Some of the best fantasy worlds mesh within our own reality and give the viewer/player familiar references to hold onto while getting to grips with alien concepts. This is far more difficult than creating a world like Azeroth or Middle Earth, where every creative decision can't really be questioned. This challenge is worth the risk in my opinion because if done right you can end up with beautifully realised fantasy worlds like Harry Potter or the amazing Philip Pullman books (which started with The Northern Lights). Final Fantasy XV is one such world which splices elements of our own reality with beings and forces that are straight out of the fiction bucket. One minute you will be camping with your buddies or eating a burger in an all American diner and the next you will be facing off against a monster that defies what you know about place and physics. After an astounding ten-year development cycle, Final Fantasy XV came out on consoles last year to a very positive reception. This week PC gamers are finally getting a taste of the latest game in this long-standing series, so let's see how it did.
So a little disclosure, I have only ever played one other Final Fantasy game, that being the coveted number seven, which is currently on the remake chopping board. I remember spending weeks playing the 1997 classic on my trusty PlayStation One. The one thing that stands out in my memory is the emotional weight the game had. Rather than keep to set mechanics and gameplay elements the Final Fantasy games always seem to do their own thing, adding new characters, ideas and gameplay styles. This is the first game in the series that embraces the industry’s new fascination with open worlds as well as going for a fully real-time combat system. In previous games, players would be directed down a linear path and fight using assigned action points. So if nothing else, I think the developers have shown incredible bravery to change so many of the series staples in one fell swoop.
Never Ending story
So getting past the irony of the fact a game called Final Fantasy ever got a sequel, what is this new game all about. You play the game as a young prince called Noctis Lucius Caelum, who is heir to the Lucius throne. The world of Eos is largely controlled by the empire of Nifheim, a military state who seek to control the magical crystal, which is projected by the Lucius kingdom. The game opens with Noctis and his three pals/protectors (Ignis, Prompto and Gladiolus) setting off on a road trip with the ultimate goal of Noctis getting hitched to his childhood sweetheart, Lunafreya Nox Fleuret. Needless to say, events take a very dark turn when the boys learn of an attack on the royal city they just left, including the reported death of his father. Noctis must then awake the latent magical powers of his ancestors in order to take on the Niflheim empire and find his missing fiancée.
As I approached chapter nine of the game's story I had settled into a fairly decent routine. Do a few hunting missions, complete the odd side quest and some fishing when the opportunity arose. At this point in the story, a few major events take place and I felt like the whole gameplay dynamic shifted more into how Final Fantasy of yore would play. With smaller closed off areas, more isolated battles and a greater focus on the boys themselves. I have to give the developers credit for taking the story in a direction that I never saw coming but at the same time this change of pace takes you to the final chapters of the campaign. I have heard some reviewers say the story in FFXV isn’t that great and overall I do not agree with this statement. Largely because the plot doesn’t make the mistake of giving the player everything they want, not everyone will come out of this story unscathed and in my opinion that is what makes the narrative infinitely more gripping. It is true there are some moments that feel off, cheesy even, but these seem to gel pretty well with the good parts. I also love how the game handles the devastating injuries one of the four boys suffers, which again, makes you consider your actions and not take success as a given. As with most open world games, once the story campaign has seen its final conclusion you are free to replay the various chapters and visit locations you missed on your first pass.
So combat is a big part of these games and as I have already mentioned, FFXV does move the series into action combat. There is an option to stop combat after each attack in order for you to take a more thoughtful approach, but I never used this feature as it crippled the flow of the fights. You control Noctis directly by attacking and then using defend when under attack. If you time your defence properly you can perform a parry and even link up attacks with your buddies. You have both a health and mana pool to manage and when the latter is low, Noctis can warp to a safe point to recharge. I like the fact these safe spaces are all over the place and feel naturally placed. You have four weapon slots which can be set up as you choose with various weapons, there is even an option to use elemental magic. These spells are created before the fights, a bit like how Geralt prepares potions. These spells are created from elemental reserves which are replenished from nodes near campsites.
