Final Fantasy XIII-Vs...shit...Final Fantasy XV then; Final Fantasy XV is the first major entry in the Final Fantasy series that has nothing to do with FInal Fantasy XIII although that's assuming you ignore the history of this game's production. It originally launched for the PS4 and Xbone in late November of 2016 and it's only a matter of time before it launches on PC just like the other modern Final Fantasy titles have been. I didn't think I'd be able to play this game for a long while considering I don't own either current generation console (well I do but Square Enix didn't want to put Final Fantasy XV on the Switch and likely couldn't have put it on the Wii U). Luckily I was able to pick up the collector's edition for less than the MSRP of the base game and I have friends who are willing to let me use their games consoles so woo-yay! Looks like I get to do another one of my incredibly sporadic write-ups!
Final Fantasy XV begins by showing off the Crown City Insomnia which is the capital city of Lucis. Imagine Tokyo, mash in some Kyoto, confine it to the interior of a massive pentagonal wall with a neat lighting effect and you have a city that's been able to repel invasion for years-upon-untold-years of war. Noctis, the crown prince of Lucis, is to be married to his childhood friend and Princess...er, Oracle of Tenebrea. This will in some way make a lasting armistice between nations of Lucis and the Niflheim (Americans only good at Robots). The capital city of Accordo, Altissa, is to host the royal wedding since it's essentially Sweden in this conflict by taking no sides and acting as neutral ground all while looking like Venice. Noctis sets off with his entourage after a final farewell from his father and less than a mile away from the city's wall their car breaks down.
Compared to games like Final Fantasy VIII, IX or, X this one starts fairly quickly: there's no introductory cinematics that you can't skip outside of about 2 minutes of holding R2 to push car while everybody bitches. It's not as quick as the beginning to Final Fantasy 1 or III where you just get thrown in but for a modern Final Fantasy, it's pretty refreshing! After pushing your car (the Regalia) into the local gas station and realizing you don't know what a "gil" is you negotiate with the local pair of bre-, er with the local mechanic to fix The Regalia in exchange for taking care of some local 'varmints'. This kind, sorta, almost introduces the concept of 'hunts' early on and you'd better get ready to do a whole lot of these since it's one of the best ways to develop your characters in XV. At most settlements, you'll find a restaurant or diner where you can get information on high-level enemies. Go kill those enemies, report back to that (or any other) to claim your loot.
During this introductory quest, you're introduced to Dave, who will give you side-quests, Takka, who will give you hunts, Cidney, who will give you Regalia-based quests, and Cid who can upgrade certain weapons via side-quest. Once the Regalia is all fixed up you're free to travel to Galdin Quay, a port town where Noctis is expecting to catch a boat to Altissa. Unfortunately, once you get to Galdin Quay, you find another person who's willing to give you side-quests...oh and also a coup befell Insomnia causing the magical shield to fall, the King to be murdered, the Crystal he was guarding to be stolen, international travel to be suspended, and the plot to be changed somewhat. Noctis and the Boys are still trying to get to Altissa but now there's a lot more downtime so get ready to do a whole lot of hunting! Basically, the first nine chapters of this game (yes we're back to chapters, don't be scared away please) centers around trying to get off of the continent of Lucis. If you're going to focus solely on taking on quest-based missions, the plot will likely move along at a brisk pace compared to other Square-Enix RPGs and other past Final Fantasy titles. The above paragraph took me about 20+ hours because of all the side-questy things I've done between those story quests! That's just me though, your own mileage may vary as with all open-world games.
