Monday, July 20, 2020

Final Fantasy 15 Review

As I mentioned in my Final Fantasy 1 review, I've been slowly working my way through Square Enix's Final Fantasy franchise over the past 15 years. Now that I'm mostly caught up, I was pretty excited to see what Final Fantasy 15 would do with cutting edge technology and all the lessons learned over the past 14+ entires. I had initially planned on picking the game up as soon as it became available on PC. However, the more I heard about its convoluted release schedule, which included multiple expansions that were still in development at the time, I found myself repeatedly kicking the can down the road. Eventually, the complete Windows version ended up being released via Xbox Game Pass.

Final Fantasy 15 represents a considerable departure from the previous entries in the series, both in terms of gameplay and aesthetics. With real-time action combat and a setting that more closely resembles the real world than the fantasy and sci-fi locations of its predecessors, FF15 goes to considerable lengths to redefine what a Final Fantasy game can be. The story focuses on Prince Noctis and his three bodyguards who are on a road trip to retrieve a set of ancient sealed weapons that they need to liberate their kingdom from an invading empire. This review is based on the PC version of the game that was released via Xbox Game Pass. 

  • As you would expect from a game that spent 10 years in development and had a seemingly limitless budget, FF15 is a beautiful looking game. The downside of this is that it's pretty demanding on your hardware. My PC handles most games without issue on the higher graphics pre-sets, but for this one, I had to tweak the individual settings to get an ideal balance of visual quality and performance.
  • FF15's action combat is really cool. I found it was both fun to execute and looked stunning. I especially liked using Noctis's warp strike move, which reminded me of Night Crawler from X-Men. Sometimes the input response time and hit detection felt a little off, this is certainly no Devil May Cry, but I generally had a smooth experience pulling off fancy acrobatic moves.
  • Dungeons in FF15 have a nice sense of atmosphere to them; they legitimately feel like dangerous monster-infested environments rather than just mazes to get in between the player and some treasure.
  • I initially didn't like Square Enix's decision to go with an all-male party for FF15. However, the themes of brotherhood, the nature of male friendship, and family were covered on a level that proved to be far more engaging than I expected. There are also a few interesting supporting female characters as well, but I wish that they had gotten more screentime (more on this later).
  • The game's dialog features strong vocal performances in both English and Japanese.
  • Being a game about a road trip, upgrading and customizing your car is something your characters can work on between larger story beats. I'm not a car guy but still had fun playing around with different paint jobs and upholstery colors.
  • While the overall plot can be uneven, I found the lore and world-building that was woven into it to be pretty interesting.
  • When I heard that Yoko Shimomura was composing FF15, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. She is one of the all-time great composers for her work in games like Street Fighter 2, but how would she approach composing an RPG? I'll say right now that any of the doubts I had were completely unfounded. She knocked it out of the park with FF15's score which is full of varying styles and sounds that were always effective at setting the mood of each scene and locale.
  • FF15 makes a pretty bold design decision that was bound to split the fan base. The game begins with an emphasis on open-world exploration but a little more than halfway through, the structure becomes almost completely linear as the story ramps up toward the climax. For me, this design decision worked out very well. Once I had gotten my fill of exploring and sidequests, I was ready to see how the story would end and was thankful that the game provided me with a direct route to do so without inserting any unnecessary filler just to pad the game's running time (something that many RPGs seem to love to do). Considering this structure is pretty much the exact opposite of Final Fantasy 13's, I'm thinking FF15's design was the product of lessons learned from that game. 
  • The game's story, world, and music come together to create something that has a sad, yet hopeful tone. I found this very compelling.

  • It may be a road trip game, but driving the car is not very enjoyable. Instead of driving it myself, I just made one of Notis's AI-controlled companions, Ignis, do it. While Ignis drove my characters to the next waypoint on the map, I would usually divide my attention between admiring the scenery in the game and checking my email on my phone in the real world.
  • Being a mostly open-world RPG, there is no shortage of side quests to complete. However, these tasks don't feel meaningful; they're mostly just busywork. I would have preferred to see side quests categorized as major and minor, with the major ones having their own stories (similar to how side quests are handled in The Witcher or Xenoblade).
  • Final Fantasy 15 features product placement with several real-world brands (e.g Coleman, American Express, and Cup Noodle). In some cases this was supposedly done to make the game world feel "more realistic" and in other cases, it's used for humor. To me, it mostly just felt tacky. I'm hoping it's not a trend that continues into Final Fantasy 16.
  • While most of the game's female characters are unfortunately sidelined, I found the most prominently featured female character to be kind of troubling. The road trip boys' on-call mechanic, Cindy, has a design that is so blatantly pandering to teenage boys that it comes across as silly. Her mechanic's uniform looks more like something from a sexy Halloween costume catalog than anything even remotely resembling something someone would wear while fixing a car. In a game that generally strove for more grounded character designs than previous Final Fantasy entries (Notis and pals all wear simple black shirts and pants), Cindy looks completely out of place.
  • The biggest issue with FF15 is the one that made put off playing it to begin with, its disjointed delivery. In order to make a sensible story out of Final Fantasy 15, I had to watch a feature film, a series of anime shorts, and play through several DLC packs on top of the 40+ hour main game. Exacerbating this issue is the fact that events of the DLC take place during the main campaign but are not at all integrated into the game; DLC can only be accessed from a separate menu on the title screen. To get a complete experience, I had to research when in the story each DLC chapter took place so that I knew when I should pause my main campaign progress and switch over to the DLC menu. All of this content really should have been in the game from the start. The fact that it takes so much effort on the player's part to assemble all these components makes it seem like the whole FF15 project was mismanaged.

As an avid Final Fantasy fan, I was able to get a very enjoyable experience out of FF15 but it took a considerable amount of work on my part, synthesizing its disparate content and overlooking a few unfavorable parts. There is an interesting story to unravel, expansive world to explore, and fun gameplay to be had here, but you, as the player, have to be committed and receptive to it in a way that few other modern games require. For me, jumping into Final Fantasy 15 with both feet ultimately proved to be worth my time and satisfying but I couldn't help but feel like it could have been so much better with a more focused vision.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 42 hours for the main campaign + 7 hours of DLC

Note: This post is part of the Chic-Pixel community's #JRPGJuly event. For more info and their full list of events, check out this page: Community Game-Along Master List 2020

Road trip boys in the car
You take a lot of scenic car rides in this game.

Gondola rides
It's like every city in Italy all mashed together.

Cup Noodle shop
Final Fantasy 15, presented by Cup Noodle

Gladio loves Cup Noodle
Before you get uncomfortable, he's talking about his first time with Cup Noodle.

mid-battle screenshot
This is what it looks like when you get wrecked by a boss.

Campfire scene
Camping provides quality bro bonding time. (Brought to you by Coleman)

Chocobo riding
Since they all wear black outfits, I thought they should at least have colorful chocobos.

Ironically, I think the sexy Halloween costume is more practical clothing for auto repair than Cindy's outfit.


  1. Pretty much in line with my review but I still need to buy the DLC. Hoping for a ps5 complete edition or something.

    1. Thanks for readings my review!
      I'm sure Square Enix would love to release yet another version of this game and squeeze a little more money out of it, so you'll likely get your chance. If you only play one DLC pack, I recommend Episode Ignis; it's the one that ties into the main story the most and has the most polished gameplay.