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Final fantasy 15.

Yes, we know it’s a ridiculous title. Yes, there is *another* instalment of one of the longest running game series.

But….

How many games reach 15 numbered releases? (Not including X-2 or all the versions/sequels of 13 , or any of the subtitled games *and* includes two attempts at online only massively multiplayer games – 11 and 14)

How many game series run for pretty much three decades? (The first Final Fantasy game was released in Japan in 1987)

How many games can say they have been published on pretty much every platform? I’m talking from the original Nintendo Entertainment System to the modern day, with stops at all versions of the Game Boy (Original, Colour *and* Advance), PSP and almost every generation of Xbox and Playstation (I think the original Xbox along with Nintendo’s Wii and Wii U are the only notable exceptions in recent times).

Not many.

In fact, I don’t think I can think of any. Mario has been around for longer, but has always been locked to Nintendo…until the recent foray into iOS.

Okay, so these are games come with a serious pedigree. (Go and look at this list of the Final Fantasy games https://www.thefinalfantasy.com/games/ to see what I mean) These games mean proper, serious epic games. Deep time sinks that people play for easily hundreds of hours and they have many, many fervent fans. That does mean however that there is an awful lot of baggage to come too. (Even this post title is a reference that fans of past FF games will know straight away)

In many ways, this expectation is good. If you are a game publisher you know that there is a huge audience waiting (expectantly) for your game. That translates into a lot of sales. The bad news is that these fans are notoriously picky.

First up, a bit of background for those who may not be aware of the series.

Each Final Fantasy game takes elements of the previous one (usually game play elements) and refines them, tweaks them and jumps into a new story in a slightly different universe (It’s testament to the developers that they can keep the same feel, the same vibe through each release). Think about the way the Beatles kept changing their sound with each album. Yes, it’s still John, Paul, Ringo and George, but you have to learn the new rules each time out. It’s like that. Kind of. Maybe.

As progress is made and the game play is refined

Final Fantasy 13

with new things tried and others thrown away. Take turn based combat. That’s old fashioned in this day and age so that goes out the window…then we ended up at Final Fantasy 13.

Which I hated. I couldn’t get to grips with the battle system. It was (in my eyes) a very pretty rhythm action game. Press the right buttons at the right time in the right sequence and it’s all good. This is an issue for me. It was never good. I have no rhythm. Seriously. *No* rhythm. At all. Just ask Claire.

Back to FF15. This has been changed. This has been developed from the ground up to be more accessible. The splash screen when you fire the game up says that this is “a Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers” – even before the title screen, before pretty much *anything* is on screen. They have really tried this time.

There are so many little nods to the older games that fans will notice.

Where older games have tried turn based combat (or rhythm action – *shudder*) this is an action RPG. An action game at heart. The usual Role Playing Game things are all there, you gain eXPerience and you gain Ability Points (AP), but you have no control over how your experience points are spent. They just are. Behind the scenes. Easy.

I’ve played it for just over 12 hours and reached level 21, but have barely scratched the surface. I’ve done about three of the main story quests and feel that I am able to write a little something (That will probably be a long rambling missive knowing me) without including any spoilers.

Game play

So, controls. How does it play? Well the controls appear simple, yes, all of the buttons do different things, but once you work through the tutorial, things seem to fall into place. Moving around and navigating the world is all very straight-forward. This type of thing has been worked out for years now.

It’s the battle system that requires some explanation. Battles occur if you get too close to an enemy and draw their attention. If the enemy is too powerful for you to defeat you can run away with your tail between your legs. Just leg it out of the red circle marked on the mini map and the battle will fade in your memory (or it does in mine). The good news is that unlike the old Final Fantasy games there are no sudden battles, you can see all the enemies in the world map (and run away if need be).

So.. press Circle to attack or Square to block. Simple, except that you can hold these buttons to continue that action. Hold Square and your character will continually avoid attacks (so long as you have enough mana), hold Circle and you’ll keep smacking away with your weapon (but be vulnerable to attacks). The key is in switching between the two states at the right time. That takes some real skill. Which I don’t have yet.

If you need to regenerate health or mana you can warp to specific points (usually a high point that you hang from) or you can hide behind rocks. This regenerates your health and mana much quicker than when you are in battle, but you don’t have to leave battle and reset the enemy health bar.

Two options are available in battle. Full on action RPG mode, which is the basic system above, or what they call “Wait Mode”. Wait Mode is set up in the options and means that when your character isn’t running about in a panicky funk the game pauses (with a timer counting down just to keep the feeling of pressure) allowing you to plan your next move (or scan the enemy and check for weakness/strengths). This works best as, at least in my mind, it allows you the time to pause and pull up menus to equip magic or to use health potions.

There is a real depth to battles with this system. It is easy to get to grips with, but (I suspect) will be rock hard to master.

You can swap weapons on the fly (with four different weapons, or spells, mapped to the D-pad buttons) but not mid combo.

After all, this isn’t Devil May Cry.

Magic is very different, to use magic you must absorb powers (fire, ice or lightening so far) and then literally bottle it. Magic in FF15 consists of single use spells (I think if them as spell bombs) basically you create these jars of magic that you then lob with all your might at the enemy. Then that’s used up, you have to bottle some more. You can adjust the strength of these depending on how much of the source element you have absorbed, making the individual spells more or less powerful as you progress.

