Previously I had made a post regarding my first impressions of Final Fantasy 15, but I have decided to do another, more in-depth review of the game, now that I have spent 40+ hours with it. This review will have little in the way of pictures and videos, as those are already available in my other post.
Before his death in 2013, famed film critic Roger Ebert is known to have said “Video games can never be art.”. Well, unfortunately Mr. Ebert passed away before getting a chance to see or play Final Fantasy 15. In my opinion the game is the equivalent of a 40+ hour interactive movie and is beautiful in many, many ways.
Before I can really get started in on the game I ask that you watch this small documentary on what exactly went into it’s creation:
BTW, I have not finished the game, and will do my best to avoid spoilers in the following text. Some subjects, however, will no doubt reveal some things you may or may not want to know.
I will be adding some additional points in the post as they come to mind, these will be noted in bold italics.
What you have just seen is just a tiny, tiny fraction of the steps taken to create the Luminous Engine – the software engine that runs Final Fantasy 15 (and will likely run the upcoming Final Fantasy 7 re-imagining). These steps include what appears to be measuring light as it passes through different colored liquids, measuring light across different surfaces, scanning items from multiple angles (likely for transference into in-game models), scanning the light from the sun at different times of the day, examples of the scripting and build engine that is used to create events and many, many more. This is what I like to call world-building from scratch. The world of Eos, in which FF15 takes place, first had to be built from nothing. Gravity had to be formulated, weight and mass given to stone, to wood, to people, animals, cars – everything. Every object, every item, every person – the magazine lying on a table, the ceiling fan spinning overhead, the rocks on the side of the road, the trees, the mountains, the roads, the buildings, fences, power poles, monsters, daemons, soldiers, airships – everything had to be modelled then textured then spec mapped and given depth.
As someone who dabbles in the arcane arts of 3d modelling I can tell you that this is some high level stuff and is no doubt beyond the comprehension of many people far more skilled than I am.
My first impression and ‘review’ of the movie Moana conveys my love of the art of 3d, as it is easily one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. Where FF15 rules, though, is that everything Moana does in pre-rendered format FF15 must do in real-time. Moana and movies like it calculate and render each frame for hours then stitch everything together into a video format. Because of this a computer (or farm of several hundred computers, which no doubt is what Moana was rendered on, but it is highly likely that Disney/Pixar has access to and has purchased some high level supercomputers) can devote all of it’s resources to the process of calculating all the variables in a scene like incoming light, reflection of the light off of thousands of surfaces, translucency (how ‘see-through’ an object is, emission (does an object cast light, like fire or glowing stones), the effect of light on an objects bump map (which determines the actual ‘texture’ of an object, ie: is it a smooth surface, is it scaly, leathery, etc).
With games like FF15 all of these variables are calculated on the fly, along with the calculations needed for gameplay! What is the controller input? What players/monsters are on the screen? What spells are being cast? Who is attacking who? The list goes on. As a result you can never expect in-game graphics to be fully on par with pre-rendered scenes (and this has been a big thorn in game developers sides, as they often show pre-rendered scenes at game shows which look incredible while later delivering a playable game that looks nothing like what had been previously promised). Keeping this in mind, let us continue.
Final Fantasy XV (2016)
As of today (3-13-2017) there is a remake of another movie in the theaters of who boasts “…tale as old as time.”, and though I would agree that love truly is a tale as old as time I would say there is a tale just as old, if not older. A tale that goes all the way back to creation:
Final Fantasy 15 is the story of a boy who needs to become a man. The weight of his responsibilities and the lives of many, many others is placed upon his shoulders and rather than step up to the task, he lingers in boyhood trying to figure himself out. While he lingers lives are lost, family and friends die or are hurt protecting not just themselves, but our hero and the cause he should be picking up.
The boy is prince Noctis Lucius Caelum, heir to the throne of Lucius and the kingdom of Insomnia. From the very first scene we see that he does not care for his title nor his future as king, as he treats his father, King Regis Lucius Caelum, with veiled disgust. We can see he loves his father, but, like most teenagers, feels his father and he are from different worlds. It is obvious from the very start, however, that King Regis loves his son and has some understanding of what he is going through, having been a teenager once himself.
