Final Fantasy and JRPG fans alike, the next main series entry has finally come after ten years of development, a title change and a two-month delay. Unfortunately, to the disappointment of fans of this website I’m not quite ready to give a full review. To my personal surprise, Final Fantasy VX manages to cram in a ton of side content that has taken up almost all of my play time. In fact, prior to writing this article, I have only just gotten back into the main storyline sometime around the twenty-five-hour mark.

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…I’ve spent far too much time on the fishing mini-game…

That being said, while I don’t believe I’ve played enough of Final Fantasy VX to give a full review of the game, I still feel like my current twenty-five-hour experience is enough to at least talk about what I love and loathe about it so far. For those of you reading who are still on the fence about forking out the $80-$100AUD price tag for a game belonging to a series that, let’s face it, has a lot to make up for after Final Fantasy XIII, consider this as a “before you buy” review. If you like what you read, then congratulations, I can safely say that you’ll enjoy your time with it immensely. If not, you’re probably better off watching a Let’s Play and enjoying the stunningly beautiful graphics.

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So, without further ado, let’s get into this with what I’ve enjoyed so far.

The good stuff

Despite the title and the stock-standard spiked hairdos that seem to be contract requirements for Final Fantasy protagonists, Final Fantasy VX does anything but follow the traditions set by its predecessors. With this new series entry comes some fascinating, if not welcome changes to the Final Fantasy gameplay formula that fans have become used to. The most immediately noticeable of these changes once you start the game is the new focus on a massive open-world filled with hundreds of hours’ worth of side content and collectable goodies galore on top of the main story quests. And as I mentioned before, these will most likely be what you’ll spend a good chunk of your time on.

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There’s a surprisingly pleasant variety to the side-quests you’ll come across as the game progresses. You’ll find yourself getting experience points for doing all manner of things ranging from hunting down dangerous wildlife for their carcasses, harvesting crops for local shop owners, completing fishing challenges, or even just finding some choice spots to take photos of the world’s stunning landmarks.  Since money drops from combat encounters don’t exist in this game, you’ll also find yourself hunting down local monsters of varying toughness in order to keep your wallet nice and fat to buy new weapons and necessary curatives. Even outside of questing, you’ll usually be straying from your intended path to grab hidden treasures, explore secret dungeons for bonus loot, and even collect ingredients to use in meals you can eat at camping spots.

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Speaking of which, this brings up another interesting change to the traditional formula: resting for experience points. Rather than follow the usual RPG standard of applying experience points to characters after combat or quests, Final Fantasy VX takes a different approach by instead adding any earned experience into a daily accumulative pool. It’s only when you rest for the day that your pooled experience points are applied towards gaining levels. And while this seems a little annoying on paper, its actually heavily encouraged to do so for some very good reasons.

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First, while you’re free to explore the world during the day, the game warns that much tougher monsters will start popping up come nightfall. From personal experience and many game over screens, I can tell you that you really should follow the game’s advice to avoid being out and about at night time unless you’re somewhere within the Level 40-50 range. This means that evenings and night-time will serve the perfect point to rest up for the day and cash in that hard-earned EXP. Secondly, stopping to rest at the world’s multiple camping grounds will give you access to a range of meals which you can collect the recipes and ingredients for as you explore. These will give you a variety incredibly handy stat buffs for the next day that will prove to be especially useful for monster hunts and combat-focused side-quests. It’s also worth mentioning the amount of detail put into making the food look as appetising as possible, making for some rather amusing, if not hunger inducing food porn.

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Even Cup Noodle looks good!

The change to real-time combat, similar to that seen in games like The Witcher 3 is also incredibly fun if a little on the shallow side. The controls are pretty simplistic, assigning a button to attack, a button to dodge and a button to use your warp ability, which can be used to escape a large scuffle or to close the gap between yourself and an enemy in the distance. If things start to get a little rough, you can also call on special techniques that are used by your fellow party members which can do things like weaken enemies for a small period of time, or deal heavy damage to a group of enemies. It’s an especially satisfying moment when you can time these techniques correctly to deal a massive amount of damage in a row, even more so when done to turn the tide of a losing battle in your favour again.

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Really, the only downside to the combat in my mind is that the use of magic feels like it hasn’t been given much consideration. In Final Fantasy XV, magic is treated essentially like a limited batch of grenades. You can craft spells at any time using energy you drain from specific points on the map, but you’re only able to create variations on the series standard of fire, ice and lightning. You’re given the ability to modify the spells you create by using items from your inventory, but these modifications usually only serve to do extra damage or add status effects like poison or confusion. It’s by no means a deal breaker, but it is a little disappointing for someone like me who likes to build up an arsenal of spells to wreck shit up in a combat encounter, or heal up and buff party members so I didn’t have to waste any items. Of course, I imagine it will come down to the personal taste of series fans as to whether or not this is a welcome change.

