QCF: Final Fantasy XV

he passage of time can sure be weird; it only seems like yesterday that we were talking about the Final Fantasy Versus XIII on the first episode of Press Pause Radio, an episode that was first recorded in 2009, where we talked about a game that was initially revealed at E3 in the year 2006…

Let’s think about that for a minute. We currently live in a generation where we’re treated to annual releases of upcoming titles, and triple AAA games that don’t take any more than three years at most for production. Yet here we are, the long-sought appearance of Final Fantasy XII Versus is here, only as Final Fantasy XV, an upgrade from spin-off to a main entry to the series.

Now this is the part where I tell you whether or not I think it was worth the wait, and well, to sum it up in a manner of words, yes—it was truly worth each and every year of the wait in a surprising turn of events.

Each and every time Final Fantasy XV is booted up, a message will scrawl across the screen that reads “A Final Fantasy for newcomers and fans alike” and as hokey as it may sounds, the statement is accurate because it helps set a tone that’s been missing from the iconic franchise for some time; humility.

See, the argument that we’ve seen made for the RPG series is one that’s obnoxiously self-indulgent. Square-Enix has only worked towards solving the question of what a good Final Fantasy game really is, and the irony of the endeavor is within that line of thought, they’ve only worked to hurt the appeal of their trademark RPG in their efforts to repeatedly answer that query, with titles that have debatably failed that sentiment.

The conviction out of some of the more recent entries are admirable, with each of their personalities being undeniably distinct from one another, but ultimately, it suffocated from its own bravado, and was just got a bit wrapped up within itself to the point of being obnoxious.

Final Fantasy XV learns from these mistakes, opting for a much more restrained approach to pacing to nearly every aspect of it. From the introduction of new mechanics to the developing narrative and the conflicts that drive it, the experience offered here is a much more subdued one, and that’s honestly a welcomed change for the tone of the series—everything is refreshingly subdued.

The other quality that’s undeniably satisfying in this chapter of the series is the new direction of spectacle that’s taken here. Final Fantasy has never shied away from overwhelming players with a level of pageantry that puts its world over the top and then some, but often it’s nothing more than eye-candy and theatrics as you’re left with being a bystander at best to the events that unfold around you—and XV rarely deploys this. No, instead you’ll find yourself interacting with all the extravaganza that the game has to offer, and the sense of agency is nothing short of mystifying as you gradually flow in and out of battle and travel like a surreal ballet of swords and magic, within a world map that this larger-than-life scale to it.

The pace of Final Fantasy XV does an effective job to balance the sense of intimidation, and enticement the further you progress in it.

The Battle system though; ladies and gentlemen, the combat mechanics offered here are arguably the best of its class—like it doesn’t just set the new standard for action RPG’s, Final Fantasy XV may have peaked it.

What makes this system so enjoyable is that it polishes so many of the elements that we’ve seen from other contemporaries in ways that I didn’t think it could.

The AI companions are actually useful, genuinely affecting the flow of battle with their participation, the evasion and hit detection is articulate yet intuitive, and the freedom of strategy broadly extends into defensive battle as much as it does to offensively. It’s no Musou hack ‘n slash affair, and that’s works to its strength; The usual run-of-the-mill plans of attacks like crowd-control, and spam-hacking might get you by in the beginning, but it won’t cut it as you advance further. The system does an outstanding job of steadily pushing you to be more cunning in your skirmishes, without demanding much thought in the process, and acclimating players to the nuances of its fighting in such a smooth, and appeasing transition to it all.

All the conventions are here, alongside a new “Break” feature that’s reminiscent of the “Stagger” mechanics from the XIII trilogy where if a targeted area receives enough concussive damage consecutively, it’ll render the enemy into a temporary weakened state where more damage is dealt from attacks than normal. There are points in the game where the mob encounter are stacked with far more numbers than they should be, but each and every encounter can still be a successful one if you keep your wits about you. However, the difficulty spikes aren’t without their flaws as it’s admittedly more frustrating at later points in the game when you’re slain within a dungeon with no checkpoint to respawn at.

Yeah, you read that right, there are no checkpoints within any of the dungeons here, and sometimes, it sucks, a lot.

Now, despite the fact that I’ve always criticized the nonsensically complicated plot structures out the narratives we’ve seen from the franchise, there’s always been component that it manages to somewhat consistently succeed in delivering—characterization.

And while the story isn’t remarkable, the cast of characters and their personalities are some of the finest that’ve attached to within the year of 2016. First impressions on surface-level tropes aside, there’s a well of depth, and charisma out of the troupe of four that keeps you engaged from the start to finish. Never mind that Prompto is the loud-mouth center of attention, or that Ignis is the reserved know-it-all, hours in, you’ll come to know some of their innermost quirks, and ticks to their character all without any forced exposition or bloated cut scenes to arrive at that point either.

What once seemed like the product of a decade’s long sunk-cost fallacy is thankfully something that’s much grander than I ever expected it to be; Final Fantasy XV is the pinnacle of the name, and I simply can’t recommend it enough.

Clear some hours in your schedule and hum the victory fanfare alongside the boys because it really doesn’t get any better than this.

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