So let's take a few minutes to talk about the players of this narrative! Crown-Prince Noctis is the only character you play as from start to finish (except for one bit of one chapter very late into the game). Noctis can equip any weapon, any magic, summon Gods and thus can't easily be categorized like the black mage Vivi, the dragoon Cid or other such characters who can be easily classed. Additionally, Noctis has inherited the royal power of, "being able to warp and summon weapons out of the ether". This manifests in dodge-rolls looking neat and Noctis being able to throw his weapons and warp to them either in an offensive sort of way or as a means of escape when battles start getting difficult to manage. Combat is very hack-n-slash here: O (or B on the Xbone) will do a melee attack, the command-cross (D-Pad if you will) changes weapons on the fly. Certain enemies are weak to certain weapons and it feels great to have this kind of flexibility in combat. If things get REALLY hairy (and you're far enough along in the plot) you can use summon magic to call upon a short animation and an almost guaranteed way to end a fight in your favor. There's actually only been 2 times when this didn't result in an instant victory for me and it's because I was fighting severely over-leveled enemies for my then-current level. Noctis is also the only one who knows how to fish.
Noctis is accompanied by his three friends and I think they're part of the Kingsglave (there's a movie about it, I didn't watch it). Gladiolus (Gladio) fights with massive buster swords and uses techniques that draw enemy attention to himself and deal heavy damage to them. He too can use magic and at the end of fights, there's a chance that he will pick up an item (which can be upgraded using ability points...AP). Ignis is a nimble roguish type who quickly weaves between enemies using a pair of knives or daggers...also he can use magic. Outside of combat, while camping, Ignis is in charge of cooking and the recipes he learns and utilizes offering not only food porn but buffs which last for most of the next in-game day (this can be upgraded). These cooking skills are utterly invaluable as they can boost attack, defense, earned EXP, resistance, etc. Finally there's Prompto who acts the youngest, loves Chocobo, loves the game King's Knight (there's a projared video about King's Knight), and photographs what goes on during each day. Also his primary weapons are guns which I never used as Noctis but in hindsight they might have made it easier to fight flying enemies. You can save up to 200 of Prompto's photos though there isn't much of a reason to save that many. The personal character skills can be upgraded up to level 10 and ultimately, all that's really good for is getting a couple of trophies, being able to cook a couple of meals and, being better at fishing.
As I mentioned above, anybody can be equipped with magic but the means of getting magic is a little bit different compared to other Final Fantasies. Like in Final Fantasy VIII, you can find places from which to draw one of these magical elements (lightning, fire and, ice). You use the drawn energy and items called 'magic flasks' to craft spells in a menu. Things like potency can be upgraded using AP which makes the spells stronger or, lets you draw more magic from those draw points. Magic flasks can be filled with either a lot of a specific type of magic (like say, fire) or you can mix magics to create a unispell which will have properties of all the magics you used. Something to note about Magic is that it's treated as an area of effect attack that can hurt your own party members. You can lace magic flasks with healing items though but I never tried this because I was unsure if it would potentially heals my enemies and in the end, I only used magic very infrequently. Magic in Final Fantasy XV is a really powerful tool I just wish it had been explained a little better. In the end, I found more satisfaction just whacking enemies with melee weapons.
The structure of Final Fantasy XV is similar to that of Final Fantasy XIII but reversed: the first 8 chapters of the game take place in the wide open continent of Lucis with a lot of it being open and ready to be explored. Depending on what chapter you're on, you may not be able to drive the Regalia or you may not be able to cross through certain checkpoints but no matter what there's always a whole lot of terrain to explore. Fights are semi-random but like in Grand Theft Auto IV of all games, you can get away from an encounter by simply leaving the enemy's sight and exiting a ring indicated on the mini-map. Battles are graded based on timing, finesse and...a third factor I can't remember but this is mainly because these grades didn't seem to effect EXP gained or items dropped. You can approach any enemy you see which have spawned on the map but there Empire also appears from time to time to drop off enemy troops though they're easy enough to run away from just like most other enemies you can find on the map. Riding on a Chocobo is another way to quickly bypass enemies on the map if you don't want to drive around in The Regalia. Speaking of The Regalia; if you expect to be able to jump into your car and drive wherever you want, whenever you want than have I got news for you! Control of the car is incredibly limited: you can subtly steer the car around the road a bit but not really into any other drivers. You can drive it into certain things though and the Regalia can take damage but it seems to be purely cosmetic.
