It's been three weeks since I first played through the demo for Final Fantasy XV, a video game about what will happen to One Direction now that Zayn's gone. So I've had plenty of time to digest.
I first completed FFXV: Episode Duscae during a two-hour session at Square Enix's PAX East media booth in Boston a few weeks ago. I beat it again last week on my home TV. I've fought hoards of goblins, tracked down wild chocobos, and tried to hijack strangers' cars all across the lovely region of Duscae, where we'll be trapped until we get our hands on the completed version of Final Fantasy XV (to be released... eventually).
So at this point I feel pretty comfortable offering something of a thorough assessment, some feedback on what we've seen so far from the fifteenth main Final Fantasy game. Let's go with... bullet-points. Who doesn't love bullet-points?
What I Like
- Bros: Not only do Noctis and crew have lots of fun banter, they have all sorts of little scripted combat interactions where one bro might help the other bro get out of a sticky situation. Then they fist-bump. It's adorable.
- There's so much to do. What we've seen so far is a game full of campgrounds, sidequests, and missions with evolving goals and tactics, which makes for a pleasant change of pace after so many recent linear JRPGs.
- Combat in general: Sword swings have a satisfying and pleasant heft, the abilities add nice variety, and the "stasis" mechanic makes it clear that while Noctis might be powerful, he's not overpowered. The battle system makes more and more sense once you learn how to properly use all of the skills and options at your disposal, which is top-notch.
- Warp strike is brilliant. There's something inexplicably wonderful about seeing an enemy 30 feet away and commanding Noctis to warp-stab it in the face.
- THERE ARE SO MANY SPARKLES. I never thought I'd be so enticed by seeing particle effects everywhere, but hey, I love them, what can I say.
- The music is wonderful. You probably already know this from the trailer.
- Ramuh! You're not a real Final Fantasy fan unless you've watched this video at least a hundred times.
- It looks goddamn great. As expected, the production values are remarkable, from lakes and mountains to the minor animations on Noctis's jacket.
What I Don't Like
- That damn framerate. If director Hajime Tabata and crew fix one thing in the final release, I sure hope it's getting FFXV's performance under control, because the constant framerate drops in Episode Duscae are distracting, to say the least.
- Having one button for defence doesn't work — it forces you to relinquish too much control, and it ultimately doesn't feel as useful as, say, dedicated buttons for rolling and blocking might be. Plus, parrying is essentially useless when you're surrounded by multiple enemies (as you usually are).
- Walking can feel a bit too sluggish — especially when Noctis walks into some brush or when one of your other party members gets in the way.
- The camera needs a lot of revamping — and what's the deal with all the different enemy target controls? I didn't even realise that you could set a hard-lock target on an enemy by pressing R1 and R3 until I read it online somewhere.
- Levelling up during camps is better in theory than it is in practice — while yes, the real game likely won't give you experience as rapidly as Episode Duscae, it's still disconcerting to watch your party skyrocket 5 or 10 levels every time you make camp after fighting through a few enemy groups. Better to feel that progression as you're actually winning battles.
- Not a whole lot of enemy variety. Though it's safe to say the final game will have a lot more baddies to squash, it's a bit strange that a region as big as Duscae only has three different types of monsters.
- Jumping feels too heavy — considering how pivotal exploration is, and how nimble Noctis can be in combat, it makes no sense that using the jump button feels like entering high-gravity mode.
- I want to be able to use warp-strike outside of combat. Please please please?
- Let's get some strong women up in here, shall we? Nothing wrong with a game about four bros, but I sure hope the estrogen contingent is larger than the mechanic Cindy and her ridiculously skimpy outfit. (We already know there's an important female character named Luna — hopefully she's awesome.)
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae is that no matter how many hours we spend with it, we have no idea what the final game will be like. We know very little about the world, the story, or the core rhythms of questing and sidequesting we'll find when we finally get our hands on the real FFXV. For all we know they could kill off Noctis's whole party halfway through and have you play as a chocobo for the rest of the game. (Now that would be a plot twist.) We just don't know.
So it's more than exciting to be two months away from E3, where we'll likely see more and maybe even get a release date for this extraordinarily important video game. Not much longer now.
Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG.