Final Fantasy XV PlayStation 4 Review: End of the Road

It's finally here, but is it good?

Review by Kat Bailey, .

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Sometimes it can be nice to just stare at Final Fantasy XV's gorgeous landscapes.

The final evolution

That brings me to the part of the game that I'm most uncertain about: the combat.

Jeremy offered a very good overview of Final Fantasy XV's combat system in his three-part diary preview, but to summarize, it's a timing-based action system with some very light tactics. Playing as Noctic, you can wield a wide variety of weapons and magic, warp around the field, and generally play havoc with your powers. Your companions, meanwhile, are controlled by the AI, though you can call upon them to use abilities that can down enemies or clear out crowds.

At its best, it feels surprisingly elegant. Holding Square or X, Noctis can dodge through attacks and counter, which serves as the crux of the system. If you can get in behind an enemy, you can activate a Blindside Link attack that will bring in your party members to do a crushing amount of damage. It feels great when everything is clicking, and absolutely crushing an opponent with the help of your friends is immensely satisfying.

The combat is backed by a series of skill trees that can be unlocked with special AP points. It's confusing and messy in the way that it mixes all four characters into each tree, but it does let you go in some interesting directions depending on your combat strategy. For example, I saved up and invested in Advanced Deathblows and the Overwhelm ability, enabling me to perform a kind of crude alpha strike on powerful enemies. Other abilities open up essential dodge abilities, help you gain more XP, and allow you to further power up your magic.

The rub is that it's too forgiving for its own good. I only received one Game Over in the course of my time with Final Fantasy XV, and that was against one of the final bosses. Most of the time, you can just pop potions when your health drops down to the zero and you'll be right as rain. Even if you get knocked out, you can still use a Phoenix Down. This makes pretty much all of the fights a battle of attrition, with victory being pretty much assured if you stock up enough items.

I've been wrestling with whether or not this ruins the game; and truthfully, I don't really have an answer. While the mechanics lower the stakes and the tension a lot, the battles are clearly much more than just rote hack-and-slash, which I appreciate. The tougher boss battles require you to experiment with different weapons, to use the environment to your advantage, and to make smart use of your companion's abilities. These are all good things.

Even after 35 hours, I'm still not sure if I hate the combat.

Of course, a lot of the crazier battles do ultimately devolve into chaos as pyrotechnics fill the screen and you warp about trying to keep your partners on their feet. Big boss fights can be frustrating in that regard, as the camera isn't always up to the task of making sense of it all. But I nevertheless found it reassuring that when I decided to take a calmer, more tactical approach rather than simply rushing in, I usually found success. But even if I did poorly, which happened on occasion, I could still muddle through with the help of my items.

I think the cynical view to take of the system is that it's kind of the worst of all worlds: a messy combat system that feels overwhelming at first but isn't actually as deep as it looks. Magic, for instance, has been streamlined beyond recognition, with the only spells being fire, ice, and lightning attacks—a far cry from the wide range Final Fantasy fans are used to. True, you can choose how powerful they are, and you can also mix them with items to imbue them with various status effects, but I still found myself missing familiar favorites like Meteor. And yes, I'm aware of the ring and its powers, but they are more limited than I would like. The more charitable view, on the other hand, is that Square Enix has managed to craft a battle system that complements the story and the exploration without feeling too light or repetitive.

The key to understanding Final Fantasy XV is realizing that Square Enix wants to make the series as accessible to the mainstream public as possible. That's obvious enough in the various quicktime setpieces, which remind me more of action games like Bayonetta than the average RPG (I think Witcher 3 may have also had QTEs, to be fair). At one point I found myself in a turret shooting up a mech and thinking, "What is this? Titanfall?" There are points when the battle system goes entirely by the wayside and you're suddenly in something akin to Asura's Wrath, the famously bonkers QTE action game by Capcom.

Sometimes Ignis or Gladio will drag Noctis out of bed early for a little sidequesting... or cooking.

But for anyone who wants to cry foul, realize that Final Fantasy has been trending in this direction since the seventh game first introduced cutscenes. Above all else, Final Fantasy is meant to be a spectacle, and Final Fantasy XV very much embodies that approach. This is just the final evolution of that.

And you know what? I'm fine with it.

Final Fantasy XV's casual exploration and thoughtful structure was what ultimately won me over, lending texture to both the world and the characters inhabiting it. Prompto's photos are a stroke of genius, offering ten pictures that you can pick through and save at the end of each day. They really put the journey into context, and when you look through them in the latter part of the game, you can't help feeling like you've come a long way.