The opening scene sees King Regis sending Noctis (Noct for short), along with his three friends/guardians Gladio, Ignus and Prompto, on a mission to seek out Noct’s fiancé, the princess Lunafreya. Lunafreya is not only Noct’s fiancé, but also acts as ‘the Oracle’, a kind of liaison between the line of Lucius and the gods, which consist of summons from the Final Fantasy mythos. This is the first step in a huge adventure that involves not only Noct and his friends discovering who they are, but overthrowing the empire of Niflheim, who is bent on obtaining not only Insomnia but the crystal used to keep the kingdom protected, as well as the Ring of the Lucian, a powerful artifact that can harness the crystals power.
The story thus far has been top notch and if you enjoy movies like Stand by Me, The Sandlot, Saving Private Ryan or any kind of ‘coming of age’ movie or movie that involves a group of guys then you will enjoy the game far more. The four characters act in the same way you would expect a bunch of guys out for a weekend road trip to act and, in fact, road trips and camping are a huge part of the game, as the party rolls around in the badass Regalia, a slick looking muscle car if I have ever seen one (it’s also highly customizable from everything down to full body graphics to paint color, stickers, rims, etc.). The guys will joke about each others love lives, skills and even, um, their size (from time to time, mostly when catching fish). If you ladies ever wanted to know what guys talk about when they all get together without the ladies around, this will be a very real and well done lesson.
I will admit, at forty hours through I saw things that brought me to tears. As well written as any big Hollywood film, it may not be the greatest story every told, but the guys at SE certainly know how to tug a heartstrings and get the blood pumping for big, crazy scenes that typically involve monsters and daemons and the like. You wont find Oscar material, but nearly every line in the game has voice acting and it really is very good as games go. I know that, with the advent of big-budget games most of the voice acting therein is head and shoulders above the voice acting of games past, but FF15 is REALLY well done. It’s important that it be well done because with a story of this scope and magnitude it is important that the voices readily convey the emotion involved, and I would say they 99% nailed it.
Gameplay consists of so many elements it’s staggering, so I will try to stick to the main points here.
Combat: the combat system is not like any other game you may have played out there and is called the ‘Blitz’ system. As a player you will only be controlling Noctis during combat, but you have a lot of interaction with your party members that make up for the lack of variety. Noctis has the ability to create weapons out of thin air once they are equipped and it is very easy to switch between the four you can equip. Weapons can be selected from a collection of swords, great swords, spears, shields, guns, knives, machinery and spells, as well as mystical Royal Arms – ethereal weapons once held by the kings of Noctis’s line. By simply holding down the attack button Noctis will begin his assault, which can vary depending on which direction you hold the left analog stick. Different weapons have different attack speeds and you will gain abilities for each.
In addition to regular ol’ weapon attacks Noctis can Warp Strike, a kind of teleport attack that warps him from his current location into a direct attack toward his target. The further away you are from the target the greater the damage multiplier from your attack (with the great sword weapons the damage can be staggering). This warping ability also allows him to evade attacks by Phasing, and phasing at the right time can have a lot of benefits.
Your party members do a pretty good job of keeping themselves busy during combat in that they will deliver a variety of attacks based on the two weapons you equip them with, but party combat really shines when you grasp the concepts of Blindside attacks and Tech abilities. Blindside attacks occur when you strike an enemy from behind or sometimes from the side. When you do this one of your party members will work with you to deliver a devastating strike that does increased damage. For example Noctis will toss Prompto his great sword while Prompto will toss Noctis his gun and they will simultaneously attack from the rear. It’s a cool dynamic and its always rewarding to see Noct and his buddies fist bumping or high fiving after a successful blindside. Tech abilities can be used on-demand and consume part of the parties Tech bar, which fills during combat. These abilities range from combo attacks with a specific party member to recovery abilities and can be useful if you remember they are there. It took me a little while, but I found them to be extremely invaluable during heavy combat.
There is also a Block/Parry mechanic that works pretty well. During combat a big notification to BLOCK will appear on the screen and, if successful, you will subsequently see a PARRY notification that will initiate a critical attack.
That being said you are going to find Noct being “knocked” to the ground quite often, as, unless you have a really good eye, your not really able to determine when a good time to dodge is. Technically you can just hold the dodge button down and phase through attack after attack, but you really only benefit when you learn to dodge attacks at the last moment, which can be difficult.
Also, combat takes place in some pretty lush and busy environments, and you may find yourself swinging the camera around wildly trying to find a good view of what’s going on. Though you can move the camera all over I haven’t found a method of zooming in or out, so your locked in at a specific camera range. It can be frustrating when you want to see a bigger picture of what’s going on around you.
