In case you haven’t noticed, kind of a weird number of Final Fantasy games have come out recently. If you haven’t been watching the mobile market it might not seem as much like it, but within half a year they came out with Final Fantasy Brave Exvius (whose name is stupid but delivery is sound), Mobius Final Fantasy (whose gameplay is fun and whose voice acting makes me never want to hear Bryce Papenbrook’s voice ever again), Final Fantasy Record Keeper (which I haven’t played because there IS such a thing as too much), and just last week, Final Fantasy XV, WHICH COMES WITH AT LEAST TWO MORE MOBILE GAMES (King’s Night/King’s Journey, which the main characters play during in-game down time, and Justice Monsters V which has a little something for all the kids who spent endless hours playing that spaceship pinball game on old computers back in the day). In a very short time the market has become FLOODED with FF titles, driving home the irony of its title ever further until the point is being pressed somehow through the door of the house, bulldozing through the furniture and walls and bodyslamming it through its bed.
It is at this point that I would mention that just about every mainline Final Fantasy before X is out on mobile now, with the somewhat confusing exception of VIII (confusing since VII and IX are both up) but whatever. Point is, whether you love the Squeenix or you’re FF Questioning, you’ve got more choices than ever for where to start.
What does this have to do with Final Fantasy XV? Kind of a lot, as Five-teen markets itself, even from the very first moments when you boot it up, as “A Final Fantasy for fans and new comers”. I dutifully launched myself head and shoulders into this game on launch day, fighting the endless tide of social obligations, work scheduling shenanigans, general despondence, malaise, and despair for the state of humanity, and endeavored to find a way to play enough of the game that I could review it in one week’s time.
I did not succeed. BUT, I can definitely give two things I consider of value, keeping with FFXV’s goal audience in mind:
For the new, I have some first impressions to offer that should help guide your decision of whether or not this game is worth your money, much less your time.
For the old hats (as in, people who have already started playing the game or who are about to), I have some tips that I WISH I HAD KNOWN MULTIPLE HOURS BEFORE I FINALLY FIGURED THEM OUT.
So, without further ado…
Final Fantasy XV is a hodgepodge mishmash mess of a game as far as anyone can tell from the first few hours… but it also manages to be genuinely enjoyable and surprisingly playable. If you play the combat tutorial before starting the game you will immediately be stricken with just how many different buttons and commands the game wants you to keep track of and use interchangably RIGHT FROM THE GET-GO. The game makes it clear that you will have some learning to do in order to make best use of the tools at your disposal, but then gives you more or less free reign to figure things out for the first chapter of play (which likely lasts anywhere between two hours and six hours, depending on how much you like grinding, sidequests, looking at all the things, finding all the shinies on the ground, FISHING, etc). The command scheme is intimidating until you get used to it, but the game’s difficulty curve is on the whole gentle enough that you can ease into it without needing to worry about going to game-over if you mess up in an early battle. Not to mention, unlike most Final Fantasy games, YOU CAN SAVE ALMOST ANYWHERE. No Save Points. Just saving. Also, autosaves. WOW, CRAZY, RIGHT? There are a few areas of the game where you CANNOT save, but those tend to be fairly rare, or restricted to very specific circumstances.
Speaking of interesting innovations, unlike other FF titles, the way that the accumulation of experience and levels works has been changed. The game is on a time cycle that is going basically all the time, morning to night to morning again continuously. You run around and do stuff during the day mostly, because at night the game turns into Dark Souls until you’ve leveled up sufficiently.
