Final Fantasy fans certainly have a lot to be excited about as of late. FFXV finally has an official release date (September 30, 2016), there’s a brand new CGI movie coming out this summer, as well as an FFXV mobile mini-game and an anime series. If that isn’t enough to get your blood pumping, in addition to all those things, the new FFXV Platinum Demo is available for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now.
The Platinum Demo has a misleading title, as it is not a typical “demo”, at least not in the ways one would think. Platinum is not simply a small chunk of gameplay taken from Final Fantasy XV, like last year’s Episode Duscae was. Instead, Platinum is its own, standalone side story meant to be a companion – a prequel – to the main story of Final Fantasy XV. It follows Noctis (affectionately referred to as Noct), the protagonist of FFXV, in his childhood as he seeks to find his way out of a dream that he has been trapped in. But Noct need not face his nightmares alone. Carbuncle (the adorable arctic fox-like creature with a ruby horn) is there to guide him through his dreams.
The game begins in a bright, forested area, and Carbuncle explains the basic controls of movement and combat. The combat style is addictive and unique, and is a far cry from the turn-based battles that defined the retro FF titles. As you battle nightmarish, goblin-like creatures, simply holding down the attack button unleashes continuous strikes against enemies, and players can press any direction on the D-pad to quickly change weapons without interrupting the flow of battle. The fluidity and pace of battles is exceptional. You can simply stand and swing your sword, or you can constantly change your tactics, switching from sword, to hammer, to magic, and back again. Guarding and dodging is also an option, but those commands don’t really come into play until the end of the game.
Throughout the forest, and each area afterward, circular plates can be stepped on to trigger events and various changes in the game. Some plates change the time of day, some plates alter the whether, while others still give Noct new items and weapons. The plates don’t have any direct effect on the gameplay (except for the item plates), but are likely simply put their for our own enjoyment, and to showcase the weather effects and daylight cycles that will be present in the full version of Final Fantasy XV. However, to unlock all the plates, and ultimately a more powerful set of weapons for Noct, players must gather golden shards of crystal that lay scattered across each area. Collecting a set number of crystals unlocks more valuable plates.
After the forest, Noct enters an Alice in Wonderland-esque indoor area, and has been shrunk down to a fraction of his normal size. This area will have players feeling like they’re playing a new Kingdom Hearts demo instead of one for Final Fantasy XV. Though the scenery has changed, the objective is the same: Collect crystal shards, step on plates, and experience combat against the nightmare goblins. The same goes for the third area, an outdoor courtyard. Neither location present anything new in terms of gameplay, but are wonderfully detailed, and are fun to explore in search of crystals.
In the fourth and final area, things take a nasty turn for Noct and Carbuncle. Standing in their way of the exit from Noct’s dream is a massive Iron Giant, a classic Final Fantasy monster. In order to defeat the massive creature, Noctis transforms into his adult self, and his combat skills are finally put to a real test. Battling the goblins is easy throughout Platinum, but the Iron Giant forces you to use two different swords in near tandem, magic, warp techniques, and a lot of dodging. This is where you must use defensive techniques, because if you don’t the Giant will decimate you with just a few precise swings of his massive sword. Luckily, even if the Giant should deplete your hit points, Carbuncle steps in to provide aid, and prevents you from being bested for the purposes of the demo.
The combat during this final boss fight feels amazing. It requires skill, quick reflexes, and strategy. After defeating the Iron Giant, you can battle him again as many times as you like, and I’ll admit, I battled him over and over again. The fight is strangely addictive, and I haven’t had so much fun with a new combat system in some time. It feels very much like a refined and perfected version of the combat from Kingdom Hearts.
And that’s the end! The first thought that occurs is that the Platinum Demo seems very short given that, from beginning to end, it can last from just thirty minutes to an hour. Your playtime depends on how dedicated you are to collecting crystals and items, and how many times you fight the Iron Giant. This may be disappointing to those who are expecting a longer gameplay experience, but I think it’s just right. It gives you a good taste of the battle mechanics and environment of Final Fantasy XV, and its brevity is part of its charm. Final Fantasy hasn’t had a character as lovable and sweet as Carbuncle since the moogles first appeared in Final Fantasy III, and his cuteness (and the demo as a whole) operates on the principle of “less is more”. With FFXV now only six months away, the Platinum Demo is a perfect way to whet your appetite for the game.