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10. Prompto's selfie game levels up as you play
Prompto loves taking photos, and if you allow him he'll cheerfully snap shots of your journey as you travel. The more he does this, the better he gets at it. Well, sort of — his shutterbug A.I. could use a few pointers on composition and framing. As he shoots, though, his unique personal photography skill gains levels, and the higher the level you reach, the more filters you unlock for his work. You'll also gain additional options, like the ability to have him shoot random selfies, or to focus his efforts on capturing a particular team member.
11. You can gain experience and AP by riding around on chocobo or in Regalia
One of the smartest things you can do to boost your team-building efforts is to take a cache of AP — job points, basically — and invest them into some of the support tiers of the Asension Grid. Sure, that's a given for RPGs like this, but you may be surprised by some of the things you can gain experience and AP for doing. My favorite is definitely just tooling around in your car or on a chocobo: With the right skill perk, you'll earn valuable experience just for taking a ride. Since you don't need to fight monsters while riding, this strikes a great balance between investing time (traveling the roads manually rather than using the fast-travel option) and saving time (you cover more ground more quickly while riding and don't have to fight every trash mob that pops up en route). In theory, you could rent a chocobo for a few in-game days and just zip back and forth across the map to grind for AP... though that would seem to miss the point. Better just to earn experience for making the journeys you need to undertake anyway; the AP adds up at a decent enough rate that the Ascension Grid investment more than pays for itself before long.
12. The more you ride your chocobo, the more awesome it becomes
Even if you don't opt for perks that boost AP or experience when you ride around the world, traveling via chocobo has its own intrinsic benefits (besides speeding up travel and helping you avoid monsters, that is). The longer you journey on the back of a gigantic bird, the better your rapport with the creature becomes. As you level up, you'll gain additional speed and stamina for sprinting on chocobo-back. You'll also acquire new combat skills.
No, you can't bring a chocobo into battle (your party's mounts will scurry back out of danger if you enter combat), but you can call a chocobo to perform a special attack for you. It begins with... the Chocobo Kick attack that served as Rydia's basic summon in Final Fantasy IV. It's the basic-level summon in FFXV, too. No, it's not presented as a capital-S-summon, but that's literally what it is — a nifty and subtle callback that emerges from the design of the game.
13. You sometimes team up with guest characters
FFXV centers around the story of Noctis and his three companions. Not just in terms of the basic narrative premise, but also in terms of play mechanics. As I've mentioned before, the Ascension Grid features a number of skills for Noctis's friends spread across its various tiers in a way that would make it difficult to replace any or all of them without severely compromising the fundamental design of the game. That's "difficult," not necessarily impossible. Still, I don't see much likelihood of any party member being replaced midway through; an Aerith-style death would leave a huge gap in the play systems, and a Galuf-style replacement would be awkward since (unlike in FFV) this team's skills are innate rather than conferred by a magical crystal.
That said, there have been a few times already where the supporting cast steps aside and lets Noctis venture out with a different character. Early on, Noctis teams up with his father's advisor Cor in order to break through an imperial barricade while Prompt, Gladiolus, and Ignis create a diversion to draw the enemy's fire. You have some limited control over Cor — you can issue a battle command for a special attack that depletes the action gauge — but otherwise he's completely computer-controlled. It works out about the same, though, since your companion usually run on A.I. anyway.
Once you reach Lestallum, you go wandering with Iris through the city. This sequence offers no combat opportunities, just strolling and conversing. A few dialogue prompts pop up, and your choices don't seem to affect any morality system or anything... but they do yield different rewards, either experience or AP. Neither of these scenarios has any lasting impact on the game, but they do mix things up a bit.
14. The world is full of seemingly useless areas to explore, and that's fine
If you choose to slog your way around FFXV's world by going offroad, you'll spend a lot of time traveling through the scenery. As I've mentioned before, the lay of the land does not work like most other open-world games; rather than consisting of dense scenery packed with things to do and places to go, its settlements and dungeons require some effort to reach. Supposedly the Just Cause 3 team came in to help out with FFXV's world design, and it definitely shows — it's a convincing, natural-feeling environment that unfolds at its own pace.
Even so, the land contains plenty of unique sights. Even if they don't have any gameplay purpose, they lend some variety to the scenery. There's a farm far to the south of Lestallum, for example, that doesn't contain anything besides some cooking ingredients to forage and possibly some hostile semi-feral livestock to battle. You have no reason to venture there at all, unless some later quest takes place there. Honestly, it's fine. Not every square inch of a video game has to serve some essential gameplay purpose, and in FFXV in particular the pointless bits fit the rambling, road trip feel of the adventure. Part of the fun of the game is simply venturing forth to see what's out there, and to get a better sense of its lived-in world.
15. 15 hours barely scratches the surface of the game
I could honestly go on for quite a while longer about FFXV. I haven't been this hooked on a game in years. Like everyone else who has played these first few chapters of the game, I have no idea how the final product will turn out, or if it will maintain my interest all the way through to the end. Still, that I've enjoyed it as much as I have for as long as I have already comes as a huge (and quite pleasant) surprise. This project has experience so much tumult over the past decade that I never really expected it to see the light of day — let alone to turn out so well.
It's hard to believe we're just four weeks away from its launch, but the proof is in the playing. There's a tough month ahead for me, waiting to get my hands on the final release of the game, but I'm happy to be going into this long-awaited RPG knowing that I'll enjoy what lies ahead for me.
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