Of course, you also have your three friends fighting by your side and as well as normal damage, they can also help in a more direct way. As you fight you accrue control points which fill up a bar which has three tiers. Each of your friends can be assigned a skill which can then be initiated at your command, as long as you have enough control points. You can set up your friends in more limited degree with things such as weapons and clothing. You also have a wide range of potions that can be used in combat, some will give health while others will bring you out of the games downed state. If you do enter a downed state one of your friends will attempt to get to you and help you up. If you run out of health while downed Noctis dies and the game ends, his friends can fall in a fight however and they will come around if the fight is successful, abet with a diminished health pool. Overall I think the combat is a success, both in terms of feedback and visual flair. There are some absolutely insane fights to be had with foes that look like they escaped from the God of War set.
As I have already touched on, you play the character of a young prince setting out into the world with three lifelong friends. As anyone who has ever spent time around a group of young men will know that boys will be boys. The pursuit of Sex and alcohol withstanding, one thing you can guarantee with a group of lads is banter and high jinx. The developers have created the boys within some well-established stereotypes, Ignis, for example, is well spoken, intelligent and so, of course, must wear glasses. Gladiolus is the strongest of the group and while gruff can also be very sociable. Then we have our wise talking joker of the group Prompto, who specialises in ranged attacks. As you move around the world the game does an outstanding job of showing the bond of friendship between these young chaps. Conversations will spark up out of nowhere, often while making observations about what they can see at that time or something they just experienced together. These interactions don’t always work, sometimes because the voice acting isn’t on point but also because some lines of dialogue seem forced. However, these weaknesses didn’t stop me growing to like the four lads and by the end feeling invested in their story.
The connection between our four hero’s is also shown in other ways, for example, when pulling off a combined attack in combat you will often see them high five. While walking around your friends also react to you moving toward them by making a space or if that isn’t possible Noctis will use his arms to manoeuvre around the other person. If you’ve ever walked through a crowded room this is a common way of letting people you are there and to stop collisions happening. This attention to detail is very impressive and makes the bond between the boys seem more real.
Of course, any road trip worth its salt needs a mighty vehicle to carry the would-be hero’s over the horizon (and to their next meal). Right from the off you are cruising around in a high powered convertible called the Regalia (which means emblem of royalty). The director of the game, Hajime Tabata, sees the car as a member of the party and the car itself represents ‘freedom’. This is ironic in a way because many gamers found the lack if direct control of the car frustrating. When you jump in you can choose ‘manual’ which means you decide when to turn, when to pull over and also the acceleration. This mode is still on rails, however, and doesn’t give you total freedom like in say and GTA game. As long as it’s daylight you can opt for ‘Auto’ which means Ignis will drive the car allowing you to sit back and enjoy the scenery. In this mode to can shift the car left and right but that’s about it. I can see why this design choice was made, you are now free to focus on the conversions that spring up and also what is going on around you. Without spoilers, I will say that the car can be heavily modified later in the game which gives a great degree of freedom and in addition other forms of transport become available.
One of these is the option to hire a giant bird which can be ridden pretty much like a horse. These feisty birds allow you and your chums to go off-road and explore the countryside at speed. Like most systems in the game, there are hidden depths if you wish to explore them. You can feed your Chocobo special food while at camp to gain various buffs like better stamina or gliding. The Chocobo riding skill also improves over time giving them new abilities such as helping you escape a battle that isn’t going well or even running in to give an enemy a swift kick to the jewels. You can even rename the Chocobos, give them a new colour and race them at the Chocobo farm.
