Final Fantasy XV’s First Hour Sets the Stage for an Epic Adventure – Hands-On from PAX West 2016
Video game convention demos are an interesting thing. You have to sell people on your game in what might be the worst way possible: a short amount of time and a lot of distractions around the player. Some games thrive in this environment, mostly action-oriented titles like Disc Jam, which is awesome. Others flounder, but sometimes developers find a way to make it work. Square Enix did this by just ignoring the first problem, the one about only having a short amount of time. Instead they gave convention goers and press an hour to try out Final Fantasy XV. The gamble paid off, and I’ve found myself already wondering what the future adventures of Prince Noctis and his crew are going to be like.
The demo was simply the initial moments of the game, allowing us to play from the very beginning cutscene all the way to Chapter 3, if we budgeted our time well. I’m still not exactly sure how far I got into the game itself, but my progress was fairly steady, completing missions at a nice clip and being able to explore the massive world featured in FFXV.
The game starts off with a cryptic opening, seemingly showing how the world came to be in the state it is at the beginning of Final Fantasy XV. Jumping ahead in time you meet Prince Noctis and his group of friends. These will be your adventurers for likely the rest of the game. Your mission is to set out into the world, ferrying Prince Noctis to a nearby kingdom where he will marry Lady Lunafreya and unite the empires. Noctis is apparently just fine with the matchup, though his attitude about life in general might need some work.
After the uncharacteristically short story intro, players set off in their shiny black car, which promptly breaks down on the road. Pushing it to the tune of Florence and the Machine’s fantastic cover of Stand by Me, you eventually make it to a roadside mechanic named Cid, of course. His granddaughter Cindy offers you some missions to pay for the repairs, since Noctis and his troop are apparently adventuring sans a kingly fortune.
After such a very un-Final Fantasy intro the missions here are all classic stuff. Go here and kill some rabid animals, find this guy who will tell you about some other animals that need taking care of, just make sure you find a nice camping spot once night falls. While the missions themselves are pretty standard, the combat is anything but. If you’ve been able to play any of the Final Fantasy XV demos before then you already know that this game changes up the fighting formula immensely.
FFXV’s combat is fast, fluid, and thankfully fun
No longer turn-based, or even time based in most ways. FFXV’s combat is fast, fluid, and thankfully fun. Noctis can run around the field of battle, swinging his sword and teleporting almost wherever he pleases, even to high ledges where he can escape the fray. He is also able to direct his teammates, telling them to deliver a savage blow, or if they need to be handling cures and magic spells. Final Fantasy XII had already changed the game, and XIII carried that in a different direction, yet again Square Enix is looking to reshape Final Fantasy combat in new ways. It is working so far, but we’ll see how it holds up after hundreds of hours of play.
Making camp, I leveled up my characters a bit, which seems like a nice, simple mechanic compared to the stat altering one from previous games. Just move about the skill tree and select whichever one you want, spending the points you earn on all four characters as you wish.
Completing the random assortment of missions will give you back a functional car, which you can drive yourself or have your friend Ignis take care of. My time at the wheel showed a bit of an odd mixture of player controlled and on-rails driving, so I tried to leave it to Ignis as much as possible. It seems like the car sticks on your current path until you tell it otherwise, directing it to take a turn at the upcoming intersection. It’s not bad, it’ll just take some getting used to.
The driving sequences themselves are actually not just throwaway moments, with all four characters chatting throughout. Here you not only get important story beats and background info, you also get a better sense of these colorful characters and their personalities. Jokes about how one acted in a past situation, or a comment about how the group thinks one person feels in the current scenario. It all helps give a sense of reality in this fantastical world, while also moving you quickly through the extremely expansive environments.
That fantastical world was probably my favorite part of my time with Final Fantasy XV. A mixture of modern technology, fantasy elements, and that special Final Fantasy magic, the setting for FFXV is unique, to say the least. I find myself simply fascinated with every detail, like how people drive regular looking cars, and the group has Coleman camping supplies, while still retaining elements of magic and a touch of scifi. Likely most of these are just for flavor or fun, and the camping supply thing is probably just product placement, but it still creates a world unlike any I’ve seen before.
Coming to an oceanside resort my time in Final Fantasy XV was approaching the end. The view was gorgeous, and the game had performed quite well on the Xbox One S that ran my demo. All-in-all I was impressed greatly with the game, and its opening as it set a nice stage without diving too much into the weeds of how the game operated. The game looked great, played well, and was fun enough that I was wanting more just as the end of my hour was signaled. Stepping away I found myself wondering what the adventures of these characters would be like, which is a good sign that FFXV has already got me hooked.
Final Fantasy XV hits PS4 and Xbox One on November 29th.