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Final Fantasy XV

Platform(s): Android, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: First Production Development
Release Date: Nov. 29, 2016

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PS4/XOne Preview - 'Final Fantasy XV'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on March 18, 2015 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

In Final Fantasy XV, previously known as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, the armed forces of Niflheim launch a devastating assault upon the Kingdom of Lucis, casting Crown Prince Noctis and his comrades out of their homes and into the fray.

It's been quite a journey. The game known as Final Fantasy XV has been in production for a while. It began as Final Fantasy Versus XIII and was announced almost a decade ago alongside the original Final Fantasy XIII as a PS3 exclusive. It's been quietly sitting on the edge of development until the surprise announcement that it would be rebranded as Final Fantasy XV for next-generation systems. The demo of Final Fantasy XV shows that it's going to be worth the wait.

The demo opens up with Prince Noctis and his friends camping. Their car broke down, and they have to repair it so they can get home in time for a series of peace talks with a rival kingdom. Noctis's friends are Gladiolus, a brawny, good-natured swordsman; Prompto, a cowardly novice gunman; and Ignis, the brains of the group. Together, the four must hunt down a Behemoth for its valuable horns, so they can pay the local mechanic to fix the car. It won't be easy since the Behemoth has slaughtered every hunter who has faced it, but most hunters don't have Noctis's powers.


The tone is unlike any other Final Fantasy game. Despite the fantasy trappings and sword, it's a very modern-feeling game. You might venture into a deep cave or a monster-filled forest, but you also visit a truck stop on the edge of a highway. Your characters sleep in a tent but use their smartphones to communicate and drive around in a modern car. Only the occasional crystal ruin or magic sword betrays that this isn't a group of regular guys on a car trip. Noctis and friends laugh, joke, tease each other, and discuss random things. It's odd for a Final Fantasy cast, who are so usually a bunch of strangers thrown together by circumstances. It's an interesting juxtaposition of elements, and it will be interesting to see how the final game plays out.

Despite appearances, FF XV's combat system has a lot in common with FF XII. Players only control Noctis, and the other party members are controlled by the AI. In the demo, the other party members act on their own. Combat is performed through a few simple button presses. Attacking is done by holding a button and aiming in a direction. Combos are automated, so holding down the button goes through Noctis's initial combo. Defending is semi-automated, and by holding down a button, you enter a defensive stance, which means Noctis dodges any and all attacks. Each dodge uses some MP, and if it runs out, Noctis can't dodge or attack until he recovers. There are also certain moves that can be parried. If Noctis is blocking and has the MP for it when the warning flashes, he can parry the enemy attack and send it back.

Noctis's attacks are determined by his equipped weapons. He can equip multiple weapons at once, and each weapon goes in one of five slots: Counter, Crush, Descend, Ravage and Vanquish. Counter is the move used for counterattacks, Crush is your initial attack, and Descend is the move you use for jumping attacks. From there, Noctis changes to the weapon in the Ravage slot for regular attacks before finishing with Vanquish. You can swap weapons to determine how your combo string goes. By default, Blood Sword is equipped as your Ravager; it's weak but fast and regenerates MP when attacking. If you feel confident, you can use a Zweihander for a stronger, slower attack or a Wyvern Lance for more range. A fast, reliable move for Ravage seems to be the way to go, but that may change in the final version of the game.


FF XV doesn't have much in the way of traditional magic, either. Each of your weapons has a distinctive move. The Zweihander has an area-of-effect spinning strike called Tempest, the Blood Sword can use Drain Blade, and so on. Each attack also drains precious MP that you need to dodge, so you can't spam them. Use too many special moves, and you'll be unable to strike back. Also available at all times is the Warp Sword technique, which allows Noctis to teleport to a nearby enemy or to certain places in the environment. Later in the demo, you can get power-ups, such as a super mode that requires full MP.

Managing your MP feels more like HP in a third-person shooter. While you can recover MP by attacking, the most effective way is to find a hiding spot. You can duck behind cover or use Warp Sword to hang from a high spot. While doing so, your HP and MP regenerate at an exaggerated rate. This is important since Noctis is pretty vulnerable. A few hits, and he'll start limping along. You can recover from this with potions (or if one of your buddies gives you a slap on the back), but if you take too long while enemies are attacking, it's game over. It makes combat feel much different than in other FF games, where figuring out when to back off and recover is more important than staying in the fight.

Should you run dry, there is another emergency option, although you gain it relatively late in the demo. Astral Power, which lets you summon monsters, is the most powerful weapon in Noctis's arsenal. It can only be used when Noctis is at 0 HP and about to die. Summoning your Astral Power (Ramuh, in the demo) lets you obliterate your enemies with a single move — even the demo boss. The downside is that you don't earn rewards from combat. It effectively is an emergency "I don't want to continue this fight anymore" button to avoid losing progress. We can't say if all Astral Powers will follow the same mold.


Speaking of losing progress, FF XV has a checkpoint system and autosaves, but you can still lose progress if you die. You also don't gain any experience levels while on the field. Instead, you have a camping system. Scattered around the world map are camp zones. Resting at a camp ends your day, and  Ignis cooks a meal based on the ingredients you found during the day. (This is automated in the demo, but it's supposed to be customizable in the final version.) The meals determine your buffs for the next day, ranging from increased damage and XP gain to immunity to status effects. Afterward, all XP you gained that day is tallied up and applied to your character's levels. It's a wise idea to camp when you can, but doing so resets your buffs. If you have a particularly good buff and don't want to lose it, it's better to prolong the day.

Based on the demo, FF XV's basic structure appears to have more in common with a Bioware RPG than any previous FF game. You have a main story mission that you must complete, and various side-quests are scattered around the world. Most of the side-quests are provided by your party members, who point out objects of interest in the environment or remind you of things that you saw earlier. There are various collectibles to find, crafting materials to loot, and a few hidden power-ups swords to locate. The demo is set mostly in a large, empty grassland populated by various enemies, but there are hints of civilization. Videos of the full game show cities and other populated areas. The game feels very much like a road trip, and it seems likely that the final game will involve travel between areas, in the Bioware RPG style.

Final Fantasy XV plays less like a traditional RPG and more like a hybrid RPG-shooter. The demo has a fair amount of content, but several major features are disabled, including the car and the ability to acquire new techniques. It provides a glimpse into the gameplay, but since the title has been in production for nearly a decade, it's nice to get some hands-on time with the game. It's a different beast, but it's an enjoyable one, and the demo only confirms that there's a lot to be excited about in Final Fantasy XV.



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