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Unfortunately, I don’t consider myself very far into the storyline to give any opinion on it at the moment, but I can at least give mention to the surprising amount of detail given to the game’s main boyband troupe – I mean main cast. I don’t think I’ve ever actually enjoyed the company of an entire Final Fantasy party before, but it’s thanks to little moments and pieces of dialogue during gameplay that offer a sense of endearing comradery between the four protagonists. During combat, they’ll talk to each other to make sure everyone else is holding up alright, apologise for almost hitting each other, make idle conversation about the weather during long car trips, and sometimes even comment on a quest they’re in the middle of undertaking and why the quest giver has started relying on the group to carry out their dirty work.

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But I think my personal favourite character moments are the ones you get to experience when you rest up for the day. Every now and then, a member of the group may come up to the player controlled character, Noctis, for one of two reasons. The first comes when you rest at a camp ground, in which they’ll ask Noctis to help them with an activity in the early morning. These activities will vary depending on the group member, but I haven’t found myself disliking any as of yet. One of these moments that sticks out in my mind was when the burly bodyguard of the group, Gladio, challenged me to an early morning foot race along the beach. At the time, I thought it was just a silly minigame, but after a few hours I looked back on it quite fondly as a nice moment I shared with a member of the party.

The second and more personal of these character moments occur when you rest in nicer accommodation like motels. During these moments, a member of the group will sit down with Noctis for an optional heart-to-heart conversation that gives you a deeper look of their character outside of their mid-battle quips. These moments definitely help round out a group of characters that initially feel one-note in terms of their personality. They did so well a job of this in fact that even Prompto, the most annoying character of the group turned into one of my favourites after a just one of these conversations. They suddenly showed a much more relatable and serious side to his happy-go-lucky and overly energetic character, especially when he showed concerns of being dead weight to the group because he wasn’t the strongest or wisest of the four. To me, it was a surprisingly well written scene that suddenly made his once annoying character traits much more bearable and understandable once I knew why he was acting the way he was. And these moments work in my mind because it feels like you’re organically learning more about the game’s four protagonists rather than suddenly being told something about them because the script says so.

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What brings it down

But no matter how much I gush about the writing of the characters, the open world exploration, or the shallow but fun combat, I definitely couldn’t call Final Fantasy XV a perfect game thanks to a couple of little annoyances. The most prominent of these annoyances can be found the game’s battle camera. While perfectly fine in open spaces like roads and buildings, fighting in any area which contains trees and shrubbery, which I guarantee is just about everywhere you’ll be fighting around the open world, will end up with your view of the battle being obscured by branches and leaves. I don’t know how it keeps happening, but it appears that the camera just loves to get its face buried in some bush. Not exactly what you want your view of the battle to be taken up by when you’re facing off against a large group of enemies or need to be able to see out a stronger enemy’s vague attack animation in order to dodge a potentially fatal strike.

Even one of the game’s unique selling points, the ability to drive around the fantastical world in a car, eventually becomes an exercise in tedium. While at first it serves as a unique way to show off the game’s impressive world as you travel to your next quest marker, it won’t take long before you start getting bored of seeing the same sights over and over again as you move back and forth around the map. Eventually you’ll find yourself stuck in the car with absolutely nothing to do for trips that can last up to ten minutes once the world map opens up later on purely so you can travel from point A to somewhere near point B faster than the painfully slow speed of walking. You have almost no control over the car beyond pushing the trigger to accelerate, breaking with the other, or parking with the push of the X button. The car is basically stuck on rails during these sections, so much that the game will simply plop you back on the rails any time you try to veer off course. As a result, you’re left being the observer rather than a driver.

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Of course, you are thankfully given the option to fast travel to one of the many parking spots that are littered about the map, but this comes at a very literal cost of 10 Gil every time you do so. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot of cash to fork out, but when you remember that money is rather difficult to come by, thanks to the decision to do away with loot drops, it will always feel like a significant waste of money in the early to mid-game. And even when you do have enough funds to afford it, you’ll have access to a perk that gives you experience points for taking car trips anyway, making the long and boring car trips feel like the better option over that of convenience given to you via fast travel.

But, as you can see from how much time I’ve praising the game in comparison to how much I’ve spent complaining, Final Fantasy XV’s strengths easily outweigh its issues. It’s definitely not a perfect game but it’s fun, it’s pretty, and it’s the shot in the arm the series desperately needed after the four-year-long beautiful disaster that was the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy. In my mind, if you like open world RPGs like The Witcher 3 and Dragon’s Dogma, you won’t be disappointed with this bromance-filled road trip of an adventure. After all, it’s not every day you get to play as a Japanese boyband that rides giant chickens like horses and cruise around in a flying convertible car, is it?

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Writer: Tristan Venables
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