Quick disclaimer: I have played up to the eight chapter on PS4, doing a mixture of side quests and main story missions as well as some exploration. This will be as spoiler free as possible however, be warned I will discuss some features in the game.
Final Fantasy has a long running history of excellence. Their stories are intricate and generally well crafted, albeit confusing, and they are well known for high quality visuals. Final Fantasy XV is no different. Square Enix crafted an open world game that is brimming with unique creatures, breathtaking vistas and quests for the main four to experience.
The player takes control of Noctis, a young prince on a journey with his three friends Ignis, Gladiolus and Prompto, to meet his bride to be in another country. Almost immediately things go wrong and the four set off on a different journey of exploration and discovery.
At first glance everything looks great, but on closer inspection some things begin to show their age. FFXV has been in development for about ten years now and some things have changed over time. Generally the most polished characters are the main four and any member that can join your party at some point or other. Even so, often times the motion capture and animations for facial expressions and talking come across as awkward or atrocious. Outside of potential party members it is often just as bad, even for quest givers that give chains of quests. Players will often return to particular characters to return quests and interact with shops, only to discover they behave in the oddest of patterns. On one such occasion, a quest giver turned their back on me during gameplay and talked to a chair for the rest of the scene. Another character turned around and turned back several times in weird patterns. The hope was to make people move and behave more lifelike during conversation it appears however, in most cases it fails.
Getting to the side quests takes time. The player gains control of a vehicle known as the Regalia at the start of the game. It is an impressively sharp looking convertible reminiscent of an exotic sports care like an Aston Martin. Unfortunately it has a whiny sound clip while driving that makes it sound more like a Prius having a bad day. For something that the player is consistently using to get from point a to point b it is somewhat annoying. Chocobos are introduced after completing a quest in Chapter 3 and that is an enjoyable break to the monotony of the Regalia however, the system requires purchasing a voucher that can run out during play and there is no way to renew while in the field which can be bothersome especially during linear sections where the player cannot walk back and repurchase a ticket.
Much of the sidequests are nothing more than fetch events with a unique or challenging enemy to fight at the end. Having just finished The Witcher 3 a few weeks ago, the sidequests in FFXV leave much to be desired. The events are contrite, are usually as straight forward as they come and begin to grate on the player rather easily. There are a few unique quests and locations so far that were interesting, but far fewer than I would have expected of a game that had ten years to get it right.
While exploring the player can harvest foods and minerals from certain sections of the map. These lead to increased paint availability for the regalia and to diverse foods that Ignis can create when camping. Unfortunately, the camera reacts poorly to Ignis when he discovers a new recipe, often being trapped at awkward angles under the floor or caught in nearby objects. The team responds in one of two ways, Noctis saying something about how he wants to try it or Gladiolus saying he will taste test for him. It grates on the nerves after a while.
The camera feels too closely pinned to the player. Often times it collides with objects during the fast paced combat and can often lead to unnecessary damage or death. This is only partially remedied by Noctis and his ability to warp to certain points on the map that give him a better vantage over the battlefield.
Many of these issues are easily remedied by future updates and will probably drastically improve on some of these issues.
That is not to say it is a bad game however, every once in a while it feels older than a 2016 release.The combat system is probably the biggest leap for Final Fantasy as a series. Previous titles where turn based or timer based with limited free motion. In FFXV players have fluid motion in combat with no timers and complete control over the actions of Noctis and his special abilities. The prince has the ability to warp around the battle field and strike at will between four selected weapons. It is a fluid system that takes some getting used to but overall feels engaging and robust as time goes on.
The player can unlock and initiate skills from each party member which initiate attacks or change how the party behaves which is imperative during large scale fights. Sometimes the party may be facing swarms of enemies that require extra precision to succeed. The four begin to feel like a team as they initiate attacks from blindsides or link up with two timed attacks. In the flurry of combat, the teams interactions feel organic and life like.
Enemy animations, boss encounters and monster creativity are some of the strongest points in Final Fantasy across all entries and FFXV is no exception. The detail in some of the enemy types far outstrips the details in most NPC's. Enemies respond to elemental attacks, smoking and looking charred after flame or lightning bolts and they team up against the player in complex ways, not simply charging at the player although there is some of that.
As long as the player doesn't look too closely at the environment, it is absolutely stunning. Nearly everything the player sees, they can explore. From deserts littered with damaged vehicles and old shacks, to forests and craggy mountains, the details are there but they are often sparsely populated and not detailed enough to discern one patch of forest from the other which is admittedly difficult in an open world game to pull off. Unfortunately FFXV will have to compete this holiday season with The Witcher 3, a game that does many of the things that FFXV doesn't quite get right and for half the cost. Long time fans should definitely pick up FFXV. Newer players might want to wait for a price drop. The game will only improve with time, and drop in price, however for ten years of polish I expected more from the experience thus far.