The words “Final Fantasy” invokes many different feelings in many different people, ranging from happiness to disappointment and everything in between. However, it is this emotional attachment with the series that makes a mainline release of Final Fantasy so special. Which is why with nearly a decade of development behind it, Final Fantasy XV is such a monumental release. As such, one must wonder after such a long time: was it worth the wait? I’m happy to say yes, yes it was.

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”

At its heart, Final Fantasy XV is a game about comradery and friendship, the bonds the bind the four main characters, and how they are forged on the open road. Pushed by his royal duty Noctis the Prince and his three closest friends are sent on a journey of self-discovery by the King Regis, who knows full well his time is limited At its core, Final Fantasy XV is an example of a rather new form of fiction the road trip epic, where unlike past entries of the series, the conclusion matters less than the journey finding it.

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In this sense Final Fantasy XV succeeds. It’s rare a game can so ensnare you the way this game has with me. Setting off into the world of Final Fantasy XV is just so effortless, and spending time cruising around is just so simple. While the adventure and excitement shifts into high gear with relative frequency, it’s the moments in between that prove most memorable .

The Prince and his men are all likable despite their initial one dimensional appearances and tropeified designs. As the game goes on, they grow together and you as the player grows to understand their hopes and dreams, as well as their fears. In short you relate to them as people and that merely makes you want to spend more time with them. Final Fantasy XV’s narrative is at its best when it is emphasizing the bonds between its main cast and letting you as the player have fun with them.

Combat, combat, combat... did I mention the combat?

When speaking about the best parts of Final Fantasy XV, it would be a crime not to point out how amazing the combat is. While it is radically different from everything that came before, combat is Final Fantasy XV’s living, beating heart. While it can be tricky at times and annoying to master but once you do however, it is one of the most engaging and rewarding battle systems in the franchise.

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Dynamic, hectic, aggravating, terrifying, satisfying - these are all the things combat can be in Final Fantasy XV. Starting out, changes can be overwhelming however as the hours go by a player will find their rhythm little by little. Whereby the end of your experience combat is a sweet dance of death that brings you back for more.

If the combat system was not so engaging the game would not work, it really is that simple. Built around exploration and the journey, Final Fantasy XV needed something to hold its disparate parts together, and combat functions as that glue. Starting out rather weak like any good open(ish) world game, you can find yourself overwhelmed. Within the first five hours of my game I found myself one hit by a Level 52 Samurai Daemon, I’m sure you all know the one. Being so far outclassed so early I dedicated myself to one day taking him out.

Luckily the power progression in the game allows you to do exactly that. As you progress you feel more powerful, however it’s not just your stats that makes it so; your skill grows alongside them too. As a semi-action style system player skill is as important if not more so than one’s stats. While it’s obviously beneficial to grow your stats, it is totally possible to take on monsters far stronger in mere levels with a little bit of planning which is something quite difficult to do in previous Final Fantasys.

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In this case Final Fantasy XV reminds me more of a western style RPG like Bloodborne or The Witcher 3. Final Fantasy purists will find issue with this however its near flawless execution is hard to criticize on the merits. In previous entries “the grind” was something to dread, a job one must do to move on. With Final Fantasy XV’s combat being so fluid and enjoyable, even the more mundane aspects of the game go by quickly.

When the fights get tough such as facing off against gigantic beasts or literal armies of soldiers and Magitech Armor, this is where the system truly shines. Forcing you to act and react to the chaos around you oftentimes within a split second is exhilarating, making for some of the most magical moments in the game you won’t soon forget.

An open and beautiful world

The artists and programmers at Square Enix need to take a bow as they have made one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. Normally I say graphic don’t matter, game play matters. However Final Fantasy XV is a game that nails both.

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From the grand and expansive vistas, the aggravating and inventive dungeons, to the well put together set pieces. Everything has a level of polish you normally don’t see in a game of this size. Beyond that however the variation found in the world of Final Fantasy XV is quite a sight to behold and experience.

A personal favorite of mine, The Rock of Ravatogh, isn’t what you would call an inventive dungeon It’s a volcano and there is the expected fire and lava. However its imposing presence on the horizon of Final Fantasy XV is striking as it punctuates the world. Driving and then riding your Chocobo to its base and then to the peak is a journey. In a game that revels in the journey, the scenery certainly makes those road trips easy on the eyes.

If you have played an Open World RPG before you will feel right at home with Final Fantasy XV. Detailed, beautiful, and more than enough collectibles, you can find yourself lost in the world for a long time. Considering how this is often the realm of western developers, the fact that Japanese Square Enix ambitiously attempted and in many ways succeeds at the genre is an accomplishment in and of itself.

Having fun with the bros: fishing, racing, and monster cock-fights?

