Since the announcement of Final Fantasy XIII Versus at E3 in 2006, fans have been eagerly anticipating its release. Just as we began to lose hope, Square Enix announced that XIII Versus has transformed from a Final Fantasy XIII spinoff into the next major instalment in the Final Fantasy franchise – Final Fantasy XV. As development continues, Square Enix released Episode Duscae, an exclusive demo containing approximately 3 hours of gameplay. So what does Episode Duscae tell us about Final Fantasy XV?
I took one look at the main characters and all I could think was – “Well, I guess we’re a traveling boy band.” You play as Noctis, the Crown Prince of Lusic, fighting to reclaim his city’s crystal of power. Joining you on your plight are your 3 close friends – Gladiolus, a brother-like figure and your royal guard, Ignis, your childhood friend and a military tactician and Prompto, your best friend. With everyone lined up, we have our shy, rebel, older brother and heartthrob tropes all filled – it’s the perfect boy band!
In all seriousness though, the first thing you’ll notice when you load in is how amazing everything looks. The stunning landscape before you completely dwarfs the character models themselves, which are rather impressive as well. Whether it’s a character’s hair or the meal your crew’s eating, the attention to graphical detail is evident.
Although the load times in the demo were a bit lengthy, everything ran smoothly, regardless of where you were or how many monsters and enemies you were fighting. Compared to other titles currently out on the current generation of consoles, Final Fantasy XV is definitely a contender for the best looking game so far.
For the last few instalments, there have been major steps in diversifying the Final Fantasy combat system and Final Fantasy XV is no different. With Hajime Tabata as the development director, I was expecting a combat system that felt like Final Fantasy Crisis Core and Type-0, which is exactly the case. At first, the combat system seemed confusing, as there is little explanation given outside of the basic mechanics, but the more I played the more each aspect began to make sense.
Gone are the days of combat requiring a transition before loading into the fight. Combat in Final Fantasy XV is completely integrated into the world, allowing you to flow in and out of combat as you desire. When approaching a hostile enemy, a gauge appears at the top of your screen which displays your threat level. If you do not hide or run away from the enemy, the gauge increases. Once the gauge is full, the enemy will begin attacking you.
While you travel in a pack of four, Noctis is the only character you are able to control. He has a wide arsenal of weapons assigned to specific attack types such as Break, Counter, and Rush. Weapons assigned to Break will initiate attacks, while Counter will attack an enemy after defending. Each weapon has a special ability that can activate when required. On the defensive side of combat, there are more options available. Besides being able to dodge enemy attacks, you are now able to parry abilities as well. As you progress through the game, you can unlock extra defensive abilities as well.
From my experience so far, I’m not enjoying the combat offered in Episode Duscae as much as I’d expected. I don’t feel absorbed in the flow of battle nor do I feel any weight behind my attacks. Compared to previous games, the defensive mechanics seem disconnected from the battle. In Final Fantasy Type-0 HD you’re able to quickly switch from offensive to defensive manoeuvres, which reward you for balancing aggression and quick reflexes, yet in Final Fantasy XV the combat seems less responsive, forcing you to hold back during combat. Quite often I was unable to defend against the majority of attacks as I was in the middle of an attack animation when the enemy struck. This problem is even more noticeable when you’re fighting against many enemies at once as it leaves you with little opportunity to attack without being attacked from your blind spot.
Integrating combat into the environment allows for an open combat area. Although you have an ability to help close the gap with enemies, this costs Magic Points to use – which is also the resource for your offensive and defensive abilities. With MP conversation in mind, I found myself trying to chase down enemies more often than I was attacking them.
For me, Final Fantasy’s combat should be fast paced and full of action, with Type-0 HD being a perfect example of this. From what I’ve experienced in Episode Duscae, the combat felt dragged out and sluggish – and did I mention that parries are quick time events? Criticism aside, the demo had restrictions on character progression, so hopefully it becomes more enjoyable later in the game.
While there are a range of extra features within Episode Duscae that I could talk about because it is a short demo, it’s hard to gauge their influence in the full game. But I’m quite happy to report that everyone’s favourite feathered friends the Chocobos have made a reappearance!
With the Final Fantasy franchise in its 28th year, Square Enix is trying to evolve with each new instalment. With the insight that Episode Duscae has provided us, I am both excited and cautious of the next evolution of one of my favourite franchises. Although Square Enix haven’t provided a release date for the full game, at least we know development is very much alive and kicking – Final Fantasy XV, soon™.
Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae is available as a downloadable code in the Day One Editions of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. Final Fantasy XV is set for release sometime in 2015 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
A code for Episode Duscae was provided by the publisher.