Thoughtful touches like these really make the game for me, and the bite-sized structure made it easy for me to sit back, relax, and explore while getting to know the characters. Even the combat was fun, mostly because my priorities shifted from surviving to being as efficient and stylish as possible. It was all very pleasant, and while one dungeon in particular really outstayed its welcome, there was hardly a moment where I wanted to turn it off and stop playing.

The real miracle of Final Fantasy XV is the fact that it hangs together as well as it does. Having gone through so many teardowns and iterations, it was definitely at risk of feeling like an unfocused mess. Structurally, though, it's surprisingly coherent, and technically speaking, it holds up very well. In short, director Hajime Tabata and his team are miracle workers. Hopefully this means Tabata will get a crack at the next game in the series: he deserves a fresh start and a chance to build his vision from the ground up. But even if he doesn't, he and his team should get all the credit in the world for taking such a benighted project and turning it into something worth playing.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Interface: The various skill trees try to incorporate all four characters into one messy structure, which makes it painful and overwhelming to plan out your character development. It's not always obvious that you need to hold down L2 for an extended period of time to get a summon.
  • Lasting appeal: I've heard reports that just the first six chapters can offer up to 70 hours of exploration. Playing normally, my run was closer to 35 hours. I expect that will be about the average, though it may leave you a little underleveled.
  • Sound: Final Fantasy's famously high-quality soundtrack is back in full force. When those latin vocals get going in the big battles, you will almost certainly start getting goosebumps. But here's a protip: Stick with the Japanese voice track.
  • Visuals: Final Fantasy XV's terrain is a real treat, even if its character models are less attractive. It certainly measure up to some of the best this generation has to offer.

I was really skeptical that Final Fantasy XV could ever be successful; but despite some real flaws, it ultimately won me over. I warmed to the characters over the course of many camping trips, found more than I was expecting in the open world, and even enjoyed the bombastic setpieces. I have no doubt that it will be harshly criticized in some circles, but it also has some real merit. Stick with it even if you find yourself rolling your eyes at the opening hours: You may be surprised by how much you end up enjoying yourself.

4 /5

Final Fantasy XV PlayStation 4 Review: End of the Road Kat Bailey It's finally here, but is it good? 2016-11-28T15:00:00-05:00 4 5

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Comments 36

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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #1 VotesForCows A year ago
    Only 32 hours left until I can play it!
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #2 Kuni-Nino A year ago
    I see the score. I see the nice words. But why do I feel like the game isn't very good? I feel like there's a lot of caveats being thrown around to justify that score.

    Hopefully I end up liking it. I think it sounds pretty good. I also think I'm in for some very long debates in the next few years.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #3 brionfoulke91 A year ago
    Well it looks excellent to me. I'm really looking forward to trying it!

    Finally I can have more than one game for my PS4!Edited November 2016 by brionfoulke91
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #4 cldmstrsn A year ago
    From what i have heard about the next FF is that it also has been in development for awhile and by none other than my favorite director Hiroyuki Ito. Cant wait to see what he dreams up for XVI.
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  • Avatar for Vanderdulpp #5 Vanderdulpp A year ago
    Glad to hear that it's worth playing! I've never played a FF game, but when I saw footage of this one, it struck me that it's basically how I imagined all games of the future would look as a kid. Was curious if the combat or controls have improved since the initial demo that was open to the American public? I wasn't too hot on them, then.
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  • Avatar for Gamer-Law #6 Gamer-Law A year ago
    @Kuni-Nino - Well said. Every review that I read seems to downplay its praise by infusing heavy doses of caution. Kat's review highlights what I believe will be the game's most glaring flaw--the combat system. I suspect this will end up being among the most controversial FF installments.Edited November 2016 by Gamer-Law
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #7 cldmstrsn A year ago
    Having played the japanese demo judgement disc I can say that at least for me that the combat system is very good. Flows very well and has surprising depth. Everyone will of course have a different opinion but thats my 2 cents.Edited November 2016 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #8 cldmstrsn A year ago
    @Vanderdulpp yes the combat has improved miles ahead of the duscae demo in fact you could say its almost entirely different.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #9 Kat.Bailey A year ago
    @Gamer-Law The core of the game is very good, and that's why it works, in my opinion. But yes, it does have its flaws. I spent 3000 words on the review because I came away thinking, "I loved it! ... Why did I love it?"

    Suffice it to say that there's a lot going on with this one.
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  • Avatar for TheWildCard #10 TheWildCard A year ago
    Looks like reception is fairly mixed, but pretty positive overall. I'm especially surprised most reviewers are saying the game does have an emotional core that works, which I wasn't expecting SE to deliver. So kudos to them. Hopefully it doesn't take another decade to get XVI.
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  • Avatar for SIGGYZtar #11 SIGGYZtar A year ago
    "Sound: Final Fantasy's famously high-quality soundtrack is back in full force. When those latin vocals get going in the big battles, you will almost certainly start getting goosebumps. But here's a protip: Stick with the Japanese voice track."

