I’ve been waiting 9 years to experience Final Fantasy XV, and the time has finally come with the purchase of Final Fanasy Type-0 HD (which is a pretty fun game anyways). After such a long wait, I was worried the game wouldn’t remotely live up to all the expectations. Lucky for you, I’ve written a unnecessarily nice long preview for you. I won’t say the demo was perfect, but after several hours, I am more excited than ever for Final Fantasy XV.

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The demo opens with the main characters waking up in a tent, and right away I couldn’t help but notice how theatrical the camera was. Instead of a steady shot or cutting here and there, the camera zooms around the tent in one shot. It’s a technique that immediately told me the presentation is going to be incredible. I love cinematic games which remains true with most Final Fantasy titles, but I can see XV taking it to the next level. As far as graphics go, they are pretty impressive, but I expect them to be even better by the time the full game releases.

I didn’t know much about the characters, but they all have their stereotype set pretty early on. Noctis, the royal blood, may look like the depressing, emotional character so many people tend to hate in Final Fantasy, but he cracks jokes through the demo. He shows real personality in the short time I played as him and not another grumpy teen.

Gladiolus looks to be the typical brute; strong and likes action above all else. Based off the demo, he will be my least favorite I feel. Ignis is the smart, methodical thinker in the group. Clearly the leader if Noctis isn’t making a decision, and who always has something intelligent to say. Prompto is the character I thought I would hate, based on how every RPG needs that upbeat, peppy person who grates your nerves almost immediately. Prompto didn’t do that once. He made me laugh, and his input, albeit not the wisest, was entertaining and felt natural.  This demo has reinforced my faith in the characters, and even if the demo showed their shallow side, I already like them, and can see their depth being discovered in the main game.

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The demo further strengthened this was a road-trip among friends, and even if something serious is happening – say the destruction of Noctis’ kingdom – they find time to joke around in a convertible. I do find it a little strange they joke around so much with such serious matters going on, but then again, that’s always been Final Fantasy so I should expect it. The demo doesn’t do much to reveal the story, but it does provide you with a good sample of the atmosphere that will probably be presented throughout most of the game.

I more or less knew all of this before playing the demo, but it reinforced what I already thought. I really wanted to get my hands on the demo to experience the combat and see what it would feel like. It has its ups and downs, but for the most part, I absolutely loved it.

FF XV gets even further away from the turn-based root by going all action. Truthfully, it resembles Kingdom Hearts more than anything, but it’s definitely more complex than button mashing. You can hold down one button and Noctis will auto combo with the main weapon you have equipped. For me, this meant he struck the enemy with a short blade swiftly, before using a lance for the final powerful jab to finish them. This works for a majority of the small enemies, but the tougher battles require a little more effort than holding one button.

You can change the weapon positions, but I don’t think the demo truly revealed the depth of this mechanic. It changes the main weapon you strike with, which allows you a personal preference for fighting style. It’s the usual: big, slow weapons do lots of damage, and small weapon gets a lot of quick hits. Each weapon has its own special attribute and technique attached with it. I think it’s safe to say the full game will have a lot of options to utilize for different strategies. I preferred the small weapon with quick strikes because it would build my MP meter faster.

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That’s important, because MP is everything in FFXV. You use MP to defend, which is done with holding a button. You dodge almost all attacks automatically, but each dodge will cost you a little MP. If your MP gets to low you can no longer dodge or use techniques. Clearly, this is a disadvantageous position to be in. Your MP recharges automatically and attacking with certain weapons will also gain you MP faster.

You have more powerful attacks called techniques that use a bigger portion of your MP. They can be powerful thrusts, or draining enemies’ health to take as your own. They are useful, but they drain your MP pretty quickly. I used them sparingly in the right situation, which is exactly how it should feel. I liked having the ability to use powerful moves, but with the risk of becoming vulnerable. It’s best to knock your enemy off guard before using one.

This is mostly done with countering. Easily my favorite part of the demo. Holding the dodge button will dodge all attacks apart from the heavy strikes enemies will throw at you. If you time it right, you will turn the strong enemy attack back on them, often times killing them instantly. Enemies with a lot of health get knocked over and you then have a previous few seconds to unleash deadly attacks on them.

This system keeps the battles from becoming boring button mashes. Taking on one or two enemies will end pretty quickly, and you may not even have to counter. You may see the counter coming and wait for it, making these fights subpar. The best is when you get in a fight with dozens of enemies at once.

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I continued to play the demo after beating the Behemoth (the boss of the demo) because I find it so much fun to jump in enormous battles that last 10-20 minutes. I start fighting a heard of buffalo like creatures, and next thing I know a dropship is delivering robot soldiers to the battle. Now I have enormous buffalos charging me, and robots shooting at me. You can’t defend forever and wait for combos, you’ll run out of MP far too quickly. You need to constantly attack, defend when necessary, and be ready for a quick counter at a moments notice. These fights are far more interesting and the action is fast-paced and constant.

The robots break off into pieces as you attack them making it feel like each strike has some heavy impact and the enemies are really taking damage. It’s interactions like this that make Final Fantasy XV even more enticing to me. Noctis will place his hand on the ground if he tries to turn sharply, and he will hop over fences he runs into. He will push aside brush he has to walk past, shiver in a cold cave, and watching his clothes flap in the wind is more pleasing than I should ever admit. It’s the next step in video games that we come to expect, but don’t always receive, so when a game does it well, I can’t help but appreciate it.

