Feature Article

Playing Final Fantasy 15 for the First Time

Time is of the essence.

It was more than eight years ago, at E3 2006, that Square Enix announced Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Since then, it's undergone a lot of change, and was even rebranded in 2014. Final Fantasy XV, as it's now known, was originally intended to be released on PlayStation 3, but with that console generation behind us, fans are now looking forward to playing it on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Most recently, it was announced that it's being directed by Hajime Tabata--his previous work in the series includes Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy Type-0--, with Tetsuya Nomura leaving the project to focus on Kingdom Hearts 3.

We still don't know exactly when Final Fantasy XV is supposed to come out, but when Final Fantasy Type-0 HD comes out in a mere ten days on March 17, everyone who buys it will get a chance to play a slice of Final Fantasy XV, Episode Duscae. I was lucky enough to play an hour of of the demo at PAX East, and while it was hardly enough time to experience everything it has to offer (the demo, not the full game), I did a lot, I saw a lot, and most importantly, I experienced something I've been looking forward to for nearly a decade.

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Real-time Combat

Final Fantasy XV handles combat very differently than past games. To start, you only have control over the main character, Noctis. Final Fantasy XIII has a similar constraint, but at some point it opens up and allows you to switch leaders, and thus the character you're controlling. This is not the case in Final Fantasy XV, as Noctis will forever be the only character under your control. It seems that you can change your party members' equipment, but that might be the extent of your influence over your cohorts.

As much as I prefer having control over an entire party in an RPG, I can appreciate how Final Fantasy XV's combat's designed. Fights break out in real-time, and you have a bevy of commands to juggle, so having to consider what everyone is doing at all times could become very confusing if you had to juggle four characters at once. This is because you fight using input commands, rather than menu-based commands. Noctis can attack freely by holding down the square button (I played Final Fantasy XV on PlayStation 4), and will do so indefinitely until you let go. The same goes for defense, which you activate by holding L1. If an enemy attacks while you're defending, Noctis will move out of the way at the last second. If an enemy has a claw-looking icon over their head when they attack, you have a chance to parry by pressing the square button shortly after dodging an incoming attack.

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Noctis attacks using several weapons, which you can change in the equipment menu, but the only time you really feel the effect of this variety is when issuing special commands. Each weapon comes with one special action, and you cycle through them during combat using the directional pad. Pressing triangle will initiate one of these moves, including an HP draining attack, a dragoon leap, or a lunge attack, for example.

Combat can definitely be frantic, with your party and enemies running in and out of your view. There are two means to make this easier on yourself. Pressing R1 will activate a focus mode where you hone your attention on a single target. Likewise, if you want to get close to an enemy that's just out of reach, you can focus on them and press circle to teleport to their location.

Most commands cost magic points, and with a limited number of MP at your disposal, you need to manage your actions carefully. If you run out of MP during battle, Noctis will enter stasis, which greatly limits his mobility. MP will regenerate over time, and you can speed up the process by teleporting to the safety of higher ground, but this is easier said than done. Juggling the above commands comes naturally, but I found it difficult to be effective in battle without depleting all of my MP, thus falling into the pit of stasis. While I enjoy Final Fantasy XV's style of combat, I don't enjoy having to hold back at the risk of falling into stasis. Hopefully this is something that will become less of an issue as Noctis levels up and has more MP at his disposal.

Open World Exploration

Episode Duscae takes place in the Duscae region of Final Fantasy XV, which encompasses a mix of forests, marshes, plains, and a few small outposts of humanity. We all know by now that road trips are to be featured heavily in Final Fantasy XV, but I traveled on foot here rather than via car. I also meandered about the environment, rather than tackling the story quests head on. I wanted to play the demo with as few scripted scenes as possible, which definitely gave me a different impression than others who went from point A to point B, and so on.

As you run around Duscae, you encounter a lot of wildlife that's fit for hunting. It's important to hunt, because the materials you earn from hunting (general combat against wildlife) is used to cook when you camp at night. The meals you cook determine what stat boosts you earn, and if you don't hunt, you have to eat toast, which doesn't do a whole lot for your hungry crew.

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Some animals that you encounter are passive, only fighting back when you initiate a fight, but other creatures saw fit to make the first move, including demonic wolves and goblins. This also goes for Magitek troops. These magically-powered soldiers arrive on the scene via dropships, which patrol Duscae on a regular basis.

Spend enough time exploring Duscae and you're bound to discover outposts. I happened upon a gas station, which was fitted out with a mini-mart and a handful of NPCs. It was a stark contrast to the wilderness, but it also felt appropriate given the stretch of highway that surrounds Duscae. I even spotted a car driving along once in a while. Across the map, I stumbled into a chocobo ranch, but sadly the wetlands were in poor condition for chocobo riding, so I wasn't able to rent one. We've seen evidence of large cities in previous reveals from Square Enix, but it's cool to see that even when you're far away from large populations of people, you aren't completely alone, either.

Technical Performance

There are times when playing Episode Duscae that I was wowed by its visuals. Gorgeous vistas with long draw distances were easy to gawk at, and combat is both exciting and beautiful, with lots of particle effects and fancy maneuvers.

However, there were also plenty of times where I was surprised and disappointed to see poor anti-aliasing and dips in the frame rate. Overall, the game's art is splendid, but perhaps too ambitious given that the PlayStation 4 was struggling to keep up. Everyone wants Final Fantasy XV to be a beautiful game, especially given it's prolonged development cycle, but I'd rather there were a few less blades of grass and a few more frames per second than the otherway around. Hopefully this is ironed out in the long run.

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Looking Forward to the Full Game

I may not have loved every second of Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae, but I walked away with a desire to keep playing. I want to get better at combat, which is unusual for the series but oh-so enticing at the same time. I want to find out why the characters in Noctis' crew are so loyal to him, and see if, at all, how their relationships evolve. For all of questions Episode Duscae raises, it's a great opportunity to experience a taste of what's to come in the full game. I don't know when we'll get chance to see Final Fantasy XV proper in all its glory, but I know that I'm more excited for it than ever before. Once everyone has a chance to sink their teeth into Episode Duscae, I bet I won't be the only one.

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doc-brown

Peter Brown

Peter is Managing Editor at GameSpot, and when he's not covering the latest games, he's desperately trying to recapture his youth by playing the classics that made him happy as a kid.
Final Fantasy XV

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