Last week brought the final demo for Final Fantasy XV and with it came a lot of surprises. Instead of the standard chunk of gameplay, Square Enix used the game engine to craft a stand-alone story that would give gamers a feel of how the game would play and even give them a little something extra for when the game finally releases.
This all-out approach at setting the latest triple-A JRPG apart from the crowd makes sense because Square is truly going all out this time. Not only is FFXV going to be a video game, but they are producing a CG film and anime series, they brought in star vocalist Florence Welch for the soundtrack, and are generally making a big, big noise, claiming that the game needs to sell upwards of ten million copies to make its budget back.
That’s a lot of pressure and probably a bad gamble, considering only one game in the franchise’s history has ever hit that benchmark and the gaming world agrees nearly unanimously that the Final Fantasy brand ain’t what it used to be. Even a lifelong fanatic of the series like myself has very low expectations from this latest entry. But on the other hand: hey, free demo!
I went into the Final Fantasy XV Platinum Demo having no clue what awaited me there. Honestly, I stopped paying attention to a franchise I once followed with a passionate dedication normally reserved to people who show up at Star Wars premieres in cosplay around the time they announced Lighting Returns (a game I have yet to play). By the time I was finished with the demo, I wasn’t ready to preorder just yet, but I was a little hopeful. If nothing else, this game is going to be….interesting. Here are five things that were showcased in the demo that caught me by surprise and made it worth my while.
I remember the first time I fired up Final Fantasy XIII on my Xbox 360 after a full generation away from the series. The beauty of it felt like it was going to melt my eyes. Since the 16-bit era Final Fantasy has always been the gold standard for RPG graphics, always a step or two ahead of everybody else. That may no longer be true as stunning graphics are now the norm, but FFXV is not slouching either.
What Square couldn’t do in graphical superiority this time, they made up for with creativity. The demo takes place as a dream of the main character, Noctis, where he appears as a child exploring various landscapes including a city, wilderness, and -most interestingly- a home in which you are reduced to miniscule proportions. You’re given mysterious switches to hit, crystals to collects, secrets to find, and plenty of room to run (or drive) around.Message from Square: his won’t be a linear corridor fest like most of FFXIII was.
There are some moments of awe near the beginning, such as when you step on a switch and trigger the appearance of a massive flying dragon which dwarfs the very landscape itself. Other switches alter the weather, give you items, summon foes, or even transform you, but most of my time was spent exploring nooks and crannies just looking at everything. In the giant home I found a book fort to my delight, took a few moments to enjoy the art and architecture of the city, and just had a genuinely good time taking it all in. By the end of the journey, I was well on my way to being sold on this “FFXV Universe” Square is hyping so much.
If I nerded out maybe a bit too much while exploring the book fort, I went full toddler when I discovered the destructible environments. This was demonstrated in the demo when I jumped into what I assumed was an immovable structure of blocks and collapsed it. The gigantic home featured many such structures and it occurred to me that I must lay waste to all of it.
I knocked blocks off of tables, I rolled them into other block structures, and I generally toppled every topplable thing for twenty minutes. I took screenshots of myself amidst the ruins. I found more crystals within them; the bastards had been holding out on me. I’ve never played an RPG featuring this amount of interaction with the environment, and I can only hope that the full game utilizes this to its fullest extent, because I can see all sorts of fun, Angry Birds-esque possibilities for this mechanic.
It appears that the destructible environment physics will make its way into battle at least, as the demo’s boss is capable of laying waste to city structures with its massive sword and you are also able to use them to your advantage. More on that later..
One of the most underutilized and fascinating places for a story to take place is in dreams because literally anything can happen. Japan gets this in ways the West doesn’t seem to grasp (compare the lush metaphoric insanity of Paprika to the sterile land literalness of Inception) and this demo shows us that by embracing the weird and using it to demonstrate what I assume are going to be mechanics in the final game using things that could only happen in dreams (or video games).
