|System: PS4, Xbox One|
|Dev: Square Enix|
|Pub: Square Enix|
|Release: November 29, 2016|
|Players: 1 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Language, Mild Blood, Partial Nudity, Violence|
by Becky Cunningham
They always say the journey is better than the destination, and that's a good thing to keep in mind for Final Fantasy XV. I don't know who decided to revitalize this legendary series with a road trip RPG, but it was a brilliant idea that steers this title through the rocky waters of its lengthy development time and multiple directors. It's an ambitious title with lots of moving parts that don't always fit seamlessly together, but boy does it ever provide some great moments along the way.
If you've been living under a rock, this is the story of Prince Noctis, reluctant heir to a major royal burden. A fun road trip with three friends to his arranged wedding turns into a desperate quest to save the entire world. You know, as these things do in RPG-land. In a new twist for the series, though, this quest takes place in a huge, semi-open world featuring tons of side content and plenty of places to explore off the beaten path. It's a fully-realized place that exists somewhere between fantasy and modernity, with cars and rustic road stops hanging out next to mythical beasts and legendary gods.
The land you're traveling is one of the major stars of the game, helped out by the fantastic visual and auditory design that we're used to from Final Fantasy. It really does remind me of my various road trips across middle America, especially the pine forests and badlands of the first two major areas. There's been a tremendous attention paid to the world's details, from a roadside restaurant chain with its own animal mascot to the detailed cities, each with its own culture. All the while, you're serenaded by fantastic tunes, both the ones written for the game and the classic soundtracks you can listen to on your car radio.
While you're taking to the open road in your classic car, the Regalia, or perhaps trotting over the hills on chocoboback, you can admire the mix of realistic and fantastical scenery and the game's more realistic take on classic Final Fantasy beasts. You're meant to spend time savoring the travel experience, and are rewarded with chances to customize your on-the-road life with a plethora of car customizations and even the ability to change clothes and dye your chocobo. It may sound boring at first, and there are some quick travel options, but I actually grew to love riding along with the boys, listening to their banter, and checking out which colorful personalities could be found in the next town down the road.
Paralleling your open-world adventures is a relatively linear main storyline, which alternates between taking the wheel and letting the reins loose so you can explore, do side-quests, and play mini-games. The best part about the main plot is the amazing set-pieces it has to offer. I know the word "epic" gets thrown around too much in gaming, but there's really no other way to describe the encounters you'll have with the deities and monsters of the land. Best of all, there's not a QTE in sight, even when you're sneaking past a slumbering behemoth or tumbling down a crumbling mountainside. Other developers, take heed!
There are downsides to this parallel open-world and traditional JRPG story design. Although it's common in many RPGs, the disconnect between the urgency of your quest and the plethora of side activities on offer feels particularly glaring here. I think it's partly because this world is grounded enough to require you to sleep regularly and keep your gas tank full, and partly because your characters sometimes seem to snap between being dead serious to joking around, taking selfies (really), and going fishing a bit faster than feels appropriate. There's also the problem that the main story often feels like it's dangling the information you need to understand what's actually going on just out of reach. I don't mind stories that prefer to show rather than tell, and actually find that angle refreshing in a JRPG like this one. I just think Final Fantasy XV needs to show us a bit more sometimes.
You'll often forget about the confusing parts of the story, though, because it's just so much fun to hang out with your buddies. Sure, they're a little stereotypical, but they're good guys. It's easy to get attached to them. Prince Noctis is far less apathetic than he appears in the promotional material – it's more that he's socially awkward and obviously dealing with a lot of inner conflict. His complicated friendships with his bodyguard Gladio and strategist/butler Ignis, as well as his simpler and more natural friendship with civvy Prompto, come across naturally in the dialogue they have, both in major events and while just driving from place to place.
I personally found the main cast's voice acting quite appealing (some of the minor characters, especially Cindy, are a bit cringeworthy – but they're all obviously having fun), and it's worth riding along in the car or trudging on foot through a swamp just to chat with them – to hear Gladio and Ignis bicker like an old married couple or to listen to Prompto get the Chocobo Song stuck in his head for the umpteenth time. Some of the banter can get a bit repetitive, but overall there's an impressive quantity and quality of it. Not to mention the puns. Oh, the puns.