After a decade of waiting and a few name changes, Noctis and his crew have finally arrived in Final Fantasy 15. The long-awaited installment in the RPG franchise arrives after years of delays and a few poorly-received demos that made fans worry about the new spin on the franchise’s combat system. Despite the delays and lack of demo hype, expectations were incredibly high for Final Fantasy 15 and, luckily, the final product doesn’t disappoint.
Although the idea of jumping into a franchise at the 15th installment is more than a bit intimidating, Square Enix made it a point to market Final Fantasy 15 as a game for both long-time fans and first-time players. The game achieves this tall order by kicking off a brand-new story in a new setting and with new characters. Some of the franchise’s classic mechanics, like party building, have been mostly removed and players start the game with the core party already together.
FF15 puts players in control of Prince Noctis as he sets out on an epic road trip with his three friends/royal servants. The game provides an open world action-RPG experience that is closer to something like The Witcher 3 than it is to the classic JRPGs with battle menus that may come to mind when thinking about old Final Fantasy adventures. Players have a main quest to follow that carries them across the region fighting the Empire and many types of monsters, but there are also tons of side quests and other activities to explore as well.
The game is full of fighting, so a smooth, entertaining combat system is essential to keeping the attention of gamers for the 80+ hours that Final Fantasy games often take to fully complete. Luckily, the new combat system has come a long way since the demo and is actually very fluid and fun. Players have access to a Wait Mode, which slows down time, exposes enemy weaknesses, and provides an opportunity to rearrange weapons or use potions. Commanding the other party members is as easy as pressing a two button combo.
That said, camera angles do start to get a little disorienting when the party member attacks are delivered. This slows down the frenetic combat that can take place when Noctis starts to string together long combos of attacks, but doesn’t totally ruin the experience. Many of the encounters seem almost too easy early on in the game and some players may feel the need to up the difficulty in order to actually feel challenged, even by missions that are far above their current level.
In traditional RPG fashion, the player earns experience points and levels up with each successful quest or combat encounter and can then spend points to make the team stronger. The Ascension skill trees offer a wide variety ways that players can choose to improve their team. From increasing health to learning new attacks to earning more bonuses for eating a meal as a team; the Ascension system gives players the chance to decide what is most important. There are some skills that definitely make the game easier, but the difficulty level is not high enough to warrant a serious need to min-max through the talent tree.
A few of the game’s minor faults come in the last few chapters, but we will be careful not to spoil any plot details. After dozens of hours of powering up the squad and improving particular attacks, Noctis is stripped of many abilities for a portion of the game that will take most players at least a few hours to progress through. This portion of the game is compelling from a story perspective, but it’s a bit frustrating to spend so much time dumping resources into certain attacks or weapons only to have them taken away for hours at a time.
The game’s story is all about family and brotherhood and is actually delivered very well. There is a bit too much exposition in the final hours of the game, but this is kind of par for the course with Final Fantasy. There are some very emotional moments over the course of FF15‘s story and they all feel well earned after spending dozens of hours with these characters.
Much of that emotional connection is forged during the game’s many long drives in the Regalia. The vehicle features both manual and auto-pilot modes and is used to move around from zone to zone, usually in 2-5 minutes rides. These drives are when the player really gets to know Noctis, Ignis, Gladiolus, and Prompto, and the rest of the supporting cast. The time spent cruising across the kingdom may feel too slow and like a waste to some players who prefer to stay in the action from moment to moment, but the character building that happens in the Regalia is a major part of what makes the game’s big action set pieces work. The stakes are higher than ever when facing off against a god or a daemon because of the friendships and romances that are built in the car (which can eventually fly).
In addition to the compelling conversations that take place in the Regalia, there are also some beautiful sights to see along the way. Although there were some minor frame rate drops, Final Fantasy 15 has joined the list of games like Uncharted 4 and Battlefield 1 that are defining just how stunning visuals can be in the current console generation.
After a decade of work, Square Enix has succeeded in delivering a Final Fantasy experience that can please long-time fans, while simultaneously luring in a new generation of adventurers. The game isn’t quite perfect, but it is close enough that it will very likely be a game of the year contender on many lists.
Final Fantasy 15 is available now for PS4 and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One code for this review.