Unless you LIKE chewing through all your restoratives in a single fight and having to blow a large portion of your hard earned money (which monsters DO NOT DROP, btw) on buying more, its best just to find a place to sleep for the night. You can generally either find a place in civilization (a mobile home next to a rest stop or diner, for cheap options, or an actual friggin resort for one that will empty your pockets), which will cost you some money, or you can find special “havens” that drive away baddies and give your boy band a safe place to sleep. The places that cost money apply a multiplier to the amount of experience the party has gained since the last time they slept, while resting at a haven allows Ignis (the guy with the glasses who talks all propper and drives your car most of the time if you like having a chauffeur) to cook a meal for everyone, often using ingredients harvested from the monsters you’ve killed, that provides stat boosts to the whole party for most of the following day. Either has its uses, but ultimately, nobody levels up until they sleep, and once they sleep those levels wrack up “Ascension Points” that are used on a bunch of different skill trees that improve the strength of the WHOLE party. Speaking of those meals, though…
Hot damn. SO much.
There’s no other way to put this… this game is really pretty. SO pretty. And not just shiny pretty, though it definitely is that. You can stand on a rock and look out for MILES. And SEE EVERYTHING. The devs were aware of this, and hidden in various places are “photo spots” where one of the main character’s friends (who has decided to chronicle their road trip to get the main character hitched (which is literally the inciting action of the game) by taking lots of pictures) can take shots of the group in front of various landmarks and tourist spots and vistas, although that character (we’ll call him “Prompto”) will also periodically just take pictures of everybody all the time without you needing to do anything.
Also, remember when I talked about the food eariler?
GET READY TO LOOK AT SO MUCH GOD DAMN DELICIOUS LOOKING DIGITALLY RENDERED FOOD
YOU WILL FEEL SO JEALOUS OF THESE FRIGGIN DUDEBROS IN THEIR SHINY CAR EATING ALL THESE FRIGGING AMAZING LOOKING HOMECOOKED MEALS
At least until you remember the plot. But the food will never stop looking amazing, no matter how bad you feel for the characters. Speaking of that…
THIS GAME HAS CHOCOBOS AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAhem, as many people know or at least stridently insist, a Final Fantasy game is not a Final Fantasy game until there are chocobos in it. Chocobos, for those who have not yet encountered these incredible creatures, are some kind of mutant cross between a peacock and an ostrich and they ARE SO FLIPPIN CUTE
LOOK AT THIS GUY
LOOK AT HIM
ARE YOU LOOKING?
ISN’T HE JUST THE FLUFFIEST!?
Well I have good news for you. You get to ride him.
[Sunset picture of Gladio, subscript “NO NOT HIM STOP THAT”]
You get to ride Chocobos in this game if you want to, or you can just, you know… keep riding around in your convertible muscle car listening to music with your bros while watching the scenery of Road Trip Simulator 2016 pass by. Actually that moniker is perfect because…
You know how 2016 has been kind of an incredible ride, in the sense that we started it with a lot of hope and optimism (some of us) and then a whole lot of people we admired died along the way, and horror after horror hit us, but certain groups of people banded together and fought with everything they had and every so often it made a world of difference? This game is like that, but in game form. I can’t say a whole lot because a) spoilers and b) I’m still in Chapter 3 of this game because I’ve been spending so much time loving my Chocobos, fishing, making magic spells, and beating the everloving crap out of every living thing I come across. However, I would say that I am more than willing to find out where things go from where they are right now. I am enjoying the game enough that, once I am done tooling around and avoiding the plot with every fiber of my being, I will gladly return to it to see what new rumpus there is to be stirred up.
Now, I know some people insist that you should see Kingsglaive or Brotherhood before playing the game, but I honestly believe that it isn’t necessary to honestly enjoy or understand the game. Really, Kingsglaive kinda spoils some things early on in my opinion, but it’s up to you how you choose to engage. Both Brotherhood and Kingsglaive do help to fill in gaps in backstory and help you get a better handle on who certain characters are and where their motivations lie, as well as laying out a better early view of what this world you’re being thrown into IS, and what the political situation is like. If that appeals to you, go right on ahead and enjoy.
