Final Fantasy XV Episode Duscae Hands-On Impressions – It’s Real (PS4)

A lot can be said about Final Fantasy XV. The game has undergone a multitude of changes over the better part of a decade — between multiple refreshes, updated designs, a platform and name change — the game formally known as Final Fantasy Versus XIII has been through a lot. After nine years of waiting, however, the first playable portion of the game is finally playable to the public and as anyone could guess, expectations are high.

Admittedly, I already had a rough idea of what to expect going into Episode Duscae — the name of the demo which refers to the region you’ll be exploring during your playtime. Square Enix themselves spoiled a great deal of its content ahead of release in its various broadcasts, screenshots and trailers. It was certainly hard to avoid the media onslaught given my position. If anything — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — it would have been nice to see exercise a little more discretion. After all, the point of a demo is to give the player the opportunity to discover your game on their own, right?

That said, the demo is solid. From the start you’re whisked away into the soothing piano themes of Yoko Shimomura and a world perhaps not too far removed from our own. Duscae is a vast place peppered by realism and familiar objects such as cars, a gas station and normal looking people. The Final Fantasy elements are there too, of course. Once outside your camp where you’ll wake up at the start of the demo, you needn’t wander far before catching a glimpse at the unique creatures that populate the zone. It’s a stark contrast to some of the more recent titles in the series, which have relied more so on sci-fi or high fantasy settings. Fans of Final Fantasy VII or VIII will be right at home here.

As pretty as it is, the Duscae region is actually quite empty at the moment. Understandably the game is still a ways off from completion, but most of the time you’ll spend is walking around. Other transportation such as your car and Chocobos are disabled for story reasons for now, but with few enemy and quest types outside of the go here, do that or kill a number of enemies variety the world currently feels like it’s big just for the sake of it.

Aside from exploring and taking on the main quest of the demo, the bulk of your time will be spent messing around the game’s combat system. Final Fantasy XV is an action RPG and as a result battles occur in real time without transitioning to a separate instance. Each of your attacks are mapped to the controller’s buttons and actions such as dodging and parrying become important to survive. You won’t be rewarded for button mashing here. Combat is challenging and can be overtly so. Until you’re sufficiently leveled, enemies can take longer than is probably necessary to defeat and going into areas such as the demos lone dungeon ill-prepared will leave you unable to advance.

Final Fantasy XV’s demo is challenging, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. It forces you to think and manage things like character progression, stat buffs which can be acquired through camping and item use.

Visually, it’s clear things are early, as Director Hajime Tabata explained weeks ago, it’s not running at full HD resolution quite yet and frame drops occur all over the place for seemingly little reason. The other issue I ran into was the game’s camera. For all intents and purposes, it’s perhaps a little too close to the player character and as a result it can obstruct your view in closed spaces or tall foliage. The camera also tends to move a lot when you’re attempting to battle enemies, which can be very distracting when you’re trying to clear through quickly. It’s a small issue, but it’s there and something I hope they fix in the final game.