Murica on steroids
As I have already mentioned, FFXV is an open world game but what is the actual gameplay like? Well, as you cruise around the countryside you will discover new pockets of civilisation, these usually come in the form of motels and gas stations. There is a very strong 1960’s American theme running through the core of the design choices here. Motels all have flickering neon signs and cars come in the shape of old classics like Chevrolet pickups, Cadillac’s and Buick’s. Diner’s also look like the set from the first Back to the Future film and I have to say I love it. There are also plenty of smaller moments which break up any sense of boredom, like coming across a herd of beasts crossing the road ahead of us. For a few minutes, we sat with other motorists and watched these huge animals make their way to the other side: it was an unexpected but important moment. I have to say the quality of animation on show in this game is phenomenal, especially on the larger creatures which seem to have a weight to their movements. I remember in one situation I was trying to pick up an item and the giraffe-like creatures nearby became agitated by my presence. What was astounding was that the bigger creatures in the herd moved it the front, protecting the small young ones at the rear. When I get more time I fully intend on taking a longer look at the many creatures out in the wilds of FFXV.
Each town or settlement has a ‘tipster’ who will give you points of interest for the local area, hunting missions as well as some more specialised tasks. You can usually buy food here and get a room for the night. As the main story progresses and you start to tick off the many side quest you will earn experience which is added to a pool. When you camp or rest this experience is added and your new level will be worked out. I really like how the game takes every opportunity to show the boys being human and real. For example, once you have hired some Chocobos they will be present in the camping sequences.
Each of the boys has a unique skill to bring to the group but interestingly these don’t fall into the usual ‘weapon smith’ and ‘potion making’ professions you find in most RPG’s. Pronto, for example, is a photographer and as you play he is always on the lookout for interesting snaps. At the end of the day, you will be presented with pictures he has taken and you can then choose to save the ones you like. He will also occasionally point out beautiful vistas while you are driving around, which if you so wish, you can pull over and take a group shot. Noctis is a fisherman and can cast his rod into many locations across the game. The fishing mini-game is one of the better ones I’ve tried, which includes varied lures, tackle and unique fish to catch. As you might expect, these fish come in various sizes and can be used for the evening meal. Speaking of food, Ignis is the group chef and cooks all their grub when on the road. As you find new ingredients Ignis will announce if he can make something from them, he will also take notes on meals you have in diners and hotels. When the boys know they are heading into a tough fight the next day having a good meal the night before will leave them with various important buffs. The food in this game looks incredible, so good in fact that when I posted a picture of the eggs on toast a friend assumed it was real. Last but not least Gladiolus specialises in survival and so deals with all your camping needs. What is interesting is that these skills all level up and add new options, filters for Prontos camera or new recipes for Ignis and so on.
So I’m no expert in Japanese gaming culture but it seems to me that many of the games I play from Japanese developers have some strong sexual themes going on. Take Nier Automata, for example, there is no justification for the hyper-sexualised appearance of its main character, other than the lead creator ‘likes girls’. I’m a red-blooded male who doesn’t mind admitting that seeing an attractive woman in their underwear is a pleasing sight. However, I also think it’s all about the context and FFXV does have a few sexual elements that look totally out of place. The first of these is the character called Cindy, who works in the garage in Hammerhead and who helps you upgrade/modify the Regalia. Cindy is sporting a red pushup bra, cropped leather jacket and a barely present pair of denim hot pants: remember I said she works in a garage. There is also a lot of not so subtle sexual innuendo going on, usually about your car and it having the right sized slot for the next upgrade.
I didn’t notice this at first but the first major town to visit is well populated with NPCs going about their business, pretty much all of them are females wearing tight-fitting tops. Hey, they can put whatever they want into their game right? Yeah, of course, they can, I just think when you’ve created such an amazingly detailed game world, it’s then a shame it gets let down a little by these bizarre design choices that don’t treat woman characters respectfully and if nothing else give idiots like Anita Sarkesian something to crow about. I really do not have a problem with sexual content in games, but when it’s handled in such a juvenile and crass manner it takes away from the quality of the experience.
Is it PC?
One of the main reasons why I set up my site is because PC gaming often gets the short end of the stick when it comes to media coverage and being the last in line to get a version of a game (Destiny 2, Monster Hunter World etc). I believe that given a fair shake of the resource tree, the PC version can be the very best iteration of that game: so why wouldn’t we want to play that version? I am thrilled then, to see that the PC port of Final Fantasy is a good one, not perfect mind, but it does show off what the PC platform can do for a game and the advantages it offers over console. The developers said as much when they announced the PC version was being worked on last year.
