Pretty Boy Simulator 2k15 aka Final Fantasy XV – Episode Duscae Demo Review

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Rating: Pending (Demo)
Released: March 17, 2015
Systems: Xbox One, Playstation 4 (Reviewed)
Genre: JRPG

I still remember the excitement I had for Final Fantasy XII after the stinker that was Final Fantasy X-2. With promise of bold, mature storytelling, action-oriented turn based gameplay and a world loved by fans of Final Fantasy Tactics, it’s hard not to be excited. Gone were the stereotypical tropes and sappy love stories, in are the costs and consequences of war. Overall, Final Fantasy XII seemed like a breath of fresh air in a series feeling like it would never be “Final”.

Needless to say, critics adored the game and I despised it. Combat failed to successfully marry turn-based and action-based combat, coming off as clunky, awkward and broken. The story also felt boring and flat, even if it strayed from the traditional tropes and mechanics fans have come to expect from Final Fantasy. Even the characters felt boring and lacked weight in personality, goals and motives. I admire the creative risks taken, but ultimately can’t overlook the failure to capitalize on them.

Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae is a demo for a game long that’s been stuck in development hell since the announcement of the Playstation 3. Along with the weighty expectations from the hype built around it for so many years is the hope this game could bring the series back to the prominence it once had in days of yore. It’s also attempting to shake up the gameplay formula we’ve come to expect from the series and looks to add some depth into the mix. It also helps that Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae is a meaty demo full of a lot of content…without showing all the cards in its deck.  <- hold on this paragraph, let me re-edit this one moment

After taking the demo for a spin, there’s one thing I can say; I’m loving what Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae is doing. If that’s what is to come for the game, I’m all for it. However, there are some issues present along the way that leave me a little worried about the game at the same time.

The Road is Murky, and Unpredictable

The story for Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae starts with our band of pretty boys crew. Prince Noctis, Ignis, Gladiolus and Prompto are stranded in the wilds of Duscae due to their car breaking down. With the costs running as high as 25,000 gil for repairs, the crew decides to take on a legendary Behemoth called Deadeye. The goal? Track down the clues leading to Deadeye’s whereabouts and take his head for a reward. Once they get enough, they’ll be able their journey to Cauthess to waken the Archaean, Titan. Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae doesn’t really have a lot of plot to it: if anything, it’s just a generic quest created to give an idea of how the game is going to feel. However, it’s the natural, random addition of sidequests and dialogue between the characters that make the demo feel alive.

As you explore the wildlands of Duscae for clues on where Deadeye may be, Ignis, Prompto or Gladiolus may find points of interest nearby. Some of these are clues for reducing the radius of Deadeye’s location like finding a trail of broken down trees or blood on the ground. Other areas of interest can generate sidequests like a finding a magical gem in the forest or finding a wandering chocobo. What’s refreshing is how realistic and natural it feels to discover sidequests through wandering such a vast landscape and also having your team help you find them. That little additional feature gives them more life as well.

Here we come...walking down the street..

Here we come…walking down the street..

It also helps that the dialogue feels like listening to a bunch of friends who, at the same time, are held in their respective classes. For example, Prompto, who is of the low class, is the comic relief that says his thoughts out loud. Gladiolus is like the protective big brother whose royal family serves Noctis. Ignis is the calm, cool, collected strategist who also is a servant to Noctis. All of them have a personality enlivened by their dialogue exchanges. My personal favorite was an easter egg harking to one of my favorite movie franchises (you’ll have to find out by playing it!). Hearing their dialogue exchanges between one another or Noctis is fun and interesting. My other favorite bits of dialogue are when someone is rescuing another: players will definitely hear the difference in relationships between characters through these.

For example: Noctis saving Gladiolus, “You owe me one.” Gladiolus’s response: “I’ll remember that”

Gladiolus to Prompto, “The party isn’t over yet.”

Noctis to Prompto, “C’mon, you can make it.”

Are they a little cliche? Yes, but it adds more to the dynamic between characters and adds a lot of life in such little ways. This dialogue only gets old when you hear it multiple times, and the distinction in class can really restrict other dialogue too.

Unfortunately, that’s where some of my worry lies. While I understand class systems do affect conversations and decisions, it feels too cliche and constricting in the game. This is especially true in how the party call each other. Everyone calls Noctis, “Majesty, or Prince.” and it gets annoying hearing that yelled in battle repeatedly. I’d think that, based on the nature of their relationships, they wouldn’t have to feel compelled to call him that. For me, they’re holding Noctis with such revelry that feels opposed to the tone the game’s story presents.

Players will also hear just how limited dialogue exchange can be during battle given how frequent and tough fights can be. It could easily break the immersion factor Final Fantasy XV has going for it…but when the full game comes out we’ll know for certain.

One thing’s for certain; the battle system is going to be a load of fun.

