There are many different fan camps when talking about Final Fantasy. Old school classics from the NES and SNES era, Playstation era games, current ones like 13 and the MMO, A Realm Reborn. However you enjoy your Final Fantasy experience, one thing is almost certain; when playing the Final Fantasy XV Demo , this is not the game that anyone was expecting.
Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae was released as a downloadable code included with the Day One Edition of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. You play as Noctis who, along with his 3 other companions, set off to explore a wide, open wilderness, seeking to take down a Behemoth in order to acquire the funds necessary to repair their car.
I asked a friend of mine to join me for my first time with the demo. We grew up, one of us playing a Final Fantasy game while the other watches and assists. So, getting to experience this game in that way was like going home again. We were both floored by the graphics. As a new PS4 owner this game is just gorgeous. The lighting looked excellent, the character models were well detailed and after the opening cinematic, the scene moves seamlessly from the characters walking and talking to you taking control. But before long the demo offers you a combat tutorial. Thankfully so, because as a seasoned FF player, I was not ready for this.
While the big open expanse of the Duscaen Landscape that can be explored is reminiscent of FFXIII’s Pulse, the combat falls somewhere between Kingdom Hearts and a light character driven action game. Noctis doesn’t just wield a sword, but rather a host of different short blades, great swords and lances. The weapons appear during attacks and then disappear and basic melee damage is inflicted by tapping the Square button (PS4). You can set which weapons to use and in what order, each one inflicting different types of damage. The multiple short swords were for very close range and attacked in quick succession. When the great sword was summonsed to hand, it was usually for one big, overhead strike, while then the lance was used to thrust forward with a powerful blow. However, basic melee attacks only get you so far.
When the enemy retaliates, you have to be able to defend yourself. FF15 gives you two defensive options. Holding the left shoulder button (L1) causes your character to move slowly and dodge attacks just before they land at the cost of MP. When you run out of those magic points, Noctis has to wait while they slowly replenish or can use the same button to take cover behind rocks or buildings to recover MP quickly. During certain attacks, telegraphed on screen with lines pointing in the direction it’s coming, the same button can be used to parry, allowing for a special follow up attack. While the defensive dodging works well, the significant decrease in movement speed makes it challenging to keep up with faster enemies.
Now, we’ve covered attacks and defense, but special moves and magic have always been staples of Final Fantasy. Noctis is not a magic user but he does have a number of special attacks, based around the different weapon types he wields. For example, a Dragon Jump move is used with the lance and a Full Thrust with the great sword. These attacks are chosen by pressing left or right on the D-pad and Triangle to activate. There is also a context sensitive X button which can help rescue allies, perform a warp attack on enemies, or even allow Noctis to warp to high up areas and survey the battle before launching into another attack.
As you may have gathered, this is by far the most drastic departure from the traditional turn based combat from the Final Fantasies of yesteryear, and I would say that it works, for the most part. The biggest issue I had was figuring out the lock on system. Holding R1 focuses a reticle on the creature in the center of the screen and clicking R3 locks on. But while attacks will go in the direction of the target, as of this writing, I cannot discover a button that resets the camera to the target. In an action game, a proper lock on system and camera has been vital since Z-targeting was introduced in Ocarina of Time.
At one point I was walking through the world when it began to get dark. The game issued a new quest, tasking me with locating an area to set up camp. As I made my way to the marker, night fell quickly and I soon found myself surrounded by more enemies then I had ever faced, some of them far too powerful for my party. Engaging in battles is done by just entering the general area where creatures are, which can mean that just moving around can draw more enemies into the fray.
In the dark, I quickly found myself overpowered. Large, metal clad knights appeared out of nowhere and one good strike could decimate my health bar. But in FF15, reaching zero HP does not mean your characters are out for the count. Once he was out of Hit Points, Noctis would begin moving more slowly, allowing me to limp away. Using the touchpad as a button would allow me to pause the battle and use a health potion and when my buddies were in the same boat, I could go and tap them on the shoulder to get them back in the fight. Because losing you’re health bar gives a shorter, secondary bar. Game over is only reached once that it completed.
Barely scraping by after my last bout, I made it to my camp site. Sleeping allows you to cash in all the experience that was gained the previous day and level up. Also, if you acquired ingredients then one of your characters will cook a meal, with better ingredients providing better status boosts the next day.
As we know though, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Opening your inventory still reveals Potions, Antidotes and Phoenix Downs, and when I saw the Chocobo Ranch on the map, I made that one of my first spots to visit. While the yellow birds are here in all their HD glory, riding them will only be available in the full game.
After exploring more of the area which includes forests, wetlands, plains dotted with small buildings and humongous creatures and even coming across a modern highway with light poles on the roadside, I picked up the trail of the Behemoth. Tracking it from site to site, I was able to locate it’s hide out. I had to trail the giant creature without getting to close or too far away, until it lead me to it’s home. Reunited with my friends again, a plan was hatched where it is now my job to act as bait and lure this giant beast into a trap. Less than five minutes later, my attempt was less then successful. My friends lay in heaps on the ground as the Behemoth stood over Noctis and beat me into a game over screen.
Overall, I’ve spent about 2 hours with the demo, and I know that I have just scratched the surface. Apparently, there is even a small dungeon in this version, although I have yet to find it. The new combat system worked better and better with every battle and for those who are weary about the change from a turn based system, I would advise to actually play it before passing final judgement. One thing was clear, I needed to spend more time exploring this slice of the world before attempting to tackle the boss again. And having to spend more time with Final Fantasy: Episode Duscae is by no means a bad thing.