The opening hours of Final Fantasy XV are a rollercoaster. You enter the world of protagonist Noctis en media res, everything in complete turmoil and already going to hell. The first chapters prioritize world-building and establishing characters' standing with one another--we see Noctis, his father, his friends, and his enemies in intimate detail, as they banter and barter and set out on their way. There is little in the way of formal tutorials for combat and magic, but rather the game lets you learn as you go, offering a brief on screen pop-up when you come across a new system or element.
Although the game was recently delayed from September 30 to November 29, there isn't a cause for worry here; while the build I played was fairly recent but not yet final, it looked incredible. The rural hills of rock and sand, the bright oasis of Hammerhead, the craigy beach and open ocean--it all opened up before me like a window into our own world. Final Fantasy XV looks like a place you could visit just by hopping into your car, picking a direction, and setting forth.
Below is everything gleaned from those first few hours, from proper names to how magic works to just what Luna's dogs are doing.
The overall world of Final Fantasy XV is called Eos. Lucius, Nifelheim, Tenebrae and Altissa are just a few countries on this large planet.
The ability tree is called the Astralsphere. This functions similar to the Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X or the Crystarium in Final Fantasy XIII. You gain Ability Points, or AP, through combat, party actions, and some dialogue events, and these points are spent unlocking new abilities laid out on a web.
There are four types of magic elements. These are Fire, Ice, Thunder, and Wild. "Wild" magic is the result of combining and crafting the other three magic types.
You draw magic from crystals and craft your spells. Scattered through the world are fire, ice, and thunder crystals. When you happen upon a patch of these, you can draw and store magic from them, similar to the Draw system in Final Fantasy VIII. But this raw elemental power can't be used; it has to be crafted with other elements and put into a flask (an item you can get) before you can equip a character with the spell.
Crafting spells can get pretty fancy. The magic-crafting system is similar to Rikku's Mix Overdrive from Final Fantasy X. To make more powerful spells or give them additional elementary properties--such as healing your character at the moment the spell is cast--you can craft them with items like Potions, Phoenix Downs, and Elixirs. Spell combinations including: Tricast, a mix of one element type plus two more of another element type, like two fire and one thunder; Healcast, one element like Fire plus a Potion; and Unicast, a mix of one each of all three elements. Spells get more powerful the more you mix with them.
Magic must charge before you can use it. Your magic charges up while you're in combat. Once it's ready to use, the UI will indicate this with a circular mark on a picture of the d-pad, above whichever directional you mapped it to. You have to aim each magic attack manually by focusing a glowing target over your designated enemy. But make sure there's enough distance between you and spell; if you're too close, your clothes will burn or freeze, depending on the element.
The game records your magic crafting history, so you can scroll through your spell history and re-craft more of your favorites. This is such a neat addition, and comes in handy when you don't feel like keeping detailed physical notes of your spells.
In combat, Noctis can team up with a pal for a more powerful attack. Ignis' Mark ability will sink throwing knives into a handful of enemies, allowing Noctis to rapidly warp strike between them all in one fell swoop. Gladiolus' special attack requires a short timed quick-time event to land a devastating blow. And Prompto's special utilizes his marksman ability, focusing on a target for a powerful shot from his gun.
For dialogue trees with NPCs, Noctis has the option to consult his friends. If speaking with an NPC offers dialogue options and you're not sure what to pick, sometimes you can choose to "Ask your friends." Here, Ignis or another will chime in with advice on what you should do next. Be warned though; choosing this action means this is the path you will take.
The clothes the boys start off wearing in the beginning of the game are called Crownsguard fatigues. These are, apparently, the outfits worn by protectors of the royal family. Noctis and his pals are wearing them to avoid suspicion and travel incognito.
Every settlement has a diner, and every diner has a unique menu. In Hammerhead, I could purchase chili con carne or a jambalaya from a diner next to Cindy and Cid's mechanic shop. Both of these items, if consumed, offer different stat boosts good for a healthy swathe of in-game time. The chili, for example, would give my party an attack boost as well as add 50 points to our health bars, and the jambalaya would up our attack and HP as well as add a health regeneration buff. In Galdin Key, along the shore, you can buy dishes made of oysters and boiled crap that offer their own mix of status boosts and buffs.
Talking to diner staff also reveals key locations on your map. The servers behind the counter in each location will mark the following places on your map if you choose to talk to them: havens (for resting), parking spots for the Regalia, outposts, and procurement points. The latter includes places to draw elemental magic from crystals, mineral deposits, and treasure spots.
Diner staff are also the people to talk to you if you want to initiate a hunt or eat. In general, the best place to eat in a settlement is the best place to figure out where to go and what to do.
Gladiolus puts on a shirt. At least once.
Noctis recovers HP in four ways: using an item, using Warp Strike to get to higher ground and rest for a few moments, taking cover and hiding from the enemy, or by waiting patiently for one of his friends to run over and heal him. The latter is definitely the most dangerous of the three, but during the demo it was fairly common for Gladiolus, Prompto, and Ignis to immediately run to Noctis when he was down.
You can customize the Regalia's colors. Noctis' car has three places where you can change the color: the body, interior, and wheel color. White with gold rims is a good look for the Regalia, just as an example. You can also add decals and what looks like additional components later in the game.
Luna's dog Umbra will find Noctis out in the world. Without sharing any spoilers, the dark-furred pup will find you with some special deliveries as you travel. Luna's other dog, Pryna, however, stays with her lady.
You can drive the car manually as Noctis or let Ignis drive on auto. Manually driving, however, isn't like the driving you find in racing games. There are designated buttons for parking and making a U-turn, and you can't crash the car into another vehicle or drive off-road. The game will course-correct you if you drive into oncoming traffic and won't let you smash into anything. Which is probably better off--the Regalia gets dirty enough as it is.
Only Noctis can drive during the game's nighttime. Ignis won't drive when the daemons are roaming. What a baby.
You'll want to watch the Brotherhood anime if you want to understand certain references. In conversation, the boys allude to events from their past. These are covered in detail in the tie-in anime, and if you're looking for more stories about young Noctis and friends, it's worth a look for the backstory the series provides.
References to the real world transcend brands. For example, a newspaper reveals to Noctis that Lunafreya's wedding dress is being made by lauded real-world fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. Amazing.
Events in the story can happen in the nighttime or daytime, depending on when you arrive at your destination. After failing to save, I replayed an area both in the daytime and nighttime, with the same story-centric event playing out in the different lighting.