From leading-edge to inspiring the pack, we drop in on a presentation of Final Fantasy XV at E3.

The beginning of the Final Fantasy XV hands-off presentation I watched at E3 heralded a handful of words that remained paramount throughout: leading-edge. Not only do Square Enix want to make Final Fantasy XV a memorable experience for newcomers and series veterans alike, they want it to be the Action-RPG future games look to for inspiration. It’s a bold claim, really, but throughout the 30 minute presentation I couldn’t help but feel like the developers have thrown their entire heart and soul into making XV something special — really special.

The opening moments of Final Fantasy XV begin with the game’s protagonists, aka the boyband-like group of friends, pushing their car up a hill after it’d broken down. Upon reaching a diner, they meet Cidney, get things in order, and from that moment onwards it’s up to you as to what you want them to do — everything opens up in the world and you’re free to explore at your own leisure. As you’d expect from a Final Fantasy game, quests are littered throughout the game’s massive world, and I was taken aback by the vast universe Square has created for XV, with things to do, places to see, and areas to admire wherever you head. Square are confident in their product, so much so that they openly said during the presentation that they’re sure gamers will “enjoy every square inch of the world of Final Fantasy XV.”

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It’s hard to argue against that — at least at this point in time — with the amount of content spread throughout the world. I was particularly interested in the way the game seems to be handling side quests and activities that don’t have a lot of connection with the main story. The presentation didn’t go over every way you can pick up said quests of course, but heading to diners allows you to scope out information of the area you’re residing in, as well as pick up Monster Hunter-like bounties that have you head out into the world to take out monsters that are causing havoc. It seems like an enticing way to enjoy XV’s massive world, all the while levelling up your group and preparing for the harder fights that’ll eventually come down the line.

While the presentation focused on the theme of leading-edge, Final Fantasy XV was also divided into three main categories — Roadtrip, Adventure, and Combat. These are pretty self-explanatory, but it seems like Square are making these the core of the FFXV experience. You’ll be doing a lot of exploring in the game, adventuring through the massive, open world, as well as learning about the people and creatures inhabiting it, their purpose, and how everything all comes together to form Final Fantasy XV’s narrative. As an added bonus, you can document your story and experience throughout the game’s many hours with Prompto’s photography, which, funnily enough, is terrible at the beginning of the game but can be levelled up as you play. It’s a subtle little feature, but one that is indicative of just how much care Square are putting into Final Fantasy XV.

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Combat has always been one of the most important parts of Final Fantasy games, and XV rebuilding and crafting a new combat system seems to compliment the fluid and grand nature of the game itself. The ability to warp around the combat area is an excellent game mechanic that manages to keep things constantly fast and fun, with it also acting as a way to get out of combat when the going gets tough. For players who aren’t especially fond of the pace of combat or are overwhelmed with enemies, the newly-announced Wait Mode looks to address those concerns, which were gathered following fan feedback from Episode Duscae.

Wait Mode is activated when you stop touching any of the buttons/thumbsticks on the controller, and will immediately stop time, giving you a good few moments to plan how you’re going to attack an enemy. It seems simple, definitely, but it looks like it could be be an extremely useful tool for new players and those that find themselves in intense battles where every move counts towards victory or defeat. This mode can’t be abused though, as Wait Mode has a timer that drains throughout a fight. The only way it resets is when a new fight encounter is started, so managing the time allotted properly and wisely is important — it isn’t an ‘easy mode’ mechanic by any stretch.

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Magic also plays an important role in the game’s combat system, and the presentation emphasised the use of crafting and its role in creating powerful magic items, too. The example given was to do with the team finding a fire element in the world and combining it with a potion, in turn creating a deadly combination of attack/healing power. It’s a fascinating, and will probably be an important, part of how you fight and survive in XV.

Final Fantasy XV is shaping up nicely, and I’m keen to see more of what it has to offer as its September 30 release draws closer. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it after playing through Duscae last year to really get a feel for all of the improvements that have been made, but as for now I’m beginning to feel confident that XV could be the Final Fantasy game fans have been craving for years.

Final Fantasy XV launches on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on September 30.