Final Fantasy XV Review (PS4, 2016)

The Final Fantasy series has been reinventing its own gameplay mechanics with each new game ever since Final Fantasy XII, and the most recent entry Final Fantasy XV is no exception to this. It starts as unusually as it could get, dumping a full party on the player instead of slowly introducing party members over the course of the game. Then the game never tells you much about how the three guys that the party comprises met - you have to watch a series of anime shorts to learn that. The plot in general is as thin as you can imagine from the way the game starts. You can easily beat the game in 20 to 30, if not even less, hours unless you go out of your way and deal with the game's vast amount of optional content. Personally I'm not a fan of the story and the way it is told. In the early game you spend most of your time going from place to place, triggering the occasional cutscene that doesn't tell you much, and then near the end there's all the action and exposition that explains the villain and their motivation. All lumped together into the last few hours of playtime. The writing's pretty lousy with characters that have ridiculous, if any at all, motivations for their actions. Noctis the protagonist is after a girl he hasn't met in a decade and only knows from his childhood memories, while collecting mystic weapons to power up and be the hero that saves the day. The villain is a bad guy because he absorbed all the world's evil - very human and relatable. The party hangs out with Noctis because they're his friends and its their job, and there's barely if no development at all on that front.
Still, the post-credits scene left me with teary eyes, so it's not all as bad it may sound. Despite the lack of actual story events to properly introduce the cast, all the banter between the characters on their journey works very well to allow the player to become emotionally invested in the party. That gives plenty of motivation to see the rather lackluster story through to its end.

The main bulk of the game consits of its various side quests that involve a lot of travelling across an open world so large your party requires a car to move around efficiently. It's a strange concept that hasn't been exececuted in any other game - You're pretty much literally playing a road-trip adventure. It gives the game a unique identity, but doesn't much else as it forces the map not only to be of incredible size, but also to consist of a lot of dead air since a lot of it is wasted on the roads. The car driving mechanic is limited to the road, so if you want to go out into the wild, doing quests or fight some enemies, you'll have to go on foot or use a chocobo. Of these options the former is incredibly slow and the later requires you to find and complete a certain quest line. Furthermore chocobos can only be summoned at rest-stops and cities, so you're limited in their use too. Generally if you do sidequests you spend most of your time travelling across the map, which is not too interesting of an experience. The game looks nice thanks to its level of graphical fidelity, but the map is also really plain. Probably as a side effect of the heavy focus on roads the maps consist mostly of level plains. Consequentially the game's world is not very impressive and there's almost no sights that would make one want to explore it all.
The side quests don't feature worthwhile stories and the gameplay is as straightforward as you might expect: NPCs tell you to kill monsters or find some items (which also involves killing monsters). In addition to the hundreds of fetch quests, there's hunt quests that are devoid of story and only involve slaying enemies. These quests unlock one after another and require a trip back to a rest-stop to complete. Again you'll be mostly moving from spot to spot rather than actually fighting anything. The load times are pretty terrible, even if fast travel is still faster than going by car, you spend most of your time with Final Fantasy XV not playing the game. I'm not sure what to think of that and I'm genuinely surprised people didn't complain about it in masses. The combat unfortunately isn't worth dealing with the unexciting story and hours of down-time inbetween battles.

Nice view. Too bad there's now nearly as much to explore as the sight suggests.

Remember the auto battle option in Final Fantas XIII? People weren't very fond of that one. However the devs knew how to fix the issue in Final Fantasy XV: Make it an action game that plays it itself, but don't outright tell the player that it does so! Brilliant. One of the earlier battle tutorials ums it up quite nicely: press X to keep attacking your target. You can choose to target an enemy manually, but your character automatically chooses himself a target if you don't. Then the tutorials slips in a little notice, stating that you can also just keep holding X to automatically keep attacking (this should provide a hint about what's to come...). But it doesn't outright call it auto-battle, so I guess nobody noticed. The battle system is stupidly simple and only appears to have depth on paper. You play as Noctis, only Noctis, who can switch between weapons of various types mid-battle and teleport himself around. This all sounds cooler than it is. Battles in the game are incredibly easy and yet kind of messy, you'll win most fights pressing the attack button mindlessly without knowing what's really going on. Noctis' teleportation ability is only good to quickly jump from target to target and barely ever necessary. In a pinch you may be able to use it to teleport to a nearby object and watch your NPC party play the game four you as you automatically recover health, but there's rarely a need for that. Being able to switch weapons doesn't add much either, you'll be pressing X continously, or just holding the button, anyways. Curiously your characters have something like two health bars. It's really only one, but the way health is representated in the game it looks like there's two. See, whenever a character dies, they won't really die but just stumble around the battle field, wating for you to give them a slap on the shoulder or use a restorative item on them. When they get hit in that state their maximum HP goes down. And only when their maximum HP reaches zero they'll get knocked unconscious, in which case a phoenix down is required to get them back up on their feet. Now the same goes for Noctis who is under the player's control. When his HP hit 0, they won't really do so and the game gives you plenty of time to get him back to full health. You can even elixirs to recover your maximum HP threshold. It sounds weird when you haven't played the game, but what this all means is that you can not die as long as you have stock on restorative items. Really. You can fight and defeat enemies multiple levels above your own, as long as you have the patiance and resources, no skill required. The battles pretty much play themselves. Special actions like attacking enemies from behind, and triggering a link attack if another party member is nearby, or instructing your companions to use a special skill of their own, are hardly required. Magic can be thrown like grenades, but requires item creation that's just more busywork for rather rare situations in which magic can be handy.

The bottom line is, the game is not much fun. It's probably okay when you can ignore the hundreds of side quests and only play through the story for a couple dozen hours, but when you have an obsession with perfect clears you're likely in for a lot of frustration and annoyance. For me, doing side quests felt like work most of the time, and in the end I couldn't bother with doing them all although I had gotten quite close. Surely there's people that are into that kind of thing, managing an near endless stream of fetch quests that sends them all over the place on a large map, making them watch hours of load screens, always getting rewarded with even more fetch quests to manage.
The main game is alright and you can get strangely attached to the characters in your party despite the disappointing storytelling, but the full experience can be a real nightmare, depending on the type of player you are. Highly recommended to people who like busywork in games, everyone else who isn't curious about this entry of a classic series should just stay away. Final Fantasy XV is a perfect example of how marketing is what sells games, because a particularly great experience to play it surely isn't.