Updated: Feb 28, 2020
In 2020 I committed to burning through my sizable backlog.
The first game in my sights to finally be played to credits was Final Fantasy XV.
On boot up, you are presented with a message from the developer, one that has stuck with me throughout my 50+ hour journey as both a guiding light and a damning statement.
"A Final Fantasy for Fans and First-Timers". We will come back to this in conclusion, but I feel it's important to keep this statement in mind as we go.
After a brief cut scene, we are introduced to our protagonist Noctis, and his fixed travelling party, (Ignis, Gladio & Prompto) as they set off on a journey of unforeseen importance for Noctis to be wed to the Oracle, Lady Lunafreya.
Soon after they embark, Noctis's homeland of Insomnia is attacked and overthrown by a rival kingdom, leaving him and his party no choice but to embark on an adventure of necessity to reclaim his home and dampen the stranglehold of darkness that has risen as a result.
The fifth 'Beatle' of the party, so to speak, is the 'Regalia'. A car resembling a Cadillac convertible concept will be how you will mostly transit from A to B.
A lot of your early hours will be spent being chauffeured from quest destination to quest destination with your stalwart companion 'Ignis' behind the wheel. At first, it will seem maddening that you are not in direct control of your vehicle as Ignis drives you conservatively from place to place, however when you eventually are trusted in the driving seat you will likely be very quick to give that control back as I did. Driving mechanics are not the strength of this game, which is ironic given the subject matter.
Eventually, options for boating, flying and by far the best implementation of Chocobo's will open up to you which handle traversal in a far more user-friendly way.
These quests you will undertake fall into three main categories.
Main Quests, Secondary Quests and Hunts. Main quests are where it's at in terms of entertainment and I urge you to follow these as soon as you are at the adequate level.
While side quests feel like very half-baked fetch quests, doled out by forgettable characters that result in extra driving time with little to no payoff. The hunts, however, are another story. These are picked up from local business owners and are some of the best ways to earn cash, rare items and XP while also introducing old fan favourite monsters that are noticeably absent from the game world. These hunts became an obsession of mine as I progressed through the game, especially in end game where the tension is truly ratcheted up.
Speaking of XP, let's take a moment to reflect on one of the most charming systems in this game, the method by which you level up and gain buffs.
Eos, like Ocarina of Time, is host to all nature of ghouls will appear out of thin air as night sets in, so generally, its best to find shelter and await a new day. It's here that the XP you have accrued since your last rest will be applied towards the levels of your characters.
However, the most appealing is the campsites. These sites do not give any additional XP boosts, however, it is only at these campsites that your companion Ignis will flex his character-specific ability and cook for the party a semi photo-realistic meal that will provide the receiving party with differing buffs based on the recipe selected.
As mentioned, each party member has a character-defining special ability, which both serve as in-game mechanics as well as a window into their personalities.
Ignis will learn recipes for new buffs, Gladio (your beefy tank boy) builds Survival knowledge which improves the quality of items received post-battle, while Prompto, the happy-go-lucky gunner, loves to point and shoot both down the barrel of his six-shooter but also through his camera lens.
Prompto's ability is both one of the most strange and ingenious mechanics I have ever seen in a video game, as he will take snaps constantly throughout your adventure based on his relative position which he will present you at times of rest. Often snapping awkward angles of action or very obviously scripted group photos, however when the stars align the results are indeed something to behold.
Let's talk about that combat for a minute.
Now Final Fantasy has always been a shining example of trying new things with its series core systems in the interest of innovation. However, never before have they strayed so far from the norm. Gone is the turn-based systems of old and replaced with a dynamic action combat system, similar to a Devil May Cry 'lite' with an emphasis on quick land and aerial combos.
Add in the balance to be found between controlling your main character in battle, whilst also keeping aware of your companion's input. Issuing commands soon becomes more and more interesting as you unlock more skills for Noctis and the party via a Skyrim styled set of upgrade trees.
At first, this combat system will come off as monotonous, simply slamming the B button was enough to get me through many combat encounters with ease. However mid-way through you will encounter a sharp difficulty spike, that does give the combat a much-needed shot in the arm in terms of challenge which honestly could have come much quicker.
Never before have FF summons looked so grand in scale. The only hindrance being you do not choose when to summon, rather the gods of the world deem when it's necessary to intervene. Meaning you will see them a lot less, but who can say they didn't get sick of seeing Knights of the Round for the 1000th time.
Now to address the elephant in the room.
In the beginning, I claimed I had a somewhat uneasy relationship with this game, however from reading this review to this point you may be thinking this doesn't sound too bad. And you would be right. It's the moment to moment gameplay that irks me in the way it does.
Hours of non-interactive driving sequences that are often 3 to 6 minutes apiece, which are strangely refreshing at first but soon offer little but a means to hide a loading screen that would have likely been quicker.
Two-dimensional characters that are sparsely plotted throughout the land that offer nothing in terms of imagination, with two female characters being the only exception, who fall heavily into the kind of over-sexualised anime stereotype that makes it embarrassing to play with company.
However, the worst crime is the repetition of meaningless fetch quests.
Eventually, I was asked if I was ok with leaving the open world to pursue the linear back half of the game, which at this point I jumped at, and what a ride that turned out to be, with some of the series most stand out set pieces to date!
Boss encounters and character building events were thrown at me left and right. At one point I asked myself "Is this Stockholm syndrome or is this enjoyable? So much so that when I got to the end boss, I voluntarily jumped back in the timeline, which is a nice addition, to complete quests id left behind while retaining all gear and experience I had picked up along the way, and guess what, I enjoyed it all the more! This is why I urged you to just power through the story. Doing so will allow you to pick and choose what else matters to you in a more powerful state with far more options available.
I elected to ignore the Royale editions additional episodes and multiplayer component from the scope of this review as these are consistently referred to as a weak point even from FFXV apologists. However, I would certainly revisit these in the future given enough interest.
In conclusion, would I recommend this FFXV:RE?
Yes, but with a very heavy asterisk. It sits in a similar position as FF XIII for me as a game I came to enjoy but know better than to recommend to the masses.
Most frustratingly of all, it was the juxtaposition between trying to please both the "Fans and First-Timers" that seems to have resulted in a game that is ultimately only for a very small subset of the two.
Maybe watch a let's play before jumping in head-first, but there is a lot to like here when looked at with the right lens.
All images have been sourced from the FFXV IGDB press kit.