    Does it get quite creepy with the English dub due to horror movies? Or is the Japanese voice track better for the music due to the contrasts?
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #12 cldmstrsn A year ago
    @TheWildCard I think the days of square taking forever to release games is over. I think they have really learned their lesson and im sure the first part of VII remake will be out next year and I bet you we will see XVI by 2018.Edited November 2016 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for Jeremiah-Jones #13 Jeremiah-Jones A year ago
    It seems like a lot better than I would have expected.

    Two questions: In regards to chocobo customization, what can we expect here? Different armors and or feather looks, or spoilers, neon-lights, and hydraulics? Either way, I'm excited for this game in a way that I haven't been since XII.

    How is dodging, and evasion? I remember a pet peeve in XII for me was that when I ran from a monster, he'd be able to hit me with a physical attack several feet away from where the animation took place.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #14 Kat.Bailey A year ago
    @Jeremiah-Jones You can name it and choose different feathers.

    Dodging and evasion generally works well. It's not quite up the level of a conventional action game, of course, but still pretty natural
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  • Avatar for jayzii #15 jayzii A year ago
    I look forward to spending some time with this one and digging into the combat systems. I've seen some people make it look like a lot of fun (I've also seen some people make it look terrible). It's disappointing that nobody seems too hot on the overall story, but I'm looking forward to the road trip atmosphere.

    Most of all, I'm ready for the series to move on, and I'm excited for what is new and next. I think a decade is long enough to wallow in the universe of FFXIII and its spin-offs.
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  • Avatar for Jeremiah-Jones #16 Jeremiah-Jones A year ago
    @Kat.Bailey That's good to hear.
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #17 Vonlenska A year ago
    "Too forgiving" sounds good to me. My biggest problem with XII* was finding it wwwwaaaay too grindy, and the weird micromanagement didn't help. I can't tell if XV is too different in that regard, but its combat is at least more entertaining to watch.

    * I, um, skipped XIII. Maybe someday I'll give it a shot, just to see what it's like.
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #18 chaoticBeat A year ago
    I'm possibly alone here but I prefer 35 hours for completion to 70. I can't really tell if this game is for me yet.
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  • Avatar for Gamer-Law #19 Gamer-Law A year ago
    @Kat.Bailey Your review was both fair and insightful. I appreciated learning what you enjoyed about the game as well as where you believe it to have fallen short. I am going into the game with an open mind and hope to enjoy it as much as you did. Thanks again for the great work.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #20 cldmstrsn A year ago
    Does this FF have new game +?
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #21 VotesForCows A year ago
    @cldmstrsn I'm glad to hear you think the combat system is good! You always seem to have good taste in that area.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #22 link6616 A year ago
    @Kat.Bailey the "why did I love it" sounds a lot like a gestalt experience to me.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #23 touchofkiel A year ago
    Iffy combat, wonky narrative, good character development, and a thoughtful, polished take on open-world RPG design... exactly what I was expecting, actually! In a good way.

    But if it's not your cup of tea, and you're still itching for some FF goodness, I have to be the guy to recommend FFXIV. Don't be scared of MMOs, guys! It's such an awesome FF game. We have a Gold Saucer! And Ultros! And Triple Triad! My FC (clan) turned our house into a chocobo. A chocobo!
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #24 cldmstrsn A year ago
    @VotesForCows Thanks! Thats very nice and appreciated but I have to say there isnt a FF battle system I dont like so maybe im a little biased haha.
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  • Avatar for TerryTrowbridge #25 TerryTrowbridge A year ago
    I'm excited to give it a whirl. I've been wanting a high budget JRPG for a while.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #26 VotesForCows A year ago
    @cldmstrsn I missed most of them from about 6 through to 13, but have loved the ones I did play. Enjoying FF14 a lot right now, and absolutely adored the combat in Lightning Returns! Anyway, not long til I get to try FF15 now...
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  • Avatar for himuradrew #27 himuradrew A year ago
    A friend of mine forwarded me photos from a local game shop where she was in line to buy FFXV. And holy crap the line was long. People, especially who did not reserve copies where whining to the high heavens.

