'Final Fantasy 15' Review roundup: 'IGN,' 'Polygon' and 'Kotaku' critics weigh in
After going through countless iterations and delays, the nearly 10-year development period for Final Fantasy 15 has finally come to a close. The game is set to officially release for PS4 and Xbox One on Nov. 29, and reviews for the open-world fantasy RPG are starting to trickle out from all the big gaming outlets.
Good news: All three outlets published glowing reviews of Final Fantasy 15, but there are a few thorny areas where they disagree.
Here's what the critics are saying about Final Fantasy 15.
Final Fantasy 15 review roundup: A new era for one of gaming's longest-running franchises
Final Fantasy has existed in one form or another since 1987, and it sometimes struggles to adapt dated series tropes to reflect the genre's latest trends. Still, despite being in development for an incredibly long time, Polygon, IGN and Kotaku all seem to think Final Fantasy 15 confidently proves it's worthy of your attention.
In his review for Polygon, Philip Kollar said the changes Final Fantasy 15 makes to series staples are largely successful:
Final Fantasy 15's own opening text describes it as "a Final Fantasy for fans and newcomers alike." The game contains pieces sure to disappoint players in both camps, but it also provides a refreshingly human take on the classic RPG journey that I hope will inspire future games in the franchise. Final Fantasy 15 can be baffling in some of its questionable choices, but across the board, it hits more than it misses.
For IGN, Vince Ingenito wrote that the old and new elements of Final Fantasy exist alongside each other in Final Fantasy 15 — mostly in harmony, though not always:
Having played every numbered entry since the first, I can see both reverence for the old and a courtship of the new in this latest chapter. I'd like to say it's an elegant fusion of the two, but in reality it's more of a duality — a conflict that reaches into nearly every aspect of Final Fantasy XV. In the end, its beauty, charm and commitment to the bond between its four protagonists keep it glued together, even when some of its design and story elements threaten to pull it apart.
In his review for Kotaku, Jason Schreier said Final Fantasy 15 feels like a response to complaints about previous Final Fantasy games:
Final Fantasy XV is, more than any single-player Final Fantasy before it, absolutely stuffed with things to do. There's fishing, gardening, bounty hunting, photography, bro-dating, arcade gaming and a coliseum where you can wager on monster battles. There are more than a dozen optional dungeons. You can deck out your car with silly stickers and even transform it into an airship once you've finished the game. There are super-powered weapons and secret bosses. NPCs will offer you dozens and dozens of sidequests. In many ways, this game feels like a direct response to fan complaints that Final Fantasy XIII was too linear.
Though he goes on to say that most of the sidequests aren't particularly interesting, Schreier seems happy overall that Square Enix was responsive to fan feedback about the series' previous entries.
Final Fantasy 15 review roundup: Lively, exciting characters
If there's one common through line in the critical reception of Final Fantasy 15, it's that the central cast of quirky characters is the key to its success.
Kollar said that despite the game's melodramatic main storyline, the most enlightening character development happens in its smaller moments:
As they drive across the countryside, Noctis and crew share charming, everyday banter that's all about building up their friendship rather than relaying plot beats. Prompto takes dozens of pictures documenting the trip. When they turn in for the night, the group sets up camp, and Ignis cooks. Each in-game day's end is punctuated by the friends gathered around a fire, eating, enjoying each other's company.
Ingenito said he grew fond of Final Fantasy 15's characters over time, and that learning about their personality quirks made them feel realistic and relatable:
I know Ignis' favorite brand of coffee and why he doesn't mind doing all the driving and cooking. I know Gladiolus' favorite food and that despite his gruff, aggressive demeanor, he likes to pull out a book and quietly read during long drives. I can tell you for sure that Prompto hates bugs but loves chocobos, which he sometimes sings about for no apparent reason at all. These details aren't connected to events in the plot, either; just observations I've made from hours of car rides, long walks, and meals shared. I can't remember the last group of video game characters I could speak about with this level of familiarity, and it's because Final Fantasy XV turns every aspect of this travel routine into an opportunity to showcase their personalities.
Schreier praised Final Fantasy 15's characters, too, but he noted that players who find even one of the characters annoying might not enjoy the game quite as much, simply because the characters' interactions play such a large role in the game overall:
One of the first things you see in Final Fantasy XV is a group of four beautifully coiffed men pushing a broken-down car down the road. On the soundtrack, Florence and the Machine perform a haunting rendition of Ben E. King's "Stand by Me." These four men are clearly good friends. They tease each other. They make bad puns. They gossip about girls and even have their own specific seats in the car, as is necessary for a proper road trip. "I won't be afraid," Florence croons, "just as long as you stand by me."
Final Fantasy 15 review roundup: Critics are divided on its combat system
One area where critics had diverging opinions was Final Fantasy 15's combat system. It doesn't have a turn-based system like older Final Fantasy games, but its real-time combat isn't quite as deep as something you'd find in Bloodborne or The Witcher 3. It tries to strike a happy medium, perhaps as a way to appeal to old-school Final Fantasy fans and newcomers alike.
Kollar thinks this new system works, saying that it will help Final Fantasy 15 appeal to players with different gaming backgrounds:
While combat in Final Fantasy XV doesn't provide the same level of control as in a full-fledged action title, it's approachable, and it's also flashy as hell. There's depth there, and I felt more comfortable and better able to fend off harder enemies the more time I spent with the system. But it's also set up in such a way that if you're not good at fast-paced games, you shouldn't have any trouble getting through at least the main story.