The land of Lucis is huge and walking around can take a really damn long time. The only reason I would recommend this would be because it's the only way to level up Gladio's survival skill. Also, while travelling at night, high level Deamons (monsters) can appear and some can be difficult to deal with even at higher levels but hey, EXP grinding! The Regalia can be upgraded via side-quest, as the game progresses, with items that give it a bigger fuel tank, better fuel consumption rates, and increase the vehicle's top speed (a whopping 60MPH). Once you've beaten the game you can even collect parts that allow the Regalia to fly. The thing is, you can't just stop anywhere while driving and it still feels like a slow way to get around (I assume you can with the offroad/Regalia-D upgrade). Chocobos offer the best sense of freedom when it comes to exploration but they're not as fast as the Regalia. They can level up too (up to level 10) but this mostly affects their performance in races. Compared to the effects of various greens though it doesn't seem like leveling Chocobo really does too much. What's really annoying though is trying to move around barrier objects that seem passable only to find an invisible wall which is a somewhat common problem while exploring. The REAL big problem though is the amount of backtracking you'll have to do if you want to complete all of the hunts and side quests.
Now when it comes to hunting, you can only accept certain hunts from certain restaurants. If you want to hunt a Behemoth, you have to take that contract at one or two very specific places in Lucis but once you kill the beast, you can claim the rewards at any restaurant on the continent that you like (or even at the one in Altissa!). Another problem with hunts is Daemon availability: there are certain Daemons that only come out at night or while it's raining or even while it's raining at night. These are annoying but to be expected. What's truly annoying though are hunting Daemons that only appear in the depths of dungeons. Yes, getting extra EXP to fight daemons on your way to the Hunt-specific one is absolutely wizz-bang but there is a sense of dishonest when you see a creature available to be hunted at any time that resides in a dungeon that only opens up at night (of which there are two that I can think of off the top of my head: Styliff Grove and Castlemark Tower). This issue wouldn't be so bad if you had a way to wait and quickly pass time other than by camping, which always gets you to 6am and no other time. You can wait until night time to hunt night-specific Daemons but this doesn't seem to be an option if you want to get into a dungeon with a time-locked gate (again, the Grove and the Tower).
So let me offload this anger at time-locked content and awful dungeons (I'll get back to it) by digging deeper into time-wasting ie: side quests and mini-games. Earlier I mentioned that Noctis can fish and indeed, so legendary is Noctis' fishing ability that it was made into its own PSVR game. At certain spots of large-enough bodies of water (lakes, rivers, sea-sides, shores, etc) Noctis can cast a line into the waters and partake in what is, to me, the most enjoyable fishing game since Sega's Bass Fishing arcade games. I'm not kidding; while the rewards are kinda lacking (woo scales and mucus) fishing in Final Fantasy XV was strangely engaging for me. Certain fish can unlock new recipes that Ignis can whip up at campsites and while I'm flabbergasted that Ignis can't cook up a messa' catfish gumbo bah ghahd he can use fished up fish to make some pretty great meals anyway. Fishing is treated like a fight: Noctis' upgradable rod damages a fish's stamina, the reel defends his line from breaking and Noctis' level in the fishing skill determines whether or not larger or harder to find fish spawn in. The fish you can catch vary depending on the time of day (morning, day, evening and, night) and also whether or not it happens to be raining. Specific fish are attracted to different lures too and there are a tuck-fun of lures to find and purchase from various shops and specific fishing vendors.
