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    Final Fantasy XV: Brave New world

    This series has always known how to make an entrance, and the fifteenth numeric instalment is no different. It’s been through a hell of a design (and redesign) process, but we’ve finally managed to get some hefty playtime, with a slice of game hinting at an approach that serves action, diversity and expansiveness in equal measure. Immediately obvious is that the underlying structure of the ill-received Final Fantasy XIII has been abandoned there’s not a linear corridor or enforced battle in sight. If you were looking for something in the vein of Lightning’s adventures you might be disappointed. If you’re looking for something different and better this is it.

    A sense of scale and a focus on choice is the first thing that hits you, the wide-open vista that is the game’s Duscae region presented to us via a sweeping panorama designed to whet the appetite for what’s potentially to follow. It’s like a scene out of an attenborough documentary, albeit one punctuated by giant dinosaur-like monsters and futuristic settlements.

    More than ever before, this is a Japanese RPG that seems to be taking a wealth of cues from the Western school of game design. The never-ending draw distance of the open-world, and the personal way in which you can choose to engage (or not) with missions, hints notably at the experiences offered by the likes of Fallout, Dragon age and The Witcher.
    “Even if you have your plan in mind, events might not play out as you imagine them to”
    Plot A Course
    as an example, the most pressing task influencing our actions within Duscae’s environment of lush vegetation and varied wildlife is the fixing of our car. Without that we can’t embark on the kind of journey that acts as the spine of story-driven role-players of this type. There’s a problem, though. No-one in our four-person squad knows much about engineering, forcing us to find a way to raise the 24,000 gil required to have the vehicle professionally serviced.

    One solution is presented immediately: a bulletin board hosts a bounty poster explaining that a reward is available for anyone that kills a monster, the behemoth, that has been terrorising the area. Handily, the reward happens to be 25,000 gil.

    If you so desire, however, you can ignore the behemoth entirely. Unlike Final Fantasy games of the past, such obviously signposted missions like this are not obligatory. The goal is, after all, to raise money, not necessarily to kill the beast. more power to you if you can complete other quests you happen to stumble upon throughout the region, earning the requisite coin in the process. This form of choice is very much in keeping with the design of the best games in the genre at the moment, in that an overall objective exists, but the actions required to complete it are not set in stone.

    Even if you have your plan in mind, though, events might not play out as you imagine them to. a seemingly safe stroll from one vantage point to another can be interrupted by random events that force you to take action. For instance, aerial scout ships of the villainous Niflheim army patrol the landscape, and their drop-off points are not pre-planned or known to you. Here, you must decide whether to act defensively or offensively.

    Should you wish to avoid confrontation you can enter a low-profile mode at the press of a button, causing your party to crouch and take cover automatically behind any scenery you move them adjacent to. a red bar at the top of the screen indicates your visibility, a battle being triggered should it fill up completely. Hiding and moving slowly by crouching is the best way to prevent that from happening.

    At times combat is unavoidable, particularly if you’re caught traversing an open plain or clambering up a barren, rocky hill. Here, again, Final Fantasy XV seems more than happy to take inspiration from Western game design. Combat is strictly action-based, with you taking control of Noctis; a prince from Lucius, one of the game’s many other regions, and one that shares a love of spiky hair with this series’ former protagonists.

    Fresh Prince
    Different taps and holds of the standard attack buttons result in the execution of a range of combos that must be memorised to take full advantage of them. Noctis, ‘Noct’ to his friends, has a wide range of melee blades equipped simultaneously, with the one he wields changing automatically depending on your combo inputs. The generic avenger might be employed when you execute a series of fast slashes, while the much bigger and slower, but more powerful, Zweihander will be pulled out automatically when you’ve instructed Noct to deal a devastating blow.

    You’re free to alter which weapon is attached to which combo, giving you ample room to personalise your battle approach. Perhaps you want to put your fastest weapon into your most powerful slot, increasing the rate at which you use the attack but at the detriment to its potential to cause serious damage. Or you might want to fill every combo with mighty two-handed brutes at the expense of nimble swords. It’s up to you.

    As you may have guessed, there’s little-to-no semblance of there being a turn-based edge applied to combat. In fact, real-time reactions are vitally important given Noctis’ ability to parry, dodge and jump. If you so desire you can play a counter-attacking game, waiting for an enemy to approach before ducking out of the way at the last second and delivering a death-dealing attack when their guard is down.

    When you incorporate Noct’s command over magic (limited to special blade attacks in our demo and linked to a traditional mP bar), there seems to be a genuinely diverse range of options when it comes to defending yourself… even if that means hiding behind a rock.

    Four The Win
    Joining Noctis is the warrior Gladiolus, gun expert Prompto, and cocky Englishman Ignis. Each of them act of their own accord during battle and generally do a good job of scoring damage as well as supplying you with potions when the going gets tough. By way of balance, you must also keep an eye on their health bars and return the gift of healing when necessary.

    Every one of them is cloaked in the kind of fashion that only Final Fantasy can attempt and get away with. In this world, looking good most definitely takes priority over kitting yourself out in clothing suitable for long treks across unknown, hostile terrain.

    It’s in the visuals that things are most familiar, with sharply drawn characters and a retro-futuristic vibe creating something that doesn’t feel all that dissimilar in tone to FFVII. Of course, the technical quality of the graphics is way beyond what the series has produced thus far, but the sight of an old-school car whizzing along a road in the background as you draw your enormous sword to tackle a tusked-beast certainly adds a sense of nostalgia.

    Approaching Final Fantasy XV with too strong of an idea about what you want from the game is an act of entertainment folly, however. If there’s anything that our time with it so far has taught us it’s to leave your expectations at the menu screen and quickly learn to embrace and react to what’s being thrown at you.

    The way the pillars of gameplay have been constructed results in there being a ridiculous number of potential events that are simply out of your control. There’s a real dedication here when it comes to showing that this is a series capable of providing a modern RPG experience of the like Japanese games have barely ever attempted. When you combine that with a smattering of much loved Final Fantasy traditions, the end product is likely to be at least a little unpredictable. The title says ‘XV’, ancient for a videogame series, but this is just as youthful and adventurous as its predecessors.

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