Sayem Ahmed writes for Bleeding Cool after spending four hours with a recent build of Final Fantasy XV…
To say that Final Fantasy XV has had a troubled development is an understatement. Now over 10 years into development, we've had a release date and… it's slipped again. But not without good reason. After 4 hours of playing the full game, it's clear that some more work needs to be done on Square Enix's flagship holiday title before players can finally play it.
After the game's cold open to a slow reveal to the main cast slowly pushing a car to Florence and the Machine's cover of Stand By Me, it felt as if FFXV was trying a little bit too hard to have a "Snake Eater" moment without actually justifying the use of that song or the impact they were trying to convey. Once introduced to the game's open world, we can see that the game is not only completely different to any Final Fantasy that came before it, we also see influences from other titles, but just not the ones you'd expect.
The upgrades use an AP system, which you earn after performing feats in battle. The system itself is structured very similarly to the Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X, where you're able to upgrade your character to be biased towards playing in certain styles. You have to maintain this for all 4 characters, and it is something I couldn't quite wrap my head around completely. However after my time, the game is clearly a slow burn, and the same can be echoed for its dynamic battle system.
Gone are the days of Active Time, Turn-Based battles and in is the more action oriented, part Kingdom Hearts, part God Hand battles. You can choose what weapons to use in certain situations, target different types of large monsters and even call in your party to perform skills from a unified gauge. It's overwhelming to start with, however, it all starts to slip into place when you start to battle humanoid foes and get to grips with the wealth of skills available to you. One notable change is the way that magic works in the game, with you having to draw elemental power out from the world around you (A nod to FFVIII's draw system) and then concoct potions from those elemental powers by way of crafting. The more Fire you have drawn, the more you can pour into the potion. You're also able to add items into these potions, which provide extra effects such as a slow onto the elemental damage, which are thrown like grenades and leave dazzling effects and massive damage in their wake.
Final Fantasy XV is incredibly pretty in parts, and not just by the way of the main cast's snazzy Jpop hair. Certain vistas and times of day look absolutely breathtaking, however upon closer inspection, I saw large, muddy areas where it just did look like someone smeared vaseline all over my glasses. I was playing an unfinished build, which certainly had technical issues. Maybe the game's delay was a good thing as the PS4 build we played was clearly not final, and I assume that version will get some much-needed optimisation.
Trucking along with the game, I found some weird quirks, such as after undertaking a quest you're able to hop into your car and… sit in it for a few minutes. Imagine being in a cab in GTAV,and you're essentially seeing the same experience. However, you're able to drive the car yourself but the game limits you to staying on the road pretty strictly. Expect no hijinks with smacking into cars or anything like that. You are able to stop the car and hop out at any time to explore the environments around you. One exception to the whole "being driven around" thing is that your designated driver won't drive you around at night, where powerful titans and much more can stomp on you with ease.
It's feels like a nod to Dragon's Dogma, as the world gets incredibly dark and more unrelenting foes come out at night. It's during the evening that you're encouraged to camp, and eat some food before head out the next morning. This campsite ritual feels great, and the game doesn't stop the Capcom homage there. Eating certain foods will give you a boost to your abilities, a la Monster Hunter. There's a lot that FFXV is taking from other games and blending into its own unique style. After eating up and hopping into the car, you can pop the radio on, which gave me a lovely surprise in the way that it started to play the Prelude theme from FFI. The game gives you a load of throwbacks in the form of old Final Fantasy soundtracks, which are also available from vendors. After rocking out to Clash on the Big Bridge for a bit, I headed out on a story quest.
Story quests were surprisingly linear in the early quests I played as you're funneled into certain paths to tackle, and after a few short battles, you see a cutscene. In another quest, we dungeon-crawled through a sewer system, unlocking doors and more. I'd imagine that in the full game, we'll see grander setpieces for what Square Enix is building. Sidequests are charming and funny, with the first one I encountered centered around feeding a fussy (but hungry) cat!
From the time I've spent in the world, Final Fantasy XV is clearly quite a deliberate slower title as the short few hours I played were set to a creeping pace. That's for a game that I expect will be absolutely massive too. If anything, it's made me more curious as to how the game delivers as a whole. Its opening sets up a grand story, huge world and introduces some new, fresh ideas all the while. Could this be the game that the series so desperately needs it to be? We'll find out very soon.