Final Fantasy XV (in its previous guise as Final Fantasy Versus XIII) was announced in 2006, back when I was a wee lad who vaguely resembled his passport photo. After a decade of troubled development and seven years since the last numbered entry in the series it has a lot to live up to, and remarkably it does… kinda.
There is so much I love about this game. The quirky bro camping trip is such a refreshing setting and each of the four main characters are uniquely memorable and charming, with one of them being obsessed with photography that both captures awkward selfies and epic battles. The open world is an utter delight to roam and explore at your leisure, in search of hidden dungeons and monsters off the beaten path and it might just have the best chocobo riding of the entire series. That’s without even mentioning how you can collect soundtracks from previous games and listen to them while you marvel the views from within your customisable automobile or how incredible every summon is.
The battle system just makes you feel like you’re doing cool shit all the time. The ability to warp around the battlefield makes the entire thing feel incredibly fluid and fighting some of the larger beasts is a sight to be seen, paired with some of the most epic music. With the transition to a real time combat system some depth has been lost however, with status effects and weaknesses being much less of a concern than simply dealing high DPS and avoiding hits. One of the game's more unique twists is to make maximum HP a mechanic by weakening your characters over time so that they can’t fully heal themselves without resting or using an expensive Elixir. The looser, more free form combat system won’t be for every series veteran, but I had tons of fun with it and while the main plot line steers towards the easy side, the optional hunts provide a lot of the challenge missing from the story.
Unfortunately there is also a lot not to love. There is no question that even after a decade of development Final Fantasy XV was released unfinished. The entire second half of the game, which throws away the expansive open world in favor of a much more linear path towards the end, feels like it was the best they could do in the time they had left. The story, while solid in retrospect, was confusing and difficult to understand as I was playing the game and would have been completely unfathomable if I hadn’t watched the film and anime. These are both required viewing as the film is effectively the missing two hour opening cut scene to the story and the anime provides context to characters who simply aren’t naturally introduced by the game itself.
There are a lot of building blocks and moments in this game which are fantastic individually, but they were simply never assembled into a cohesive finished product, which is an utter shame. The battle system also falters in small, enclosed environments where the camera doesn’t know what to do and too much of the open world is full of potato quests (quests where you literally have to collect potatoes and other useless baubles for people you don’t care about).
Despite these complaints I played the game to completion in seventy hours, spending the majority of my time exploring the open world and hunting down great beasts while riding a chocobo, which is where the game utterly shines. Final Fantasy XV is a brilliant game. I just really wish it could have been a phenomenal one.