Last night Square-Enix held an event to announce the suite of media coming with Final Fantasy XV. There’s an anime series, a full-length movie coming and of course the actual game all set in the same universe. This is all similar sounding to when FFXV was announced ten (!) years ago as Final Fantasy Versus XIII – there was going to be a number of different titles all set in the same universe as FFXIII to help create a really fleshed out world. Times have changed, FFXIII was relatively poorly received and FFXV underwent a major shift in tone and setting, which brings us to today. At the event last night, they not only announced that Final Fantasy XV is coming out September 30 of this year, but that a demo for the game went live as the show wrapped. So I grabbed that demo, played through it last night, and thought I’d put down some of my thoughts on it.
The big thing I think is that there actually is a demo that we can get our hands on to play. Final Fantasy XV has basically been vaporware for a decade at this point, so any actual hands-on experience is a real great thing – especially since it’s a public demo. This is not only a good opportunity for fans of Final Fantasy going way back, but for new fans to get into the series. That said, let’s not oversell this thing. It’s not a particularly long demo – I beat it in under 40 minutes, and that was with plenty of meandering around the environments to look around. I totally think you could blitz through it in under 20 minutes without too much trouble. That’s a pretty minuscule portion for a game that could easily stretch 60 hours long. What I think this is is a taste – it’s not the appetizer, it’s a snack in the afternoon to tide you to dinner. It’s designed to fill that role I mentioned at the start – it finally puts gameplay in the hands of the public after ten years. It shows us exactly what this team is about – it’s very much drawing from Square-Enix’s other amazing RPG series Kingdom Hearts, which isn’t surprising considering Tetsuya Nomura’s involvement through a large portion of the development. It’s not a direct borrowing of the action system in Kingdom Hearts, but it definitely feels similar – eschewing the classic turn-based combat that the older games used for a purely real-time combat system. We got a very small taste of it in the demo, but I can very much see the potential in the system. It feels very much like it’s built around fluidly shifting your attacks between your four equipped weapons, spells and items. Starting a combo with a fast attack sword, then – mid-combo, with no downtime – switching to a heavy hitting hammer to finish it is super easy and super satisfying. I am definitely looking forward to seeing just how crazy it can get in the full game.
Beyond the novelty of actually having Final Fantasy XV in our hands in some form, the game certainly seems to be shaping up pretty well. I’m still a little confused about the tone and setting of the story – I’ve seen that it’s still set in the FFXIII universe, drawing from that initial Final Fantasy Versus XIII direction, but the world feels very much different from FFXIII. I’m always a little skeptical of an RPG that tries to marry technology (especially modern themed technology) with magic – it’s a tricky balance to maintain. Final Fantasy VI and VII both did it incredibly well, mainly because of how magic was woven in to their worlds. In FFVI, the world had advanced with traditional technology and magic was an outside influence – it made your party and the villains feel special; in FFVII, it was thanks to the Materia system, which is still my favorite way of doing magic in any Final Fantasy game. It’s still a little weird to me to see normal looking cars and cell phones in a Final Fantasy game along side fantasy creatures but it could end up being just what the series needs. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen a truly great classic Final Fantasy game – I would argue that it was Final Fantasy X. In that time, other RPGs have raised the bar – games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age and the Bethesda games. Final Fantasy XV is a game that I think the broader gaming community really wants to see do well, and based around what we’ve seen over the last year I think it’s in a good spot.
In terms of some specific details from the demo that I want to highlight aside from the combat, I think there’s three main points for me. First, the game looks incredible. Square-Enix always makes good looking games, both on the cut-scene front and the actual in-game engine. It’s always the attention to detail that impresses me – the time put into making characters pieces of flair look real, whether it’s hair or clothing. This new game also uses physics in a way that I don’t think the series has to date, which is shown off in the second area of the demo. The effects also are incredible, in particular the magic effects – I was throwing Meteorain and Raindrop spells around just to see the effects that they produce. It’s bright, vibrant, but able to show off contrast as well. From a visual standpoint, I really think Square-Enix is on to something with this one. The second big point that jumped out to me was the music in the game. It’s a Yoko Shimomura soundtrack, and it is easy to pick her sound out. She’s responsible for some incredible work over the years – in particular Street Fighter II and one of my favorite soundtracks of all time in Kingdom Hearts. The music here is very much reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts II to my ear – especially in the third area, the town section. I couldn’t help but think immediately about the music from Twilight Town. Finally, the other thing I kept thinking while I played it was how imaginative the environments felt. Sure three of them are pretty straightforward RPG tropes – wilderness, town and city – but they have those little details in them to feel different. It’s through the plates you can step on if you have enough crystals – some cause huge background creatures to appear and add life to the world, some turn you into a different creature or even a car to move around. What really stood out was the second section – you’re shrunk way down and roaming around a big dining room with pillow forts and block forts scattered about it. It felt very much like a room that would have been in a Kingdom Hearts game – maybe Alice in Wonderland – and seeing it in a Final Fantasy game was pretty cool. I liked it a lot and I hope that a lot of that same creativity is in the full game. Granted it could have been because the demo is set in a dream world, but still, I like the general direction. Regardless, Final Fantasy XV has jumped way up on my list for the fall. Plus Carbuncle is pretty damn amazing.