch it from active to wait. Then not only does it feel more strategic (despite still obstenskvely being kind of shallow), but the camera issues also fade.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

12/13/2016 at 06:11 PM

I played the entire game in Wait Mode, and still had the experience I wrote about. It's an improvement, but I still hated the combat.


12/14/2016 at 12:51 AM

I have yet to see the stunnig graphics in this game. These screenshots don't show it, and I watched a Twitch stream and not only I, but the streamer and many of the commenters thought the game looked subpar in many areas. Is this something to do with the Xbox One? Things look flat with mediocre to poor texture work.

EVeryone is horrible at open world design these days. Go to the marker, do the task. Anyone can populate a world with menial labor and robotic NPCs. Far Cry 2 is about the last to do it right. Ultima 7 did it the best (interesting things to find without map markers or signposting. Every NPC had unique, rich dialogue) , but it's "old" so no one thinks there is any value to be learned there, except for some indie devs. I haven't played Witcher 3 so I don't now if that game too is a bunch of "quest" (most of which are just errands not actual quests. Lord of the Rings is a fucking quest) nodes.

Seems like you represent the common sentiment about this game, with some people liking the combat more or less. But I think if the name Final Fantasy wasn't on it, it would get a lot harsher treatment from the media and audience.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

12/14/2016 at 05:00 PM

I don't know what it would take to impress you graphically. I can't comment on the Xbox One version, but I know the 360 version of XIII was inferior to the PS3 version, so that might be the case here. The lighting, environments, and sheer amount of detail in everything is mesmerizing, especially when you get into the bigger fights. I did have one graphical glitch where the texture on the water vanished and it looked like one flat surface, but when I came back to the area later it looked like it should.

I think your comment on open world design is different than my complaint. You're talking about fetch quest design, which I agree is a problem that carries over into almost everything these days, and I blame MMORPGs for that. But I'm talking about actually traversing the world and finding it empty, with sporadic combat and a lot of the more interesting landmarks far removed from the road, so to find them you have to slog through a lot of boring, open areas with not a lot to see or do. I think Kingdoms of Amalur did a great job having secrets to find and plenty of enemies to fight, so even if the quests were in that MMO style at least getting from point A to B is more fun. Saints Row IV has repetitive tasks, but I loved the way you could easily move from combat to hacking to racing as you wandered around, and of course traversal is super fun in that game.

I don't think I represent the common sentiment about this game at all, and I really don't understand how people are so over the moon for the combat and open world design, not to mention the dreadfully slow walking and driving speeds. The only common complaint I see deals with the camera. I also hate the way the story is told, but there wasn't room in the review for that. You're probably right about it being reviewed harsher if it didn't have the Final Fantasy name, because the only way people would give that combat a pass is if they were expecting a turn-based battle system and they prefer this flashy, shallow system.


01/06/2017 at 03:01 AM

Combat is a mess, it's not just the camera, but it does exasperate the problem. I was a bit confused as to why the devs chose to start off the journey with the least populated and empty area, a desert. But actually, the open area is best for this combat system and especially when you are just fighting a few enemies at a time, espcially one large enemy at a time. The early hunts in the desert are fun, but as the game extends to a forest and jungle area, with slopey hills, boulders, and foliage, add in to that herds of creatures, and fun disappears. Magic is the main means of elimaniting large groups of enemies at once to focus on the stronger boss, but having to refill magic flasks is ridiculous considering how essential it is to combat. Closed quarters simply does not work with this combat system. FF13 trilogy looks far more elegent in comparison to 15. Nonetheless, I enjoyed XV for all the reasons you mentioned, and hated it for all the reasons you mentioned. I enjoyed it despite my issues, so don't think I'm dissing the game. In the end, I enjoyed all my time, but jeezus. Unlocking Ascension nodes helps a bit later game, but still. 

Maybe having just 3 character party with smarter AI, fewer enemies at at a time, and more open combat arenas would have helped. Magic should be more accessible, maybe less powerful, but not a chore to replenish.  

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