Price: £49.99 Developer: Square Enix Publisher: Square Enix Platforms: PS4, Xbox One Version Reviewed: PS4
Final Fantasy XV has been in development for over ten years and in a lot of ways this shows. The game, which describes itself as 'A Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers', is designed to radically rework the series formula. It switches out the linear narrative that is a hallmark of the series for an open-world structure that puts a distinctly Japanese spin on the American road-trip. It also introduces an entirely new, fast-paced combat system that’s framed around working together as a team to bring down some truly massive monsters.
It’s a huge, lavish and incredibly ambitious project, and one that I want to like more than I ultimately do. Although Final Fantasy XV may constitute a bold new direction for the series, when considering the wider genre of open-world RPGs, Final Fantasy XV’s ideas are about five years out of date.
Final Fantasy XV follows the story of Prince Noctis, who leaves his home city on a ceremonial journey that will culminate in a marriage alliance with a neighbouring realm. Not long after departing, however, tragedy strikes the land, and Noctis and his three companions are redirected on an altogether different and more perilous mission.
It’s a journey that will see them battle gigantic beasts, evil empires, and even gods. But between these flares of spectacular action is a far more sedate experience about travel and companionship. This is a game in which you spend as much time enjoying the open road, seeking out good places to camp and better food to eat as you do saving the world.
And what a world it is you’re trying to save. Eos is the United States through a Japanese lens, and the result is a beautiful synthesis of sprawling, believable landscapes and truly fantastical landmarks. The opening area is heavily inspired by the great American deserts, with arrow-straight roads that slice through vast, dusty plains. These endless stretches of sun-baked tarmac are flanked by oddly-angled telegraph poles and glittering gas stations. It captures the eeriness of the sandy wastelands of Arizona and Nevada brilliantly.
As you move further west, the deserts are slowly replaced by forested wetlands grazed upon by giant, dinosaur-like creatures, and rugged mountain valleys dotted with weird rock formations. There are a couple of large, colourful towns, numerous spooky dungeons to delve into that conceal powerful weapons, and dozens of smaller locations to investigate.
It is a place that yearns to be explored. But Final Fantasy XV also understands that an equally important component of a road-trip are the people you explore it with. Consequently, the main characters that form your party are with you from the very beginning. Noctis’ trio of friends, the burly warrior Gladiolus, the fiercely intelligent knife-fighter Ignis, and the impish gunslinger Prompto, are the focal point for most of the game’s characterisation and dialogue.
While they may look like an emo rock band on their first US tour, an enormous amount of work has clearly gone into building these characters and their relationships. They chat constantly with Noctis and each other about their mission, the quest they’re currently on, their surroundings, everything. They tease each other lightly and make stupid jokes and wince-inducing puns. These are young, still somewhat immature men who have had a huge responsibility placed on their shoulders, and while it sometimes veers too far in the direction of either pathos or silliness, Square Enix manages the balance between them facing that responsibility and trying to escape from it well.