Travel: Ah, Regalia, how I love you so! Being a prince, Noct has access to what seems to be the hottest car on the streets of Eos. The Regalia plays a big part in the game and without it you would spend many, many hours walking or running to get from place to place. The world is HUGE in this game, but it’s made a little smaller by the network of roads. Simply click on the Regalia and you are offered Auto or Manual drive. Auto drive lets you pick from a list of possible destinations ranging from quest locations to parking spots that line the roads here and there. Select one and Ignus will take the wheel. Drives can be long, with some up to 10 minutes (maybe longer, but that’s the longest I have seen so far), but some locations give you the option of quick travel that will get you there instantly for a few gil. I’ve noticed, however, that even though you are instantly transported the trip still takes the same amount of time out of your day.
While on the road you can listen to the cars radio, which plays a selection of songs from the entire Final Fantasy series catalog. It is a joy to hear so much great music in one spot (though Dissidia did it first), and if your a fan of the FF series you will definitely find something that will bring back memories.
Driving manually gives you simple control over the car. Don’t expect Gran Turismo. You CAN damage the Regalia and, later in the game, you can crash it so bad that it ENDS THE GAME, but I’ll let you discover that on your own.
Now, lets just get this out of the way right now. The Regalia can be customized with parts to make it faster and more fuel efficient, and it can also get dirty and banged up on the road. To service the car you take it to the one person in the game with the ability to do repair and service work on it: Cindy, or, as I like to call her “Eye candy”. Half dressed, grease covered, Southern accent speaking Cindy will clean and maintain your car as well as install new parts or help in customization, typically while bending over the hood or side of the car. Hey! It’s a story about a guys road trip, you didn’t expect them to leave out “the girl” did you?
At a certain point in the game you can also acquire chocobo’s, which you can rent on a per day basis up to seven days in advance. They level up as you ride them and will sometimes even venture into combat with you to deliver kick attacks or beneficial effects. They, like the Regalia, are customizable to an extent.
Magic: The magic system in FF15 is remniscient of the sytem from FF8. Elemental power must be drawn from draw points on the map and consists of only fire, lightning and ice. Where it differs is that you must use the Elemancy ability to create spells. Once you have drawn and stored elemental power you can store spells in bottles. You can mix elemental powers with each other to create hybrid spells or to boost the potency of a spell. In addition you can add a number of items to the spell ranging from loot to food ingredients that will add different effects. For example, adding a potion will create a spell that damages the enemy while healing party members; adding a Magitek Booster will create a spell that hits multiple times (extremely useful); adding an Antidote will actually cause the spell to do elemental damage along with inflicting poison on the targets. Spells are then tossed by Noctis or party members like a little ball.
Spell effects are spectacular! When using ice magic expect a flash of ice and frost to cover everything in the area including monsters and the party (their clothing, their hair); fire magic causes the surrounding area to burst into flames and burn for a while, while party members clothing and face become blackened; lightning magic covers the area in electrical arcs the area and can actually cause Noct and party to fall over from the shock! Though not as varied as the catalog of spells in other FF games, it is nonetheless unique and useful, but slightly overpowered.
Though cool, it appears you can only store up to three spells per bottle, and once those three are done you have to go to the equip menu and equip a full bottle. This can be especially annoying in the middle of combat when you just want to toss a few spells. Also, you cannot spam cast, there is a cool down timer for your spells and, if your not paying attention, you will cast and then keep jamming on the attack button with nothing happening because you forgot to switch from a spell to a weapon. It would have been nice if, after you throw the spell Noct would automatically switch to the last held weapon while the cool down timer runs down.
Other: It’s interesting to note the game uses a day/night cycle, with every minute or two being an in-game hour. When the sun goes down the party switches on flashlights attached to their clothing, which gives a fair amount of illumination in the dark. Being out after dark is rough because not only is it more difficult to see enemies during combat (and not being able to see them very well makes them look eerily more realistic), but you also have a fair chance of running into a pack of daemons, magical beasts that for some reason like the roads. In fact, early on in the game attempting to drive at night will result in a warning from Ignus, who will refuse to drive, forcing you to take over in manual mode. A group of daemons popping up in front of your car will also result in a forced stop and combat. The day/night mechanic is cool and it adds a bit of desperation during early game hours, as you want to try and wrap up what your doing before it gets too dark and your chances of getting back to town in one piece get slimmer and slimmer.