Final Fantasy XV, I find can often have a Legend of Zelda issue. Why when it is your divinely inspired duty to fight an evil empire and avenge your father are you a Prince just lounging around fishing? Why are you spending your time racing Chocobos? Well the answer is a simple one: it’s surprisingly fun and rewarding too.

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While no Triple Triad or Blitz Ball, the assorted side activities present in Final Fantasy XV are a surprisingly fun distraction from the main game and can often provide very useful rewards. Fishing is the only real non-automatic special skills of the main four cast members and it is easy to ignore, however try not too. Collecting and creating the best rod, hooking the biggest fish, and getting rare ingredients while isn’t vital can certainly make your life easier.

With gil (Final Fantasy’s money) in short supply catching your own ingredients can eventually lead you to crafting some of the best dishes in the game which is a requirement when taking on the toughest bosses. Furthermore did I mention it’s fun?

My favorite side activity is the Altissian Colosseum. Although at first really annoyed I wasn’t the one who would be fighting Spartacus style, I quickly found the charm of the place. By betting on monster battles to win Medals you can acquire some of the most powerful equipment in the game very quickly.

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This is because the Colosseum is actually really easy to predict, to the point where I have a 9:1 Win-Loss. Despite the ease of picking the winner, the excitement in the Colosseum is real when you have a lot of medals on the line the monster cock-fights of Final Fantasy XV provide cheap and quick thrills. I can see why people like Vegas so much.

Technical performance is technically proficient... except when it’s not

While the game is gorgeous and by and large runs smoothly it has not been a perfect experience. Playing on the original PS4 and not the Pro I cannot speak to that experience. While frame rates remain solid there can be a rare amount of slowdowns. Strangely enough it does not often happen when one would expect it too. Instead it often happens at random times, most notably while riding a Chocobo. Again, it must be stressed this is not common and has not affected my ability to play the game detrimentally.

As with many open world game, there are bugs. There have been times when I experienced extremely slow loading times for the most basic of things such as opening up the save menu. To pathing bugs preventing me from finishing a quest - luckily this was often resolved by simply loading a previous save. There is even very funny bugs when one character who likes to jump a lot and uses a black lance, manages to keep jumping up and down higher than a mountain.

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None of these however are really game ending. They’re more like little annoyances that can distract from one’s immersion in the game. That being said these are more nitpicks than anything but they do exist and needs to be said.

A decent story obscured by bad choices

When thinking about a Final Fantasy what often comes to mind is the story, the grand adventures of love, friendship, war, revolution, and punctuated by dynamic characters we love, hate, and even those we love to hate. Since Cecil shed the darkness of his past as a Dark Knight emerging as the shining Paladin on the Mount of Ordeals in Final Fantasy IV, characters have been the key aspect of any Final Fantasy. Which is why Final Fantasy XV’s design choices regarding this aspect of the game is so odd.

I have unlocked much of the story including the tender character moments that defined my experience. But it’s clear many players will not see these and as such the understanding of the bonds between the characters will not form in the same way. This is because if a player plays through the game like Final Fantasys of the past they will miss out on more than just hunts and fetch quests.

It is sad too because these elements of the game are so satisfying when they come and surprising as well. The quiet moments between a Prince and his friend - where titles are meaningless and only the bonds of friendship remain - are powerful and emotional. In many ways, in a game of detailed and expansive set pieces set among the backdrop of war and divinity, these small moments were my favorite.

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Which is why it was such a baffling design decision on behalf of Square Enix to set things up this way. Indeed the announcement of story DLC and a patch enhancing the story with added cut scenes makes this design choice even stranger in retrospect. Why segment a story and wall of information that is so key to the experience for so many players?

This, while not a problem for me, it will be a problem for many. Final Fantasy works best when you have to explore and struggle for the grand achievement like beating Emerald Weapon in Final Fantasy VII or Yiazmat in XII. It doesn’t work when you have to struggle and hope to stumble upon key aspects of the story. It is for this reason with a heavy heart at the moment I feel Final Fantasy XV’s story is just a mess and anyone playing for just the story are set up for disappointment.

“A Final Fantasy for Fans and First-Timers” are the words that greet a player every time one opens the game. While long time fans will almost certainly laugh at this statement, for all that is different Final Fantasy XV, at least for this longtime player, remains undeniably a Final Fantasy experience. As Final Fantasy is more than a collection of systems, melodic music, melodramatic scenario’s, and led by those with really good hair all the while bound together by crystal iconography.

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No it is the grand sense of adventure, the promise of a giant and new world to explore and understand. That is Final Fantasy and for all its changes, Final Fantasy XV retains the essence of the series. Beyond that though Final Fantasy XV is simply put a great game.

It is an achievement of gaming, absurdly ambitious that reaches highs few strive for. While it fails in areas and is certainly not perfect, as a whole Final Fantasy XV is an experience worth having. I unreservedly encourage anyone who is reading this to play this game, there is no doubt in my mind you will enjoy the experience.

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