It took ten, whole long years to bring us the latest main installment in the long-standing Final Fantasy series. However, there IS such a thing as development hell: has Final Fantasy XV actually suffered from this drastically extended time in the making since its inception as Versus XIII?
If Final Fantasy XV is your first look at the series, it might not be as easy to tell that this was once a turn-based RPG. It then moved to real-time Action commands, and now it’s full on Action-RPG. I say this because how battles turn out can, and will, depend on your choice of moves and weaponry, but furthermore on your actual executions. The game does contain a sort of “Wait” mode, but it’s best experienced as designed. This design, however, does have some shortcomings in the camera department, making targeting and move-reading not entirely easy: something you HAVE to do to dodge and parry correctly. Furthermore, warp strikes are key to maintaining your magic points, but can be disorienting for several hours into the adventure, once again owing to the camera and targeting system. You’ll also take hits that aren’t your fault, and you’re free to curse at the camera: it deserves your verbal abuse. On the flipside, the combat system itself is just deep enough to justify its design. They’ve done away with dizzying arrays of weaponry and spells (which are now crafted, not learned), and while customized combat growth is still possible via the Ascension menu, the combat system is overall fairly simple. This is a good thing for newcomers, as it lets them focus on what’s important: progressing, not grinding. Progressing includes a plethora of things, but is primarily destroying the things that look dangerous… That is until the game throws you a surprising, lengthy horror/stealth section that changes up everything you thought you knew. From then on, it funnels you into a linear gameplay momentum that lets the game focus on what it needs to. It’s between the story missions, the side quests, and the change of pace between camping, driving, the open world, the linear climax, and even modding your car that this game actually finds a pleasant pacing strategy through its surprisingly variable content.
So just how much variable content is there, you ask? Plenty, actually. Despite the main missions and lots of side quests clocking me in just under 30 hours at the credits, I actually went BACK into the game only to find there’s just tons more things to do and hunt that just aren’t visible on the map. What I surmised is that there’s easily double the hours I spent on doing all the extras. Is this epic JRPG levels of content? Not quite, but it’s more than enough to justify the cost of the game, which means value-per-dollar is not exceeding expectations, but not falling under them either.
This is where things get a bit interesting. First things first: being on the PS4 Pro, as of the recording of this review, there has not been a patch to address the stuttering that occurs on the “High” graphics setting. I absolutely, 100% recommend leaving it on the “Lite” setting. The improved framerate stability is crucial to some fights, and I found it overall more pleasing than checkerboard 4K, or “Faux-K”. As for the graphics themselves, it’s clear some things are old assets from when the game first started development that have been “enhanced”. This means you WILL find subpar foliage/textures, and the graphics engine itself even has shortcomings in draw distance. Again, these shortcomings are more than likely thanks to development hell, and rather than start all over, they just kept upgrading and enhancing assets along the way as they built newer and better ones during the transition to a new graphics engine. This ISN’T to say the game doesn’t look good, because it really does. More importantly, though, is the story itself. I came into this J-pop boy band with some cheesy expectations, as Final Fantasy stories as of late haven’t really come into their own. I didn’t care about this boy band at first, but the game knows you won’t. Without spoiling too much, it all comes together in a way that tells me they wanted to give a proper nod to the older, classic entries in the series (and they do exactly that to sometimes nostalgic degree) while properly vesting your interest in these new characters. Warning: bromance tears may be shed. On a final note: the inclusion of classic soundtracks did actually serve to remind me how much more memorable classic game music used to be.
As a person who has played every main entry in the Final Fantasy series, the latest modern entries have strayed so far from the classic formula and have lost that regal feel. The latest entry doesn’t entirely return to classic form, but instead integrates nods and obvious nostalgic service towards the days of old while pushing its modern agenda. The good news is that it works, and quite well at that. Sadly, though, since it took ten years to get here, there are remnants of its early development days in the assets, and the camera seriously hurts one of the most important aspects of gameplay: combat. In the end, though, even without epic JRPG amounts of content, this game carves out a nice spot for itself in the series: one that I consider good.
I give Final Fantasy XV…