After ten years in development, the final product that is supposed to breathe new life into the franchise has been released. Sorry this review took so long, but I was working to make it through as much content as I possibly could, in order to give the best review possible. To that end, my initial verdict is that this game is many things. Some of them very good, others pants-on-head retarded. Was it worth the wait? Did it live up to the hype? There is a LOT to talk about with this game, so let’s get down to it.
This game begins with one of the problems. It just throws you out into it. There is NO lead-in to this game. There is no world-building. It expects you to have seen a lot of the extended content, which is a real shame, because I get the feeling that there is a lot of really interesting narrative to sink one’s teeth into. Noctis and his three friends are sent out by King Regis to go meet with Lunafreya, in order to get married and cement an alliance that could help them save their country. From there, the plot gets all kinds of ridiculously convoluted.
Originally, this game was said to be a fantasy based on reality. I took that to heart. I really did. Back in the days when this was Final Fantasy Versus XIII, Tetsuya Nomura wanted this to be a game about a fantasy world that you could believe exists. Part of me is DYING to see what the game that he envisioned would have been like. The cruel reality is that the game that I saw in those old trailers looked 1000X better than what we got here.
Let me put it to you like this – I have the EXACT same opinion of this game as I do Metal Gear Solid V. When you are playing, it is so much fun. The elements of exploring the vast, open world and chilling with your buddies, going on the endless side-quests, that part of the game is more fun than I have had with an RPG in a long time. However, there is this retarded story that keeps poking at me to do what it wants. And you know what, I wish it didn’t exist.
This game was marketed as a road trip game with Noctis and his buddies going from place to place and getting into all kinds of crazy fantasy hijinks. And you know what, when the game is doing that, I am in love. Everything leading up to when you leave the country to basically go on a completely-linear second half is truly special. Why couldn’t this game have stuck with the road trip? I can’t help but think that Nomura’s original vision eschewed a lot of the grandiose bullshit, in favor of a game that is more of a story about fighting to reclaim the prince’s kingdom? Like, have him going around, getting allies, making some pacts with summons and gaining allies by helping people in various places? Then, the game wraps up with Noctis taking the fight to the Empire to reclaim his home. Sure, it isn’t the most epic story, but since when does all fantasy have to be about saving the fucking world?
I suppose I should actually talk about elements of the game, but I needed to get all that out there for when I make my last point. First thing to know – this game is beautiful. There’s a reason that getting to wander the countryside is so fun. The landscapes are nothing short of spectacular. Getting to travel around in your car (which is mostly on rails) is a wonderfully immersive experience, just getting to take everything in and listen to your friends talk. Then you get to camp out, and each time you do, it feels like a new experience, partly due to the unique animations you get to watch as you level up.
Then there is the combat system. Here is where a lot of people’s mileage will vary. I loved it. This isn’t the kind of game where you just press attack and win. There is a ton of real strategy that you have to use if you want to do well in this game, from knowing when to block, how to react quickly to parry strikes, and moving around enemies to get the perfect strike on their blind spot, which can sometimes be very difficult to hit. The magic is a bit different from other games. Instead of having magic powers you unlock, you craft magic in this game from elemental gems that you can charge up magical energy from. When you combine magic with items, you can make casting spells also have curative powers. The mixing and matching of magic to items feels a lot like alchemy, and it is very fun.
For those who saw the summons in the game’s trailer and thought that you will be getting to play around with them, don’t get your hopes up. You don’t. The only time that you are able to use summons is at VERY specific points in the story. But they are still fucking epic, don’t get me wrong.
Which brings me to the characters. The four main characters who the game is centered around are pretty awesome. At least for the parts that you can travel around the countryside. They play off each other brilliantly, and it feels like four friends out on a road trip. Noctis is a bit broody, but not to the point that it’s annoying. Ignis is my favorite of the bunch. He’s kind of a Mother Hen for the group, and his dry sense of humor just makes my day, every time I hear it. Gladiolous is something of a meat-head and is brash, but you enjoy his company like the lovable big brother. Prompto is kind of the reverse. He is the scrawny little brother, trying his best to be a good friend and fit in. Those four are the driving force, and for that much the game is fantastic. You even get these little bonding sessions with each character, and all of them are fun and shed light on how likeable they are.
And then there’s the villains. They are the driest, must under-developed video game villains I think I’ve ever seen. Their motivations are…well, you never really know. They are all gone because plot reasons and you never see them again. Hell, the entire empire that you’re fighting crumbles all the sudden and that’s it, all for a REALLY forced message about saving the world can happen. It’s bad. Really bad. Like, the absolute worst. Ties back in to what I was saying about some parts of this game being awesome, and others being bad.
The reality is that this is NOT the return to form that Square Enix was hoping for. Wrapped up inside a very bad plot is a very good game that is a ton of fun to play, up until you have to leave Lucis and the whole thing devolves into bullshit. It’s such a shame that such a fantastic concept and some truly amazing gameplay is wasted on a story that I was rolling my eyes at the whole time. Again, it’s just like Metal Gear Solid V in that regard. What a shame.
7 out of 10