NOT unlike Trico, the feline-esque star of The Last Guardian (my previous game review) the PS4 game Final Fantasy XV (Cert 15; c. €70) is something of a curious beast.
As the title suggests, it’s the latest in a long-running franchise – one of the world’s best-known and most-loved Japanese games series – yet, just like Guardian, the game staggered through almost a decade of development hell until its release during the Christmas period.
At a pinch, it’s a standard enough game, ticking many of the conventions for the genre: a main storyline to follow, lots of optional side quests to undertake, random strangeness, and twists and turns aplenty along the way.
However, it also attempts something new for the franchise, introducing a genuinely open world to traverse – a bog-standard feature of many Western games, but unusual for the FF series.
In essence, it’s a Bromance tale: a prince sets off to meet his beloved childhood sweetheart, with his three best friends (and bodyguards) in tow.
However, no sooner have they set off in their old Cuban-style banger than the kingdom’s been invaded behind them, dear old dad’s dead, and the fab four are on their own.
Cue a winding tale about making their way over a dangerous world to meet the hero’s princess fiancee and reclaim the throne, interrupted by lots and lots of backtracking, wandering around, talking, fetch quests, fighting, dungeon exploration and boss fights.
Final Fantasy fans may be in their element, appreciating that it follows most of the standard tropes for the series, while mixing things up a little with title-specific mechanics.
It has an interesting faux-modern feel, heavily drawing on classic Americana.
The characters speak on modern phones, whilst driving ‘muscle cars’ through places drawing influence from such diverse settings as the American mid-West, south America and Venetian cityscapes – while fighting everything from angry dragons to magical jelly to 40-foot-tall mechs. So far, so very Final Fantasy.
The end result is a game that looks very pretty in many parts, with several areas that provide quite a challenge, while more casual gamers may enjoy just coasting around in their mildly modifiable motor, taking in the sights.
Criticisms? For starters, the combat-focused gameplay lacks some of the tactical depth that previous titles in the series had, making it often feel like a just-hope-for-the-best button-masher.
Other aspects – such as the rather coquettish female characters – also jar a little, putting it behind other games with stronger, more naturalistic female role models seen in Western games these days.
It’s unlikely to win many new converts; still, FFXV presents a welcome step forward for the franchise, and offers plenty of value for money in the process.