The Epic of King Noctis Lucis Caelum

Final Fantasy XV

 

Tea: Sencha Grapefruit

 

[Words and comments about the long development of this game] Good, now that we got that out of the way, we can actually focus on the game and not just the history surrounding it. Quite frankly, it does not matter to me how long this game was developed and whether or not it is better/worse than the Versus XIII concept. I feel it is unnecessary and ultimately not justified. For one, Versus XIII was never a fully fleshed out game but only a concept. Second, there is so much more to be said about the game delivered to us that a focus on the game that could have been. With this little disclaimer out of the way, let’s hit the road with our bros and kill some things.

The game tells the story of Noctis Lucis Caelum, the prince of the kingdom of Lucis, who is to marry the oracle Lunafreya and ensure peace across the land. The interfering force is the empire of Nilfheim who seek to expand their dominance across the globe (?) (I guess this takes place on a spherical planet, might be a disk, I don’t know). King Regis Lucis Caelum, Noctis’ father, sends his son together with his personal guard: Ignis, a cold and smart British cook with a fetish for finding recipes in the oddest of places. Prompto, a school friend of Noctis who takes photos when he should actually be fighting for his life. And finally, Gladiolus, or Gladio for short, a shelf of a man with an equally impressive sword and a voice so deep you could stir your tea with the vibrato alone. Together they take a trip to Altissia to marry the prince to the oracle. If you think there are some slight underlying homosocial tendencies within this description, then rest assured, because they are far from underlying. The triangle of homosocial bonding with the help of a female as the mediator is something you can look up if you are interested. But it goes way beyond that. When the boys celebrate “bath time” it is hard not to giggle. Anyway, back to the plot: Along the way their journey gets intercepted by various road blocks (sometimes metaphorical, sometimes literal) and most importantly the enigmatic Ardyn Izunia, high chancellor of Niflheim. His motives are shrouded in mystery as he should seek to stop the prince, but often opts to aid them in a creepy but still helpful way. As a quick side note: The voice actor for Ardyn and his entire performance is one of my personal highlights and to get the full experience and range of his voice, headphones are a must. The goal of putting a ring on it is soon married to another task, namely to find the royal arms: weapons of kings long passed, but still filled with their power. To become a true king and ascend the throne, Noctis will have to bear these arms and accept his role, even though his inner struggle to do so is visible at various points, which makes for an interesting development.

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– The campsite moments are a subtle way of showing the bond between the main cast. –

The plot and characters are not only featured in this game, but also in an anime prequel of a few episodes, watchable on YouTube for free, and a CG-movie called Kingsglaive. It is often discussed that you need to watch all of this and you will still not fully comprehend characters and motivation etc. whining etc. I watched the anime and was perfectly fine (not with the anime, that was a drag, but the plot mind you). Yes, I did not recognise certain characters at first sight, but they introduce each important player in a semi-organic way so neither does it come across too forced or too vague. As a matter of fact, I cannot understand a lot of complaints about the story. It is not told in a straight forward way and you need to do some thinking and interpreting on your own, but it is no impossible task. I enjoyed the story and had no problems following it. The motivations of every character were clear to me when the plot demanded them to be clear. Simply because certain characters are mysterious at first, does not meant that their background/motivation is not communicated in a comprehensible way. All of the main cast go through a nice and solid arc, with Noctis’ being the strongest as you would want it to be. He is cold and distant at first but you grow to understand and sympathise with him as they drive along the road and talk with each other. He is no Cpt. Martin Walker in terms of inner conflict, but he fits the plot and world around him perfectly. Equally interesting is the main villain (who will be the focus of another article coming soon). Even side characters, like the mercenary Aranea Highwind, gain a lot of characterisation in the short time they are present. As a whole, I cannot really understand the complaints. The story is presented in a nice way that leaves some parts to be filled in by you. It is enjoyable to watch because of the strong main cast and wraps up nicely with an equally beautiful and tear-jerking ending after one of the best final bosses.

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– If you are into Monster Hunter, this game will be a dream come true. –

You will not spend most of your time with the story, but the moment to moment gameplay, so let’s talk combat first. Noctis has the unique ability to summon weapons at will and teleport to their location. Holding the square button lets you phase through almost all attacks, but it drains MP quickly, so timing is somewhat necessary. Teleporting out of the fray to a cliff/rock/radiotower for instance, restores all your MP instantly and you can return to the fight via a warp strike which gets stronger the further away you are. You can switch between several types of weapons on the fly, among them are short- and greatswords, lances, daggers, but also guns, and sawblades. Magic is also in the game, but unintuitively does not consume MP. Different materials for spells are found in the overworld near campsites and can be absorbed. Then they are concentrated in a little flask together with an item to change the effect the given spell has, and then they are thrown, like grenades. Their effect varies depending on the item and potency. Visually, all of them are a blast (haha…). My favourite are high-level blizzard spells, not only do they freeze any water surface and can get the enemy or your party stuck for a moment, but they truly feel like a blizzard just broke loose. Changing the weather and covering the ground in ice. Noctis even shivers and wraps his arms around his body due to the immense cold. It is a nice detail that only adds to the immersion. As you may have guessed, friendly fire is possible with the spells, so aim carefully. Your bros are fighting as well, but you can also team up with them for some combo attacks which are always fun and really useful, except for Prompto who only has two useful skills…