It’s probably the simplest way to implement magic (especially as blocking uses mana). Additionally, based on the world that the characters inhabit, it all makes sense.

You can unlock more jars (equalling more uses) or you can unlock the ability to carry more of each of the elements (making stronger uses) or both if you want, through the spending of ability points.

Ability points are where you adjust the character to your liking, to make it your own. You gain AP for pretty much everything in the world, from completing quests, to stopping for the night (It has a full day/night cycle which we’ll come to in a bit). These points can be used to unlock bonus abilities for your main character, or for the other party members. It’s through this that you can tailor your character, put loads of points into the magic tree and you can use more spells, do more damage, put those points into defence and you can become a talk. The same points could be spent into damage, leading to a glass canon character build. The choice is yours.

Spending AP

There are even a few unlocks that make earning AP easier or offer more AP for the same activities. I’ve unlocked these and gain AP for longer journeys in the car and extra AP when I stop for the night. Makes sense as over time these will add up to more than I spent on them. I think.

Okay, so I mentioned the Day/Night cycle there. The game has an interesting system for levelling up. Instead of getting experience or ability points after each battle, you build them up and at the end of each day you get them added to your character. During the day there are monsters dotted around the world, but at night the Daemons come out. These super powerful enemies can quickly destroy your party – I figured I was over levelled in the opening area and tried to take on a daemon. I failed. Miserably.

This method sounds annoying, but so far isn’t too bad. I like the system and it allows a bit of a chance to grab a drink or stock up on potions or elements. Now, when it comes to night, you have a couple of options.

  1. Find a campsite – This will give you a couple of Ability Points but allows one of your party to cook a meal that will give your party an extra buff the following day
  2. Find a trailer or motel – This will give you more AP (the better the quality of venue the more you get Hotel > Motel > Trailer) but you don’t have the option of a buff.

Again, the choice is yours (There are usually campsites not too far from most settlements as well as dotted around the world).

This adds a certain element of strategy to the game. Do you want to gain more AP to spend on your character or do you want that buff? What I tend to do is use a trailer or motel unless I’m near a quest location. In that case I find a campsite, eat something that gives me an XP or AP buff and then go and complete quests, triggering a nice boost in my character levels.

This is exactly how a Final Fantasy game should be. You can tailor the party to suit your game play style, and you can develop strategies to make the most of any encounters. So far this game is winning on that front.

Graphics

This game continues the dev’s exploits on the newest generation of consoles and it looks good. Really good. (It’s not ‘Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture’ good – but that game would fit in about a quarter of this games opening area). There are no load times (they are well hidden unless you die or when you first fire up the game), and characters each look good. They have excellent individual animations and the world around you is full and teeming with life.

One of your party even uses the in-game camera to take photographs of battles and characters in the various locations you visit during the day (you  an review these when you settle down for the night) and some of them are really good. In fact, most of the shots seen in the gallery below are taken by the AI, and not by me. It really does show the game off nicely (except when he takes photos of leaves or the sky for not real reason).

Getting around in the world is done mostly through the use of the car. This game feels a bit like a bit of a road trip. You leave home with your friends heading somewhere (No spoilers) and pile in the car. Some of the vistas you see when travelling (You don’t really control the car – even when it is your turn to drive) are amazing. Check out a minute of this road trip vibe over on my YouTube channel.

Road trip!

The car feels a bit like another character. You can level it up, meaning you have to refuel less or it gets you places quicker and so on. Or you can change the colour of the vehicle. It starts out a very fetching black, but as you can see from the header image, I changed mine to a very sexy white with a big sports car style stripe. You can find different decals and do quests to gain parts. It very much feels part of the game, in a good way. You don’t have to customise the vehicle and you can always fast travel between points at the cost of some Gil. I prefer the relaxation of letting the AI drive me from place to place (Plus you often stumble upon little mini side quests).

Audio

Audio tends to be standard fair. It’s good, but nothing standout so far. Does what it needs to.  The car your party traverse the world in sounds meaty and powerful to match it’s looks and the monsters make appropriate noises.

The traditional Final Fantasy sounds are there too, but in new and interesting ways. (No spoilers).

The bonus here though is the soundtracks.

You can buy or find the soundtracks for previous Final Fantasy games dotted around the world. Spend 100 Gil to be able to play the FF7 soundtrack while cruising the world?

Its a nice touch that will keep fans of the classics exploring the game world for those missing bits from their collection. I will happily pop one of the soundtracks on when I travel between locations rather than pay to fast travel. Which is saying something.

Overall

It really does seem to be a Final Fantasy for fans and first timers and I am already a convert, even if it has been a long time since I played one seriously. I’ve put a little over 12 hours in over the course of less than a week of playing on an evening after work. Which for me is pretty impressive.

For me, this seems to be a classic FF game, but the systems in place make it much more accessible. Drawing you in and showing glimpses of how deep it is, if you give it the chance.

If you have even a passing interest in RPG games or have ever wondered what all the fuss was about with these games, then this is the best place to start.

Plus, King Regis is modelled on a guy from my home town and hopefully by the end of the week I’ll have my copy signed.

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