PAX West 16: Final Fantasy XV Hands-On Preview – Much Improvement (PS4)
The hype for Final Fantasy XV is unbelievably strong thanks to Square Enix’s monster hype machine. Their marketing teams love cranking on that handle, and they are setting the expectations for FFXV rather high. The last time Square Enix really did that with a new FF game was Final Fantasy XIII, and the community is extremely mixed in regards to that title. With everyone really frothing for the Final Fantasy VII Remake, the pressure is really on Square Enix to get this right and do it well. The last time I got my hands on FFXV was from the demo, Episode Duscae, and I came away from that feeling overwhelmed and puzzled at what Square Enix was trying to do with this new installment. At PAX West, I was able to sit down with the game for over an hour (when they finally kicked me out), and I was blown away with how much they have improved the gameplay since Episode Duscae.
Get Me to the Church on Time
My play session appeared to start at the very beginning, or at least rather close to it. Prince Noctis is being sent away to the city of Altissia to marry childhood friend Lady Lunafreya. He hasn’t seen her since they were kids, but he has enough fond memories to be cool with the arranged marriage. His three best friends, Gladiolus, Prompto, and Ignis, are all escorting him to his final destination. It also just happens that these three best friends are members of the Crownsguard, and therefore, they’re suited to escort the crown prince. Not sure why his father isn’t going too, as it is his son’s wedding, but I suppose we’ll learn more on that when the game releases.
Not long after the foursome departs in the Regalia vehicle, the darn thing breaks down. The four of them push the car to Cid’s garage (you knew there would be a Cid), and while Cid does promise to get the Regalia up in running on time, he takes all of their money to do so. So instead of waiting and drinking coffee, the four agree to do oddjobs to raise more money. Cid has a few ideas, namely to kill a bunch of varmints rustlin’ up his property.
There are three bunches of such varmints, and with each group, the game teaches the player a bit about the action-based combat. If you played Episode Duscae, most of these game mechanics were thrown at you from the beginning, many didn’t make sense, and even more were frustrating to implement. It’s never a good idea to present everything at the beginning, especially when combat is as complicated as it usually is in a FF game. It doesn’t use any of the mechanics from previous games, so there isn’t any prior knowledge to fall back on. Fortunately, it seems that Square Enix figured this out and learned how to teach players the basics of combat. Now that the QTE mechanics, party member attacks, MP usage, stealth attacks, and defense are spread out in introduction, it’s far easier to digest and far more fun to play as a result.
Time Really Is Everything
While FFXV doesn’t have a countdown clock with the time running like Final Fantasy XIII – Lightning Returns annoyingly did, the time of day does have significance in the game. When night comes, strong and powerful daemons appear, and unless the party has a lantern, it is pitch black outside, just like it would normally be. The daemons are too strong to fight, but players can avoid them by setting up a camp at designated campsites. The daemons will not come near the campfire, but that’s only one perk of camping.
Ignis is a master chef, and if you gather the proper ingredients throughout your adventures, he can whip up a delicious meal that will award status boosts the following morning. For example, during my session, Ignis had three recipes I could choose from (he will learn more recipes throughout the game), and each had unique status boosts. I chose the vegetable medley stew, as it awarded more HP and stronger attack stats.
Camping is also the only time when the party can reap the benefits from all XP earned that day. The group will learn new abilities by spending AP earned through quests, and those can be redeemed in the Astralphere at any time. At camp, all XP earned from the day is tallied toward leveling up, which in turn increases each character’s stats. It’s a unique method for leveling up, and I’m not completely sold on it yet. Perhaps it will all come together with more game time, or perhaps it’s an attempt at making camp more whimsical. I could see it going either way.
Now if the party is driving the Regalia at night, they don’t have to camp. The caveat is that Ignis will not drive at night due to the daemon activity. I always made Ignis drive during the day so I wouldn’t have to take the wheel, as I loathe driving in video games. But when night falls, he puts his foot down. If you hate driving, keep an eye on the time of day so you can scope out a campsite.
After getting my hands on FFXV at PAX West, I am finally confident that this game will be worthy of the Final Fantasy name. If these tweaks and bits of polish on the gameplay are why they keep delaying the game, I am more than happy to let the game cook to perfection.