Final Fantasy XV has been ten years in the making, ten years! In that time it has transformed from Final Fantasy Versus XIII, to vapourware, to what we see today. Most games that go through cycles like this aren’t great, so can Final Fantasy XV break this trend? When the game starts up, it specifically states it is a Final Fantasy for “Fans and First-Timers”, which made me as a fan genuinely worried, but I’m glad to say that most of those worries were unfounded.
The first thing you need to know about FFXV is that it is very different from previous mainline Final Fantasy games, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. This is an action RPG at it’s core, but if you want to take a more relaxed approach, you can enable wait mode in the options that will give you some time to think. The story is told over various media formats, such as the Kingsglaive movie and the 5-episode anime series, Brotherhood that is freely available on Youtube. As such, if you only play the game you may not understand much and I’d highly recommend watching the Brotherhood anime series at the very least.
Final Fantasy XV follows the story of Noctis (or Noct), and his close friends Ignis, Gladiolus and Prompto as they travel to the nearby city of Altissia in preparation for Noctis’ marriage to a neighbouring city, Lady Lunafreya. The wedding is a ploy by the neighbouring nation of NIflheim to leave the city of Lucis, Noctis’ home, weakened so Niflheim can attack it. This leads to Noctis and Lunafreya being reported as dead, and going on the run from Niflheim. There’s a lot of complicated names and places, but the set-piece cutscenes are really good, though as mentioned earlier, to understand it properly you will need to watch Kingsglaive and Brotherhood.
The gameplay itself still retains elements of previous Final Fantasy games but is also a departure from the series due to the action-heavy combat. Noctis is the only character you fully control, but you can fire off commands to your companions as well by holding the L1 button and pressing a button on the d-pad, although these are quite limited and are “charged” during the battle. Noctis attacks using a variety of blades and can instantly switch between them using a power that runs in his blood. He can also use this ability to warp around, and crucially do warp strikes by locking on with R1 pressing triangle.
The warp feature is crucial in battle in many ways. In general, you attack using the circle button, and can switch weapons on the fly with the directional pad. To supplement this, you can warp strike to enemies, the further away you are from them, the more damage you will cause on striking. This feature uses your MP gauge, as does phasing (dodging) certain attacks, and once depleted you enter stasis mode. In order to bring your MP back in battle you can point-warp to a specific high point in the area, which will replenish your MP completely. So you can warp-strike again.
Unlike other Final Fantasy games, your HP and MP gauge will regenerate over time, even during battle, and you can obtain skills to improve that as well. Once your HP reaches zero, you aren’t actually dead. Your allies can come over and partially heal you by pressing square on you, or you can limp around, and use an item to replenish health. The benefit of this is that the game isn’t as punishing as it could be, and I found I could defeat enemies far above my level, albeit with difficulty. Dying though does mean that your overall maximum health will reduce.
Final Fantasy XV handles experience points very differently to other games in the franchise. You can now obtain experience, but you need to “bank” that experience by either camping or staying at a hotel. Paying to stay at a motel or expensive hotel may give you up to 3x extra experience than camping, so it’s a good idea not to camp to often. The downside of this of course is that you will lose all that experience if you are completely wiped out. However, you can save anywhere as long as you aren’t in a dungeon or near enemies, and the game handles auto-saving very well also, which is nice to see.
Levelling up increases your stats, but isn’t the only way to gain AP (Ability points), which are used to unlock certain skills and buffs. AP can also be obtained by completing certain objectives, or defeating enemies. The points can be spent on the Ascension grid, which is similar to the Sphere grid in Final Fantasy X. These skills vary from combat skills, to teamwork skills, to things that will help you gain more AP in your journey. I’d recommend investing in teamwork early on as it helps a lot. Finding new campsites also gives you AP.