I’m not what I’d call a huge fan of Final Fantasy – I think the series overall is really good and have enjoyed most of the games, but I just never really felt even the best of them reached higher than just being “pretty great”. FFXV is feeling more and more likely to change that though, which comes as a big surprise to me given I had almost no interest in it aside playing it some day when it’s on sale or through gamefly. Yet now it’s one of my most anticipated titles, and while it’s just a demo I’d like to give my thoughts about my time with what little is available of XV so far. The pics are all taken directly from the PS4’s share button though they’ve been compressed so they might not look as good as they should.
The very first thing I noticed and really liked right off the bat was the natural chemistry between the characters. People might bitch about the way they dress, but their interactions with one another and even just the way they talk amongst themselves is incredibly well done. From the very first moment of the demo you can really feel that sense of friendship and camaraderie, and that’s a big deal in this case because one of the main themes of the game seems to be specifically focused on that. There’s a lot of fun believable humor as well and it just overall feels like this is a real actual group of friends (at least by this point in the game), though story-wise I don’t know if they came to be together like this before or after getting to know each other – but it doesn’t change how they are in this demo.
While I say you can tell they’re friends that doesn’t just mean fun and games – there’s definitely a shit ton of that right from the get go and it’s great, but the guys are also comfortable enough to bitch at each other without taking it to heart. Given how common friendship among your party is in JRPGs (albeit here it’s done a step above most games, even with this short demo), I’d rather focus on the opposite side with some examples. From my understanding Prompto is the only character on the team with no background or formal training in combat – this leads to him constantly jumping around, sliding around, falling and tripping, and generally making an ass of himself during combat while trying to look cool. This not only ends up realistic in the sense of him taking way more damage than anyone else simply due to how often he’s laying on the ground or lifting himself back up, but it also results in the guys (typically Ignis) yelling at him or (typically Gladiolus) trying to give him quick advice on the fly mid-combat. It also results in him running off on his own at times only to have one of the guys chase after him to make sure he doesn’t get himself killed.
On the Noctis side of things, if you go swinging your sword near your friends they’ll straight up yell at you (again, Ignis is the most bitchy one – the others will complain but not as bluntly) for not paying attention. Another time, I wasn’t doing so great at helping during a fight as the enemies were evading most of my attacks – and at the end I heard Ignis blurt out a simple “useless” under his breath, which prompted Noct to respond with “you better not be talking about me” in a snarky tone. These kinds of interactions really made them feel more like people as well and I didn’t really hear any repeats aside maybe twice in the ~4 hours I played.
Continuing with the idea of creating a natural feeling environment and “real” feeling characters, there are a lot of small events that can happen throughout. For example, one of the times I slept at the caravan by the gas station I woke up to see Ignis talking with Cidney while she was working on the car, Gladiolus a bit further toward the main road, and Prompto hanging out by the gas pumps. When I walked nearby I saw Ignis do a little “what’s up” type of wave and told me good morning before turning back to Cidney and continuing what he was doing, and when I walked over to Gladiolus he gave me a nod and then continued looking out to the area we were going back to in a moment. When that moment came Ignis was still back at the car having a chat, so as Gladiolus, Prompto, and myself all were running off I heard Gladiolus yell back to him “Yo, Ignis, time to go!” and once he realized we were leaving he yelled back that he was coming and sprinted over to catch up. It wasn’t a cutscene or forced event (you don’t even have to sleep there at all to begin with either), it just happened and that made it great.
I also really liked how Gladiolus kept trying to hit on Cidney and she never understood or possibly was just screwing with him on purpose pretending like she didn’t get it, though she seemed to just be such a gearhead she genuinely wasn’t picking up on it. They’ve stated she is a recurring character in the main game who will be around a bit, so I hope there is at least some kind of side story about those two.
The cast seems awesome and full of personality – personality that’s realistically both very obvious and some stuff that’s deeper and we clearly don’t know yet. Somehow within the small bit of content and only a few hours I got to spend with them the game manages to make you feel like you’re very familiar with them already and you learn a lot about who they are through the many scattered events and general dialogue. I can say I already am a fan of this group and I can’t wait to see how the other characters in the story are, especially that cool looking guy whose name I forgot but is a bit older than the group and seems to be the right hand man of Noctis’ father.