Strategy is Everything, Even for Survival

Final Fantasy XV combat is incredibly fast and challenging. Most of the battle requires you to pay attention to many factors that influence the outcome of battle. Things like spatial awareness of both enemies and party members, damage dealt versus damage incurred, MP, parry moments, and enemy behavioral patterns can feel pretty overwhelming at times. Furthering the tension is one new element unseen in previous Final Fantasy games: once you or your party members’ health falls to O HP, they don’t faint right away. Instead, they hobble their way to safety while awaiting “rescue” (aka potions) to fully heal. At the same time, they’re at the risk of getting hit, and with each hit they take while their health is at 0 lowers their Max HP. It adds to the natural flow of battle rather than halting it abruptly.

The other cool mechanic, while also challenging, is the mapping of your guard to MP. Basically, in battle you can hold down the L1 button (or LB button for Xbox One owners) as a means of automatically guarding against the enemy you’re currently facing. However, each dodge eats at your MP, albeit at a small cost. Those small costs can add up, especially when you want to use one of your special abilities. Once Noctis or anyone hits 0 mp, they go into a “stasis” mode that eliminates the ability to block or move fast. The faster you can get to cover, or get out of an enemy’s attack radius, the more Noctis’ MP and HP fill up.

Another awesome mechanic added to the game are the different weapons Noctis has at his disposal that will either a) be automatically used depending on the type of attack or ability, or b) serve as his primary battle weapon in game. These weapons also affect Noctis’ ability to defend or parry enemy attacks too. Check out the cool montage below to see just how good the gameplay can be.

Using your skills and abilities feels naturally incorporated into battles without interrupting the battles thanks to the exceptional button mapping. Instead of having to navigate through menus that completely halt a battle, I’m able to press triangle too while still battling. Plus, it’s even better when your skills combine with another party member’s abilities.

One of the weaknesses of this type of this battle system is having to babysit the other party members while keeping track of enemy movements. Too many times did my party members hit 0 hp and resulted in me having to save them. I was lucky the other AI would help each other out, but it wasn’t frequent enough. There were moments trying to rescue my other party members would also result in me going to 0 hp too.

I also loved the consequences and realistic portrayal of boss fights. When first taking on the Behemoth, Ignis comes up with a plan that he believes will work. Unfortunately, the plan ends with the party having to retreat before they’re all crushed by the Behemoth. It generated a real scale of difficulty between the enemies previously encountered earlier. Nothing was more terrifying than realizing just how powerless Noctis and crew were against the Behemoth, and just how easily Deadeye could crush the party if they didn’t run away.

Oh hi there...

Oh hi there…

 

However, I felt that the demo shouldn’t have made the second boss encounter so easy with the Behemoth. I won’t go in depth as to why, seeing as it’s a spoiler…but it took away the feeling of overcoming the impossible earlier. Essentially, I felt cheated out of a really hard, intense battle I was looking forward to taking on.

Leveling in this game is also vastly different compared to previous Final Fantasy games: done are the days of leveling up after every battle, and instead Noctis and crew will level up at a rest point. Yes, that’s right: players will earn experience through every battle but will have to wait until stopping at a rest point to level up. Honestly I’m not sure how I feel about it yet because it didn’t seem to impact gameplay at all.

Overall, the battle system and gameplay provide a lot of promise to experiencing a new type of Final Fantasy game.

Yes, the Boys are actually that pretty

Final Fantasy (particularly since the PS1 era) have been known for providing beautiful graphics. Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae definitely maintains this idea. From the detail of every single strand of hair, to the overall world design, the game is a visual spectacle to behold. There’s not much to say about this other than it’s surprising how good it looks at 900p and what it’s going to look like at 1080p. Seriously, check out the image below and it’s amazing what they’ve accomplished visually for being an early product.

Seriously...this is how it looks unfinished?!

Seriously…this is how it looks unfinished?!

 

Final Verdict

Overall, Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae has a lot of great things going for it that give off a feeling the game’s development is heading into an exciting direction. The combat system is fun, fast and addictive to play even though there’s a lot to manage. The naturalistic approach to discovering side quests and the dialogue exchange between the cast are immersive and effective. There’s minor things that feel like they could be a problem later on and maintain the feeling of being a Final Fantasy game. Otherwise, I loved playing through Episode Duscae and can’t wait to buy the game when it comes out.

They still think we're pretty...right?

They still think we’re pretty…right?

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About

The moment he was born, Terry Randolph knew he would play video games. Okay....not the exact moment he was born, but definitely at an early age. His affinity for video games was cemented in the multiple tantrums he threw while being dragged away from playing Sonic the Hedgehod at his daycare when his parents came to pick him up. Since then, Terry continues to enjoy all the experiences gaming provides. He also loves to write short stories and ambitious novel projects. Last Token Gaming was born from both his love of writing and video games. Twitter: @wanderinganbu Email: terry.r@lasttokengaming.com

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