Hot DAMN I had more to say than I thought I did. Hold onto your butts, because I am about to learn you one last thing…
SECTION TWO: THINGS I WISH I HAD KNOWN EARLIER
Okay so mostly just one thing, and that thing has to do with “Elemancy”, which is the system by which you craft magic spells for use in combat. Spells are made to be artillery in this game, so they hit like a wrecking ball, have long cooldowns, and leave lasting effects (for a while) on the terrain. Not just visual FX, mind you, but straight up AOEDOT status effects. If you don’t know what those letters stand for, cast a Fire spell when your party is all gathered on one opponent and you’ll suddenly understand when your entire party is on fire and they’re all crying and screaming in pain and wondering how you could do this to them. Especially Prompto. Poor, squishy Prompto.
I’m not kidding about that, by the way. They literally do that. In the ACTUAL definition of the word “literally”.
As previously mentioned, monsters don’t drop money. Instead, they tend to drop items- usually either restoratives, or ingredients for meals, or “other” items. These other items have no apparent use at first- flavor text gives you nothing, other than telling you that you might be able to sell something for a little or a lot- until you realize flavor text is DESIGNED TO MISLEAD YOU INTO SELLING THINGS YOU NEED. Some of those things are used for modding weapons, which you can do after Chapter 2 (and if that seems a long way away, Chapter 2 is literally maybe a half an hour long), but MOSTLY you need them for making spells.
People who have played the game:
You know how in the Elemancy HUD, there’s the diamond thing in the top left, with fire on top, ice on left, lightning on right, and kind of an awkward black gap below? You know how you’ve been crafting spells with just energy from fire, or ice, or lightning to make your spells?
Pay attention to the black thing.
Select it with X like it were one of the other elements.
Suddenly there’s another menu there right?
CATALYSTS FOR SPELLS ARE A THING.
What’s more, which item you use for a catalyst can change how the spell behaves. You can make a spell that multicasts (for example, a lightning spell that hits two or more consecutive times, up to five), that casts Stop on all opponents, that poisons or curses them, that heals the caster at the same time, that negates MP use, or, and this is the most important one, GIVES YOU FREE XP. The more of the item you use as a catalyst, the stronger the extra effect is, the stronger the base spell becomes, and the more times you can use it before it becomes completely depleted. A stack of 17 Dualcast Thundara is a hell of a lot better than a measly default stack of 3 normal Thundara, I don’t mind tellin ya. But that’s besides the point.
The point is, XP BOOSTING CATALYSTS ARE RARE AND THEY SELL FOR GOOD MONEY BUT DON’T SELL THEM FOR THE LOVE OF CHOCOBOS IT ISN’T WORTH IT
While running around in the game and killing stuff I found a bunch of random crap, right? I also found some “Debased Coins”. I was like “sounds like cheap crap” and sold them. TURNS OUT I WAS THE IDIOT, since Debased Coins turn a spell into an XP booster. Three Debased Coins make a spell where each use grants you an additional 2000 to 2500 XP. That’s PER USE. If you have a stack of three and use all of them in one day, SUPER POWER LEVELING. This is in addition to whatever other XP you get during your play time, from killing monsters, completing quests, whatever.
I’m sure the people who sprung for game guides at launch are just laughing at me at this point, BUT I AM NOT HERE FOR THEM, I AM HERE FOR YOU
[picture of Chocobo at sunset from FFXV, subscript, “Yes you, my beautiful birdy bride”]
TL;DR- In a number of ways, FFXV is a game that seems like it has no idea where it’s going or what kind of game it wants to be (with the exception of the actual plot), and you can tell. At the same time, almost all of the elements are done well enough that they are enjoyable, to the point of making one voluntarily keep playing, ON PURPOSE, for fun. If you’ve got a good bit of time and like the idea of playing a game that largely consists of long car rides with your bros while you listen to your favorite (Final Fantasy) tunes, interpsersed with beating up monsters and dudes from an oppresive militaristic autocracy, this game is for you. The balance between challenge and relaxation is, quite frankly, excellent.