Sunday, March 22, 2015

Final Fantasy XV Demo - My thoughts and impressions

Final Fantasy XV, man, it's kind of hard to believe it's been so long since the original game's announcement. This thing was first brought up back in 2006 -- almost 9 years ago, and we are just now finally getting our first look at it. So much time has passed by since then, and I can't help but remember all of the times I sat here hoping for more news to come. Events would pass by, and time after time Square-Enix would say something like "oh, we'll have more news next time!" Or, "more news will be coming soon!" After awhile the started changing their story to "we do not have any news to share at this time," and they would just walk off the stage. Yep, fun times. This is a trend that continued for years, up until they finally showed off new gameplay, and we learned that our April Fool's day post here at NGR was right -- Final Fantasy Versus XIII had in fact become Final Fantasy XV, and it was being released on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

So, it's been a couple of years since then and now a demo is out. Finally after the long wait we actually get a chance to play the thing, and that's the whole reason I'm even making this post today. I know that other people have shared video (including us, as we have live streamed it) and their own impressions, but I wanted to share mine as well. The simple fact is, everyone is going to have different opinions of this demo, and mine is one that actually changed greatly as I played it. I really wasn't expecting this to be this way, but yeah... Anyway, let's get on with this!

When I first started up Final Fantasy XV's Demo, I was excited. I couldn't wait to finally play this game I had waited so long for, but it wasn't something I could just jump right into. First thing that stopped me was a long loading screen, and then the second thing was none other than a mini cutscene where the characters woke up, and slowly walked out into the world in order to find a way to make cash to repair their busted car (yes, no car in this demo). It was an okay cutscene that did show off some of the character models up close, but for once I actually didn't care -- I just wanted to get a chance to play. Yeah, the game continued to stop me even after that... Besides the cutscene, the demo makes you listen to the characters a bit more, and it slowly tells you which buttons to press to pull off different actions (ones as simple as moving the camera and walking). Never have I been so impatient during a game's intro, but once it finally ended I was ecstatic! Finally I could run around, I could try to figure out how to jump, and I -- could sit through a weapon and combat tutorial. Of course I had to do this, I had no idea how to play, but this is also where my initial disappointment started.

Up until now I had only really heard about the game's changes, how it went from a Kingdom Hearts style game to more of a Final Fantasy Type-0 game, but videos and interviews didn't really cut it. None of these things actually showed just how different the game would be, and that is something I had a hard time overcoming at first. As the tutorial explained to me, combat was done by either holding or tapping the button (tapping you seem to have more control), and you defended by holding L1 (PS4 version) and watching your character auto dodge. During this state you can also parry attacks after a dodge by pressing attack, and there's also a manual dodge which the game didn't even bother to explain how to do (pressing jump). The tutorial also explained how you can hide behind rocks and what not to recover MP, and that you can also warp to warp points high up on tall objects to do the same. There's also a teleport attack you can do by locking on and pressing X, but that's really about all there is too it. Weapon attacks are set in a menu you can open at any time, and depending on where you place each of your weapons your attack combos will be different. For example I have the standard short sword set for normal auto combos, my lance is set to the air attack spot, and the great sword to the heavy strike/finishing attack spot. It's a system that actually took me awhile to understand, but to be fair, everything confused me at first.

The thing is about this combat system, it's not really full on action like I had assumed it would be. The simple fact is, it's basically a turn based battle, that plays out with more control in real time. Basically it is all about switching between attack mode and defensive mode, and watching the enemy movements as you plan out your attack. The MP bar controls how much you can dodge, warp, and even the special attacks that are selected with a menu and used by pressing Triangle (it is basically the command system first seen in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, but with attacks tied to your weapons rather than having the option of switching them out freely). The game has quite a bit of waiting involved, and at first it just felt very clunky to me. I didn't know what I was doing, enemies were running from me, I was having issues hitting the wolf things, and the enemy soldiers that fly in from overhead (this game's version of a random battle as it seems) were just destroying me. Of course you can be revived by your party members, but each time your max hp lowers up until you run out and need to rest at an inn or camp. Still, this combat system was a challenge for me, and I didn't really care for it at first. Then, I started giving it a chance.

As I played the game more, I started to see just how much detail and character they put into this. Even with a framerate that drops from time to time (remember it's just a demo), and with it running only in 900P, the game itself looks pretty amazing. It's not really a bright and shiny game, but instead it uses light in a more realistic way which causes some things to look a bit darker, and more like how you would expect things to be in real life. At first it may not look all that impressive, but as you start to look around and actually see the things that they've done, and just how detailed the textures really are up close, you begin to see how good it actually is. First glance is a dull dusty world, but a deeper look shows off something much more real. That's not really what I found impressive though, but rather it's something I expected. We knew this game would look good, but what did catch me off guard is how much they actually put into the world itself to make it feel alive.

