Final Fantasy XV is the homoerotic action packed boy band JRPG road trip I had hoped it would be for a long time. A personal look at nuanced masculinity from a tight knit group of emotionally diverse early twenties guys on a quest that’s on the surface about saving the world but in practice more about a group of mates sticking by each other through thick and thin. It can at times be weak on overall narrative strength, but it excels at interpersonal stories about a believable group of twenty something guys driving their car down long unending stretches or road.
So, let’s pull back a little and talk more general about what FF XV gets right and wrong.
Final Fantasy XV tells the Story of Noctis, a prince on a road trip with his friends toward an arranged marriage to his childhood best friend designed to broker peace between two warring nations. Very quickly this plan goes awry and Noctis is sent on a world saving quest to reclaim his own family’s throne.
While the overall narrative is grand and sprawling, the moment to moment adventure is a lot more about the small scale mundanity and group dynamics of a cross country road trip. Our gang of heroes stop at run down motels by the roadside, camp under the stars, cook on a roadside campfire and explore the world of small town outposts. As someone who was in a rock band in my teens with three teenage boys it felt very reminiscent of days spent trying to scrape together money for fuel, hiding friends in the trunk of the car when we ran out of seats, wedging kit all around ourselves and joking about meaningless rubbish while the radio blared. It really reminded me of the years I spend rolling around in a beat up car with my best friends trying to get by on no money and loving every minute of it.
As a prince without a home to return to your presence in the world feels entirely juxtaposed to the lives of the citizens you find yourself spending most of your time interacting with. Rolling into a small mechanics station on the side of a stretch of desert road in your pristine custom classic convertible is a sure fire way to get noticed. Honestly, I rather enjoyed the juxtaposition. It felt like a fish out of water adventure, one where your party is forced to actually learn about a world they spent their lives very much stood separated from.
As a relief for players who didn’t enjoy Final Fantasy XIII’s more linear narrative structure, XV opens up its world to you as a player very early on and allows you to explore and take on sidequests as you see fit. These side quests serve to flesh out the small scale worries of the world’s inhabitants and nicely showcase that there’s a living breathing world outside of end of the world politics. As a prince without a fortune, seeing Noctis and crew learn to make an honest living working for those they used to lord over creates a really interesting narrative dynamic when it comes to characterising our heroes on side quests.
So, let’s talk about your gang of friends slash bodyguards. Ignis is the brains of the operation, Gladiolus is the brawn, and Prompto is the light hearted comic relief who just loved to take a beautiful number of selfies from the passenger seat of your car. While the cast fail to really evolve from these core archetypes, it’s really nice to see a set male group dynamic given a lot of time for explanation. By the time the adventure was done I has a really good sense of how this group formed and how these roles developed as a group dynamic that feels healthy and balanced well.
The first half of the game is almost entirely focused on growing as a party, learning the open world, exploring and getting to grips with a complex set of mechanics on show. It doesn’t rush you into the world ending plot unnecessary and for me that really helped me care about the world I was meant to save.
While the overall narrative is grand and sprawling, the moment to moment adventure is a lot more about the small scale mundanity and group dynamics of a cross country road trip.
Let’s talk combat. Final Fantasy XV doesn’t use a turn based combat system like many other Final Fantasy games and instead employs a real time battle system. You only directly control Noctis, with the rest of your party left entirely in the hands of AI unless you build a meter to occasionally issue a specific command to them. By holding down a button Noctis will do a basic combo until he’s interrupted. Correctly times button pressed can cause you to phase through and dodge an enemy attack allowing your combo to continue. Noctis can launch long distances either to get a safe look at the battle from above, or to launch into a strong attack at the start of an attack chain. You can also swap between up to four weapons for different parts of your combo string, cast magic or on incredibly rare occasions summon powerful astral summons.
The problem with these astral summons? While they’re incredibly strong and visually impressive, they only show up when they feel like it. Astrals each have their own incredibly specific conditions which need to be met before they’ll appear, like having an incapacitated enemy, in a battle which has dragged on for a long time, near water, with Noctis near death. Also, even with those conditions met, they often just won’t bother showing up. It kind of sucks.
Oh some fun facts about spells, they’re rare consumable which makes casting them something requiring more thought, and if used in an unsafe way can harm your team. Much like real magic tricks involving fire and lightning, be sure you think things through before doing them near your friends.
I wanted to play homoerotic boyband dress up.
It’s implied early in the game that outfits will be an important part of upgrading player stats as well as changing your look, but it’s important to note that there are next to no clothing options available in the game. We’re talking maybe two or three outfits total per character. This is really disappointing when there’s a menu for clothing and its highlighted within the first thirty minutes of game time. I wanted to play homoerotic boy band dress up.
The latter portion of the game is far less open and more story focused, fast paced and linear. You’re still free to go back and tackle open world side quests, but the game becomes paced with the intent of you going from one set piece event to another, going from dungeons to bosses to cutscenes at breakneck speed.
In theory you could probably push through the main story in around thirty hours of play, particularly if you let the end game action carry you forward, but the real joy of XV is it’s compelling end game material which probably outshines any other series entry.
Post credits Final Fantasy XV becomes very reminiscent of the Xenoblade Chronicles X post game in terms of quest availability, high level unlocks and beasts to take down that dwarf you in level, power and physical scale. Many of the games more interesting plots, quests, weapons and character stories pop up in the world post game in ways that can often be tough to spot. I have easily put more time into the post game than I did the main game itself and I still feel like there are mysteries I’ve not managed to crack. The fact there’s a wealth of party dialogue saved purely for this post game made it feel like a continued journey rather than a set of unimportant additional busy work.
Ultimately, the only place Final Fantasy XV really struggles is the weakness and predictability of its save the world plot points. The destination may be a little formulaic, but the journey there is equal parts excitement and beautiful mundanity. The all male cast are crafted in a way that feels justified and constantly engaging. I was on a journey with friends I did not want to end. After finishing the main game all I wanted to do was jump back in my car and keep driving, and the game certainly let me and my virtual man friends drive off into the sunset in search of future adventures.
A copy of this game was purchased for the purposes of this review.
Developer/Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Release date: Out Now
- All male cast feels justified, realistic and endearing
- Engaging combat system
- Great post game content
- Astral Summons tough to predict
- Overall world saving plot is predictable
A better game than we expected based on the rough road to release it had. Great world and core party building, but weak overall plot. Combat is engaging, and post game content is fantastic.