There are worse places to get stuck in a car than on Lucis’ sun-drenched roads. “Picturesque” does not cover the symbiotic qualities of these mountains, large lakes and patchwork. No wonder a member of your entourage, consisting of Noctis, the heir to the throne of Lucis, and his three friends and bodyguards, will routinely ask you to stop the car so he can take a picture.
It’s the eve of the prince’s wedding and instead of sloshing drunkenly through a coastal town, he and his friends hit the open road in their ridiculously sleek and muscular car, the Regalia. It’s a curious vehicle choice for a series defined by its fabulous airships and fantastic giant chicken rows, but over time it makes sense. This is a contemporary set Final Fantasy, complete with sat navs, cell phones and motels. What better way to evoke the ghost of the series’ guest in the modern age than through the conceit of a road trip?
Not that you have a lot of freedom to ride wherever you want. The Regalia must stay on the roads in Final Fantasy XV—the latest in a very long line of role-playing games dating back to the NES – and while it’s possible to take the wheel yourself, the simplistic controls mean you’re more likely to hand over a driver’s duties to Ignis, the most mature member of the group, and sit back to enjoy the view instead.
The open road
If the setting is clearly exquisite, the business is more of an acquired taste. There’s a sensible Ignis, who cooks meals for the group every time you set up camp for the night, and whose troubles and worries soon begin to roast. There’s hothead Gladio, whose tantrums can be exhausting (even if they sometimes give him an advantage in battle). And there’s Prompto, who howls and pulls like an excited puppy. As the four bond not only through freelance monster battle missions, which were picked up rather confusingly by the owners of the various cafes dotted around Lucis, but also in their often poignant moments of vulnerability (quiet moments of male bonding snatched on a motel roof, etc.) a sense of pleasant and enriching companionship develops.
These scenes are given room to breathe as the four men tour rather aimlessly in the first part of the game. The first few hours of the journey are spent exploring new sights and earning change (what you’ll need: Despite Noctis’s royal blood, he’s an impoverished prince and you’ll need to economise as you stock up on the latest weapons, armor and CDs. the car) from clearing tricky monsters, or undertaking various other types of often-blunting retrieval missions for the locals. Along the way, you’ll need to keep your pockets filled with life-giving potions and your car filled with petrol – although if you ever break down, a charming local mechanic will always come to tow you back to her garage. In this way, the game creates a fun, but curious rhythm, one that, with its four black leather-clad protagonists toiling their way through the desert, feels very different from any other open-world game.
Final Fantasy XV operates on a regular day and night cycle, a system that has a much greater effect than just changing the quality of light. Once night falls, Lucis’s roads are plundered by towering, high-level monsters who, until you’ve beaten the game, will destroy your party if you try to defeat them. For this reason, you are constantly urged to take refuge at the end of each day, rather than wander dangerously. There are many different types of rest areas, from dingy trailer parks in the countryside, to waterfront spas, to luxury hotels in the center of Lestallum, the first town you visit. Your choice of stop is important. Experience earned in battle or by completing missions is stored in a jar and is only stored by your squad when you sleep. The quality of the establishment you stay at will determine the size of the multiplier applied to your experience. It may be cheaper to rest in a caravan park, but skimp and you’ll lose thousands of bonus points available at a more affluent establishment.
If you don’t have time to drive to the nearest hotel, there are also countless camping spots scattered around the world. What you lose in an experience multiplier, you gain on a full stomach. Every time you camp in the wild, Ignis, the cook of the group, offers to make a meal for the gang. You’ll need ingredients, but if they’re in your inventory, there’s a wide variety of possible repasts. These imbue each team member with temporary status effects that last for varying amounts of time the next day, and can provide a crucial advantage when you’re about to face a stronger enemy. Each team member also has their own favorite recipes and when they eat them, their techniques can randomly progress faster or yield critical bonus hits as long as the effects of the meal last.
Ignis isn’t the only team member with a burgeoning hobby. Prompto is a photographer who incessantly takes snapshots of the group’s exploits, and who also routinely asks you to pose next to landmarks. Just as Ignis’ recipe book grows during the adventure, so does Prompto’s ability as a photographer increase each time you rest. Once you get to Lestrallum, you can even take on a series of side jobs as a freelance magazine photographer, a pursuit that offers one of the most enjoyable side missions in the game. At the end of each day, Prompto shows you its camera roll and you can save your favorites. The snapshots may seem a bit of a gimmick in the early stages of the game, but at the end of the adventure they present a wonderful account of the journey.
fighting the good fight
The novelty extends from the game’s structure to the action-heavy combat. Noctis is a swift-footed, acrobatic fighter, able to “phase” through enemy attacks while holding the defense button. Its standout maneuver, however, is the ability to hurl any of its four equipped weapons and instantly warp it wherever it lands. When locked onto an enemy, a blade warp is converted into an offensive move known as a warp strike. The damage caused by a warp attack increases with distance, encouraging you to fly in between attacks and retreat from battle. He can also use the trick to hang from the landscape and survey the battlefield from a higher vantage point. While suspended from a point deformation spot, Noctis slowly recovers his health, while his MP (magic points) meter, which is used to pay for warping and phasing, is instantly replenished.
In some ways it is a simpler system than in the previous one Final Fantasy spell. Noctis will attack enemies automatically as long as the attack button is pressed or interrupted by an enemy attack. You can trigger attacks as long as he has MP in the tank – although once this gauge is depleted, you can’t move until one of your three comrades taps you on the shoulder. Parries allow better players to take out enemies faster, while the vast array of weapon types available to you from the get-go allows you to tailor your approach in each battle to your enemy’s weaknesses. If the damage value is shown in orange when hitting an enemy, it indicates a weakness for that weapon class, while purple indicates it can withstand the attacks.
Ignis has the ability to identify enemies’ affinities and weaknesses, giving you the chance to equip Noctis with the right weapons before any blows are dealt. But despite these aids to improve readability, the chaos of the battlefield becomes disorienting when you’re up against larger groups and bosses, especially as the camera struggles to keep the relevant action in view.