Titanium Dragon
Titanium Dragon
TSA Score for this game: 1,571
Posted on 14 April 18 at 10:15
This review has 1 positive vote and 2 negative votes. Please log in to vote.
Final Fanatasy XV is simultaneously one of the shortest and one of the longest Final Fantasy games. The main plot of Final Fantasy XV can be completed in under 20 hours, but with all of its sidequest content, including the end-game dungeons, the game stretches out to as much as 140 hours in length. For reference, if you were to do nothing but play this game, 24 hours a day, it would take you about six days to complete all of that content; if you were to play it for 3 hours an evening, it would take you a month and a half to complete. And yet, the main plot could be comfortably completed within a single weekend, and possibly within a single day, were you truly determined to beat it.

It is a truism that in most open-world games, the core plot of the game is its strongest point, and the side content is largely repetitive nonsense.

Final Fantasy XV differs from most games; the open-world content is actually the game’s strongest point.

But this is not a good thing, as its open-world content is still deeply flawed; it is simply that the main plot is a disaster.

This is a game that was stitched together from parts, and it shows. Fans were eager for Final Fantasy XIII Versus, and when it turned into Final Fantasy XV, they were still eager – even a decade after its initial tease.

But the fact that the game took a decade to create really shows just how large its problems were; indeed, the game we played nearly all dates from after 2012, but it tried to preserve many aspects of Final Fantasy XIII Versus.

It shouldn’t have tried, as the parts which were the holdover from the original version of the game are the worst parts, and don’t fit well with the rest of it.

Final Fantasy XV is really a game of two parts – the main plot is a dark, depressing linear story, while the open world content is almost entirely separate from that, a road trip with Noctis and his three best bros, out camping and seeing the world.

These two parts don’t fit together at all.

The main plot is a disjointed mess, and is a holdover from Final Fantasy XIII versus. It ties into the Kingsglaive movie, and indeed, the Kingsglaive movie more or less serves as the primary mechanism for characterizing a great number of people – Noctis’s father and love interest especially, as neither of those characters have any sort of significant presence in the actual game.

And this hurts, a lot. I didn’t watch Kingsglaive at all (it got terrible reviews), so playing the actual game, I had no real connection to the king (who barely appears on-screen at all) and Prince Noctis’s love interest, Lunafreya (who, likewise, actually only shows up for a very short period of time in Final Fantasy XV, despite the game expecting you to care about her from the start). And this is a big problem, as two of the major emotional notes for Prince Noctis, the protagonist of the game, are the death of his father and his separation from Lunafreya. Indeed, when Noctis’s homeland of Insomnia is destroyed at the start of the game, I have no real reason to care at all.

And unfortunately, the game only reinforces this idea – the fact that his homeland was destroyed is COMPLETELY irrelevant mechanically. You never spend any time there until the endgame, long after it has been destroyed, so you have no emotional connection to its loss. There are no shops there or people there you have any connection with. Noctis has a freakout, but you’ve only known him for a couple hours at that point, and as far as the rest of the world is concerned, honestly, the destruction of Insomnia doesn’t even matter – despite running around an open world just beyond Insomnia’s borders, the people around you pretty much couldn’t care less about the destruction of your homeland. It doesn’t matter at all.

Indeed, instead you are dumped out on your fun time road trip with your three bros – Prompto the cheerful photographer, Ignis the studious cook, and Gladiolus the big guy serious bodyguard. These three characters are all very well-voiced, and because you spend virtually the entire game around them, you get to know them quite well. And it works! The characters interact a great deal with each other and Prince Noctis, and play off of each other very well. You get a good sense of their comradery, as well as their friendship with each other. Ignis cooking at camp every night, and Prompto sharing his photos, works really well to help bring these characters to life, as the things they do in-character have mechanical repercussions and are things you spend time caring about. Over the course of the game, you save up Prompto’s photos, creating an impromptu collection of photographs documenting your road trip, and it works great – at the end of the game, you can look back through them, and remember all the good times you had.

And the thing is, the characters work really well here. But they hardly act like their homeland has just been destroyed – 99% of the time, in the open world, your homeland’s destruction is completely irrelevant to the core cast of the game. Indeed, you spend virtually no time at all focusing on the things you’ve lost or the people you missed while wandering around the open world, something which takes up far more of your time than the actual main plot of the game. So you are left utterly disconnected from the plot.

