With the way the franchise has headed of late, the fifteenth mainline entry in the Final Fantasy series looks to be reigning in some of the more extravagant stylistic choices that Square Enix has become so fond of over the years.
While there is very much a fantasy aesthetic in place, FFXV displays a more recognizable world, with a fantasy-reality theme slightly more grounded than what we saw in the FFXIII saga. Some fans have ridiculed the boyband-ish appearance of Noctis and friends, but it’s genuinely refreshing to see a world of fantastical people wearing relatively normal clothes in a JRPG. Final Fantasy XV‘s world just feels somewhat more relatable than it has in a while.
Episode Duscae looks pretty incredible, it has to be said. It may just be an early demo, released to sell more copies of Final Fantasy: Type 0 HD, but it’s a good indication of what to expect from the final game when Final Fantasy XV is eventually released. Clothing flutters in the wind and the backgrounds are stunning. Characters’ muscles flex as you would expect, and the lighting is some of the best yet seen in a game.
Everything down to the individual strands of hair on each individual characters’ head is rendered to utter perfection; unfortunately, when the camera moves, you see horrible compression around the screen which really can be jarring at the best of times – an odd juxtaposition against the quality on display elsewhere. If this is fixed by release, you’ll be left with a game gorgeous enough to make Bahamut weep. Square Enix is clearly going to great lengths to reclaim its crown when it comes to graphical splendor; the new Luminous engine isn’t quite there yet but with plenty of time left before release, Final Fantasy XV could well set a new visual benchmark on current-generation consoles.
Mechanically, FFXV is quite different from what we’re used to. Our protagonist, Prince Noctis, has the ability to phase through things. He also summons swords out of thin air to attack with, which is pretty cool, especially considering your attack speeds and powers vary depending on how you eqip your multiple swords and pikes. Unsurprisingly, attacking, blocking and phasing through solid stone to Warp Strike enemies all use MP, and when you run out Noctis stumbles around the screen like a fool with a migraine, forcing you to watch your MP as you attack. As you Warp around the screen like a demon on speed, it can be quite difficult to keep track of where you are, not to mention who or what you’re attacking. This is especially true as the screen becomes more and more cluttered with a set of constantly-spawning enemies, as the game throws enemy after enemy at you. Expect to take a lot of damage very quickly in situations like this – it’s all too easy to find yourself staring at the Game Over screen if you don’t pay attention to what’s going on.
Episode Duscae starts with Noctis et al on the run and broken down in a vast wilderness, filled with monsters and the occasional human caravan. Noctis’ car is away being repaired by Cindy, and he needs to raise 24K Gil in repair bills to pay for it. As such, he decides – along with his friends – to take on a convenient bounty: a behemoth named Dead-Eye by needed dead by the locals.
As the player, this comes down to a relatively simple search-and-destroy mission: you track down Dead-Eye with your party, and your royal tactician Ignis (the one with the grey hair) sets up an elaborate plan of attack.
Unfortunately, it soon becomes clear that you can’t kill Dead-Eye just yet – the beast has 480,000HP, and you deal about 100HP worth of damage per hit. So the best course of action is to retreat, set up camp and cash in any EXP you’ve gained during the day. In FFXV, you can only level up when you set up camp for the night. You also take this opportunity to cook a meal with your friends based on items you have gathered or bought, granting you bonuses for the next in-game day (lasting about 40 minutes real time, give or take,) such as immunity to poison, bonuses to EXP and other things.
Having realized that Noctis isn’t great at killing behemoths, the team decides to follow a different quest: leading them into an incredibly linear cavern of goblins. At the end of it all, Noctis touches a magic tree, gaining the power to summon a god when he reaches 0HP. Usually when Noctis or another party member reaches 0HP you have a short time to high-5 your bros, helping them back to their feet with a modest health boost; if you miss this window of opportunity you’ll need to either resurrect them with a Pheonix Down potion, or if it was Noctis who fell, load your most recent save. This time however, Noctis returns to the behemoth, takes a few punches to the face and uses the opportunity to summon Ramuh – Final Fantasy‘s lightning God. Noctis then walks away from the smoking carcas entirely unscathed, holding enough loot to get the 25K Gil bounty money and paying for the repairs to his car.
This all takes about 2-4 hours based on your speed, and is an incredibly brief tour of Episode Duscae. I can’t speak for the linearity or otherwise of the full game – Final Fantasy XV isn’t due out for a while yet – but Episode Duscae certainly makes Square’s latest addition to their series look incredibly appealing, either way. Based on the current evidence, Final Fantasy XV is shaping up to be a gorgeous game. There’s still plenty of work to do on the engine to iron out the kinks, but as it stands Final Fantasy XV looks set to be a game I’m eager to pay money for – and that isn’t something I’ve said since FFXIII.