Early Impressions: FINAL FANTASY XV
In this Crossfader series, our video games staff takes a look at early versions of upcoming releases so that you can know which hype trains to board.
Wednesday was certainly a time to be excited for Final Fantasy fans. Square Enix announced an upcoming feature film and anime series tying into upcoming juggernaut FINAL FANTASY XV, as well as revealing that the game would be released this September. Also set loose was PLATINUM DEMO, a playable teaser free to download for anyone with a PS4 or Xbox One (download it now if you haven’t!).
Though very much a “demo,” PLATINUM’s title undersells the scope of the package. More comparable to a teaser like MGSV: GROUND ZEROES or P.T. than a traditional gameplay demo, such as previous FFXV sampler EPISODE DUSCAE, PLATINUM DEMO offers players an experience that emulates the fundamental themes, if not content, of the final product. In a mini-adventure that can be completed in a little under an hour, the player guides a child version of FFXV protagonist Noctis through a dreamworld. Helping him is the dangerously cute rabbit/fox/unicorn critter Carbuncle, who communicates through texts and emojis on Noctis’s cell phone.
Pictured: Not Carbuncle
Kid Noctis stages, which make up the majority of PLATINUM DEMO, see our protagonist running around the open environments collecting gold that’s used for health and experience, not unlike another big name Japanese series while stopping to fight the odd KINGDOM HEARTS reject along the way. The demo culminates in a battle between grown up Noctis and a boss creature, utilizing a combat system that is more reminiscent of what we’ll see in the final version.
The focus of PLATINUM DEMO is firmly placed on exploration over narrative; there are very few story beats or voiced lines, and the sandbox environments are designed to demonstrate graphical features and gameplay mechanics for XV, much like GROUND ZEROES. Thankfully, it’s a very impressive sampler. Weather and daytime cycles are fully exhibited, and they’re beautiful. The lighting is among the finest in gaming, and the massive environments, ranging from landscapes, cities, and a giant dining room, are rendered without any lagging in the frame rate. The breathtaking visuals perfectly complement the trademark wild art direction that has come to be expected of Final Fantasy. The magical realism of XV’s contemporary setting helps it stand out from its strictly fantasy or sci-fi predecessors, a necessity when trying to sell the public on the “next generation” of the FF franchise.
Carbuncle Garfunkle Patrick Stardunkle
That being said, not every aspect of XV’s evolution is executed as seamlessly as the visual department. For several iterations now, FF’s core design has been transitioning from turn-based RPG to a more action-oriented hack ’n’ slash system. XV is the most emblematic of this formula, with explorable, open worlds and real-time combat complete with dodging and parries. Unfortunately, XV’s controls are not at all conducive to this style of play. The obvious offender was the decision to map attacks to the circle/B button, an awkward position and an outlier for the genre. Noctis himself feels rather floaty, with unresponsive movement and jumps that make the platforming elements of the world feel like a chore rather than a challenge. The camera is also a pain to operate, as it has a tendency to get caught on map features, which is a real pain in a game that relies on target locking to effectively engage enemies.
It’s a shame that Squeenix scrimped on the vital framework of what makes action games good, because there are some damn good concepts showcased in PLATINUM DEMO. Noctis can map a weapon to each button on the d-pad to swap between on the fly or mid-combo, much like your typical Platinum game. His warp ability is also incredibly fun to use, assuming you can wrangle the camera to target the correct position, offering plenty of offensive and evasive options. Also teased are drivable cars, which seem to be designed to zip across the wide landscapes of XV, as well as the ability for Noctis to transform into monsters during combat.
If PLATINUM DEMO is anything to go by, then FINAL FANTASY XV is shaping up to be an extremely engrossing experience. Mechanically, nearly everything is sound. Given that the game has half a year to go before its slated release, the dev team has enough time to iron out the troublesome control scheme. Here’s hoping that happens.