The voice acting in both languages is actually pretty great. Noctis’ deep voice in English somehow suits him really well once you get used to it (and mirrors the deeper voice the JP actor has as well), though “It’s bedtime” never gets less creepy sounding from him when you sleep at a camp site. Prompto sounds like a stupid teenager which is what he is, Ignis has that accent that makes him not understandable at all half the time but it totally is what you’d expect a guy like that to sound like, and Gladiolus sounds like a big badass which perfectly fits. The line delivery is really great too though and goes back in to the whole chemistry between them element, as the way they speak to one another in various situations really has that natural feeling to it.
As for the gameplay, this is a pretty different game from FF even compared to Lightning Returns which is the closest numbered title in this regard. Having recently begun playing Type-0 this reminds me the most of that, actually. Combat felt really weird at first, but after getting used to it it’s surprisingly fun for such a “simple” concept. I think a lot of it is in the ‘meta’ part of it as well, as I found myself constantly changing what weapons were being used for which attacks based on the enemy I was dealing with or the situation we were in. The parrying and counter attacking timing is pretty difficult to get down as well – while it has a pretty forgiving window of time from the warning to actually defending, that’s also the thing that makes it a challenge. Most of the fights are against groups, sometimes huge groups of enemies. In those situations you can’t really just stand there waiting to counter an attack – or even if you are that leisurely you’ll find that you’re in the middle of an attack when the thing telling you an attack you can parry is coming shows up and there’s no way to quickly cancel out to defend because your character is a human being and thus has things like momentum involved – so this is not a game flaw, but rather a challenge given by the characters being human and actually acting like it, a rarity in game design.
Some enemies have various body parts you can target and damage to affect the enemy’s capabilities. So far this is as far as I know only shown on a Behemoth, but this implies the main game will have many enemies (and bosses) with this. On top of that, various enemies seem like they will have weaknesses specific to that enemy rather than the whole species. Again with this Behemoth, he has a blind eye that was damaged in a fight before you ever deal with him, so during your fight against him you can focus on his right side and you’ll get a damage boost every hit and also have a lower chance of him targeting you because he’s blind on that side. This felt really cool, added some strategy, and just gave the fight itself more ‘personality’ I guess.
The summoning system in place at least for the demo is pretty overpowered but at least really cool to use. You can get Ramuh to use in your hunt of the same wanted Behemoth and he will kill it instantly. I mean one fucking hit from Ramuh will kill it. Ramuh does max damage and even does so on every limb if an enemy (like Bahamut) has multiple parts to attack him at. Here the uses are infinite and the cost is simply that you get no experience for the fight – but this does not include bosses who will still give you normal amounts of XP. To trigger it all you need to do is have 0 HP. This leads me to believe the main game will be very different in this aspect, otherwise you could just beat the game with one summon.
My favorite part about this whole experience though, right up there with the realistic chemistry of the cast, would be the setting – the very thing that sold me on XV once we learned more about it. This mix of fantasy and real-world modern technology and way of living is something I’ve always loved yet have pretty much never actually seen in anything of any medium – a game in this setting is pretty much a dream come true for me, and luckily based on this demo it’s delivering exactly what I was hoping from it. Hell, just seeing the power lines and the road and the Coleman camping gear – let alone things like the gas station mini-mart, the cars, and so on all felt so fucking awesome when all around it was such fantastical shit like giant monsters and crazy land formations. The closest anything has really gotten to this is always hampered with futuristic shit instead of realistic modern stuff, this is the first time that I personally know of that has actually done what I wanted all this time and while it DOES also have the fantastical futuristic “tech” (magitek) it is FULL of the world you see right outside of your home and, hell, even in it rather than fantasy styled “modern-esque” stuff.