Until, of course, you jump back into the main story quests. Every time you do that, it becomes Super Serious Times, and much of the joy seems to vanish from the game as it takes an abrupt tonal shift from the playful open-world road trip to the depressing “the world is falling apart” plot of the main game.

As a result, the game is utterly tonally dissonant with itself. One minute, Prince Noctis is being forcibly recruited by a biologist to go catch frogs for her. The next, he’s in a super serious plot to… do something vague, for half the game, as it isn’t even entirely clear what exactly he is doing for a good chunk of the game. Sure, collect the royal arms, and go talk to the gods to gain their power – but for what end? To go destroy the empire? How, exactly, he plans to win is extremely vague, and indeed, while he wants to go off and regain the crystal, it isn’t exactly clear for a lot of the game how that is going to restore the Kingdom of Insomnia, even if he does go grab it. Of course, by the end of the game, it isn’t even about saving his kingdom – it’s about saving the entire world – and as a result, the scope is even broader but even more incoherent, as you spend most of the latter part of the game in a part of the world you have no investment in, as the plot after chapter 8 takes you out of the open world you’ve invested so much time in and dumps you into a series of new locations you have zero connection with, in a purely linear path.

And the main plot of the game isn’t even all that in-depth; it jumps around and does a terrible job of explaining itself, and does a bad job of delivering on emotional notes. One of your friends is severely injured – blinded, in fact, and it isn’t clear whether it is going to be temporary or permanent – and this could have been an enormously emotional moment. But instead, the game has something bad happen to Lunafreya at the same time, so Noctis, instead of caring about the character we have built up a connection to (Ignis, his friend and your companion the whole game), instead is moping over Lunafreya, a character you have less connection to than Gladio’s little sister, who at least temporarily joins the party and hangs out with you. The game tries to pull off an Aeris-like situation, but it fails, because unlike Aeris, a character you spent a good chunk of the game thinking was going to be a permanent party member, Lunafreya is a character you spend perhaps five minutes of face-to-face time with, who never contributes to your party in any way, and who doesn’t get to interact with your group of characters.

The result is that something which should have been a powerful emotional note is instead mixed and muted, and while the game tries to call out Noctis for caring less about Ignis than Lunafreya, it doesn’t actually work emotionally for the player.

Indeed, the game has a lot of things just sort of happen – the main antagonist of the game, Ardyn, is obviously untrustworthy from the get-go, and does a very poor job of fooling you about the main plot. The emperor is set up as some sort of menacing villain, but never even gets to interact with the main characters before he is killed off off-screen. Lunafreya’s brother, likewise, is set up as a dangerous foe, and then the game tries to make him sympathetic after he, too, is killed off offscreen.

The whole game fails to deliver any sort of emotional impact via the main plot, because it thinks that the player will care about things that the game has failed to establish at all. It plays its cards way too close to the chest, and the player spends far too little time interacting with the actual world of the main plot to gain any emotional investment in it.

And indeed, while the main plot is 14 chapters long, most of them are very short – chapter 10 is an hour and a half long, chapter 11 is all of 20 minutes long, and chapter 12 clocks in at under an hour in length. Indeed, almost all of the main plot is shockingly short and rushed, and a lot of important events – in fact, most of them – happen off-screen or in cutscenes. What Noctis actually does for most of the game is almost entirely irrelevant, with only his interactions with the gods actually having any real relevance to the world at large. Most of what you do just doesn’t feel like it matters or has much of an impact, and this, too, disconnects the player from the world they’re supposed to be saving.

The fact that the main plot is such a minor part of the game, comparatively, in terms of time, emotional investment, and everything else, robs it of any sort of impact, and its poor pacing means that it feels more like a chore than anything else. And the fact that no one in the world seems to care about Prince Noctis, or Insomnia, or any of the rest of the core plot, when not doing the core plot missions, just makes them feel that much less connected to the rest of the game.

The open world gameplay will take up the bulk of your time. The world of Lucis opens up at the start of Chapter 3, and you quickly discover that the open world is quite large and has quite a bit to do. Like most open-world games, there’s a series of pretty inane sidequests – go catch frogs for the biologist in a bunch of spots, go retrieve the dog tags of dead hunters, go take pictures of the world from certain spots, go give injured hunters or broken down cars potions or repair kits respectively (random quests that appear by just wandering around, and are resolved just as quickly).

