It has been a long and arduous journey for Final Fantasy XV and the team led by Hajime Tabata. The most recent delay was announced not that long ago, and at the time of writing this, we've got about a month to go until the game is finally out in stores. You have probably already read one or two previews over the years and this time we are focusing on the parts we got to play during our recent preview session in London. Namely events following Chapter Two.
We can't tell you more about the story than what is already known, but Noctis, Prompto, Ignis and Gladiolus are heading to a wedding when things take a sudden twist. The dialogue between the characters is a bit cheesy and light-hearted, and it's easy to take a liking to them even if they initially feel a little too thin and stereotypical. After a few hours they have definitely grown on us, and their personal stories and agendas come across as interesting. The game's narrative generally seems to take off after the initial slightly unfocused intro, and now we're really looking forward to taking on the final game in about a month.
Final Fantasy XV seems rather grand in terms of the game world; the map is huge and packed with activities. During a visit to a service station we learn that we should talk to the guy who manages the restaurant to get to know our way around, and he also tasks you with killing a large monster nearby. Some of the quests fall into the generic MMO/RPG structure where you need to run off, kill a monster and then return to the quest giver for a reward. Monster contracts can be compared to the ones we saw in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, though it is slightly more straightforward here, you really only need to run to the selected location on the map for the quest to trigger.
The quests we got to play in London were set a couple of hours into the game. During one of them we followed a mysterious man with the car, he let us in to what at first glance looked like a completely abandoned location, but something rather nasty was lurking there. We slowly walked forward and finally an enormous figure appeared. He doesn't look happy to see us and battle ensues. A rather epic battle as it turns out, and we had to stay on our toes to put him down.
The variation in terms of the environments was absolutely stunning (in the parts we got to test). There's everything from open desert to humid forests via sun-kissed beaches complete with posh tourists and places where Noctis can fish. The game also has an active day-night cycle and if you dare go out after dark some really dangerous monsters will spawn. At one point we were out and explored the wilderness when it was dark, and before long we'd run into a grotesque creature that was 30 (!) levels above our own. Needles to say we legged it.
The combat system feels responsive, if a little messy. When there's multiple enemies on screen at the same time it's often difficult to orient yourself properly, at times resulting in us holding down the attack button and hoping for the best. It's always beneficial to try to flank your adversary, preferably in conjunction with one of your allies to do extra damage. A little later in the game, when there's greater resistance, it's important to tackle different scenarios thoughtfully and to prioritise certain enemies over others if you're to have a better chance of getting out of battle alive.
You can make use of your allies and link attacks with ease, which not only looks cool, but gives you a clear advantage where you can immobilise enemies for a few critical seconds, allowing you whittle down their health in relative safety. You can also use their special abilities to make battles more interesting. After each encounter you'll get a rating telling you how you performed, ensuring you think about what you did well and learn lessons that you can take into the next battle. The delays seem to have been very beneficial for the game, and the extra development time means that it feels like it's in much better shape now than it was when the last demo was released earlier this year.
Final Fantasy XV looks to be an epic adventure that will take hours and hours to play through to completion. The opening might borrow a few too many generic MMORPG elements, and it remains to be seen if this improves further in. Noctis and the gang are a lovely group of characters and if you're intrigued by their very Japanese framing you will quickly grow attached to them. The world, their surroundings, the music and the atmosphere, it's all brilliant from the very beginning and it looks like this may be the game that will bring Final Fantasy back for real, and if that's the case it's not a minute too soon.