I’ve been skeptical about this entry in the Final Fantasy franchise. After a decade in development, and a seemingly substantial shift in story, you wouldn’t be hard-pressed to find a gamer that isn’t approaching Final Fantasy XV with morbid curiosity. It doesn’t help the fact that the Episode Duscae and Platinum Demos received a mixed reception, coupled with the recent lackluster showings at game shows.
However, after getting substantial play time this weekend at New York Comic-Con, I can say that a lot of my fears have been quelled, and I’m becoming more and more hopeful that the game might live up to the expectations set upon it.
This feeling of optimism starts with the gameplay.
What initially felt clunky and haphazard, now feels engaging with a great sense of flow. Tightened control of Noctis and his friends, partnered with an overall simplified system of mechanics allows the gameplay to not get in the way; my major complaint of any Final Fantasy XV demo up until this point. It’s become more hack and slash, and it’s the better for it. Not to say that the game doesn’t require skill. When surrounded by Imperial troops, with a mix of snipers, riflemen, and melee combatants trying to take you down, you do need to be on your toes and quickly switch up your attacks and defensive maneuvers. Gone are the pointless deaths where you swear it’s the game’s fault. This time, the onus is on you to keep yourself alive, and if you perish you have no one to blame but yourself. This improvement alone makes the game a substantial improvement from what we’ve seen before.
Seeing more of the story and understanding the connections between the characters also really helped with putting a smile on my face. The story of Final Fantasy XV has always been intriguing, and the world has constantly been beautifully realized. But there has always been the fear that the richness of the narrative would muddy the tale it’s trying to tell. Playing through the first three chapters of the game, I was heavily invested in Noctis’s plight and at no point felt confused as to what was going on. The story is told almost exclusively through his lens, and anchoring it in his viewpoint gives the narrative some resonance. There are a ton of characters and plot lines, but how they relate to Noctis is overall the most important part.
My biggest complaint of the game is the fidelity. The world is gigantic, and there is a lot to see, but it's not rendered all too well. Driving along the open highway resulted in a lot of texture pop ins, and too frequently dialogue related in no way to the movements of characters mouths. I was told this was not the final build, and it’s clear that Square Enix required those extra few months of polish. The world is gorgeous, and it’s important that the engine does all it can to get that message across.
Ultimately, this extended hands-on turned my opinion of the game on its head. I went in with relatively low excitement, still doubting that the game was ever going to come out and left feeling confident that whilst it may not reach the level of hype that’s been built over ten years, Final Fantasy XV was going to do its best to try.