At Pax East 2015, Square-Enix gave special invited guests a chance to finally get their hands on the first publicly playable demo of Final Fantasy XV dubbed Episode Duscae so as a Final Fantasy Stan I was more than happy to take them up on their offer.
With all the rumors and talk of a new combat system and other changes, I was a little nervous as to what they had done to one of my favorite games, but I am happy to say that after they pried the controller from my fingers as my time ran out (others were waiting) I came away eagerly anticipating the final release. And while it finally answered some of the nagging questions out there, it did leave a few others still in the air.
Upon its release, Final Fantasy XV will be the fifteenth main entry into the Final Fantasy franchise and is part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis series which include FFXIII, FFXIII-2, Lightning Returns and the upcoming Type-0. While the entire storyline hasn’t been revealed, if you’re a fan of Final Fantasy or RPGs in general you’ve seen some of these guys before as the demo introduces you to an emo looking prince who along with his personal guard or friends (it seems like a bit of both) Ignis (the smart one), Galdiolus (the tough one), and Prompto (the young one) get car trouble on a road trip and are now stuck. They can get the vehicle fixed but it’s going to cost some money. So after noticing a poster offering money for hunting a Behemoth the guys decide to take up the task to earn the cash they need. Once the intro ends you’re given a tutorial on some of the mechanics of the game and then introduced to the new combat system via a training match with Gladiolus.
The Combat System
So the change that has been on everyone’s lips is the new combat system. The developers, having decided that the turn-based combat system of Final Fantasy games past has out-lived its usefulness, developed an all new real-time combat system which has players entering battle commands via the controller in lieu of the traditional action menu. Battles take on a very Kingdom Hearts-esque feel as attacking is now just pressing the button to have you utilize your weapon and another button allows you to dodge/block and you can also parry and counter-attack just by utilizing combinations of buttons. While it does feel a little odd to be anticipating attacks and dodging in Final Fantasy instead of waiting your turn (I actually took a few hits before remembering I had to dodge), when you get hit it takes so much of your HP getting used to it will become necessary. Although, in some instances the best defense is just a good offense as there were times in the demo while fighting a group of goblins or a pack of hyena-tiger crossbred animals where trying to evade and parry seemed to be doing more harm than good.
While there are some major changes, one of Final Fantasy’s hallmarks of customization is still apparent. Players are able to wield five melee weapons that each correspond to a slot that corresponds to an active ability: Crush (initial), Ravage (melee), Vanquish (lethal), Counter (counter) and Descend (air). In the demo our weapons were pre-determined giving us abilities like a spear lunge, dragoon jump, and a spinning blade attack which in another nod to Kingdom Hearts are available via a streamlined menu and activated with a button push.
Magic points play a more crucial role in the new combat system as many actions drain your supply so managing your supply becomes critical. Simple things like evading and parrying cost MP as well as utilizing your active abilities including the new warp ability which can have your character blinking to another targeted area. This constant demand on your magic points makes terrain crucial as well, because taking cover, or warping to a better vantage point speeds up recovery of magic and health. If you run out of magic points your character enters a staggered mode where their actions like evading, blocking, and attacking are severely limited and in some cases inaccessible all-together.
While playing the demo, your party seemed to be a lot more helpful when dispatching enemies and drawing attacks but it does feel a little weird not knowing exactly what they will be doing. There was no option to set them to be aggressive or passive, designating characters in different roles as was done in FFXIII, as far as I could see in the demo we played but that might have just been for this build so that waits to be seen, but when it comes to healing that is a little different as well. Now when a character is hurt, he just needs to get close to another member of the party and they heal you. But it has to be done during a certain amount of time or it’s game over.
While I was only able to explore a portion of the world that they are creating for FFXV, what they did show you was breathtaking. And for this to be their first real foray into open world, the attention to detail and beautiful environments that has made the Final Fantasy franchise a fan favorite has continued. But it also plays a very important role in your game play. Terrain isn’t just window dressing but can assist or be a detriment in battle. During a sequence in the game you and the guys have to sneak into a cave to get the upper hand on one of the larger enemies you face and everything in the area plays a role in the success or failure of your mission. The world map now has way points and landmarks and objectives giving the map more of a Far Cry feel and a clear departure from FFXIII’s walk around and fight. There is also a day and night system that impacts your game play. Not only changing enemies but at night you are prompted to setup camp and rest. Resting plays a critical role as points you’ve accumulated during the day isn’t recognized until you setup camp and sleep, which means you don’t level up until then.
While Final Fantasy XV seems a very ambitious undertaking, the Episode Duscae demo has me very excited for what’s coming up for the game. The demo runs roughly 4-5 hours depending on if you are running through it or taking the time to really explore the world. You can get your hands on the demo as it ships with the release of Final Fantasy Type-0 on March 17. Others will be able to download at a later date.