Impressions – Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae PS4
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD had been on my pre-order list for some time before its release, but only partially for the game itself. Mostly it was to get me access to the Final Fantasy XV Beta; a game that I’ve been waiting to play for about 8 or 9 years, when it was still known as Final Fantasy XIII Versus. My main concern going in was that after so many years of anticipation and teasing the game would never be able to live up to my expectations, also known as ‘Duke Nukem Forever Syndrome’, but from what I played it seems like it’s going to be a great experience and now I’m only more excited to witness the final outcome.
FF XV is not like the previous games in the franchise, the combat mechanics and world are not at all what we’ve come to expect from the series. The universe into which we are thrown is similar to our own, with people dressing in simple clothes (t-shirts and jeans), driving normal cars and trucks, using mobile phones, and even the cities just look like a crowded mass of high-rise buildings. The exception of course is that this universe also has giant monsters roaming the out-lands and magic powers to fuel wars…
The purpose of the demo is to make enough money to get the car fixed after Noctis’ (the protagonist) friend, Prompto, allegedly wrecked it, so the party can continue on their journey. How is this done? Hunting a huge Behemoth and selling its horn. In any other FF game that would mean grinding up some levels on nearby enemies and then jumping into the battle with everything you have, but not here. Running in is too rash against such a mighty beast and instead a little subtlety is needed. Track the monster to its lair, lure it into a set of traps co-ordinated with the party, and finally go in for the kill. Brilliant! I can only hope that this clearly scripted scene is more dynamic in the final release, allowing the hunting of colossal fiends even outside of story missions.
There’s also a nice atmospheric side quest through a gremlin cave that I’m pretty sure is mandatory to complete the demo, as it gives the player access to the classic summon ‘Ramuh’. The summon looks amazing and deals insane damage to everything even remotely near Noctis. I’m sure the Behemoth would be almost impossible to defeat without either using that, or grinding all the way to max level. The one complaint I have with the side missions is that they are placed around a large map and there’s no other mode of transportation besides running, which after a short while causes Noctis to stop and catch his breath before he can move on; pretty annoying.
As for the combat, it’s definitely closer to FF XII and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII out of the FF series, but it feels most similar to the Kingdom Hearts games as you are given a lot of freedom to move around in battle. Turn based combat has been completely discarded in exchange for an Action RPG’s ‘move in to attack then dodge away’ approach, which I believe suits the new direction pretty well. Besides the special attacks that cost MP such as ‘Dragoon Jump’ and ‘Full Thrust’ there is the basic combo that just requires mashing the attack button. That may seem simple but depending on the situation Noctis will change his weapon on the fly. This means that you need 5 weapons equipped at once, each for a different situation and each with different properties and skills depending on which ‘situation’ they are equipped for. A unique and interesting mechanic. One thing that I feel did get in the way of combat was the lack of a decent lock-on feature to allow strafing around monsters. All that’s given is the simple warp lock-on that doesn’t adjust the camera as I would have expected, which is often disorienting.
Another new feature of combat is that characters don’t get KO’ed if they lose all their health in a battle. Instead they enter a powerless, damaged phase, forcing them to run from the battle until a team mate can help them, or enough time passes to recover on their own. The only permanent harm that occurs is if extra damage is taken whilst already in this weakened state. HP and MP can be recovered by taking ‘cover’ behind obstacles or by warping up to high ground with Noctis’ teleport-to-sword skill seen in the trailers. It’s also strange to see that each battle rewards EXP for levelling up, but it is not in effect for until you ‘camp’. Camping is like the new save point, with several camp sites being placed around the map. Camping does several things – totals the EXP of all characters and levels them up as necessary, heals everyone, saves the game, and introduces special buffs such as extra defence or crit damage depending on which meal you eat; much like Monster Hunter.
As for the party, we are introduced to Noctis – the protagonist and Prince, Prompto – the comic relief character who I suspect is a childhood friend of Noctis, Ignis – the intellectual butler-style helper who comes with the mandatory posh British accent, and finally Gladiolus – the brute fighter and seemingly trainer of Noctis. The characters help in combat, chat to each other depending on the situation, and are simply just fun to be around. It feels good to pull off a great set of attacks only to then be complemented by one of the gang, or to be trapped by an enemy strike and suddenly have somebody free you by knocking the attacker down, then bumping fists with Noctis as a sign of solidarity before returning to the fight. The group actually feels like a band of friends with history between them and they react so naturally as a team. I can’t wait to see how their stories play out.
It might be unnecessary to mention but as with every new Final Fantasy game, astounding new audio and visuals are brought to the table. Although unfortunately I did feel some unpleasant frame drops throughout, which I’m praying are fixed by the full release. Finally, the demo closes out by teasing a cryptic piece of the story; that war has broken out in the Kingdom resulting in the death of the King. It’s also mentioned that Noctis himself has been found dead, supposedly a ploy allowing him to escape. My final words on the subject are this – I heavily enjoyed my experience with Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae, but I’m also weary that demos are not always what they seem, so I’m looking forward to the final product and can only hope we are not disappointed.