    To put this in context, I live here in Asia where you very rarely see lines for games. The last time we had lines like these was for the launch of the N3DSXL where quantity was in short supply. Goes to show how much power the Final Fantasy brand name still has here in my country.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #28 VotesForCows A year ago
    @touchofkiel I have to back you up on this. I'm clearly not as big a FF fan as a lot of others in the comments, but I adore FF14. I mean, the combat and quests are great, but who'd have thought collecting flowers could be so much fun too?
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #29 cldmstrsn A year ago
    @VotesForCows hey what server do you play on FF XIV? my old guild disbanded and im looking to start up again when the new expansion drops.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #30 VotesForCows A year ago
    @cldmstrsn Siva, I think. It's one of the European ones. I'm guessing you're on a North American one?The new expansion looks cool, though I'm still a long way off finishing even the vanilla main quest!
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  • Avatar for mischiefmaker #31 mischiefmaker A year ago
    Sorry but this, along with other reviews, have been far too damn charitable. The game basically plays itself, and is literally a different genre now. Every single review talks about how the core competent of the series, strategic turn based combat is essentially better. That the combat here is thin, and generally plays itself.

    This is really a betrayal of the genre and the fans to appeal to the casuals who don't want depth and turn based combat. But because the game is pretty, as it should be after 10 years, it gets 8's from all the sites? Ridiculous. The fact so many people are ok with this series literally switching genre's is insulting and perplexing. The apathy is amazing.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #32 cldmstrsn A year ago
    @mischiefmaker jeez man. Havent you read any of the interviews or anything surrounding this game? The series hasnt "switched" genres. This one FF has a different combat system and multiple people from Square have said just because this game is like this doesnt mean other ones will follow suit. Its getting good reviews because its its own game and is judged on that so to me that says wow its actually a really fun game and it really is! Having played some already im in love with it just like all the other FF's I have played for 30 years.

    You know how many people I know who said the exact same thing about FF VII back when it released? They were pissed that it had future tech and were yelling to the skies that it wasnt FF. So we have been here before and there will always be people saying "this isnt FF!! argghhh"Edited 4 times. Last edited November 2016 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for mischiefmaker #33 mischiefmaker A year ago
    @cldmstrsn Yes I have, and I was happy with this game remaining a spin off, which is what it was supposed to be. As soon as they unveiled the action combat, I knew it was over. And sure enough the reviews show exactly that. But I guess people want flash over substance. Just hold down a button and the game plays itself! 4 lousy summons, that show up when they fell like it? How can long time fans think this is anything but a slap in the face? Unreal.

    I was around for FF7, it was not that big a deal, even FF6 had advanced tech. It was accepted because it was a classic turn based RPG still. This is a *different genre*. It is literally an action game. I am deeply amazed how many people accept this as being perfectly ok when there is such a lack of AAA turn based RPG's anymore. The issue is the mechanics, not the damn characters or technology. It's not even the same genre anymore!

    Please believe that they are going to switch back to complex turn based mechanics if they can get most of the fans to enjoy a superficial, thin, action game which is vastly easier to make with these visuals, and then just go back and make the next game the genre it is supposed to be which isn't currently in vogue. They did this to appeal to casuals and because modern gaming tastes require big AAA titles to all basically be action games.

    They aren't going back. They are already ruining FF7 with similar action combat.Edited 2 times. Last edited November 2016 by mischiefmaker
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #34 chaoticBeat A year ago
    Deleted November 2016 by chaoticBeat
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  • Avatar for docexe #35 docexe A year ago
    Reading this one and a couple of other reviews, it seems to me that FFXV is destined to become one of the most polarizing games of the entire franchise (which then again, might have been inevitable given its tumultuous development).

    For me the major concern isn’t the battle system or the open world first half (which on the whole seem to have been warmly received), but the more linear second half of the main storyline. Given what I have read, it sounds like that part is... well, kind of a mess.

    Some reviewers have pointed out that it feels like a completely different game that was tacked on. There is even a reviewer (I think it was at Polygon) who commented that it looks like Tabata’s development team had bigger plans for the second half of the storyline but they finally run out of time and had to rush it (which, again, wouldn’t be surprising considering the development cycle). Then again, many are also praising the ending of the story, so I suppose it’s not all bad.

    In any case, despite that trepidation I’m still willing to play it (that is, if I ever get a PS4). The open world part do sounds very enticing and big budget games that have what you could call “the classic Japanese flair and charm of old” are pretty rare these days.
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  • Avatar for The-Challenger #36 The-Challenger A year ago
    At least that annoying Break meter is finally gone. May it burn in hell.
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  • Avatar for Zenbojay #37 Zenbojay A year ago
    If Square/Enix had named this game anything other than Final Fantasy I would have been OK with it but instead i'm playing Grand Theft Auto or Assassin Creed or Dragon Age or any other sandbox search everywhere and everything game in a Final Fantasy style motif. I feel like the developers have forgotten what makes a great FF and basically made a cookie cutter game in hopes to satisfy everyone instead of their core audience.

    Don't get me wrong because I'm really enjoying everything about the game .... It's fun it's just not Final Fantasy
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