I am still playing the waiting game to upgrade my main rig (thanks, crypto miners!) and I am currently running on an overclocked i7 4ghz, 980 GTX, 16 GB DDR3 and of course an SSD. Even on these older components I am getting very good performance on high settings. I would say if you are struggling to get a good frame rate you should consider turning off any Nvidia features like hair works. After that, the biggest FPS killers in this game are the shadows and the amount of detail in the distance. Playing with these options will net you some fairly major wiggle room. Also a side note, I’m usually a big fan of Ambient Occlusion but in FF15 it appears blotchy, often like a mist around objects and the main character. I did leave it on but it’s disappointing this didn’t have the same amazing effect it has had in other games. I was surprised that given Noctis and his three chums have such impressive mullets, that hair works wasn’t used for this. Another impressive aspect to the visuals is how well the game handles objects at distance while still keeping frame rates stable. This is important as there are so many huge creatures roaming the countryside it would have been a shame to see bad pop in and jumps between detail levels. I think I have to give the lighting engine a special mention as it really does create some incredible atmosphere, at night for example when demons stalk the living, seeing the lights of a motel loom out of the murky blackness is creepy as hell.
There is also a high-end texture pack (high res pack) which adds higher detail assets to things like characters and foliage. The unfortunate side effect of this pack is that it includes 4K verisions of all the cut scenes (both English and Japanese) and in turn comes in at 50GB. Considering the base install is already at 75GB this is a big ask. There are plenty of other options within the menus such as support for ultra wide monitors and eye tracking software. The bottom line is that this possibly the best-looking game on PC right now as long as your rig has the chops to run it.
The support for mouse and keyboard is good in the sense that it works pretty well in game. However, the fact you can’t click on menus or navigate the map with the mouse is bizarre and annoying. Every time I entered the map It bothered me that I had to move over to the I J K L keys to scroll and page up/down keys for zooming. Considering how well the developers have embraced the PC platform in other areas of this port, these limitations are frankly baffling. Hopefully, we will get either a patch or mod to address these issues. As you might expect the game plays very well on controller but being able to spin the camera around on a dime with the mouse makes this my favourite input method. First person mode is new to the PC version and we have seen this in a few other titles that have been ported to PC. It’s an interesting feature but unfortunately, they have not modified how the character moves in first person so the momentum attributed to the characters in third person (setting off to run etc) makes no sense as you cannot see why it takes a second to start running. I like the inclusion but it needs refining to feel like an FPS game rather than a simple alternative viewpoint.
Final Fantasy XV has been in development for ten years and many thought it would never see the light of day. So when it did finally arrive last year it was a surprising success for the many Final Fantasy fans out there. If you have never played any of the previous games I wouldn’t let that put you off because the leading characters have changed so many times there really isn’t a constant thread to follow. Also given how modern the game's systems are this also feels like a new direction for the Final Fantasy games, although given the time it took for this one to arrive, I suspect my grandchildren will be reviewing the next one.
So not only do you get the best version of the game on PC by a considerable margin, but you also get all the DLC that is currently available. This includes an additional adventure for each of Noctis’s friends and the online components. What I think is also quite exciting is that Square Enix has said they are currently working on even more content that will release throughout 2018/2019. Obviously, this won’t be free but given the high bar set by what they have done so far, I have got no problem with putting down some cash when the goods are up to snuff. Final Fantasy XV is a huge game that’s should keep you going for weeks. The gameplay is a mixture of thoughtful exploitation, rewarding combat and amazing world building that really does keep surprising you at every turn. Overall I am very happy with the PC version of this title and can easily recommend you pick it up.
Thank you for reading my review for Final Fantasy XV on PC. This game was purchased by myself at retail and as couldn't get a review in place for launch day. With that in mind, I decided to take my time and see as much of the game as possible before reviewing it. If you like my site please follow me on Twitter @riggedforepic and share my work with others.