Final Fantasy XV only shows glimpses of true greatness

These guys are kinda overdressed for a roadtrip.
Todd Hailstone

Two and a half stars

Final Fantasy XV Reviewed for PlayStation 4. Also available for Xbox One.

Final Fantasy XV and I did not start off on the right foot. The beginning has you hunting monsters to pay for repairs on a broken-down car—hardly the way for any game, especially one that had been in development for 10 years, to make a good impression. I dismally looked ahead to what I assumed would be 40-plus hours of pain and regret, and it was only through sheer force of will that I powered through the first four hours.

Then the car got fixed, and the world began to open up. With each new dungeon and epic monster hunt I found myself enjoying FFXV a little bit more. Sure, the combat is a violent, disjointed mess that gives you almost no control over your character’s attacks. And yes, you only get to command one of the four people in your party, as the others bumble around like the Three Stooges, hilariously missing fight cues and soaking up expensive healing items.

But everything in the game looks gorgeous, the environments and character models are fantastic, and I truly enjoyed the main theme: a story of brotherhood and friendship, about trusting the people closest to you and learning to rely on them. FFXV tells the story of a group of friends on a road trip, traveling and camping together. Prompto, the honorary photographer of the group, chronicles the trip, asking you to select pictures to save as you share a meal around the campfire. It’s influenced heavily by the movie Stand by Me, going so far as to feature Florence and the Machine’s cover of the classic Ben E. King song.

I started to forgive the game for its failings around Chapter 4, and got excited when I found myself ready to embark to a whole new area in Chapter 8. And then FFXV took a shocking and horrible turn: There is no new area. The next city you visit gets a grand reveal as you sail in … just before it’s destroyed in a nonsensical plot twist. What comes next are what I can only assume to be the crushed remains of the developers’ original plans. “Areas” are basically linear dungeons with few enemies and dodgy reasoning as to why we’re even there.

The story falls apart in much the same way. The most compelling moments happen off-camera, and characters who seemed central to the plot disappear entirely or are dialed back to become footnotes. It all comes to a crashing halt in Chapter 13, an abysmal entry that finds you separated from your friends, de-powered and forced into terribly designed stealth sections and absurdly easy combat using a powerful ring. The 14th and final chapter, however, marks a nice rebound for the narrative, paying off with two grandiose boss battles and an emotional exchange between the four friends that almost brought me to tears—in a good way this time.

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