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FINAL FANTASY XV WINDOWS EDITION Review

Final Fantasy is an illustrious franchise.

If you’re part of video game culture at all, you’ve probably tried a Final Fantasy title to see what all the hubbub was about. Final Fantasy XV, published by the developer Square Enix, is the most recent title in this series. It was previously released in November of 2016 for Xbox One and Playstation 4, but now the Windows 10 version is finally here (released March 6, 2018) for PC gamers.

Final Fantasy XV takes place in the fictional world of Eos, which closely resembles Earth in many ways, but it has magical creatures, of course, and people still fight with swords and daggers in addition to guns. You play as Noctis, the slight-of-frame protagonist and the prince of Lucis, which is one of four primary controlling nations of the world. The game drops you amid a cease-fire between Noctis and Niflheim and a meeting with the King (your father), in a gorgeous cutscene that illustrates a strained relationship between father and son. Your first task is to travel with three friends to your wedding to the princess Lunafreya, who is an Oracle that can speak to the Gods. The nuptials are arranged presumably to end the war or strengthen alliances to more effectively fight the war... or something.

There are obviously quite a few details that I could expand upon that would presumably give you a better backdrop, but honestly, after seven hours in the game I’m still having a hard time following the complex narrative. Final Fantasy titles have long been known for their ability to craft a compelling story, so I have no doubt that it will all come together, but at this point, I can't say that it’s impressing me too much. Not only does it feel like I don't have enough backstory to feel connected to my goals, but there seems to be little explanation outside of the protagonist's reaction to events to color how I should be understanding what is happening.

WHY ARE WE FRIENDS AGAIN…?

Exacerbating the aforementioned lack of connection is the fact that Noctis is sullen, withdrawn, and not particularly likable as a protagonist. He isn't the only one that isn't particularly likable, either; the primary four characters seem to be the least interesting people in the world so far. Unfortunately, everything that is done includes your three companions: Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto. They seem to fluctuate between being your friends, your babysitters, and children that need to be looked after, while their incessant commentary and one-sided character interactions are maddening. If these characters were expanded even slightly past basic archetypes I feel as though the irritation could be mitigated, but that hasn’t happened after seven hours of gameplay. Gladiolus is the tough one, Ignis the responsible one, and Prompto the easygoing (albeit whiny) artist one.

GROUP FIGHTING

Together your team travels through the world to hunt monsters, chase bounties, and eventually advance the main storyline. Your companions can be used for partner combos and special attacks, but you aren’t responsible for their actions in battle. This functionality is executed a bit differently than how it has been done (successfully) in other games with group mechanics, such as Dragon Age. Fighting is exciting and frantic, in a way that I imagine being attacked by wild magical animals would be. Teleporting from monster to monster while switching weapons is thrilling, and the lock-on feature makes sure you always have control over the order of operations. I do miss the turn-based system of previous Final Fantasy iterations because it felt like you had more ability to control your party’s strengths and weaknesses, but this system is still fun.

TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS

In the past, games like this had open worlds with chance encounters of creatures, and often this was the way you’d grind up your characters' levels to meet the next difficult challenge. This has been stripped down completely in Final Fantasy XV: Most of the travel between towns and quest points is done in a car, on a rideable bird called a Chocobo, or by fast-travel (for a price). Running on foot is tedious and the limited movement system becomes obvious when not in battle or in a car. There is an annoying car travel requirement sometimes that highlights one of the primary issues I have with Final Fantasy XV, namely forced friendships. Maybe these car trips and the camping cutscenes appeal to a younger audience or a different cultural audience, but I’m unsure why I should care whether Prompto has taken good enough pictures, Gladiolus has survived well enough, or Noctis has caught enough fish. Being in the car involves small conversations for building rapport, but I wish there was a way for me to skip it entirely to speed up those cutscenes.

MODS TO THE RESCUE?

Thankfully, it looks like modding will be allowed, which I think is critical and very important to the community. Game design and development manager Kenichi Shida seems to feel the same: "We really want to keep it as free and open as possible to people, so rather than just telling people what we're going to give them, we want to make an environment where people can be as free as possible to make their own mods. We're planning to provide an official modding tool for that". It’s really encouraging to see a developer like Square Enix taking notice of the importance of modding for PC gamers and making it available for what is considered their flagship series. In a perfect world, the mods will allow character customization and eliminate tedious gameplay elements, such as the ones detailed above.

PERFORMANCE & GRAPHICS

An additional benefit of opening the floodgates to the modding community is that optimization issues can get fixed that way. I won't go so far as to say this game is poorly optimized, because it definitely isn’t — especially in comparison to the backlog of PC ports that have come before it —  but there are some issues with frame rate drops and stutter, particularly in battle sequences. Using top-tier hardware that should run the most graphically-intensive games on the market, my FPS dropped as low as forty-five, even with special NVIDIA elements like Hairworks turned off and limiting some advanced shading options. The beauty of the game certainly makes up for losses in performance, but you have to wonder how much better it could be. The only other graphical element I found myself a bit frustrated with was the offering of 30, 60, or 120 FPS as threshold limit options, but not unlimited. While this isn't much of an issue now, in time the hardware will catch up, so it would be nice to have an uncapped limit.

CLAUSTROPHOBICS BEWARE: IT’S NOT SUCH AN OPEN WORLD

Gameplay disappointed me because I had hoped there would be a much more open-world feel than there ended up being. Can you imagine, like I did, being able to build castles, or creating a Chocobo farm in a persistent world? Even more than that, imagine gaining a reputation as a fearsome beast hunter who could care less about whether the world is decaying into chaos? Instead of being able to pursue these fantasies or others, Final Fantasy XV feels strangely linear, as if pushing you onwards to the next chapter of a visual novel.

6

The Verdict: Good

Customization and freedom are not staples of the Final Fantasy series, so it makes sense they’re not included, but they’re still missed. A good story is supposed to be a staple, but you surprisingly won’t find that in this title, either. Final Fantasy XV’s beautiful graphics and exciting fights unfortunately come with a confusing story, irritating characters, long and unnecessary cutscenes, and optimization issues.

Alex Mickle
Written by
March 13, 2018
Published in Adventure

Alex Mickle is a gamer that traces his roots to JRPG’s on the PS1, but ultimately found his way to PC gaming by spending every afternoon after school playing Counterstrike at a local LAN gaming café. He is a father and husband that splits his gaming time into bursts whenever he can find time, or when ever he makes time. Alex enjoys variance and versatility in his gaming experiences and can be found asleep on the couch with a twitch steam on the television at the end of almost every night.

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