I've written quite a lot about Final Fantasy XV based on the near-final preview version of the game Square Enix has shared with the press, but I'll be honest: It hasn't really gone the way I expected.
Catch up on the FFXV Travel Diary:
- Part One: Against All Odds (general demo thoughts)
- Part Two: Force Your Way (notes on the combat system)
- Part Three: Authentic Road Trip (on getting about the game world)
I figured I'd be able to dash through the first five chapters of the game (roughly one-third to one-half of the final version, I speculate entirely through inference and deduction) in fairly short order and would be happy to be done with it. In practice, though, FFXV has proven to be a much larger — and far more enjoyable — RPG than I would have expected. Comparisons to The Witcher III probably wouldn't be out of line here: You traverse a huge land, accept optional bounties to take down roaming monsters, and fight by means of an RPG-inflected real-time combat system. Still, this game nevertheless retains its own personality, combining familiar open-world conventions with familiar Final Fantasy standards... as well as a healthy dose of unique elements to keep things lively.
My play time with the game has passed the 15-hour mark, which appears to be the point at which others playing this build had powered through to the end of the five-part demo. I... didn't quite get that far; I'm still just a little ways into Chapter Three, in fact. I spent about three hours with the game following my third write-up and barely made a dent on progressing the plot... and that was only by accident. I didn't realize I had set my waypoint for the city where the next story event took place (having turned off that particular quest marker straightaway) and ended up triggering the next key cut scene quite by mistake.
And that was OK, because the next plot sequence didn't involve a dungeon or a pitched battle; it consisted of Prince Noctis sightseeing his way through the streets of a European-style city with his friend's sister. From there I'm meant to head to a dungeon and find another of the prince's mystical weapons; which is fine, but much less interesting to me than the prospect of wandering around the remainder of the Duscae province, which incidentally turns out to be quite a bit larger than the desolate Liede and contains many more points of interest to uncover.
At the same time, I didn't really experience any shocking new revelations about the game or story in my most recent play sessions (mostly I wandered around the countryside on chocobo-back). So, rather than presenting an in-depth thesis with which to wrap this preview series, instead I'd like to end my time with FFXV (until November 29, that is) with a series of scattered observations, details, and comments.
1. It's not entirely an all-American road trip
While I've really enjoyed the authentic detail with which the first few areas of Final Fantasy XV capture the experience of traveling by car around the U.S., the overall feel of the world changes once you get out of the low lands and into the upper regions of Duscae around the city of Lestallum. Here, the world begins to feel more European in a lot of respects: The scenery, the road that consists of a tunnel cut into the side of a mountain, and above all the city of Lestallum itself. With its tall stone buildings, bustling open markets, and lived-in feel, Lestallum seems most heavily inspired by the cities of Italy and the south of France.
This doesn't cause the game to feel incoherent or patchwork. On the contrary, it simply makes FFXV's world feel larger and more varied. There's that trick in open-world games where traveling the equivalent of a real-world trip to the mall can feel like a huge, rambling journey, and Lestallum is separated from the lowlands by winding, indirect roads that add more transit time to your drive. You can't simply cut cross-country to get there, even by chocobo: A massive chasm separates Lestallum from the southern reaches of Duscae, forcing you to take the long route. Again, like the limitations on fast-travel, this is one of those design decisions that seems potentially counterintuitive or even annoying on the face of it, but which in practice helps to better define the game world's sense of place.
2. The Cup Noodles thing is weird
A few real-world brands show up in FFXV, and it doesn't quite work. We all got a laugh about the Coleman camping equipment (which is still present from the Episode Duscae demo), but the prominence of Cup Noodles — you know, the instant ramen snack — feels pretty out of place. Especially in Lestallum, where a Cup Noodles food truck sits prominently on the main thoroughfare, prompts a conversation within the party, and inspires Ignis to add Cup Noodles to his repertoire of recipes. It's not bad, just a little silly and conspicuous.
3. Fast travel exists, just not the way it does in most open-world games
After my last write-up, several people contacted me to let me know that Final Fantasy XV does have fast travel. So, my apologies: It seems I wasn't entirely clear about the way it works here. Basically, fast travel works, but only if you're in your car. You can pay to jump immediately to your car, or to have your car warped to where your party's current location. Once in your car, you can pay a nominal fee to jump immediately to another destination.
But, again, those shortcuts only allow you to go where your car can: To cities, rest stops, or roadside parking spots. You have to travel the rest of the way by foot or via chocobo. So while the game does include a time-saving shortcut, it's essentially a fast-forward for the standard automatic car navigation system that already exists. In other words, FFXV doesn't want to let its road trip metaphor slip: Travel centers around Regalia, and anywhere you can't get by car requires slugging it on foot.