The leveling system in FF15 is unlike any other game in the series. While you are awake and running around slaying monsters and completing quests you will gain experience points. You don’t, however, level up until you decide to retire at one of the many inns, hotels, campers or camping spots that dot the map. Once you do so your experience is tallied up and levels rewarded. It’s an odd system because at the beginning of the game you don’t want to be out at night doing anything for fear of running into daemons that will certainly rip you a new one. Once you gain a number of levels under your belt, however, and get some better gear it’s time to pull a few all-nighters. Once you can do this and rack up experience over several game days you can maximize your experience by selecting a location to spend the night that will multiply your xp total. If you have the gil for it there is a spot that will double your xp, which can easily translate into a dozen levels if you play your cards right.
Along with this you also gain Ability Points (AP) as you play. The come not only from combat, but can potentially come from things like long drives, chocobo races or even creating spells via Elemancy. AP allows you to purchase items on the Ascension Grid, a fancily laid out grid of abilities and bonuses that affect not only Noct but the whole party. Overall, however, the grid is not very big and there isn’t a very large selection of upgrades available, though what is available is useful if you can afford it. The grid oddly jumps from abilities that cost only a few AP (less than 50) then to 99, then to 333 then to 555! You get a lot of AP, but not THAT many. Maybe I’m wrong and you can rack them up later in the game.
In case you missed the introduction to my post, I can only say that the graphics in the game are nothing short of phenomenal. No, you wont mistake the game for reality, as the graphics still retain that ‘game’ look, but what SE does with graphics is legendary. In olden days (and likely even now) most games cut away pre-rendered cut scenes during scenes that require more detail or are so graphically intensive that the CPU of the system couldn’t handle all the necessary models on screen at once. Scenes with large crowds of people or monsters are perfect examples of this. I can tell you, however, the PS4 and FF15 have no trouble.
There is a particular scene in which a character is giving a speech to a crowd of what seems like a couple hundred viewers, or more. It’s all done in real-time with no hitches. Though you will notice little oddities like people in the crowd with the same action scripts (so they will be doing the same thing at the same type, kind of like a mini flash mob) these are negligible, though, and don’t really affect the games graphics.
The Regalia looks awesome, as do character models of the more important characters. NPC’s and stand-ins are obviously less detailed than Noct and company, but they still look good. Leather and metal textures stand out as flawless, and for most of the beasts in the game being the creation of someones overactive imagination their skin, scales and hair are amazingly realistic and pretty.
The landscapes are huge, well detailed and suprisingly realistic. If you spot a group of monsters from a mile or two away you can easily run or drive over to them, in sight the whole time, and they will be exactly where the should be.
Sound is good, but I can’t say great because I don’t have a sound system to play it through. I listen either through my TV speakers or through my headphones via the PS4 controller. Quality is good and would probably be better if I had a surround sound system. That being said, the number of sounds in the game is phenomenal. Monster roars, car engines, Magitek carriers, magic spell sounds, gunshots – tons of detail right down to the rustling of the leaves and grass! Phenomenal! The sound is also positional, so when you are walking through a thick forest of short trees and monsters are nearby you can hear where they are and get a good idea of where you want to go (or avoid).
Voice acting, as I stated before, is very well done and the quips and remarks the party makes to each other during combat are clear and fun. If Noct happens to get snatched up in the jaws of some creature (in which he gets thrown to the ground and you have to jam on the Circle button to escape) you can sometimes hear the urgent cry of one of his friends (“NOCT!”). They will also make remarks depending on your performance during combat. Get hit and knocked over a lot and Gladio might tell you to pay more attention. Land a few good hits and Prompto may make a remark about how great a move you just pulled off.
The voice acting brings me to a very important point, and one that has had me in awe since I started playing the game. One thing you will notice is that while you are running around or driving the guys will have conversations about different subjects. Some are just guy talk, but a lot of them are conversations about subjects important to the storyline or about the mythos of Eos, including things like the royal family line or specific characters. This means that while you are running to do some kind of hunt quest or just running around killing monsters you are getting pertinent and important information without having to read text boxes or stop for cut scenes! This is the only game I have ever played where voice acting as been used so successfully and is so important! You are receiving data without having to spend time stopping gameplay to receive it! It really makes a difference because it allows you to learn things you otherwise might not know without disrupting what you are doing. Fantastic!