In his review, Ingenito was less convinced, describing Final Fantasy 15's combat as dynamic and interesting to look at, but mechanically "thin":
While the visual and thematic payoffs are big, the actual mechanics of battle are sadly quite thin. Holding circle performs a continuous combo string on whatever is closest, and holding square allows you to dodge or block nearly all attacks from any direction as long as your mana holds out. This can turn combat into a fairly passive experience at times, though Noctis' teleportation abilities do make things slightly more interesting ... In this way, Final Fantasy XV regularly packages and serves you these impressive-looking combat moments rather than having you truly earn them dynamically, which kept me from ever really feeling like Noctis' power was my own.
Schreier was the biggest fan of the battle system out of the three, saying the following in his review for Kotaku:
The glue holding Final Fantasy XV together, even at its most brittle moments, is the combat system, which ranks among the best I've ever encountered in a game like this. It's an innovative mix of real-time reflexes and cooperative strategy that feels like a natural way for Final Fantasy to step into the modern era.
One prevailing caveat: all three reviewers noted experiencing issues with the game's camera during combat when confined to smaller, indoor environments.
Final Fantasy 15 review roundup: Gorgeous, exciting, open world
The biggest change to Final Fantasy 15 over previous entries in the series is its massive, open world, much like that of The Witcher 3 or Dragon Age: Inquisition. Each of the three critics celebrated its design and the survival mechanics that help to imbue the open world with personality and charm.
Kollar specifically noted that Final Fantasy 15's open world plays off its emphasis on the game's characters, fleshing out their personalities as you engage in the game's basic activities:
These bits of character building tie into mechanics in some clever ways as well. Part of what makes the end-of-day camping sequences possible, for example, is that you don't level up until you rest. That also smartly gives you an opportunity to cook meals, which gives you stat buffs for the day ahead. In a nod to some more recent hit franchises like the Monster Hunter games and The Witcher series, cooking the proper meals is all but necessary preparation for taking on some of the harder enemies in the game. Those stat buffs, in turn, provide a concrete reason for combing the game's massive open-world map for vegetables, fruit and other cooking ingredients. All of these side systems connect and interlock in a way that feels clever and satisfying.
Ingenito liked that the open world is actually dangerous, making players think critically about how to traverse it safely, which re-enforces the game's road trip motif:
The open world of Lucis is huge, and its towering geographic features and sweeping, wide-open plains give it a rare sense of scale. Though exploring it was easily my favorite part of Final Fantasy XV, the logistics of getting around take some getting used to at first. There's actually a fair bit to learn if you want to travel safely and efficiently. Time is constantly flowing, and traveling at night, even by car, is dangerous. You'll need to think about keeping your ride fueled up, paying for chocobo rentals for long off-road trips where your car can't go, where to spend the night and even what to eat. Though initially inconvenient, these extra steps do make the simple act of getting from point A to B feel like an actual trip.
Schreier said the open world is designed competently but works best as a vehicle for providing insights into the game's characters:
It strikes a different beat than other comparable open-world games. While in Skyrim or The Witcher 3 you might zoom around the map knocking out your to-do list in big bunches, Final Fantasy XV encourages you to slow down. You're not just hunting monsters by yourself — you're with a group of friends who comment on just about everything as they merrily roll along. Noctis and the gang might have an urgent mission on their hands, but they're perfectly happy to spend days in the wilderness, racing chocobos and fishing for trout.
Final Fantasy 15 review roundup: Sometimes weird, uneven storytelling and dialogue
One thing that all three reviewers noted is that Final Fantasy 15's story is a bit convoluted and uneven — certainly par for the course, as far as Japanese RPGs are concerned.
Kollar said it feels like elements of Final Fantasy 15 had to be truncated during its development, resulting in a story that's uneven and sometimes senseless:
The first half of Final Fantasy 15 sprawls, urging players to take it at their own pace and enjoy themselves. The second half feels out of breath in its pacing, moving past whole nations and plot beats far faster than they can be resolved. Numerous side characters and story elements that are slowly developed in the first half are dropped entirely or given disappointingly weak conclusions as a result. This seems impossible to say for a game that's been in development for 10 years, but it feels there were much bigger plans for the second half, as if the developers had to scale back the size of the open world and the scope of the game's plot, and squeeze everything into half the time intended.
Ingenito wasn't too fond of the game's main storyline either, but mostly because it drastically alters the gameplay, yanking players away from the open world he loved so much:
It's just a shame that the story more or less washes its hands of the open world for most of its second half. You can return to it pretty much whenever you'd like to, but narratively, it's dropped in favor of a series of one-off areas that are extremely linear and generally less interesting than what I'd been doing in the first half. One particularly painful section temporarily strips Noctis of his friends, his powers, and his gear, forcing him down narrow corridor after narrow corridor for almost two hours.
The script is far less fluid, laced with groanworthy lines that should've been cut from an earlier draft. ("I see the sea," proclaims one character when you reach the ocean.) Many of Final Fantasy XV's pivotal cutscenes are poorly written and oddly shot, and some of the biggest moments happen off-screen for some reason. There are gaping, baffling holes in the plot.
Final Fantasy 15 will be available Nov. 29 for Xbox One and PS4. For more on the game, check out what Conan O'Brien had to say about it on his show and watch the game's dreamy, psychedelic "Omen" trailer.