You know you feel old when you realise it was almost ten years ago when Final Fantasy XIII and Versus XIII were announced on stage at E3. That puts a few things into context such as it has been almost ten years that this game has been in development. Now FF XIII was not exactly what people had been hoping for, same with its two sequels FFXIII-2 and Lightning Returns where there was always something that people found unappealing to them. Sadly the biggest one such as linearity is pretty much bull since FFX did the same thing and people were okay with that. Honestly the two followed the same formula down to the large open space near the end of the game. With that being said, the bar has been set rather high for Versus XIII which was renamed over to Final Fantasy XV last E3. With ten years of development, the seemingly “lackluster” experiences of the XIII series, should players be worried? Nope.
I’ll be honest that I’ve never really been one to rate graphics high on my personal preference chart. I love retro gaming and still quite appreciate the 8/16-bit side of things. Not only is Final Fantasy XV gorgeous, but it was so well done that things VERY far into the distance could be seen moving even if you personally could not tell what it was. The environment being displayed was gorgeous. The blades of grass, the shrubs, the trees, the wildlife, everything was so detailed that sometimes I honestly just stood there to take it in. The part that I think got to me the most… and this is because I live up in Canada and the roads throughout winter truly get brutalized… was the highway. The highway had cracks. Not only did the highway have cracks, but it also had patches with cracks and sealant. It looked like an actual road that one would see up here and the sheer amount of detail just had Breanna and I looking at it going “Wow. That looks like Canada in the early summer” or as we really call it “not winter” or “how deep is that pot hole and is it going to eat my car” season.
As detailed as the environment was, it was still nothing compared to the character and enemy / monster models. The hulking forms of the Garula with their slow lumbering movement to the much more liquid grace of the pack of Sabertusks charging into you was something to be seen. The most impressive part of the visuals were how smoothly they moved as there was no awkwardness to be found. The same could be said of the more human looking characters to the chocobos. Everything felt natural which says something in a fantasy world.
One of the biggest issues that I’ve had over the past ten years is a double feature. The first was that the main team of Kingdom Hearts was busy working on this instead of a numbered sequel. The second was that they’ve been working on this for ten years and weren’t exactly quite sure on how the combat itself would be played out. After seeing a video not long ago, I’m not sure what was up but the combat seemed slow and made me worry for another White Knight Chronicles. This pretty much means that in the original concept the combat looked incredible and fast paced while instead upon release we got something very slow that took away from the experience as everything felt drawn out.
Now if you’ll excuse me for two moments… Combat was freaking sweet! What existed within the demo? WOW. Getting back to less squee-ism however…
Combat was already well polished. Players take control of one character, the Prince Noctis, and rely on the AI for the other three members of your party. Diving in and out of engagements with the enemy is extremely smooth and the switch is barely noticeable short of the music change. There are no flashy screens, there’s no fanfare, there’s just a small red bar near the top that indicates you’ve got incoming which is great when the twenty or so Goblins that thought NOW was a good time to jump you in the dark. This is where things got chaotic but in a very good way.
Combat is designed around several key options. The first is Attack, the second is Dodging, the third is Abilities, and the last is making sure that you don’t die after your HP hits 0.
Lightning Returns was still using a form of the ATB bar for all of its actions while FF XV decided instead to stay on board with its fast paced combat found in the Kingdom Hearts series. Attacking enemies is easy. Players just need to hold the attack button. That’s it. There is nothing else to it from that point of view. Keep holding the attack button however and it won’t take long for your HP to drop to 0. Players will need to keep an eye on what enemies are up to, how they are circling around or jumping over and over to land on you which is where Dodging comes in.
Noctis is able to simply dodge enemy attacks by holding down on the dodge button. Like attacking, it may sound simple, but paying attention is important because timing becomes your best friend. Keeping the pace of battle higher, MP is required to dodge as without it, a Potion may be needed in order to restore your HP. This keeps players on their toes as simply holding out in a dodge pattern is sure to have you knocked to the ground. For simple attacks Noctis just finds himself slightly teleport off to the side while when an enemy is coming in for a haymaker style of attack, if not parried it is going to send Noctis flying.
Parrying was impressive as it was a twofold action. The first half knocks the enemy off balance while the second is a follow up attack that produces a lot of damage and is always impressive to see. Parries depending on the situation and the weapon equipped and can either be a solo or a team affair. As this is real time battling however, it is possible for another enemy to sideline Noctis or one of your party members as they are about to deal a massive blow which keeps that feeling of real time as the battle progresses.
You’ve attacked, you’ve dodged, but one question remains that has nothing to do with abilities. Noctis had a dozen weapons didn’t he? He still “kind of” does! The demo finds Noctis available to switch up the order of five different weapons from two smaller blades, a great sword, a spear, and a lance in the style of Final Fantasy’s Jumping Dragoon. Each weapon has its own advantages and disadvantages depending upon the situation and these are listed as well as the possible abilities that they grant with their required MP to use. While attacking an enemy can be done in a constant fashion, abilities like dodging are reliant on remaining MP which still has one more contender for it’s limited amount.
Not only is Noctis able to summon and switch up his weapons at will, but he is also able to teleport around the field warp attacking enemies instead of simply walking or running up to them. While this move is extremely convenient and can get Noctis out of a tight spot, it also uses a decent amount of MP and using it multiple times in a row players will find themselves enter a mode called Stasis in which Noctis needs a breather to rest himself back into the positive numbers. There are a few quick methods to do this however two of them require moving out of combat temporarily. The first is to make sure that one of your weapons restores MP allowing you to simply continue the combat to end it as fast as possible. The second requires something to hide behind and go into a “cover state” which will also restore HP at a significant rate. The final method requires a bit more effort in certain cases as Noctis can throw a weapon and teleport skywards into a tall object which restores everything extremely quickly and allows for targeting an enemy for a quick return to the engagement.
Unlike an ordinary Final Fantasy, XV goes into a different direction when it comes to experience allocation. Instead of granting levels as party members acquire the required amount, a campsite to rest for the night is required instead. Resting will automatically make a food dish that has various stat boosting capabilities depending upon which ingredients are present followed by the possible leveling up of party members afterwards. Gained experience is then tallied with the current amounts in which a level is hopefully obtained. This makes exploration and the taking on of quests interesting as players will need to find out for themselves as to when is a good time to break in order to make themselves that much more effective in combat.
If that is what we’ve been able to see as of yet in regard to a Demo of a game that is currently sitting around sixty percent… I honestly cannot wait for the full version with everything enabled. Out of the original announcements this was the game that I was most looking forward to. A decade later I can only hope that this is in our hands by Christmas time as the demo had very well produced English dialog. Hopefully the world as a whole gets to see this launched at the same time instead of having to wait and possible spoiling ourselves as to what it contains before reaching our respective shores.
Preview by Pierre-Yves