Another mini-game to occupy your time is Chocobo racing: once you unlock the ability to rent Chocobo you get the ability to race them against your entourage. As you beat your buddies in races you unlock medals for your Chocobo(which I think are cosmetic but I feel like I might be wrong there) and new races. Most of the races are against your party members as I said but there are a couple of skill-tracks where all you need to do is get through a number of hoops while running along the track in a limited amount of time. The easiest way to beat these races might just be to feed your Chocobo with a 'make all of its stats better' green while camping then rushing through all of the races at once. I did this but by that point in the game, my Chocobo (Not Boko) was already at the maximum level, 10. Another fun thing you can do with Chocobo is dye them different colors! There's no breeding in this game though...if you want a more in-depth Chocobo breeding experience go back to FFVII and if you want a more rewarding Chocobo-based mini-game/series of side quests then FFIX is still the best place to go for it.
I noticed a few other very small things that earn you AP and kind of count as mini-games out in the world. There are dart boards scattered around where you can get AP for scoring a bulls-eye. There's also an option to train while you're at a campsite. Training is basically just Noctis fighting against one or more of his travelling companions. Winning these training matches grants Noctis some EXP and a couple of AP but whoever you spar with won't get any EXP at all, even if they best you. Finally there are certain, small, character moments that can happen while you camp. Ignis might ask you to help cook breakfast the following morning (stir a pot by wiggling the left stick) or Gladio might ask you to go on an early morning jog. These are fairly simple little things that end with Noctis getting a handful of extra AP and possibly EXP. Really, the most noteworthy is one where Prompto asks you to help him get a photo of a spectacularly, specific something.
There is one other semi-optional thing that probably shouldn't be ignored. Part of Noctis' quest after the Niflheim invasion is to gather the 13 weapons used by previous Kings of Lucis. Not only are they Noctis' birthright but they're promised to help reclaim the kingdom and the lost Crystal (they also evoke Knights of the Round which is a plus). All of these weapons reside in specific and easily identifiable tombs but the problem is, few of them are out in the open. Many of them are found in one of the dungeons scattered around Lucis (though a lot of them are found by progressing the story so don't stress too much about them). The dungeons that you can find in Lucis vary nicely and some stretch the concept of what a dungeon is since some are just forests or mountains created by nature rather than industrialists or reclusive cults. I really like how different each one of the dungeons fells; it made me really excited to stumble upon a new one as I wandered around. A lot of them have minor puzzle elements too which lessens the feeling that you're just following a linear series of corridors. One of my favorites was Crestholm Channels which is essentially just the sewers on the outskirts of Crown City. The cisterns and tunnels you wander around in are home to some fun-to-fight enemies, a really fun hidden boss and, another really fun Hunt Daemon.
Easily my most hated dungeon though is Castlemark Tower, a dungeon that I'd willingly say is one of the worst in Final Fantasy history. You can only get into it at night which is a pain in the ass on its own (especially since there's a couple of Hunt Daemons in there). The first half of the tower is easy enough to get through: it's a castle-tower that might fit into the Souls universe but with some extra magitech components to it here and there. Corridors and stairs in the tower lead you into a deep central area with five elevators in the floor. Those five elevators are incredibly slow moving and all but 2 lead you in a circle back to this central room. One of the elevators is a one-way and a filthy cop-out. The one that you need to take brings you to an admittedly cool looking room that incorporates a lot more magic-technology and a really fun hidden boss fight (and eventual Hunt). My problems with the Castlemark Tower are the enemies here, the high encounter rate here and, how slowly you have to go to progress through the place. You can't activate an elevator-cube until everything around you is dead and there's one very large chamber in the depths of this place where you fight increasingly larger waves of Daemons until you pick the correct path to the true end of the dungeon. At the height of this room's trickery, you can expect to face off against several red giants, 2 naga and, more flan than I could count. Luckily summon magic works here but the conditions needed to activate summon magic were never made clear and I can only pray to RNG-sus so many times before I feel like I might have a problem. I know it's not me though...it's the dungeon that's at fault. Stupid dungeon.
