Final Fantasy XV Preview: Almost Home
Kalvin Martinez / Sep 8th, 2016 5 Comments
With Final Fantasy XV set to release Nov. 29, PAX West 2016 was one of the last opportunities for Square Enix to show off the game stateside before its launch date. As such, Square Enix gave the latest in the Final Fantasy series its proper due. PAX West attendees were able to experience the first hour of the game.
While we’re still two months and change away from Final Fantasy XV’s release, we now have a good idea how the game is shaping up.
To Kill a Titan
Before we discuss the first hour of the game shown at PAX West, let’s go back to E3 2016.
One of the major stumbling blocks for Final Fantasy XV on its road to release was the Trial of Titan demo during Microsoft’s E3 media briefing. It didn’t look as dynamic as the previous gameplay reveals. The live demo didn’t resemble what I had come to expect from the game.
So at E3, I stopped by the Square Enix booth to check out the Trial of Titan for myself. When I played it, there was great pacing, it was challenging, and combat was tight. There was a night-and-day difference between the live demo during the Xbox briefing and the demo when I played it.
The combat had changed a bit from earlier demos. It was more polished and better formed. It had become its own thing rather than a somewhat clunky action-RPG hybrid.
The Trial of Titan demo gave players a taste of the large, epic boss fights in the game, but it didn’t sell what is truly cool about Final Fantasy XV. It didn’t give players the chance to experience the open world.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fashion
The PAX West demo began as the final version of the game will — with an opening cinematic detailing a grim future. A noticeably older and stubblier Noctis and his retinue are fighting against an incredibly powerful fire Eidolon. Jarringly, it cuts from this future scene back to the present to the start of Noctis’ journey.
Noctis gets orders from his father, the king, to set off on a journey to seal the union of two kingdoms by getting married. To ensure he reaches his destination, Notcis’ father sends him off with a snazzy car and his advisers: Ignis, Prompto and Gladio. Sadly, things go awry from there.
The gang’s car breaks down almost before their journey even begins. The four have to push it down the highway to the nearest auto repair shop.
During this time, we get a great glimpse at the dynamic between Noctis, Ignis, Prompto and Gladio. It is the relationship between these four friends that grounds the experience. Each of them will rely on the others, both in and out of battle.
Noctis, most of all, will need the advisement of his party. In the demo, we see this through branching dialogue options with NPCs where Noctis has the option of asking his friends for advice on what to say and how to react.
The tight bond between the friends is further expressed in the gameplay because the AP players earn is shared between all four party members. This means players will have to make tough decisions when trying to upgrade skills in a system that feels very similar to most modern Final Fantasy games.
Nothing but Time
After the gang gets the car to a repair shop, they are exhausted. They are also utterly broke. Cid the repairman asks Noctis and his friends to take on a few missions from Cindy, his niece. Through these missions and side quests, players get their first taste of the open-world setting.
Final Fantasy XV has all the expected markings of an open-world game, which will make it immediately familiar to anyone who’s played video games in the last five years. Markers with distances dot the world, directing players where to go to complete objectives. However, much like most open-world games, you immediately want to ignore these markers and discover what the world has to offer.
Waiting in line watching others play the demo, I witnessed this. Some players stuck closely to the demo’s main campaign and others went completely off the rails. One young lady I saw spent 15 minutes playing Justice Monsters Five, a mini-game in Final Fantasy XV that will also be available as a free-to-play mobile app.
It speaks volumes about how inviting the open world is if people wanted to spend their hour of time exploring the first stretch of land for secrets and playing mini-games.
A Good Fight
Going through Cindy’s quest chain brings players into conflict with some of the monsters roaming the world. This was our first taste of combat.
The combat isn’t radically different from other Final Fantasy XV demos. There is a good mix of the non-random enemy advancements the Final Fantasy series has been making with active-time, action-oriented combat. It has certainly sharpened up and become more pronounced when compared to previous demos.
One of the cooler moves to obtain is Noctis’ warp strike, but it has a steep learning curve. It was a bit unwieldy due to the nature of a demo, which could mean it is cooler in theory than it is in practice.
Cindy’s mission brings you into conflict with a mini-boss. This tough battle highlights the eccentricities of combat. The mini-boss was challenging, requiring proper strategy and team coordination to best it. Players need to get a firm handle on blocking or they could get roughed up easily.
We also learned how to utilize party member skills by building up a meter during combat. These skills cause a great deal of damage and create openings that can be used to dole out even more damage.
If you’re not constantly staggering a boss, the battle will be difficult. Staggering knocks the boss off its balance and opens it up for players to go in and punish their weak spot.
The combat is no longer an awkward blend of RPG with action elements. It now feels like its own thing with tons of potential and depth. It is easy to pick up but there its complexities are difficult to master.
Between the times I’ve played Final Fantasy XV at conventions and the Episode Duscae and Platinum demos, I’ve gotten a good picture of where the game currently stands. It has come a long way from the promising ideas laid out in Episode Duscae. The combat has gotten tighter and sharper, the open world feels more alive, and the voice acting (which may be the best in any Final Fantasy) and music helps complete the package.
Unlike most demos, this Final Fantasy XV demo is very close to the final product. Even though a demo doesn’t tell the whole story, the first hour of Final Fantasy XV tells a pretty convincing one. I wanted to venture off the beaten path and explore the expansive world that has been created.
The radical shift for this game when compared to previous Final Fantasy installments may have turned you off, but you should try out the demo before you decide to skip out on Final Fantasy XV. The first hour of the game made a believer out of me and left me wanting more.
tags: FF 15 , FF XV , Final Fantasy 15 , final fantasy xv , Final Fantasy XV Preview , PAX West , preview