And these are pretty much terrible, and feel very strained, considering that it is the Crown Prince of Lucis doing all this, while (theoretically) his kingdom is in jeopardy.

Slightly better are the hunts – you are given bounties for various enemies around the world, and these are often souped-up versions of normal enemies, and later on often unique enemies which form world bosses of sorts. A lot of these are just filler, but a few lead to some reasonably interesting fights, as well as a few side quests that dump you out to go hunt down some nasty monster in the world.

Then there are the dungeons. Unlike most games, the dungeons in Final Fantasy XV are almost all side content – you only actually have to go through two of the open-world dungeons in the course of the main plot of the game, though you’re very likely to go through a third due to it unlocking the ability to rent chocobos. This is a very odd approach, as while these dungeons are there, and give you significant rewards, they’re skippable. If you aren’t interested in collecting the royal arms (theoretically powerful magical weapons that Prince Noctis alone can use), you can ignore them entirely. But they’re actual significant side content, and while they generally don’t have much in the way of plot, they’re significant areas with unique enemies in them, and bosses at the end of them to challenge the player, and various different sorts of setups to make them all distinct and unique.

Alas, despite much of the “coolness” of the idea behind Prince Noctis being his ability to summon weapons and teleport around, these don’t really play any role in exploration – indeed, the dungeons shut off Prince Noctis’s ability to teleport outside of combat. Why? No actual reason – they just do. They could have been designed to take advantage of it, but none are. And indeed, in the normal dungeons, there’s no platforming, despite your ability to jump around – it is all just about running around. This really makes the dungeons pretty limited in many ways, despite the theoretically interesting movement abilities. Indeed, even the single post-game dungeon which is built around platforming doesn’t allow Noctis to teleport. Of course, it also illustrates why the game doesn’t involve much platforming – the designers of the game didn’t know how to design 3D platforming, and the dungeon relies heavily on precise 3D platforming (dicey at the best of times) with rather suboptimal controls for it.

There is, however, one way in which the open world really shines – and that is in the core gameplay loop.

The core gameplay loop of the open world is that you go out camping, and have Ignis cook you some food, or go to a town to sleep in a hotel, and buy food from a local diner (which, if it is food you’ve never seen before, Ignis can often learn how to cook himself). This food gives you a temporary bonus – starting out around 24 in-game hours long (1 hour real-time), but extending up to 48 in-game hours.

The player then will tend to go out and do some tasks in the world – run around completing quests, typically. Or should I say, driving around? Because the game really heavily centers around the Regalia, the group’s car. While it only drives on roads (at least, until much later in the game), it can do so at much higher speeds than walking, resulting in the player travelling by car from location to location. The player can drive the car around themselves, or they can opt to have Ignis drive them to a location they designate on the map. As the player travels around, they can unlock fast travel points, which can be instantly travelled to in the car (though in-game time does pass while doing so).

Once the player gets to where they’re going, they get out of the car and start exploring on foot – though later on, the player can unlock the ability to rent chocobos for a limited amount of time, allowing them to quickly run around the world instead after getting out of their car. They will go to their destination, likely fight some monsters, possibly go through a dungeon… but sooner or later, night will begin to fall.

At this point, things start to get dicey – big, scary demons come out at night, much tougher than the daytime enemies, with extremely high resistances and quite a lot of hit points. Early on, it is best to run, and even when you can finally start to fell them, more will start spawning after you kill the first few. Your allies will suggest calling it a night instead, encouraging the player to return to a campsite or town to rest. While later on in the game, night isn’t a big deal, earlier on, it is, and it drives the player to complete the cycle – doubly so because early on in the game, you can’t fast travel at night, meaning that staying out can get you trapped by dangerous enemies or force you to run away on foot when enemies spawn on the roads.

Eventually, the player will make their way back to some sort of resting location, where they will be able to sleep. Here, if you are camping, Ignis will cook up some food (and whoever made this game was a major foodie – it is presented in loving detail); at town lodgings, he won’t. Some sort of little scene of the characters settling in will play, usually silent, though sometimes voiced, and the characters will do various downtime activities while you watch – playing games on their phones, chatting, eating dinner, messing around with each other, whatever.