So are we not going to talk about the fact that I turned into a car? ‘Kay. It’s cool. Nah, I’m not leaving this alone. I assume that this was just to quickly show off the driving mechanics that are going to factor into the main game, but at a few points in the house level you can step on a switch and turn into a car and just…you know…drive around as a car version of you. I was disappointed that I couldn’t roadkill the enemies, but it served as a faster way to explore the area, at least. It was definitely not the sort of thing I was expecting when I launched this demo, though.
In the city I was able to take the form of ox and antelope-like creatures and battle foes with hoof and antler too. Why? Why not? That’s why. Not sure what this is going to represent in the actual game, whether there will be playable animals or actual shape-shifting, but consider me intrigued.
I was a little disappointed that the story wasn’t more refined and complete with context, but I have a feeling that this standalone dream sequence will fit into the main narrative in an interesting way and make more sense when we finally get to play FFXV. But for the time being it was a very unusual way to showcase a game and I appreciate that. It made it nothing if not memorable.
This was shockingly the deepest and most interesting part of the demo, and perhaps the smallest. Most of your time is spent wandering and exploring (or perhaps toppling toy block structures), and the enemies you meet don’t really fight back, which is no fun. They’re pretty much there for target practice for the new magic system, where you hurl area-of-effect attacks at baddies like grenades. It’s not my favorite thing in the world, but it’s a different approach at least.
Combat is 100% real time, but lest anybody considers referring to it as “button-mashing”, you continuously attack by holding down the button, so joke’s on them. You can defend similarly and I can see timing and reading your opponents’ moves being very important to success. You don’t really get a taste of a real fight until the boss appears at the end, and then with a little experimentation, you can find that there is a lot going on in FFXV’s combat.
There is a switch that lets you spawn the towering, Dark Souls-esque Iron Giant boss as many times as you like, and I suggest you do so because there’s a lot to play with here. I did a lot of things and I’m not even sure how I did them all since the demo offers little instruction and the Giant isn’t messing around. My experience was pretty much “push a button and watch something awesome happen”.
There was a button that let me warp through the air to a structure so I could get above the boss and then fly back at him to deliver a mid-air combo and dodge (although he was capable of knocking the structures I warped to down, which was cool), I’m pretty sure I threw a kunai at him at some point, and there was even a badass limit break attack. And the different weapons had different abilities as well. For instance, the massive broadsword gave me the ability to actually block, parry, and knock back the gigantic knight’s attack. This may shape up to be the most exciting real time combat system in a RPG ever.
A magical fox/unicorn creature whose squeaks manifest themselves as texts on your cellphone, complete with emoji? Didn’t I already cover the whole “dream weirdness” thing? Yeah, but Carby is an old friend -practically the only thing linking this story to the rest of the series- and deserves her (his?) own section here for two reasons. First, that thing is goddamn adorable and looks amazing. Second, they’re saying the only way to get her in the final game is to play the FFXV Platinum Demo.
That’s right, your guide through this dreamscape will be available as a summon when the game launches should you take the time to check out this fairly brief demo. And who wouldn’t want that? Look at that face! I don’t think there’s any visual image that sells the quality of these graphics like this little guy. If you want some Ruby Light on your side in September, make sure you get this sucker played by then.
At the end of the demo, you have the option to rename Carbuncle, which is a nice little bit of customization that may likely backfire if somebody gets a little creative with their crass humor without realizing this will be transferred to the final game, but that’s part of the fun.
Afterwards, Square goes all pushy car salesmen on us and asked you if you want to order the game RIGHT NOW! No, Square. Not half a year ahead of release with no incentives to speak of, thank you. They then let you know that you can go back into the demo and order it from there any time you want, hence the prominent “Order Final Fantasy XV” option on the main menu. Or you know, there are actual retailers and PlayStation Network and Xbox Live too. I don’t think I’ll have trouble figuring out how to order the game when and if I decide to buy it, Square, but I appreciate the thought. I don’t know that I’m 100% sold on returning to the Final Fantasy fold after years of disappointment, but if nothing else this demo was an encouraging sign that a great JRPG could potentially greet us in September. I’ll be waiting.