Final Fantasy XV Hands-On: Can New Players Enjoy It?
Let me be upfront about this: I’ve never played a Final Fantasy game. Crazy, I know, but hey, everyone has that one series they never got into. “But Corey,” you say condescendingly, “it’s one of the biggest franchises in gaming!” Hey man, I grew up on N64…sue me. I didn’t see an RPG until I was already a man and by then they were nothing to me but daunting. When I nabbed a PS2, Final Fantasy X was out, and with only a cursory knowledge of the franchise, I wrongly assumed I needed to play every prior Final Fantasy game to understand and appreciate it. Needless to say, I didn’t have the time or funds to jump down that particular rabbit hole. And so the series was always lost on me.
But you know what? I can’t be the only non Final Fantasy fan who’s has had their interest piqued in the long awaited Final Fantasy XV. Certainly there are others out there unsure if they can enjoy – or are even allowed to try – Final Fantasy so late into the game. And whereas other game critics who have gone hands-on with the game will naturally let their history with the series shape their opinion in some way, I have the unique perspective of judging this bro-fest of a Square Enix game with zero nostalgic baggage or bias.
So how does Final Fantasy XV play for a complete newcomer? Well this newbie sat down with the first two hours of the game, and this is what I thought.
With a decade worth of trailers and footage online, there’s no need for me to waste your time reciting how the game plays. Odds are you’ve already formed an opinion on the Kingdom Hearts-esque real time / action RPG combat, and nothing I can say will sway you to one side or the other. That said, I’ll try my best to not talk the technical side of gameplay and instead recap the sorts of feelings the game evokes when your hands are on the controller, and Noctis is behind that silly wheel.
“Something Truly Spellbinding”
There’s something truly spellbinding about journeying through the massive world of Eos. I haven’t been able to shake the memory of a small side quest I embarked on involving a botched attempt to acquire minerals guarded by a giant sleeping bird creature. After successfully nabbing the minerals, I threw stealthiness to the wind thinking my quest was complete. I quickly realized the scope of my mistake as the world was suddenly engulfed by the massive shadows of the awoken bird spreading its wings. “Oh shit,” I caught myself mouthing. I hardly ever talk while playing games, let alone swear. I felt the danger when that monster cried out and flew after me. I felt the comradery as my in game bffl’s and I raced back to the car for dear life. I felt the fun; the freshness; and by golly, I felt that Fantasy.
Character wise, the four boys who take centre stage in Final Fantasy XV are comically hokey. Granted, their affection for each other and eagerness for adventure is fun to partake in, and the game constantly sprinkles in some pretty charming banter for the boys while on the road. Considering how far video game voice acting has come in the last 20 years, though, it’s somewhat disappointing to hear these meticulously designed characters be brought to life through archetypal voices that sound like early ’90s anime dubs.
Cindy and Dino especially, who both appear within the game’s first hour, are supplied with painfully stereotypical New York and southern accents, respectively. Imagine the extra layer of immersion and empathy this otherwise stunning game could grant its players if the characters inhabiting Eos were given the same voice acting care as the characters found in, let’s say, Naughty Dog games, for example.
Fortunately, their voices don’t get in the way of enjoying the combat. For those who played last March’s Platinum Demo, know that the combat control scheme has been significantly improved for the full game. Square Enix presumably spent the additional time gained from the two month delay to transform the somewhat clunky controls into some that simply make more sense and allow for smoother, more graceful combo flows. R1 now locks on to enemies instead of R3, and Noctis will stay locked on until you lift your finger from the button.
Holding circle while not locked to an enemy allows Noctis to sprint across the battlefield, simplifying navigation around giant enemies and speeding up encounters with spread out foes. The implementation of the new warpstrike command via the triangle button makes getting the jump on enemies even easier, and adds a necessary dose of extremity that helps transform four wise cracking teenagers to a full on team of Avengers.
Of course, none of this will feel uninviting should it be your first time playing. The combat and world exploration are unequivocally new, but they’ll be new for series veterans as well, and are introduced incrementally and with enough pacing that you have ample time to understand how things work. Worst case scenario, there’s a 20 minute combat tutorial you can enroll in before beginning your adventure that takes you step by step from everything from dodging to magic attacks.
Now let’s talk that car. That infamous, head scratching, bro-mobile of a car. There have been memes aplenty poking fun at these angsty boys’ preferred form of transportation, but as a newcomer to the series I had no issue with the Regalia. It’s certainly different, but isn’t something different what you’d want in a series’ fifteenth core game?
“Blending current day technology with magic in a world governed by nobility and kingship feels captivating and uniquely Square Enix.”
The dichotomy of a vast, nature dominated world connected by man-made roads and explored on wheels is intriguing. Blending current day technology with magic in a world governed by nobility and kingship feels captivating and uniquely Square Enix. It’s a few steps ahead of steampunk in terms of the tech, and a few steps backwards as far as the politics go. That’s cool and different – and why folks are so hung up on a car is beyond me. The Regalia controls decently well, too; it’s no GTA, but what other game is? The car also supplies a welcome bit of fan service by including many of the greatest hits from Final Fantasy’s history as listenable tracks accessible via the car’s CD player. And speaking of music, the game’s opening minutes feature Florence & the Machine’s beautiful cover of “Stand By Me.” Bonus points.
“The World of Final Fantasy”
There’s a lot to explore in Final Fantasy XV and I’d be lying if I claimed to have seen even a fraction of what the game offers. I had two straight hours of uninterrupted gameplay with XV and left utterly fascinated with the bizarre world of Eos. Its politics, war, technology, fauna, and magic are all things I want to understand, and things I hope are properly explored during Noctis and team’s full adventure.
Much to my delight, you don’t need to be an expert in the world of Final Fantasy to enjoy Final Fantasy XV. There’s nothing in here that feels genuinely alienating or that makes you feel like you’re not “in on it.” You may be thrown off by some things like the questionably cheesy voice acting, but the memorable encounters and awesome battle system will make a fan of you yet, fellow Final Fantasy firsts.
Final Fantasy XV releases worldwide on November 29th, 2016. For more news on Square Enix, stay here on GEEKPR0N.com or follow us on Facebook.