After this, the player will see the photos that Prompto took that day – generally 10, but sometimes more. As you page through them, the characters might comment on them, and some of these conversations are quite fun. For instance, at one point, Prompto got a picture of Noctis being constricted by an enemy in combat, prompting this little exchange.

Ignis: "Roughed up pretty good there."

Gladio: "You're lucky to have survived that!"

Noctis: "Yeah! Especially with Prompto busy with the camera!"

The conversations are often playful, but they also help to highlight the road trip feel, and you can save up to 200 photographs over the course of your journey to look back through them (which pays off quite well in the end, when you do so as part of the plot, and characters comment back on them while you are reminded of your exploits).

While this mechanic might seem cheesy, it is actually remarkably effective emotionally – they not only serve as little mementos, but they remind the player of what they’ve been doing and what progress they’ve made visually, as well as simply looking really visually impressive in many cases. They also probably serve to help advertise the game, as I know I shared many screenshots on Steam of the various photographs Prompto took, just because they looked cool and allowed me to comment on various situations (and of course, the odd glitchy shot that was totally obscured by a bush reminded me of actual photographs I’ve accidentally taken that did not come out at all).

There is one other essential part of resting as well, though – the player levels up at this point.

You see, the player does gain experience by killing monsters or completing quests, but instead of immediately levelling up, it is stored. Experience only is “cashed in” when you sleep. Sleeping in towns can multiply this experience, giving you a bonus of +20%, +50%, +100%, or even, late in the game, +200% at a certain place. However, sleeping in the nicer accommodations costs more money, making it cost prohibitive to do too often early in the game – plus, travelling to the +100% location early on in the game is often kind of a pain and cuts your days much shorter.

The tension, then, comes between trying to gather up a bunch of xp all at once, and realizing that the food bonus only lasts for so long – when the food bonus runs out, the player is strongly encouraged to rest, because the food stat bonuses are quite considerable (and some of them will give the player bonus xp or better drops). As such, the player is unlikely to gather up too much experience before actually resting, and the fact that you don’t actually level up until you rest means that you want to rest pretty frequently, so that you actually gain the benefits of your experience points. This works out really well early in the game – you don’t generally gain too much experience at one point, meaning that usually you’ll just rest wherever is convenient (at a nearby hotel, usually, though sometimes camping out because it is just easier), but on the rare occasion when you do gain a bunch of xp all at once, you’ll want to go travel off to the location where you can maximize your experience gains. Later on in the game, when the day-night cycle is less important, and you gain access to the highest multiplier rest spot, this ends up falling somewhat by the wayside, with only your food really constraining your hours spent out – but this also means that you can level up rapidly later on in the game, making it easier to get up to the level cap.

Moreover, when you camp, your various player skills – Noctis’s fishing ability, Prompto’s photography skill, Ignis’s cooking, and Gladio’s survival skill which allows him to randomly collect items after battles – level up, unlocking new recipes, better drops, new photo filters, and improving Noctis’s ability at the fishing minigame (which, while okay, is nothing to really write home about – though it is cute that Noctis can summon his fishing pole in the same way he does his weapons).

All of this combines to help reinforce this gameplay cycle, and it works very effectively. It makes the open world stuff feel a lot more like a road trip, and it creates natural breaks in the action, as well as encouraging the player to return to resting spots.

It is just too bad that the game that it is actually centered around facilitating is terrible.

I’ve held off on talking about the combat until this point, and that is because it is bad. Indeed, it is possibly the worst combat system in any Final Fantasy game.

The game tried to go with being an action RPG, but it seems Square-Enix really struggled with it. Kingdom Hearts had basic gameplay, but was enjoyable enough, and I liked some of the FFVII spinoffs. But the combat gameplay in Final Fantasy XV is just bad.

The gameplay boils down to this: you hold B to attack. Not press B to attack, hold it to continuously attack. Or run – it uses the same button. You press Y to teleport around, and can target an enemy with the shoulder button and then press Y to warp-strike them, dodging any attack in the interim and dealing damage. This costs a small amount of MP.

Your final ability is to hold X to dodge. You don’t need to time it – any attack that comes in while you’re holding X will be dodged, but sometimes, you will be prompted to press X to parry an attack, at which point you will then be prompted to press B, which will launch a counterattack.

That’s it.

There is a little more complexity to it – if you get behind an enemy, you get to do a “blindside link strike”, which deals more damage, with one of your bros coming over to attack with you – but frankly, 99% of the time, the best strategy is to just warp strike endlessly, over and over again, as the enemies really struggle to hit you while warp striking, and you do massive amounts of damage with it (especially if you use the Ragnarok, a sword which you start out with at the start of the game which increases your warp strike damage – and which you will likely never NOT use, as it is just flat-out the best weapon in the game due to the bonus warp strike damage). If you run out of MP, there will typically be a spot you can teleport to or crouch behind to regain your MP, at which point you can just go back to warp striking.

There is also a tech gauge which slowly fills up, as well as an armiger gauge. The former allows your teammates to unleash powerful special techniques, or create a gravity well to suck in enemies, or heal the team, while the latter puts Noctis into a near-invincible super mode, allowing him to zip around and dish out a bunch more damage. The former is likely to fully charge every combat, while the latter will often take multiple combats to fill up. Both are very powerful, and can end combat encounters much more quickly, especially once you gain the damage limit break ability for your allies (allowing them to deal more than 9999 damage) and the armiger unleashed ability for Noctis, which allows him to use powerful techniques in his super mode that more or less obsolete all other uses of the tech bar.

Unfortunately, the combat is almost trivially easy – the party is extremely powerful compared to enemies after the very early game, with many enemies barely being able to really threaten them. Worse, the warp striking strategy is the best strategy against virtually every enemy in the game, and no matter how cool the enemies look, in the end, the same strategy works against virtually all of them, with only two or three post-game bosses really doing anything to mix things up. Everything else you can just warp strike to death, endlessly, and it is just better than anything else – though of course, you can always pull out your overpowered magical spells, that you can easily make do 9999 x 5 damage, to an area of effect. You know, in case you didn’t want to actually bother with fighting.

Worse is the fact that you can simply use items at any time – these simply allow you to shrug off damage, as you will gain vast amounts of healing items, and you are very unlikely to run out of them if you do really any significant amount of side-questing at all. Indeed, I spent most of the game selling these items due to collecting 99 of them and running out of space for more. No enemy can really threaten you because you can just heal your entire party back up to full health at the drop of a hat – even the hardest of the post-game enemies only ate up about 30 healing items, of which I had hundreds.

As a result, the combat – which is the core of the mechanical gameplay – is ultimately little more than filler. And while that is true in many other Final Fantasy games, this game lacks the strong core plot or story to make that filler worthwhile. The combat *is* the content, and it is pretty bad, and the various threatening bosses don’t feel threatening, because they can’t meaningfully threaten you – and in most cases, probably won’t even really require you to heal.

Worse, the game doesn’t seem to know this, and so a lot of the theoretical meat of the game is just a lot of combat. And because the combat is all basically the same, despite mixing up the enemy appearances, it all falls apart. Indeed, there are eight post-game dungeons which are nothing more than strings of 20-100 combat encounters, all in a series of rooms connected with corridors and nothing interesting to look at at all, just a bunch of identical rock walls. There’s a gigantic turtle boss the size of a mountain with 5 million hit points, but it poses absolutely no threat to the player save possibly boredom while chewing through its millions of hit points.

Without a good combat system, the game falls flat, as it seems to rely on the combat for its fun, and it isn’t actually fun.

In the end, Final Fantasy XV is a deeply flawed game. It is clear that they tried to salvage Final Fantasy XIII Versus, but they did it by stapling it to an open-world road trip game. The core cast of characters that you spend the game with – Noctis, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladio – work well together. Their voicing is great and you can really feel the friendship and comradery. The road trip’s general shape works great, and the photography thing that Prompto does is absolutely brilliant.

But the rest of the game is a mess. The core plot is terrible, the combat is terrible, and the sidequests are mostly terrible. The game has some interesting ideas, but it executes them very poorly, and its emotional notes don’t work at all. The game is enormously long, but is mostly just repetitive, and I regret spending so much of my free time on it – I could have done so many more interesting things with my time, but I kept trying to push on, trying to find the fun, because I wanted to like the game.

But I just couldn’t. The game just never comes together.

At the start of the game, the characters run out of gas, and push their car to the gas station, while “Stand By Me” plays in the background. This is an excellent character and tone defining moment, and it starts the game off quite strong. I wanted to love this game – this game about four friends working together.

But I can’t stand by Square on this one.
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