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– While combat may not be 100% what I wanted, it certainly looks spectacular during every moment. –

When you are not slaying the local wildlife or another random drop of soldiers from the sky, then you will either be running/chocobo riding or driving around. Traversal can be a chore sometimes, especially when driving to a new location and during the drive there is not much to do aside from looking at the scenery. Nice scenery, mind you, but I want to play a game here. You can drive yourself, but the controls are very stiff and simply holding the trigger down will get you 90% of the way there. You don’t need to manoeuvre in any way, aside from any junctions you may encounter, but they are few and far between. After having visited a location you can usually fast travel to them. But there are about 10 in the entire game to which you need to drive again. Presumably this was done just to piss me off. Every now and then one of your teammates may strike up a conversation with you, which is nice, but could happen a lot more often. You can listen to all of the old Final Fantasy tracks on the radio, which is also nice, but won’t save you from having to spend a lot of time basically doing nothing and looking at a glorified loading screen.

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– And here is a treasured memory of 20% of my experience… –

A somewhat unique mechanic is levelling up in this game. You accumulate exp throughout your adventure by doing quests, but they are not directly translated into levels. You can only do this during “bath time” or to be more precise whenever you rest. You can either choose a fancy hotel/rundown caravan and you will get a varying xp multiplier. Obviously, these locations costs money. A free version is camping in the wild. Here there is no multiplier, but Ignis will cook a surprisingly good looking meal of your choice which lends a temporary increase to various stats depending on the dish. So, both of these methods have their advantages and drawbacks. Earlier on it is, however, not really a choice you can make since either you are a near a hotel or a campsite and braving the night with random level 30 giants popping up from the ground may not be the best course of action.

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– First a nice meal and then some “bath time”. –

A huge praise must be given to the soundtrack. The entire thing is a true masterpiece and was an immediate purchase after finishing the game. Be it standard battle music, boss tracks, or exploration themes. Every single track manages to hit the right notes and convey the corresponding feeling. Such a robust and great-in-all-parts soundtrack is rare and welcome. Nothing more must be said about this masterpiece of musical work. If you need convincing, take a listen..

Of course, this game is far from being perfect. While I did not have such a huge problem with the controversial Chapter 13, which is so controversial that they are now working on changing it. God forbid a game changes its tone for one chapter and tries to surprise the player. No. grey swamp throughout the entire time please. I already mentioned the driving sections which could have used something to do aside from looking as sleepy as Noctis himself. The combat is fun, but sometimes a bit too unresponsive for me. I like my combat to be so tight it almost chokes me. Here the dodging can take a bit too long to register and oftentimes that is enough to bring you to the DANGER state. Which segways me into my next criticism: item use in battle. You have a combat menu for items, but using it pauses the game. It is an odd decision to include it in combat, somewhat, but then let it break the flow of combat so disastrously. Additionally, this makes the game far too easy, since you never really stand the slightest chance of dying as long as you have items, which is why I never died a single time during my entire playthrough. There is also a weird cover mechanic with which you can regenerate health by hiding behind rocks and other objects. This feels equally out of place and does not integrate itself into the flow of combat in an organic way. It seems like a last-minute decision to have a method to regenerate health without items and this was the best idea they could come up with. Then there is my personal nightmare: Altissia. The beautifully Venice-like city cost me 30 mins of navigation since I did not see the gondola which can take you directly to your objective. I wandered stairs up and down to get to that objective marker and never getting on the same level. This is due to the fact that in cities you cannot jump over fences or do any meaningful traversal aside from walking. Plus, your walking speed is reduced to this weird in-between jog. Maybe now knowing this, it can save your playthrough. But I put the game down after this section for a day. There are some badly written lines of dialogue here and there and of course the occasionally technical hiccup (give me a lift Gladio, don’t glitch around those rocks!). But nothing game breaking and immersion shattering. Another point of complaint often raised in the grown-up reviews, is that after a certain point you lose access to the open world for a rather long time and the game turns into relatively linear dungeons. Once again, this is not a criticism I can share. It was explained narrative-wise and made perfect sense to me. Streamlining the experience here may come as a surprise, but it serves to raise the tension near the end by not giving you the time to waste the time with side-quests. Time is of the essence and you simply cannot save the world and go for a quick monster hunt.

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– Staircases leading to a level of the city below or above my objective will now haunt my nightmares…-

The sheer scope and ambition of Final Fantasy XV can be felt in every minute. It is truly amazing it manages to pull this off most of the time. It is not without flaws and if the driving seems like a deal-breaker to you, it will be, since it does take up a good chunk of the experience. But if you can glance past this there is much to be enjoyed here. Be it hunting wild monsters, exploring classic FF dungeons, listening to the amazing soundtrack, or simply following the story to its strong conclusion. It does not revolutionise the RPG genre, but does almost everything perfectly. It is not just about the journey, but also the end of the road.

 

 

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