The monsters in this game are the wildlife, and they act just as a wild animal should. Some of the dangerous ones will attack you on sight, but others will only attack if you upset them, or harm them first. The area in this demo is basically an open field with a small forest area, a lake, and cliffs, and the animals (monsters) in it really seem to fit the setting. It's not something you notice at first, but when you realize this place is their home, and that they aren't just randomly spawning enemies, it is actually pretty nice to see what Square has done. For example as you try to walk through the brush (which will obstruct your camera, and make it hard to walk), sometimes enemies will be hiding in wait for you and attack you when you least expect it. It gives you the sense of danger, and causes you to always be on guard just as you would if you were walking through such areas in real life. You never know what is out there that might get you, or you never know who's nest you might trample through by mistake. Typically enemies in these type of games are just there, but in Final Fantasy XV, it really does make sense -- something I personally would like to see more games do, at least, I'd like to see them do it more on this level.

Although the enemy placement is nice and all, the thing that really stood out to me in this demo while I was exploring was the characters themselves. They interact with the world in a way I wasn't expecting, and they also talk among themselves as they explore. Rather than discussing the story's events as you get closer to your goals (like we see in most games), the characters in Final Fantasy XV bring up a wide verity of subjects, and it's more based on location than your progress. Sure they'll mention something about needing to fix their car from time to time, but for the most part everyone is more interested in what is in front of them. If they see something they are interested in they may call you over, but at other times they may see something and wonder just what it actually is -- such as the old abandoned building not too far from the game's gas station. It's pretty impressive to see just how much dialogue there is though, despite this being such a short demo. One really nice touch of detail though, actually comes from the gas station itself. As strange as it may be to stand in a 50s style gas station with cars driving by and parking out front, it actually was one of the highlights of the demo for me. The gas station itself had so much character, and walking around listening to what people had to say was nice. You can even stay in the trailer next to it for a small fee, and when you wake up in the morning you'll find your party members out doing their own thing. Walking into the gas station you'll find one talking to the guy behind the counter (who will then wish Noct a good morning), while the others will be out doing whatever it is they want to do. Each one will realize Noctis has just woken up, and even Noct himself will say "morning" to them from time to time. After being used to staying at inns just to heal, and the game not even realizing it, seeing this small detail make it in really threw me off, and it is easily one of my favorite moments I've come across so far (with the chocobo ranch playing the chocobo theme being a close second).

Originally when I started exploring this world, I felt a little bored. I didn't know what to do, combat was not what I wanted or expected, and I was having trouble finding things to even do. It took me awhile to realize there were side quests allover the place, and it wasn't until later that I realized there was even a dungeon and tons of hidden things to find and collect. I was just running around, doing nothing, wishing the game was something else. But then, as I started to really pay attention to the world around me, and started to see just how interactive it was and how much the party members and enemies were involved with it, it all began to change for me. The exploration went from being a running simulator, to a world I was being pulled into, and the entire game just started to click. Even the combat that felt like such a let down to me initially was something I began to understand! I started dodging, I started countering, I began pulling off crazy fast combos, I used my special attacks to clear mobs, I helped my fallen teammates, I warped high up onto towers and attacked the enemies from the air, I learned how to warp to and chase down them stupid wolves that were giving me problems, and I began leveling up and becoming stronger. I'm really not sure what changed, but the more I fought, the more I actually understood about the game, and before long I found myself having a lot of fun. It went from being something that annoyed me for not being what I wanted, to a combat system that I personally cannot wait to see more of.

Really, Final Fantasy XV's demo isn't something you can just judge by looking at it. It's a massive open world filled with life, and features a combat system that is basically an action version of a turn based battle. It still requires a lot of planning, but you're just in control of when you move and attack, It's fast and fun, but at the same time it isn't a button masher where you can hammer away and hope for the best. It's something you really have to experience for yourself to judge it, and even then it's something you need to spend more than five minutes with. As for the car, although I couldn't drive it, I quickly saw just how important it was. Of course the car's something you'll use more on the highway (I seriously doubt you'd be able to drive it through the forest and what not), but this demo makes it clear just how important it will be. Sure, you can walk, but trust me when I say that you don't want to. Although the demo is just a small confined area (which is actually pretty massive on it's own), more of the game is in this than what exists within the mountains and invisible walls blocking your path. By throwing myself into an oncoming car (as I did during our live stream), you can push yourself past that wall, and enter the unfinished outside. Here you'll find VERY long highways, massive hills, and tons of filed for you to trek through. After running for about 20 minutes or so, up until the game realized I had activated a glitch and gave me a game over, I quickly found myself wishing I could drive as getting anywhere in this massive world will take forever. It is simply huge. (Just imagine walking from one end of the map to the other in a game like Just Cause 2...)

So yeah, after who knows how many hours with the demo, I've come to realize that Final Fantasy XV is something I MUST play. At first I was let down, but now all that demo did was make the wait for the full game even longer. I had a lot of fun just running around, fighting, and exploring in that small area, and I can't wait to see the massive world in the full game... Darn you game over screen, if only you would have let me continue on past them barriers...

No comments :