Final Fantasy 15 has some wonderful boss fights. Aranea Highwind offers an memorable encounter thanks to an onslaught of smart design choices. We take a closer look in this video.
For those who can't watch the video, or don't have sound, the full transcript is below.
The combat system in Final Fantasy 15 lends itself to some grand moments. More often than not, you're battling hoards of monsters or clashing against monumental foes. It's not very often that you get to test your mettle against a single skilled opponent. That changes once you encounter Aranea Highland.
Aranea is a mercenary working for the Niflheim Empire. Noctis and his friend encounter her after attacking an imperial base to get some revenge for a fallen comrade. The sequence leading up to this boss fight has a mix of gameplay from tense stealth navigation to a full on base assault. It's meant to give you the impression that you've cleared out all enemies. The first thing the game does right is drop Aranea right into your lap with little warning. Having Aranea when you think you're safe sets a clear tone for the battle. The enemy is dangerous. They have the drop on you. They are a threat.
The encounter design pulls out all the stops in order to give the player a proper challenge. Aranea's spear has a long range, ensuring that players will have to be incredibly proactive with their dodging. In order to even the odds against the party, she is also able to use powerful lightning magic that will hit everyone at once if you are not careful. The game hasn't really offered a boss with such a varied tool set until this boss fight. It helps paint Aranea as a thread while demanding a high reactivity on the part of the player. The result is combat that feels far more dangerous than other boss fights.
While she initially fights on the ground, she'll withdraw and leap into the air for attacks after an initial exchange. As she creates distance, the game's design is creating further options. The space of the battle expands wider than previous boss fights. This adds tactical possibilities. Players can remain on the ground to prepare for Aranea's next assault or eager players can give chase using warp strike.
Pressing the advantage and taking to the skies rewards players with some spectacular in air choreography. These moments punctuate aggressive player decisions and are important for establishing a solid pace to the encounter. They also give a sense of control. FF 15 combat can feel haphazard. Filling certain moments with powerful animations helps gameplay feel more directed.
Expansion into the upper space of the combat area calls to attention to various bits of level geometry that you can warp to. If players choose to engage Aranea high in the air, they risk fall damage. It makes the choice of whether to attack at bit more of an active decision. The various walkways and guard towers around the arena provide a safety net against potential harm. You can prevent fall damage by warping at the right moments. This refills your magic meter. This means more warping and attacking. The design of the space encourages bold decisions by making sure the player always has a way to return to the fight quickly.
Additionally, fodder enemies contribute to this encounter as well. They can split your team's focus and provide fun one on one moments with Aranea. They also have a far more functional purpose as fodder to generate energy for your armiger meter. Because armiger attacks home you in towards opponents, it give the player another way to reach Aranea easily. Which means they will hit those punctuated battle animations and have incentive to warp and restore MP before another round. The design of the encounter constantly funnels the player to triumphant clashes with Aranea by offering them many ways to power up and press their attacks.
The fight finds additional moments to reset the pace by adding contextual parrying. If the player stands their ground instead of chasing Aranea down, the game still gives them a chance to do significant amount of damage. Regardless of whether or not the space encourages a certain combat style, the fight's design still makes other tactics viable and rewarding. If players are feeling timid about their parrying skills, they can attempt to use the environment to block some of Aranea's larger attacks.
Not everything works. While the arena frees up a bit as certain parts of the environment are destroyed, there are occasions when navigation can become cluttered. Your comrades take up space, the camera spins about wildly. These are persistent problems with Final Fantasy 15's combat system. The Aranea encounter mostly sidesteps them by having a faster pace but they do crop up from time to time.
Overall, the encounter keeps a fast pace, hitting moments of downtime with important tactical decisions or dazzling animations. The player is provided tools to refill their magic and armiger gauges so that they will have various options available to them. Environmental design allows for clever spacing. Aranea's abilities demand that the player remain reactive and invested in the fight itself. It combines to form a solid encounter that is a strong introduction to a great character.