Final Fantasy XV Platinum Demo Thoughts

Final Fantasy XV Platinum DemoLast 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.

Final Fantasy XV Logo.png

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.

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E3 2015 – Final Thoughts and Wrap-Up

E3 LogoNow that the insanity of E3 week has come to a close, I want to take a quick look back at the show as a whole. After a week of long posts, today’s is going to be a bit quicker.

E3 last year was pretty strong – there was a strong focus on games, from all the developers and publishers. Going into this year’s show I think we had a feeling there might be a bit more tech shown. VR is picking up now, with Microsoft and Sony both embracing it in different ways. And while both publishers did devote a little time in their press conferences to VR, it wasn’t a focus for either one. Instead we got a second year running where games took the spotlight. And really, that’s how E3 should be.

E3 is the one week of the year where developers know that the entire industry is transfixed on their games. They’ve spent a ton of time and effort on these games, and this should be a showcase of them. The show has evolved over the years for sure, and I think that we’ve gotten to a format now that not only makes sense for the exhibitors, but also helps legitimize the industry. And this year in particular was awesome. This year might have had the strongest lineup of games ever. It certainly had the strongest in any recent memory.

It’s a really popular thing to grade the show and declare winners and losers when it’s all said and done. I think that’s only partially worthwhile. Grading the show makes sense – two years ago was weak, this year was much stronger. That helps the developers and publishers know more of what we’re looking for with E3. In that regard, this year’s show was easily an A. There were huge announcements – both games and news – and the games shown looked incredibly strong. With winners and losers though, I hate doing that. The answer to that question is always the gamers. We’re the winners, and there really isn’t a loser of E3.

Fallout 4 Box Art

I do like picking a game of the show though. Really it isn’t any question for me. It was probably going to be Fallout 4 going into the show, and after Bethesda’s and Microsoft’s conferences that decision was cemented. There were a ton of awesome games this year – Horizon, Halo 5, Kingdom Hearts III the list goes on. But for me, Fallout 4 is just the game that I am far and away the most excited about. It comes out this year, so the wait is much less; the game looks like a major step forward for the series, and on top of that just look amazing.

E3 2015 – Third Party Press Events Wrap-Up

Today may be the last day of E3, but we still have a few more press conferences to look back over. Instead of going through each of the three shows (EA, Ubisoft, and Square-Enix), game by game – like I did with the Microsoft and Sony shows – I’m just going to hit the heavy hitters today. Much like the rest of the show, there are plenty of big games to talk about.

EA Logo

We’ll start with EA – the first of the third party pressers. The early focus was all about the new Need for Speed – due out this November. We got our first look at gameplay – it does look gorgeous, I’ll give it that. But the focus of the game looks a little dated to me – the idea of a Fast and Furious style car club/underground racing club seems like it was made for about 10 years ago. Add to that the fact that there’s serious competition – Forza 6, and I think there’s trouble for Need for Speed. Luckily EA had a couple other early moments. In particular the combo of the reveal of Unravel – a new physics puzzle platformer with a really cool main character; and the follow up with more Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2. The combination really helped lighten up the mood, both games have a fantastic character about them. However, EA still struggles with how to handle their EA Sports games at E3. They need to talk about them – they are consistently the biggest selling games around the world, but really aren’t exciting to talk about. They try different things, but this year was pretty rough – I love Pele, but man, seeing him do an interview on stage really killed the flow of the show.

EA I think knew that a little because they kept the heavy hitters for after – starting with the reveal of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, and closing with Battlefront. Both games stand to be massive games, for different reasons. Mirror’s Edge for it’s unique gameplay and storytelling, along with a strong player character. Star Wars: Battlefront for being Star Wars, and also an amazing shooter. Overall, I think EA had a show with pretty strong moments, but man, they continue to have real issues with the setup of their show. And also that Mass Effect: Andromeda was announced, but not shown during the show. Weird.

Ubisoft Logo

Next up was Ubisoft – always a fun show to watch, with a pretty unique format and Aisha Tyler hosting. Ubisoft knew enough that the tone of E3 was surprises this year – so they started with a couple. A brand new South Park game – The Fractured, But Whole; along with For Honor started the show strong. We got a look at more Division footage that looked really cool, except for the part where you can dick over your own friends in the Dark Zone. To me though, the first real highlight was seeing Rainbow Six: Siege again in action. This time was the return of Terror Hunt, the co-op mode that looks super great. This was also when we got the beta details – this September on all platforms, featuring PvP and Terror Hunt. Ubisoft had to show off Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate – since this was before the Sony show, this was actually our first look at E3. The trailer from the Ubisoft show did a good job of setting the game up, introducing Jacob Frye and the setting of the game. And again, the show closed with a surprise, just as it opened with – the triumphant return of Ghost Recon. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen the team, and it definitely looks like there have been a good number of changes. Assuming that we’ll get hands-on next year with it, that would mean that Ubisoft is really pushing Tom Clancy games again, which is a smart move.

Square Enix Logo

Finally, we had the Square-Enix show on Tuesday. Square had an…interesting show. The format maybe hurt it, but damn, the games were really strong. Just Cause 3 looks like the kind of mindless, over-the-top crazy fun that the series is known for, just kicked up more. I was surprised to see a new Nier game announced, but at the same time, Square does things their way. We got more Tomb Raider, but just a little. To me though, the real meat of the show was coming up. We got the Final Fantasy VII trailer again, along with the news we’ll see more this winter. They then of course played with us a little bit, showing off Kingdom Hearts Unchained, a new Mobile game coming that will tie in with Kingdom Hearts III. Square didn’t tease us for long though, and we finally got our first look at gameplay for Kingdom Hearts III – and man, that game looks great. It immediately got me back into that state of mind – it looks just like Kingdom Hearts should, bright, colorful, and full of character. Unfortunately, we have a long wait ahead – I would be surprised if it came out next winter, but it could. Most likely it’s looking like early 2017. Square also showed off more of Hitman, which does look pretty cool. This was also the first glimpse of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, showing some looks at gameplay, but still in the form of a cinematic trailer. The close of the show though was a little weird to me. After Deus Ex, I expected them to close with Final Fantasy XV. Instead we got a super super early announcement that a new studio – Tokyo RPG Factory – is making a new series. Final Fantasy XV, probably their biggest in-house name, only showed up for a few seconds in a trailer montage. That seemed really odd to me.

Ultimately, when the Square-Enix show wrapped up, we were done with the press events and could really start looking for smaller, more focused reports. The press events this year were top-to-bottom strong. There were slow moments, in every conference, for sure. But there really was less of them, and hardware talk was way lower this year than it has been recently. Now that we’ve gotten some hands-on reports too, it really does look like this year has had one of the better E3’s in a while. It’s why I just plain love this week.