It's finally here, a game that has been in development hell for almost as long as Duke Nukem and the Last Guardian. Which is an odd thing to have to write for a game that is the fifteenth (kind of) of a much lauded series, after all if Square can make three games out of the dull as heck Lightning how hard can it be to do one unique game with the heritage a on offer at their studio?
For all the waiting the end result is a real mixed bag, often going from the sublime to the ridiculous in a very short space of time. It's fair to say that while overall things are pretty positive there are a few decisions that seem rather bizarre in the grand scheme of things.
To start with we have the fixed cast of four lead characters, though you are often joined by cameo party members at various junctures, which is a novel approach. While I've always been a fan of sprawling parties that let you pick and choose your favourites, based on their strengths and personalities, it's nice to have a more character driven approach for once.
The game has plenty of time for all four of our heroes, and some of the chat between then reveals a lot about their personalities and can be fun to pay attention to. On the flipside a lot of the story and background is also hidden in the animated episodes and Kingsglaive movie, so it often seems like random story snippets and reveals make no sense unless you went out of the way to see the supplementary material - which is an insane design choice for such a huge story driven game.
In fact the story suffers more as it goes along, with random Kingsglaive segments failing to prop it up at times and some absolutely appalling chapters dragging whole thing down (I'm looking at you Chapter 13). It's a shame as there is plenty here to appreciate when it's not getting bogged down in spite of itself.
While the story doesn't quite hit the mark the combat too feels only partly fleshed out. Taking place in real time, unless you use the rather clunky Wait Mode that tries but fails to ape a more turn based system, it often becomes cluttered and unresponsive. The real problem lies in the frankly shocking camera which often gets stuck on or behind scenery and monsters leading to a real threat of defeat of times.
You also only control Noctis in combat, with your A.I. buddies often making inexplicable choices and getting beat up as a result. The cursory commands you can give them never feel enough, but mercifully combat is often fairly easy and you can button mash most creatures to their doom or simply run away. You can also use magic but it's hidden behind a bizarre crafting menu that is barely explained, which is a shame because the range of spells you can mix up can have a host of fun effects to tinker with.
Even levelling up seems to have been painted with the same confused brush. With a mix of a grid of skills that require AP points to unlock, some of which only benefit Noctis and some that benefit everyone, or just one of the other members. Then there is the more generic XP that raises your level and general abilities - but this is only tallied when you rest and then multiplied depending on the quality of your accommodations, leading to you hoarding XP until you find a good hotel which seems completely against the spirit of things. Plus resting also gives you the chance to whip up stat boosting meals and browse Prompto's photo collection.
On the plus side you have a massive world to explore and countless random quests, missions and hidden dungeons to take on at your pleasure, including a few unique ones that take a novel approach completely at odds with the usual Final Fantasy fare. Sure a lot of the missions feel like busy work, but often they help to unlock new meals, gear or abilities as well as providing a ready source of XP and cash. After some of the completely linear games in the series in recent years, the return to a large open world full of possibilities is a step in the right direction. Though it's also worth noticing that a lot of areas feel strangely empty and reuse the same few assets over and over, so despite the huge area to explore a lot of it feels familiar.
On the whole it's hard to say that this is one of the best Final Fantasy games as despite the strong cast the story feels slight and a bit disappointing, plus the combat and generic, repeated areas also have a number of drawbacks that stop them being completely fun. That said it doesn't take long to get drawn into a ton of quests, beating up familiar monsters in a fresh new locale and enjoying the often humorous conversations that take place. It's good then. But not great, which is probably down to a whole host of hands working on the game over the years.
I didn't mention driving the car because its rubbish, completely unintuitive and I hated it. Make Ignis drive until you can fast travel, or ride Chocobos. The car sucks.