While I grew up with the first PlayStation console, I must be one of the few PS1 owners never to have played Final Fantasy VII. Although it has often been hailed as one of the greatest games of all time, I never had any interest in Square’s flagship title – or its sequels, for that matter. Simply put, I didn’t think they were my sort of game; I’m not a big RPG fan, and I just never gave consideration to giving them a go.
Now though, I’m starting to regret that decision greatly as I found myself really enjoying the Final Fantasy XV demo on offer at this year’s EGX 2016, where I played the first couple of quests from the campaign. From what I understand from fellow gamers, this latest entry in the series is slightly different to previous ones; particularly in terms of combat. Battling monsters used to be turn-based, whereas FFXV is more of a hack-and-slash game, taking clear inspiration from the likes of Devil May Cry. Also like DMC is the fact that you’re hacking your way through swarms of monsters and other repulsive creatures, which tends to lead up to a mini-boss battle.
The first thing I noticed was how beautiful the game looks – though I wasn’t overly surprised. From what I’ve seen from trailers, gameplay footage and even the Final Fantasy movies, the team behind the phenomenon know how to make great-looking characters and realistic scenery. The demo mission, set in a beautiful-looking desert, featured light and the shadows that looked simply fantastic even if some ‘jaggies’ persisted on character models.
The huge, open-world desert I found myself in felt reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and this familiarity only continued when I realised there was also a dynamic day to night cycle. One of the characters that offered up a quest also told our heroes not to stay out at night as the demons would hunt them down. This suggests that it’s tougher to survive at night when bigger, badder enemies come out to play, so you’d be best advised to set up camp somewhere.
You play as one character, Noctis, but he’s part of a group of four you’ll be travelling with. I recently wrote a piece about Gears of War 4 and how there was no chemistry between the dull, flat characters. Well that’s certainly not the case here; there’s almost constant chit-chat but it’s interesting, character-driven discourse, with a few amusing digs thrown around at times. It certainly makes the long travels more enjoyable.
Speaking of long travels, there was a lot of running to be done as I went from quest objective to quest objective. You have a stamina meter that, when depleted, will slow Noctis down, even making him stop to catch his breath and rendering him unable to run or jump. For this reason, it’s important not to let it fully deplete, particularly in battle.
You gain AP (Ability Points) for completing quests and these can be spent in what’s called The Ascension. This is where you can upgrade your character’s special abilities and also buy new ones. You’ll require XP (Experience Points) to level up each team member, which in turn increases their maximum damage and health. XP can be earned from winning battles. There’s also Gil to collect from hunting and finding secret trinkets. This currency can be spent on upgrading and purchasing weapons.
When you find yourself a safe haven to create a camp, you can eat meals cooked by teammate Ignis. To do so, you’ll need to unlock recipes found throughout the game. Each recipe allows Ignis to create a different meal, and each meal provides different stat boosts. We had three to choose from: one raised our attack by 30, one raised our defence by 30 and the other was almost in the middle, with 20 damage and 10 defence points. You can also spend Gil to purchase meals elsewhere, from places such as diners, that can provide similar effects.
At camp, you can also save your progress – and equally as important bank all the XP you’ve gained since you last did so to level up your group. Levelling up isn’t done in-game on the fly as you might expect, so it’s very useful to recoup at a camp regularly.
The joker of the group, Prompto, will take pictures during your travels that you can look at while at camp and save or discard each of them in turn. It’s a pretty nice feature to have, as there were some good ones taken in the heat of battle that you wouldn’t have time to take if you controlled the camera yourself.
The four amigos are complete with Gladiolus; he’s the brute, and the straight-talker of the group. At your camp, you can train against Gladiolus to gain AP, but also try out new techniques and generally practice your combat techniques. Thankfully, any damage taken doesn’t carry over once you back out of training; in fact, he’ll even heal you so you can keep plugging away at those new strategies.
You can’t play as any of the other characters in your group, or at least not in the demo, but each of them has a special technique that can be used in battle. These techniques deal great damage to your enemies and involve some kind of double-team between Noctis and his chosen ally.
During battles, you can summon different weapons on the fly, which are mapped to directions on the d-pad. In our demo, one was a sword, one a smaller dagger-like weapon and another was almost a lance that allowed us to hit enemies from a distance. Your team doesn’t just stand idly by either, and will deal damage to your foes once you’ve engaged in combat. The damage they inflict isn’t up to your level, of course, but they can help to keep bad guys distracted while you recuperate.
Healing during battle is done by simply finding a bit of space for yourself. One of your teammates will then come over and heal you. You can’t attack whilst you’re seriously injured, as Noctis will keel over in pain and stumble. Another way to gain some space and regain health is to use your teleport move, which lets you jump over small distances. It also increases your damage if you attack an enemy with it – and if you teleport up high, you can stick your sword in a rock and hang there to get your breath back. Jumping down and attacking from up here will do increased damage, too.
As if your teammates weren’t already useful enough, they’re also handy prior to battle. They will occasionally give you further insight into the enemies you’re heading for, and even provide alternative strategies to simply running in and throwing your sword around. If you go with your friend’s suggested strategy, you’ll also gain bonus AP.
I’ve mentioned battles several times, and you’ll have a number to win over the course of your travels. In terms of combat mechanics, mashing circle will initiate your attacks, while holding square will block incoming attacks. Pressing square at the right moment will parry, opening up your enemy’s defence to a powerful counter-attack. Tapping R1, meanwhile, locks onto an enemy or cycle through those in range when you’re already locked on. Not only does this allow you to focus on one foe when they’re in a group, but it allows you to teleport attack. If you’re not locked on, Noctis will just jump the way he’s facing and use it as more of a get-out-of-trouble manoeuvre.
Maybe the reason I’ve fallen for Final Fantasy XV is because it encompasses such a wide range of genres, so it accommodates what I look for in a game in one way or another. There’s obviously the RPG element here, with the character and ability upgrading and levelling. There’s a sprinkling of classic adventure titles, such as the Telltale-inspired conversation choices that change your standing and relationships with other characters. There’s a touch of hack-and-slash for combat, and you can even drive around – though I’m not about to start comparing FFXV to the likes of Gran Turismo.
Fifteen games in – not taking into account the various spin-offs – and I plan on jumping on the Final Fantasy bandwagon for the first time when the game is released on November 29. If you’re like me, and yet to try a game in the series, then I suggest you too give it a try and don’t miss out on what is shaping up to be another brilliant-looking and highly enjoyable game from Square Enix.