Holy Crap, look at that! With all the time we've spent hunting, fishing, driving all over the continent for landscape photos, racing chocobo and, complaining about Castlemark Tower, we seem to have spent nearly 70 hours playing Final Fantasy XV! We'd better continue on with the story! Final Fantasy XV's story really felt streamlined to me compared to other Final Fantasy's but since there's so much open-world stuff to do, it feels like a much longer experience. You meet more characters in Lestallum, meet Gods so as to gain their trust (ie: summon spells), lose the car, find the car, get help by someone who a friend of mine tells me looked like Anime Keith Richards who I'm sure isn't important to the story *cough*, find a lighthouse, find a boat, go to Altissa, engage in political discourse, engage in an intense debate with another God, sulk on a train, infiltrate a fortress then...endgame...new game+ (which I haven't done and may not for a while)
I feel like if I just bullet-pointed the plot of other recent Final Fantasies I would come up with more than that but this is how it felt while I played the story portions of FFXV without indulging in side-quests. If you're just going to focus on the plot I feel like FFXV would absolutely move at a breakneck pace for a JRPG by Square-Enix. This isn't a knock against the game though since I did really enjoy the story here. I don't want to talk too much about the main antagonist for this one but once that character's fully revealed their intentions he becomes an absolute delight and one of the most well developed characters in the game. That's not to say the other characters are poorly developed but I feel like I got more personal info about them from the anime Brotherhood than from the game itself. I'm also aware that some characters are completely ignored in-game but nicely characterized in the film Kingsglave which everybody seemed to agree was kind of a waste of effort but whatever, it's better than turning another main, numerical Final Fantasy into another trilogy or, Gods help us, another MMO.
There's one last thing I want to bring up and it's the glitches and issues I ran into while playing this game. It seems like every open-world game has its share of glitches and bugs and while this game is by no means a New Vegas, it's also not perfect. I played a version of this game which was heavily patched but me being me, I did run into some annoying issues. If I played the game for long periods of time in one sitting, I would get intense slow-down. This mostly happened in the city of Lestallum but I also encountered this issue at Wiz's Chocobo Ranch. The game got so slow that I couldn't even open a menu or move yet the game hadn't crashed or frozen. At Wiz's ranch for example I was able to finally get a menu to pop open. Speaking of menus, I had a couple of instances where I opened the menu but the assets and GUI didn't load in. No item management, no leveling, no magical skullduggery: just a blank menu screen which worked fine minutes later. I once hit a nasty glitch where I ran from a battle but the fight scene never ended. I went through multiple other fights but was never graded and I eventually had to re-load my save when I realized that I couldn't talk to Takka or get into the Regalia. For about an hour in one play-session, Gladio's chest went invisible. 3 times out of 7 when using a Link Strike with Noctis and Not-Boko (my chocobo) the bird wouldn't render, making it look like Noctis was riding the wind alone. A lighting glitch made it seem as though a cave outside of Galdin Quay was housing the literal sun. I went there and was blinded, unable to see much of anything until I carefully backtracked out of the cave. Lighting on any water texture never looked right, with strange, giant shadows appearing every time I was near the water. Finally, and most expectedly, there was some texture pop-in but that's basically par for the course in gaming in general at this point.
When I'm asked what my favorite Final Fantasy is, I tend to want to answer with the one I'm either playing at the time or the one I most recently finished with the only exceptions being XII and XIII...and III. I don't know how I really feel about FFXV overall because there were a lot of elements in this game that reminded me of other Final Fantasies but I suppose it's a good sign that I never once thought, "you're right game, I could be playing Final Fantasy VI, VII or, VIII instead". I loved the combat system in this game; I hate how disconnected MMO-style combat feels in games like Xenoblade Chronicles or FFXII and this action-oriented style really resonated well with me. I knew there would be open-world shenanigans to deal with in this game but I don't feel like they overdid it here which was a relief to me. What's more, this is one of only two Final Fantasies where, by the end of the story, I was moved to tears. I don't know if this is my favorite Final Fantasy but I do know that I would recommend it to anybody who's curious and I do know I'll be playing it again in the future.