PAX EAST 2015: Final Fantasy XV Hands-On Preview – Nova Fabulous

In game development, few things are more critical than establishing a project’s size and scope from the get go. It’s not just literal, either; all things, including the number of modes, weapons, features, characters, or even pages of story script, must be at the very least ball-parked if they hope to merge as something resembling a polished game when deadlines inevitably arrive. Does that put stress on game-makers? Of course it does. Is it necessary? I’m certain most would say “absolutely.”

Gamers deal with scope management too, though it’s less of a common practice than it should be; I’m talking about the scoping of expectations. I’ve learned over the nears never to let expectations run amok unless I’m absolutely convinced to the core they’ll be met. Otherwise, it’s not fair to anyone; gamers face crushing disappointment, and developers face unrealistic bars of quality set by overactive imaginations. I’d hate to subject Final Fantasy XV to such a thing, and while I’m not entirely sure where the needle falls after my extended time with the game yesterday, I can say this — I’m more excited for this game than I’ve ever been before.

That’s no small statement, either. I’m a sucker for a brilliant soundtrack, and the trailer Square Enix unleashed earlier this year pushed all the right buttons, including that tiny elusive one in the back: the one labeled “Oh my god this game looks as good as CG films did five years ago.” My hands-on with the game upheld the trailer’s promise to a shockingly consistent degree, and considering the game’s substantial remaining clock-time for general tweak and polish, it’s hard not to feel what I’m going to call “incredibly confident.” Remember, expectations.

My demo began with a cutscene of protagonist and pampered prince Noctis waking from sleep along with his troupe of merry men (read: escorts). Right off the bat it’s clear that character models are the real deal — the PS4 truly is pumping out what the XIII series only flirted with with via pre-rendering. Individual hair strands naturally flow like Lightning’s off-pink mop never could, and garments hang from our sinewy band of brohammers like the patchworks of cloth, leather, and cotton that they supposedly are. Environments aren’t quite so glorious, but they do look good; Noctis’ first glimpse of the light is a glorious unveiling, a miniature setpiece all its own that sent butterflies careening through my insides.

Once finally in control I wanted to dive into combat first, and a quick tutorial later I was let off the leash and free to ambush any creature or unsuspecting pseudo-dinosaur that crossed my path. I’d glimpsed combat in trailers already, and the real thing is exactly what it looks like; a real-time, timing-based battle system that takes place squarely within the game’s sprawling open world. I instructed Noctis to attack by simpling holding square, while dodging is handled with a left-trigger push. Things like ledges, cliffs, or small towers can be rushed by pressing X, thanks to Noctis unique teleportation ability Warpstrike that lends itself well to quick bursts of MP and health restoration. You can rush enemies too, an addicting strategy that I soon learned works best in moderation.

Also See: The Top 10 Games to Look Out For at PAX East

My impressions of the combat are overwhelmingly positive, and though it does draw heavily from what’s long been established by Kingdom Hearts, I’d hesitate to call it a copy-paste job. Weapons are assigned in a deck and summon themselves on and off as Noctis strikes, while a wonderful timing-based parry system allows for stylized table-turning that this Zelda player very much appreciates. It also raises the question: how close has FFXV veered toward open-world action adventure? It’s a discussion for another time, but rest assured that RPG staples like leveling up and obsessive gear optimization are fully and unrelentingly intact.

There were a few times where this fact worked against the game. World traversal in vast, open RPGs generally gets a free pass, as the focus is on battle and the world is merely a very pretty hub for accessing various parts of the game. FFXV shatters this assumption with flying colors, and its striking environments and seemingly-endless horizons make, say, an invisible wall surrounding a nearby lake all the more disappointing. This game is not complete, and should be treated as such; if rare niggles such as this are snuffed out by release, then there shouldn’t be any problems.

Toward the end of my demo night finally fell, and as my party prepared to close in on a fierce-but-manageable pack of hyena-like beasts, we ourselves were ambushed. Enemy soldiers closed in, and as things got heated the game’s combat system held steadfast and firm, driving Noctis through a series of effortless swipes, parries, and last-second close calls that felt as though they were simply flowing out of me. Toward the end of the skirmish Noctis full-on collapsed, and as I dragged myself toward cover I watched the last enemy fall and was revived by an ally soon after. There’s no doubt Square’s PAX demo offers only a glimpse of what the battle system has to offer, but judging by what I experienced alone, I couldn’t be more pleased.

Final Fantasy XV still has a fair stretch of road to travel before release, and if I’m honest, I’ll be rather disappointed if the final build contains hulking just-ok rock textures or lakes barred by invisible walls. And yet, the foundations already established beneath FFXV are stronger than the series has seen in well-near a decade, with riveting combat and a lush, expansive playspace that has already succeeded in causing jaws to drop. All that remains now is the waiting game; let’s hope Square has scoped its latest fantasy as well as gamers have (attempted to) scope theirs.