At its core Final Fantasy XV is game about friendship. Now, that might sound broad or not all that informative a statement. Here’s a better description. Watching the relationship between the four main protagonists that make up Final Fantasy XV – Noctis, Gladio, Ignis, and Prompto – grow and develop as they face increasing and more perilous threats is almost always completely endearing. In that it feels like the animated adventures of a boy band in a world filled with monsters. Where each member has their role, is totally down with the opposite sex, but not afraid to don some designer pants and pose fashionably for photos. Or cook elaborate meals using only the freshest of produce, whilst constantly providing moral support and words of encouragement to their fellow bros.
And when setting up camp in the wilderness - do so only using the best camping equipment money can buy at your local Ray’s Outdoors.
Originally released in November of 2016 on PS4 and Xbox One, Final Fantasy XV: Windows Edition represents a complete edition of sorts that includes all post-release expansion content, several improvements and refinements made to the base game, plus a visual redesign to take full advantage of modern PC hardware. Now, waiting a year or so for the PC version might sound like a long time. But in the history of Final Fantasy XV this is only a small part of a decade-long story. One which began with the adventures of Noctis and crew as a simple standalone side-story to events of Final Fantasy XIII, where it then slowly morphed into the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One spectacle that was several years in the making.
One that Square Enix put a lot of support behind, with the title earning positive responses from fans and critics alike. This isn’t simply another port or collector’s edition; a lot of effort has been into the Windows Edition. A release that is also available on PS4 Pro and Xbox One X as the Royal Edition. A definitive version of Final Fantasy XV that has allowed Square Enix to flex its artistic and creative talent to create a technical marvel. A showcase for its Luminous Studio game engine, and the power of modern PC hardware.
Final Fantasy XV: Windows Edition was developed with support from GPU-maker NVIDIA and makes full use of the current GeForce 10 line-up of graphics cards with several features that make it one of the most visually impressive PC games currently available. From the Best Digital Grass ever thanks to NVIDIA’s Turf Effects, where an individual blade of grass not only casts its own shadow but also physically interacts with the environment, through to ShadowWorks. Which allows for both hard and soft shadows to appear everywhere within an environment, including underneath the perfect supermodel-like nose of Final Fantasy XV star Noctis.
Clearly Square Enix has taken the time to ensure that this port of critically acclaimed RPG stays true to not only the developer’s history of creating cutting edge visuals, but also Final Fantasy’s.
Now, going from friendship to the finer points of digital grass might sound like quite the jarring segue-way, but it’s in line with the Final Fantasy XV experience. A game that regularly flirts with brilliance, only to fall short in strange but never frustrating ways. Because after all, this is a game that begins with Prince Noctis and crew on their way home to attend his wedding, only to suffer a break down. Of the motor vehicle variety. And so, the very first bit of Final Fantasy XV gameplay involves having to push a car along a highway to reach the nearest gas station.
There’s nothing quite like Final Fantasy XV, and really, it’s a better game because of its quirky charm. Take the following exchange as an example. A conversation that takes place during a side quest that involves finding the best ingredient to pair with Cup Noodles. As in the add hot water two-minute variety. Gladio’s favourite snack in the food-obsessed Final Fantasy XV.
Gladio: Something dawned on me, food you make tastes better when you use good ingredients right? Then if you take something already delicious like Cup Noodles and add in the finest, freshest ingredients, what do you get? The ultimate flavour experience!
So, I ask you Noct. What's your favourite ingredient?
Noctis: Minced Meat
Gladio: That's what I'm talking about. Minced meat is the key to the perfect cup of noodle. But why stop there? I say we outdo the ordinary. Find ourselves some real good meat that'll surpass perfection!
Where, after hunting some rare monsters to get some red meat.
Gladio: You know something? Going through all that trouble to make our own custom cup, it's made me appreciate Cup Noodles even more.
Ignis: Perhaps we truly can't improve upon perfection.
Gladio: It's not about finding the single best ingredient. It's about crafting that perfect blend of meat, egg and shrimp. That harmony of flavours is key.
Prompto: Yeah, you're right. Makes you appreciate how delicious these noodles really are.
Noctis: I know I sure do.
If one were to dig a little to find a metaphor for the entire group coming together to overcome obstacles, like the ingredients in a perfect Cup Noodle, one could easily do so. There’s substance to the subject matter throughout no matter how funny, on-the-nose, and outlandish it gets. And when the story gets suitably (or Final Fantasy) convoluted and complicated, the through line and relationship between the four main characters never falters. If anything, it keeps growing to the point where their journey adds all the weight to the underlying save-the-world from perpetual darkness storyline.
A narrative that is in many ways, at odds with a lot of the design.
Final Fantasy XV feels like a game of two halves. One half that offers a vast and intricately designed open world to explore, quest, cook, fish, race, and spend time with your friends one last time before you set off to get married. And a second half that is linear but cinematically propulsive in the dark, devastating, and emotional stake-ridden story it tells. And it’s with these two halves that you get the impression that Square Enix didn’t quite figure out how to merge open-world exploration with a linear story that steadily moves from location to location – and usually with the previous location destroyed in some way.
Not that either half is bad, but the tonal shift is jarring to the point where you’re given the option to go back to the open-world at any resting place later via accessing your memories. A strange way to break up the dramatic action of the main story, and one that always feels slightly off. As the early parts of the game take place in the vast open areas of Lucis, it presents a very different style of Final Fantasy. One where linear dungeons seamlessly connect to the main world, quests and characters and monster hunts are found throughout. And fun activities like Chocobo racing, fishing, and collecting parts to convert your royal ride into an off-road monster truck can be enjoyed at your own pace.
When the story kicks in Final Fantasy XV shifts into spectacle mode, dramatic sequences, action aplenty, and a road trip that becomes apocalyptic in its urgency. At no point does taking a break to delve into a memory to go fishing or hunt a rare monster feel natural, even though you might feel the need to do so to level-up before for the final battle. Where it does make sense and provide an emotional pay off, is after completing the game. Where being able to go back, explore Lucis, and spend more time with the gang feels like a reward as opposed to a weird shoehorning of the open-world mechanics into the ‘end-game’.
Presented as a Final Fantasy for fans and newcomers alike, Final Fantasy XV does away with many of the series’ complexities in lieu of streamlined action that focuses on using each of the four characters in the heat of battle. Turn-based combat is out, single-button attacks with a modifier or two in. Magic is relegated to limited use items, where calling in Gladio to perform a massive two-handed sweep attack or Prompto to fire off his gun from a distance so you can sweep in for a big hit are the main abilities you trigger. Different sure, but one that adds to the theme of friendship.
The relationship to Final Fantasy’s of old can be felt throughout. From the dynamic arena circles that appear whenever you encounter a foe, where you can flee any battle by simply running outside the border, to the implementation of truly awesome Summons – that naturally involve gods that fill the entire sky. Even characters like Prompto hum the iconic Final Fantasy victory theme now and then after a heated encounter. Plus, sing about riding Chocobos.
Even with its faults, from the weird two-halves of the story to the often poorly designed and uninteresting side-quests, Final Fantasy XV feels like a triumph. Characters, heartbreak, and joy over any one mechanic or impressive set piece. Weirdness too, from the obsession with food through to the use of cars to get from one location to another. And then jump out to hop on a giant chicken-bird thing. Discovering a new location or seeing a giant monster for the first time, Final Fantasy XV constantly surprises. And thanks to its likeable cast of heroes, provides as memorable an animated adventure of a boy band in a world filled with monsters could possibly be.
Reviewed on our gaming rig, the AusGamers 3000