Final Fantasy XV begins with a screen declaring it a game for ‘fans and first-timers’, but though this sprawling adventure is a lot of fun, its vague plot line is likely to frustrate both series veterans and newcomers alike.
You play as Prince Noctis, heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Lucis, who embarks on a journey with his three friends - Prompto, Ignis and Gladiolus - to take part in a politically motivated marriage to settle a peace treaty. Things predictably begin to go south, and the quartet is suddenly faced with a much bigger mission.
Final Fantasy games have always been, at their core, about more than silly outfits and convoluted storylines. The series is about friendship, camaraderie and fighting against the odds. It’s when Final Fantasy XV takes these themes and runs with them that it really shines. The decision to frame the game as a last-ditch boy’s road trip is ingenious, and the banter and bond between Noctis and his friends is a highlight.
The gang drives around the open world map in their beloved Regalia car, stopping at outposts with diners, motels and shops along the way. At each rest point a ‘tipster’ will point out local landmarks, serve status-boosting meals, and offer numerous side quests.
While the game has no shortage of these missions, their lack of variety can soon begin to grate. Most quests simply require Noctis to hunt down a certain monster, or fetch an item across the map. For a game of this scale, the lack of originality is disappointing.
These side quests only serve as a supplement to the main storyline, which is an oddly vague and at times a clunky mess. Early plot reveals often fall flat due to a lack of context, and even Final Fantasy veterans who have happily sat through narratives about time-travelling witches and soulless aliens may be left scratching their heads.
That said, the game’s warm characters and impressive set pieces keep the adventure interesting, and battles are vastly improved with the new real-time combat system. Fights are now frenetic and fast-moving, with no shift to an alternate combat screen. The grindingly long turn-based battles of previous Final Fantasy’s seem thankfully relegated to the past.
While Noctis is the only playable character, his three friends will automatically fight and can be triggered to use their own special attacks. The quartet can also ‘rescue’ each other when their health is low without using items.
Square Enix has been cashing in on fan nostalgia this year with its spin-off World of Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy Explorers titles, but this latest addition to the main series captures the spirit of past games while working as a standalone entry. Though Final Fantasy XV is not perfect, its likeable characters and well-designed setting should appeal to both series veterans and those who don’t know a Tonberry from a Tiamat.