On top of that is the exploration of that setting. While I love and want to see a lot more of that mix of tech and fantasy, I did enjoy going out into the wilderness as well. This zone isn’t huge, though it is pretty big and does provide an ample amount of room to find some cool areas. My personal favorite was a cave I found only due to the fact I saw a sign at some Chocobo rest stop that warned travelers about said cave – both places I never had a real reason to go. The cave itself felt very atmospheric and gave me a sense of unease at what could pop out or if there could be a cave-in that trapped us with some kind of beast, and the lighting was perfect to create a very adventurous and slightly treacherous atmosphere. The best part was that it was a rewarding experience – not just in XP and in feeling like I had gone on this cool spelunking adventure, but in terms of literal rewards. I found an “heirloom” which unlocks special abilities as well as Ramuh the summon deeper in. I really hope to see more things like this in the full game that also bring along reasons to do them that you don’t know prior.
The only legitimate issue I’ve seen people having complaints about is the frame rate, and I’m not defending shitty unstable framerates in modern games or saying its acceptable not to be a smooth 60 or at least a consistent 30 at worst – but just in terms of actually playing the game I never noticed more than maybe two drops in the frame rate the entire time I played, and I saw multiple scripted parts where others had drops that I didn’t in many videos. We’re all on the same hardware (unless they were using newer models of the PS4 or something?) so maybe they patched it or more likely I just got lucky those times and the less incredibly awful times simply never noticed it. For example I know a lot of people have some in fights, but maybe it’s just a situation where when you’re actually playing the game and not watching videos/webms of it you don’t notice unless you’re someone who obsesses over that stuff. I’m not defending it because I don’t have anything to defend, as my personal experience at least APPEARED to run smoothly with a constant frame rate. So for the typical person who cares only enough that it LOOKS smooth most of the time even if the numbers say its not, this is a negligible issue. I only bring this up because it’s such a widely discussed “huge problem” that I felt I should mention my experience in that regard.
The game does factually have FPS drops, though, I’m not saying it doesn’t. I don’t care about that nearly as much as many, but I also care more about it than most JRPG fans, so I think for your typical person who’d be playing this type of game that they wouldn’t even notice or care if they did. Hell, most JRPGs have framerate issues and nobody ever bitches about them, this is only getting so much flak because FF is more mainstream and thus has a different overall demographic looking at it compared to say Tales or Atelier. Again, I’m not saying it’s fine to have framerate issues, just that it in no way damaged my personal experience and won’t if you’re someone who usually plays this type of game anyway as it’s not even close to as bad as most other games in this genre.
Aside that my biggest personal complaint is Cidney’s name change. If you look at the Japanese for it her name is clearly written in the same katakana as Cid, just with extra at the end. If you read it or listen to it the name is also clear. You cannot get “Cindy” from Shi-do-nii without just pulling a different name out of your ass – which is what they did for the localization, bringing up thoughts of Funimation. To clarify: Cid is written in every FF as シド, and Cidney is written officially right in the game as シドニー (note the first 2 characters being the same as Cid), while Cindy WOULD be written シンディ which never appears in the game at all. You should see a problem here with the localization. This is as much a name change as “Tomoyo Daidouji” to “Madison Taylor” in the old 4kids dub of CCS, it might not be as drastic looking but it’s equally as incorrect and made up – it’s not somehow “less wrong”. Actually, I’d argue it’s worse here as the name “Cidney” is purposefully based off of “Cid” as she’s the child or grandchild (I forget which) of the actual Cid of this game. The Cidney name was not some random name, it had meaning and was for fans of the series, yet the English version just removed it out of nowhere. May as well call her Tina.
Anyway, graphically the game is fucking beautiful, musically the game (as most recent FF titles) is great thanks to Uematsu’s talentless ass being uninvolved and someone with actual skill composing it (Shimomura), the gameplay is fantastic and interesting, the world is incredible, and the story seems intriguing. I was already getting excited from hearing about this demo, seeing new videos around the time it released, and purposefully keeping away from letting myself get hyped – but after playing this and actually experiencing the game myself, spending some time with the group, and being in this incredibly designed and beautiful world? I can’t help but have a lot of hype for the real game and I already feel like I miss the place. This demo is an incredibly well done showcase of some of the stuff XV will offer while also avoiding giving too much away, and I highly recommend trying it if you have the chance at all. I recall them saying a free demo will be available to everyone prior to release, hopefully it does as good a job presenting it as this one.