As always the music is incredible and is easily on par with any of the previous games in the series. My only issue thus far has been that going to the menu screen disrupts the current song and plays in its place a variation of the Final Fantasy crystal theme. The song is great, but when you are enjoying the current song it’s kind of disruptive, but does not hinder gameplay one bit. As stated before, aside from the FF15 soundtrack you also have full access to a selection of music from nearly every other Final Fantasy game in the series by means of the Regalia’s radio, and also through a ‘personal music player’, which you can purchase. This allows you to listen to music while you are on your chocobo, and continues when you dismount. Unfortunately, however, you also lose access to the controls to the player when you are not on choco-back, and that can be annoying.
The bad stuff
Overall I don’t see any really bad issues that would “break the game” for me, but to say it doesn’t have any issues would be wrong.
- The aforementioned issue with the camera is probably my biggest complaint. I don’t know how difficult it would have been to institute transparency on all the trees, bushes, rocks and shrubs between your party and the camera, but it would certainly have helped quite a bit. Though the large BLOCK and PARRY icons help alleviate some of the problem, you can forget about perfectly time dodges when you can’t see anyone, friend or foe. Also, since your targeting seems kind of odd and random unless you lock on to something, you have no idea who your even attacking.
- Load times. Ah the bane of many a great game. Load times when you enter a new area are extremely long, the only saving grace being that once an area is loaded you will see NO LOAD TIMES on anything while your in the area. Though irritating it’s a testament to the power of the PS4 and Square-Enix as programmers that all the data for all of the monsters, npcs, cars (other people drive too, ya know) and players are held in memory at once. Amazing, but long load times are still irritating.
- Magic. See above. It’s an annoyance that could have easily been dealt with by switching to the last equipped weapon after tossing a spell, since that’s what your forced to do anyway while the spell is running cool down. Also, it would have been very easy and beneficial to have Noct automatically equip the next spell bottle in line if you run out of a spell during combat. You can burn through three spells pretty quickly, and if you already had magic in that equipment spot, just move the next available spell bottle in there, assuming you have one.
- The growth system: It’s an odd system, and it works, but it certainly allows you to cheat the system and become greatly overpowered very quickly. I did one of the games Timed Events in which I was awarded over 100,000 XP. This, along with the xp I had saved up from earlier quests, and combined with said hotel that doubles your XP put me about 30 levels above what was needed for my current place in the story. It wasn’t much of a challenge after that, but there are still many monsters out there that can whip me in a heart beat.
So far it has been a great game for me, though I have heard some people say the game is not “Final Fantasy” enough. This was a complaint that was also levied against FF7 and FF8, both of which had fewer ‘fantasy’ elements and more ‘technomancer’ elements, but I would disagree with this charge. What makes a game a “Final Fantasy” game exactly? I would say that it need only contain the mythos of the series multiverse and the rest is moot. If I wanted to I could tell you the tale of a man waking up in the morning, brushing his teeth, eating his breakfast, taking a shower and then, at the end, powering on his R2 unit. Bam! I have just told you a Star Wars story, though to some it might not be “Star Wars enough” because it lacks the same type of adventure, characters and situations we are used to. By merely placing familiar elements of the Star Wars universe in it I have made it part of that universe. Is it a great story? No, but you wouldn’t be able to deny, with any rationality, that it was, indeed a story set in the same universe that occupies Han, Leia and Kylo. In the same manner, though FF15 doesn’t contain many of the elements that make a Final Fantasy game it contains enough of the mythos from the FF multiverse for it to be an FF game, even for all the technology and modern type settings.
I would highly recommend that any and all young men that have a PS4 play this game. If you are too young to have ever experienced true brotherhood movies or buddy cop films then you have missed out, but playing FF15 will help make up for that some.
Though not a perfect game, I would say it’s as close to perfect as I have played in a long, long time, but that being said I am pretty biased in that I have almost completely given up on gaming with the exception of Final Fantasy and another title or two, I just don’t have time in my life for more than that (FF14 taking up a large majority of my gaming time already).
When you start up the game you see a black screen with white letters claiming: “A fantasy for fans and beginners.”, or something to that effect. I would wholeheartedly agree. Fans of the series will have their minds blown by the story as well as the showcase of technology from a series that started as tiny pixels on the NES 30 years ago; newcomers will be amazed at the great story, awesome graphics, easy to learn combat system and introduction to characters who are new to them, but have been established long ago (ie: Cid, moogles, chocobos, etc.).
That’s all folks, that’s my real review. I’m sure I’ll post more shots and videos of my time in Eos as time marches on. Have fun gaming!