At the Square Enix Expo for New York Comic Con, I was able to get my hands on the latest demo for Final Fantasy XV. A representative of SquareEnix referred to XV as "the modern Final Fantasy" which isn't an inaccurate statement, as XV leaves behind some of the more long-standing tropes of Final Fantasy games. There isn't really a Cid, for one. He is in the game, as an old man who gives Noctis shit for treating the Regalia so poorly. But. He isn't your mechanic. Instead you have Cindy, his grand daughter, who somehow does heavy car maintenance in a crop-top, short shorts, and trucker cap. She isn't one of your main companions, but she is the one you need to go to for car repairs and modifications. She also has a hilarious accent – at least in the English dub.
While Tetsuya Nomura, the original game director, intended to take the game in a darker direction, that hasn't really come across in any of the footage shown so far. That said, the game is a logistical nightmare. Demos have been unstable, the story is split between at least two realities and a dreamworld, it has a more open-world feel to it, and gives players a combat engine designed to handle three-way conflicts while also letting your npc companions do a decent amount of heavy lifting. I don't know why Square keeps trying to give us a Final Fantasy that will play itself, but the whole "battle ai" thing is something I have never heard a player ask for. The E3 Microsoft conference attempted to showcase the intelligent ai deal it mostly it just looked like Square Enix wanted us to see Noctis get his emo ass kicked.
The demo available at NYCC is the first thirty minutes of the game. You start out as King Noctis, with long hair, uniform, and literally no combat capabilities as you and your friends try to escape a fiery doom. You get yourself blown up,and then the game cuts to Noctis in a royal interview with his father, snarky attitude and irreverence likely designed to make us think he's cool. Or something. The main purpose of this cutscene is to inform you that you are about to leave on a journey to meet your future wife and you will be entrusted with the family car.
Once the opening cut scene is over, the title appears to remind you that you are, in fact, playing a Final Fantasy game that has yet to make you kill rats in someone's basement. And then your custom beast of a car breaks down in the middle of the desert and you are relegated to helping push it to a mechanic, where you meet Cid and his granddaughter Cindy. Your next task is to kill time and make some money while you wait on car repairs. Yes, you push a car through a desert in a game for a solid three minutes. And I am so excited.
At this point the game opens up to players, allowing you to go in one of several directions. You can wander around, join a hunt, ask npcs for tips, try a spicy food eating challenge, or ask Cindy for a discount which leads to a quest line of monster hunting for cash. At this point you go into a bit of a combat training with hints for how to best use your three weapons- an oversized two-handed sword, a one-handed sword, and a lance – as well as how to block and warp strike. The warp strikes, as always, take a bit of getting used to but are possibly the best reason to play the game.
When you finish the monster hunting quest line given by Cindy, you reclaim the Regalia and finish the demo.
Honestly, I have no idea why I'm so excited for this game other than my tendency to love horrible things. I don't think anyone who worked on this project had any idea of what game they were actually working on. Square brought in several other studios to work on different aspects of the game and, given what we know and have seen, it shows. Noctis is at once a teenage prince who wields three weapons and has the ability to teleport, an old man, and a young kid who has the ability to turn into other forms in his dreams to fight nightmares. And somehow all of this is supposed to form a single narrative.
There is no way this won't be a trainwreck and yet, I am so ready to get my hands on it in November.