Between everything else going on in my life right now, plus medical issues, plus other general stresses, my Amazon guaranteed release-day delivery didn't go well-used this time around. After weeks of being too busy to play, I decided the experience deserved the best hardware experience possible. Somewhat reluctantly and after a bit of deliberation, I decided to upgrade my barely-used OG Playstation 4 with the newest Playstation 4 hardware. Amusingly, on my OG PS4 on launch day, I was able to pull down the 1.02 update in about an hour. Thinking to myself, "Hey, I can actually get settled in with Square Enix's ten-year work tonight!", I was left sorely disappointed by a 5-hour update experience, but by Saturday morning, everything was good to go, and I set off on my journey, both excited by the prospect of gameplay that reminded me of XII, but worried it would be CorridorQuest all over again (thanks, XIII).
Upon starting the game, I was met with white text on black backround: "A Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers." Interestingly, this persists beyond the first launch. While I realize I'm a sentimental person, this resonated deeply with me and conjured memories of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest (before anyone laughs, I actually really enjoyed it!) My journey with XV began with the Options menu. MANY things were exposed to the player even before beginning a new game. Most notably, perhaps, was the addition of inversion for both the X and Y axes this time around. This was important to me, considering FFXII trained me to move with the left stick and pan the camera (invertedly) with the right. Audio is now mastered in Surround, which delighted me - I'm still not too entrenched in "high definition" stuff just yet! Adjusting screen brightness and calibrating my display took a decent amount of time, as I had to do it both in-game and on my 4K Samsung set. I opted for subtitles and showing names for speakers as well. Somewhat begrudgingly I opted for Easy mode, simply because it offered a more involved experience in learning the new combat system: I'm still on Easy for now, but as I become more comfortable, I'll ramp up the difficulty.
The game began by asking me if I wanted to get a lay of the new control scheme by way of tutorials; I obliged. I did my due diligence by not reading about the game, looking at its media, reading leaks, et cetera, as I wanted to have as pristine a first-time experience as possible. I was vaguely aware of the concept of 'warping' before beginning my quest, but the tutorial did a fantastic job of getting me primed for a battle system that was more akin to MMOs than previous games - ACTUAL ACTIVE TIME BATTLES. What a concept! Initially, I was terrible at following visual cues; I'm not someone who's had much experience with action games in the past, and I can certainly call this an action RPG, as it has a lot of Dynasty Warriors-esque hack and slash influence. With time, though, concepts were communicated in a way I could digest and I caught on to the flow of things. When I had Saxxon join me on gameplay later on, I had him go through the same tutorials and drills I did, and unsurprisingly he did a far cleaner and more concise job than I could have hoped for.
The story begins with our four 'warriors of light' pushing a gorgeous car down a highway, backed by music to set the mood, capitulating on the title card. The game begins with political dialogue from the very beginning, bringing 'The Empire' trope to life once more. Given that I want to focus on gameplay over story, I'll leave it here for now (but I'm impressed so far, despite only being on the third chapter)! Each member of the party focuses on specific weapons, while the main character, Prince Noctis, can use any weapon type and has the ability to warp across the battlefield in both defensive and offensive fashions. Each character has a hobby associated with them as well: fishing, survival, cooking, and photography. These skills are leveled up throughout the game based on how often they're used. Actual EXP from fighting and completing tasks is accured until the party rests, either by camping or by spending money to stay as inns, motels, resorts, or mobile homes. Eating out or while at camp provides the opportunity to gain temporary status boosts; finding ingredients and learning recipes is an important part of gameplay. While camping provides a chance to cook and gain those status boosts for free based on foods you're capable of making, staying elsewhere privdes an EXP boost, with the boost growing larger the more expensive the accommodations are. It should be noted that 20:00 is nighttime in the game, and being out after dark can lead to dire consequences - but I don't want to spoil it!
As with console Final Fantasy games starting with XII, an explosion of sidequests are available, some of which are more required than others, but all offer lucrative rewards. Being a completionist and someone who is quite interested in breaking games, I've opted to push forward with as many sidequests as possible, despite being in the early game. As a result, my party has reached level 36 already and has access to some very powerful weaponry. I'm very excited by this!
In order to gain access to most sidequests, it's necessary to speak with 'tipsters'. These tipsters are generally restaurant owners who offer food, but also provide information about the local area and hunts available nearby. Local information is shared on the world map, plotting areas to draw magic ala Final Fantasy VIII, camp, park, fuel, and more. While it's possible to discover things while roaming the overworld on foot, because the world is so vast, it's far safer to have an idea of what's in the area before you trek through it; you never know when you'll find yourself out at night in need of respite.
Mobs will spawn both nearby and far away. When spotted, the mini map presents a circular radius where combat is engaged; running from battle is done by leaving this area. It should be noted that just because one mob is attacking doesn't mean that others won't form - it is very easy to get overwhelmed by enemy numbers if one isn't careful.
The drawing distance in this game, at least while played on the PS4 Pro, is worlds different than previous titles. Overall, the visual fidelity of the game is extremely polished, with the vast world having a great degree of contrast between areas, all of which look very organic. The game and world both feel modern: characters have guns, smartphones, cars, etc. While there are some differences, the feel I've gotten from the game so far is that it should be a fantasy extension on real life. Audio in the game is pretty phenomenal so far as well, though it should be noted that both while driving and walking around MP3s can be listened to via in-game purchases from various shops. No, this isn't DLC, but rather 'CDs' purchased in-game with gil. Amusingly, many previous Final Fantasy soundtracks can be sampled, as well as some other content from other games and soundtracks.
By and large, my experience with XV has been very positive so far. Initially I was going to comment that the story seemed sparse, but then I remembered that I'm avoiding the story intentionally, and instead am focusing on the so-far-endless amount of side content the game offers. The game does an excellent job imposing fear and apprehension, as well as positive moments. The characters I've encounted have been full of personality, and even NPC conversations overheard have character. I look forward to digging back into the game Tuesday night!
Feel free to leave specific questions if you'd like my opinion on anything in particular! I'd love to share my struggles and successes.