Final Fantasy XV has been 10 years in the making. That's only one year less than it took NASA to put a man on the moon. No wonder this latest installment in the classic RPG series is being pitched as a giant leap forward.
Not only is it the franchise’s first game to feature an open-world entry, it’s also the first with an actual jump button. These kind of innovations take time to perfect, you see. A really long time. In fact, having originally been scheduled for release on 30 September, this dazzling JRPG will now hit stores on 30 November.
Why? So developer Square-Enix doesn’t end up doing a No Man’s Sky and hand gamers a massive Day One patch to download. This means when you do finally get your grubby mitts on FFXV, you’ll be able to play its completed incarnation straight off the disc. From what we’ve played of this epic so far, it’ll be worth the wait.
New mechanics. Same old Final Fantasy
Having sat down and played FFXV for a three hour stint, it’s a very different affair from our rose-tinted memories of the PlayStation era. Grandiose epics like The Witcher 3 and Skyrim have dramatically heightened our RPG expectations, offering enormous worlds to explore and combat that doesn’t simply involve clicking weird names like ‘Braver’ and ‘Mindblow’ from a menu. Rather than stick to tradition, Square-Enix has done its bring a much-loved formula bang up-to-date.
So while you’ll still play as a former member of Mötley Crüe, witness female characters with an astonishing aversion to clothing and sit through some dialogue that’s more hammy than your local boulangerie, the underlying mechanics of this game are very different. Most significantly, real-time combat is the order of the day as you accompany hero Noctis Lucis Caelum (really) around the varied expanse of Eos.
A smash hit?
This is a big sticking point amongst fans of the series, but we enjoyed our encounters with enemy troops, giant arachnids and plenty more mind boggling creatures. While it’s easy enough at first to hack away at the first thing with a horn sprouting out of god knows where, you’ll quickly concentrate on balancing out your magic points, managing your party and learning how not to get stomped to death.
If that all sounds kind of tricky in theory, that’s because it is. There’s a lot of depth to combat, and battles tend to whiz by at lightening speed. When do you begin to master switching between weapon types and bossing about your fellow bros Gladiolus, Ignis and Prompto it’s pretty satisfying.
Better still is that moment when you first execute a Warp Strike. As Noctis’ special move it sees you surging around an arena at blistering pace in order to land a devastating blow. Whether you’re clasping onto a perch on the side of a cliff-face or bursting onto a gantry, the results can be immensely satisfying. Especially when you receive an A+ grade for your efforts at the end of a fight.
Chasing an ever better score can be pretty addictive as you roam free in Eos, taking in its awesome vistas and dust-swept tracks. You’ll have to be careful about straying too far away from safety though, as FFXV’s day/night mechanic ensures you encounter a significantly more ferocious calibre of beastie once the sun is set. There were a couple of occasions when we noticed time had gotten away from us leading to a mad scramble to find a nearby camping spot.
Camping for free or sleeping in a hotel is the only way to bank all the experience points you’ve accumulated from a day’s worth of battling and it’s a spot on example of how this game retains the iconic Final Fantasy charm of yesteryear. That famous victory fanfare plays in full as you settle down for a night under the stars and you’ll even get a stats boost after chomping through one of the dishes Ignis whips up. Don’t worry though, there’s no Chocobo on this menu.
Truly, the highlight of Final Fantasy XV for us so far has been speeding around Eos in the Regalia. While you can’t actually steer this convertible yourself, it basically drives on autopilot to avoid you stomping over creatures GTA-style, you can infact do something even better with it: listen to the soundtrack of every former Final Fantasy on it.
Forget Big Pimpin’, Gangsta’s Paradise and your other hip-hop classics, road trips in this game are all about blasting out FF VII’s J-E-N-O-V-A at top volume.
Why the wait?
Despite these many delights, we were relieved to hear of FFXV’s new November release date this week. Simply put, the version of the game we played needed more polish than the month or so that was scheduled. In fairness, this won’t have been the one that Square-Enix had to hand when making its decision to delay. Nevertheless, our playing session involved one game-breaking bug, several more minor annoyances and a skittish camera - which isn’t ideal when you’re trying to dart off two sides of a combat arena and land the perfect Warp Strike attack.
These kind of issues are all fixable - indeed, we’re sure they were being worked as we played FFXV’s tester incarnation. Getting them all sorted for 30 September seemed like a tough ask though.
Final Fantasy XV Initial Verdict
Assuming Final Fantasy XV is whipped into shape for 30 November, it’s got all the makings of one of the series’ best games yet.
A modern reimagining of your old favourites with plenty of fan service chucked in there for good measure, we can’t wait to get stuck back into it. If you’ve been pining for that game since the days of Cloud Strife and Squall Leonhart then it’s, erm, finally here.