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Final Fantasy 15 review: A curio, not a classic

Built on the skeleton of another game, FFXV gets a lot right, but the cracks still show.

Simon Parkin
There are worse places to be stuck in a car than on the sun-cooked roads of Lucis. "Picturesque" doesn’t cover the symbiotic qualities of these mountains, great lakes, and patchwork fields. Small wonder that one member of your entourage, comprised of Noctis, the heir to Lucis' throne, and his three friends and bodyguards, will routinely request you stop the car so he can take a photograph.
It's the eve of the prince's wedding and, rather than slosh drunkenly around some coastal town, he and his buddies have taken to the open road in their preposterously sleek and muscular car, the Regalia. It’s a curious choice of vehicle for a series defined by its fable-like airships and fantastical giant chicken mounts, but in time it makes sense. This is a contemporary-set Final Fantasy, complete with sat-navs, mobile phones and motels. What better way to conjure the sojourner spirit of the series in the modern day than via the conceit of a road trip?
Not that you have much freedom to drive anywhere you please. The Regalia must stick to the roads in Final Fantasy XV—the latest in a very long line of role-playing games that stretches back to the NES—and while it's possible to take the wheel yourself, the simplistic controls mean that you're more likely to hand over driver duties to Ignis, the most mature member of the group, and sit back to enjoy the views instead.

The open road

If the setting is plainly exquisite then the company is more of an acquired taste. There's sensible Ignis, who cooks meals for the group each time you set up camp for the night, and whose bother and worry soon starts to grate. There’s hothead Gladio, whose tantrums can weary (even if, at times, they provide him with an advantage in battle). And there’s Prompto, who yelps and tugs like an excitable puppy. As the four bond not only via freelance monster-battling missions, picked up, rather confusingly, from the owners of the various cafes dotted around Lucis, but also in their often affecting moments of vulnerability (quiet moments of male bonding snatched on a motel roof, and so on) a sense of pleasing and enriching camaraderie develops.
These scenes are given space to breathe as, in the first portion of the game, the four men tour rather aimlessly. The first few hours of the journey are spent discovering new sights and earning small change (which you need: despite Noctis’ royal blood, he is an impoverished prince and you need to scrimp if you're to afford the latest weapons, armour, and in-car CDs) from clearing areas of bothersome monsters, or undertaking various other kinds of often stultifying fetch quests for the locals. En route you must keep your pockets stuffed with life-giving potions and your car filled with petrol—although if you ever do breakdown a charming local mechanic will always come and give you a tow back to her garage. In this way the game establishes an enjoyable if curious rhythm, one that, with its four black-leather clad protagonists sweltering their way through the desert, feels quite unlike any other open-world game.
Final Fantasy XV works to a regular day and night cycle, a system that has a much greater effect than merely changing the quality of the light. Once night falls, Lucis' roads are stalked by towering high-level monsters who, until you've finished the game, will obliterate your party if you try to take them on. For this reason, you're constantly urged to seek refuge at the end of each day, rather than wander perilously. There are a multitude of different kinds of places to rest, from dingy trailer parks in the countryside, through spas by the waterfront, to plush hotels in downtown Lestallum, the first city you visit. Your choice of stop is important. Experience earned in battle, or by completing missions, is held in a pot and only banked by your squad once you sleep. The quality of the establishment at which you stay will dictate the size of the multiplier that’s applied to your experience. It may be cheaper to rest in a caravan park, but skimp and you'll be losing out on thousands of bonus points available from a more well-to-do establishment.
If you haven't got time to drive to the nearest hotel there are also numerous camping spots dotted around the world. What you lose in an experience multiplier, you gain in a full stomach. Each time you camp in the wild, Ignis, the group’s cook, will offer to make a meal for the gang. You need to requisite ingredients, but if these are in your inventory, there are a wide range of possible repasts. These imbue each team member with temporary status effects that last for varying amounts of time the following day, and can provide a crucial advantage when you're about to face a tougher foe. Each team member has his own favourite recipes too and, when they eat them, their techniques can randomly develop more quickly, or deliver bonus critical hits while the effects of the meal last.
Ignis isn't the only team member with a burgeoning hobby. Prompto is a photographer who incessantly takes snapshots of the group’s exploits, as well as routinely asking you all to pose next to landmarks. Just as Ignis' recipe book grows over the course of the adventure, so Prompto's ability as a photographer levels up each time you rest. Once you reach Lestrallum you’re even be able to take on a line of on-the-side work as a freelance magazine photographer, a pursuit that offers one of the most enjoyable side mission trails in the game. At the end of each day Prompto shows you his camera reel and you can save your favourites. The snapshots may seem like a bit of a gimmick in the game's early stages, but by the end of the adventure they present a wonderful record of the journey.

Fighting the good fight

The novelty extends from the game's structure to its action-heavy battles. Noctis is a quick-footed, acrobatic fighter, able to "phase" though enemy attacks while the defensive button is held down. His standout manoeuvre, however, is the ability to hurl one of his four equipped weapons and instantly warp to wherever it lands. When locked onto an enemy, a blade-warp is turned into an offensive move, known as a warp-strike. The damage caused by a warp strike increases with distance, encouraging you to flit between charges into and retreats from battle. He can also use the trick to hang from the scenery and survey the battlefield from a higher vantage point. While suspended from a point-warp spot, Noctis slowly recovers health, while his MP (magic points) gauge, which is used to pay for warping and phasing, is instantly replenished.
The first hour of Final Fantasy XV.
In some ways it's a more straightforward system than in previous Final Fantasy games. Noctis will automatically attack enemies for as long as the attack button is held down or he is interrupted by an enemy strike. You can trigger attacks so long as he has MP in the tank—although the moment this gauge is depleted you're unable to move until one of your three comrades taps you on the shoulder. Parries allow better players to dispense with foes more quickly, while the huge range of weapon types available to you right from the off allow you to tailor your approach in each battle to match the weaknesses of your foe. If the damage value appears in orange when you strike an enemy, it indicates a weakness to that weapon class, while purple indicates it is resistant to the attacks.
Ignis has the ability to identify enemies' affinities and weaknesses, giving you the chance to equip Noctis with appropriate weapons before blows are traded. But despite these tools to help improve legibility, when facing larger groups and bosses, the chaos of the battlefield becomes disorientating, particularly as the camera struggles to keep the pertinent action in frame.
Final Fantasy 15 review: A curio, not a classic Reviewed by Chidinma C Amadi on 2:05 AM Rating: 5

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