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Final Fantasy XV also does something unique by allowing you a second chance of sorts if your health falls to zero. You enter a critical stage where you cannot attack or defend. You have a red bar that acts as a second health bar. If you continue taking damage, you will get a game over. You can use a potion to heal yourself, or wait for one of your friends to heal you. They are decent at getting to you in time, but most of the time I threw myself a potion to get back in the fight. You friends can also enter this stage and it’s wise to heal them as fast as possible. You will only be able to get as much health back as the red bar, so if you take damage in the critical state – say half of the red bar – then when you’re healed, you can only fill up half your health bar. This makes battling for long periods of time more risky, and adds another level of difficulty. Sometimes I had to run and avoid battles because my team all had low health and the only way to restore it was camping.

Camping is another unique touch in the Final Fantasy saga. You cannot save your game as you play (sometimes you will be given a checkpoint right before a boss), to save the game you need to sleep at night. It is also only with camping that you receive exp for what you did since you last camped. And you guessed it, if you die before you camp, you lose all your progress. Once again, it’s a play-at-your-own-risk concept. You will also lose any small unfinished quests, forcing you to push forward into the night if you haven’t completed a quest yet. Enemies will also change at night and become much tougher. Not only that, but camping will also give you a chance to eat, which grants you buffs for the next day, and yes they can run-out, making you camp again.

final-fantasy-15-dropship-nightAre you getting the picture? Camping is important, but you can make the game challenging by not camping as often. I already expect someone will beat the game without ever camping…because people are crazy. In all seriousness, I like that the developers have factored in people like playing games in different ways. Final Fantasy XIII forced you to play it there way, even by adding level caps, while Final Fantasy XV is options galore, allowing you to play how you want.

Take the big moment in the demo.  It’s all about completing the quest to kill the Behemoth. They want you to beat the behemoth with a summon that you discover, which also looks beyond incredible. The summons are massive and apparently the size of a Eidolon will be a factor in its strength. Point is, you summon this incredible Eidolon to destroy the Behemoth, or…you can fight him without the summon the hard way. That makes Final Fantasy XV have replayability and gives you more ways to tackle a portion of the game. I did a Tidus only run in FFX and a low-level run in FFVIII. I can’t wait to see what kind of runs will be possible with FF XV.

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The other aspect that is unique with the Behemoth is how you complete the quest. It isn’t as simple as run to the marked location and fight him. You have to uncover his tracks to find his location, stealthily follow him to his liar, come up with a strategy, and then take him on. It makes the hunt feel more real to you that something big is happening, and not another normal encounter. Once again, the cinematic perspective really helps. It feels like you’re playing a movie at times, and I like that more than I can describe. It puts me right in the action, and I can’t wait to see what else Final Fantasy XV will do.

The issue I have with this type of side quest is how I can see future ones becoming more like fetch quests. To track the Behemoth, I only had to run around in a decent sized area to find the clues. I’m afraid a future quest may have me run to the four corners of a map, or collecting ten items before progressing. It extends the game and adds content, but I don’t want it to turn into Dragon’s Age: Inquisition with the unbearable fetch quests. It’s too early to tell of course, maybe future quests will be unique and in-depth to provide an original experience to keep you playing after the story. Who knows.

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My main other issues with Final Fantasy XV are mostly technical, and I hope they are fixed by the final game. The frame-rate can drop unbearably low, maybe even less than 10 frames. This is unacceptable in the final game and it will make some fights agonizing to experience since you need to have quick reflex in this action oriented game. The other issues are small but still equally annoying in a long play session.

The camera could be zoomed out a little, or have the option at least. The zoomed in camera makes for very intense looking fights, but it isn’t the best way to actually play. There are too many things going on to be zoomed in like that, and I didn’t have a good sense of the battlefield. Maybe that’s the point, that it is confusing and hard to focus when there are a dozen enemies, but nevertheless, I foresee some cheap deaths because of a camera angle.

Many times I couldn’t attack an enemy because my ally would step in front of me. Noctis interacts well with the environment, but running around your friends is shockingly difficult. They tend to get in the way an awful lot, and there were instances I wasn’t able to finish off an enemy because Prompto was standing in the way. They either need to move out of the way better, or let Noctis push past them easier.

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The lock-on system in place is pretty terrible. You have to hold one button to get right target, then click the joystick to lock on. You cannot switch locks, you have to unlock and then relock to a new person. It should be like Final Fantasy Type-0 where you press one button to lock on, and then a shoulder button to switch targets. I’m a little shocked it’s missing and hope some new system is installed before the release of the final game.

A small issue, but still highly annoying and costly, is the rescue button and teleport button happen to be the same. Everyone knows by now that Noctis can teleport to locations, enemies, and even just a few feet. Everyone also knows that you can save a teammate that is in critical condition by running up and pressing a button. Those buttons are the same, and obviously, there will be times you mean to heal an ally and teleport away from him. It is a costly mistake that can end with a game over, and it is really a simple fix so there should be no excuse.

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One thing is for sure, this demo has made me ten times more excited for Final Fantasy XV. It probably won’t be out for a long time still, but this progress shows me my wait isn’t for nothing. 9 years is a long time, but this demo—well…it doesn’t make up for the wait, but it certainly restores some faith. I won’t tell you to purchase Final Fantasy Type-0 just to play this demo, but I will tell you that you should get excited that Final Fantasy XV is finally being finished in the near future.

About The Author

Neil has had a passion for video games ever since the Atari entered his life so many years ago. He's been writing about them for over two years and sees no end in sight. Reach out to him on twitter @nconnors13