Impressions - Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae
Nearly 10 years ago, Dragon Quest VIII was released, and with it came a demo for Final Fantasy XII. Needless to say, Dragon Quest VIII sold very well.
That pattern repeats itself now, as copies of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, contain download codes to exclusively acquire a special demo for Final Fantasy XV, the former Final Fantasy Versus XIII which has suffered delay after delay. Perhaps it's somewhat fitting it would be packaged with Type-0, which itself was a former Final Fantasy XIII title (Agito XIII).
I've been able to put about five hours into the PlayStation 4 version of the demo, completing most of its content. I'd like to share my experiences with the demo and how I think it plays.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD on PlayStation 4 (includes Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae demo)
I'd like to start by saying that I have not kept up with the development of Versus XIII turned XV, so many of the plot details and other information that might have been revealed in the past I may not of been aware of, and may still not be aware of.
The demo, titled "Episode Duscae", takes place in a modern setting with fantasy elements, with cars and gas stations while featuring chocobos and magic. The game features a party consisting of four characters: the prince Noctis, the strong-arm Gladiolus, the brains Ignis and the youthful Prompto. During the initial loading screen, the game notes that the four were driving towards a sleeping entity, Titan, only to have their car break down. Repairs would cost the group 25,000 gil, and they must find some way to earn that money. They learn that a reward for a rogue Behemoth, Deadeye, pays exactly that much and set off to find it. Other than those four characters, the only other character of note is "Cindy", the mechanic in charge of fixing the group's car. The four seem to be familiar with Cindy as well as her "paw", Cid.
Slight spoilers ahead:
The group is able to find clues regarding Deadeye, and are able to track it within a foggy area of the woods and later a small ruin. The group quickly comes up with a plan to kill it, but fail and are forced to run. The group is told by locals about something strange within a nearby cave. Upon venturing within the cave's depths, Noctis touches a seemingly magic stone and is imbued with a sort of electricity. The group confronts Deadeye again and - while I suppose it would be possible for the group to defeat it normally - the game tries to force you to get Noctis to use his new power to summon Ramuh. Ramuh's overwhelming power annihilates Deadeye, and the group is able to acquire a Behemoth horn as proof of their kill. They get the reward, pay off repairs to their car, and resume their journey. The demo concludes with a slight preview of what's to come with the full game.
Spoilers end here.
Of the four, the game only gives you control of Noctis. You are unable to give commands or orders to the other three. Gladiolus is your physical force, Ignis acts as your healer while Prompto provides other support including techniques that can apply Stop to enemies.
Final Fantasy XV features an action-oriented battle system in which battles can start and end dynamically within the game's world, similar to Final Fantasy XII. Noctis has a wide variety of offensive and defensive options in his arsenal. One button is used for Noctis to dodge as long as its held down and he isn't attacking. Some enemies will perform attacks that can instead be parried - if Noctis performs the parry on time, he can counterattack and deal devastating damage.
On offense, while one button is assigned to regular attacks, Noctis can use "warp" techniques where he'll either teleport straight to an enemy or to a faraway high point to recover lost HP and MP. Specifically, MP is particularly vital as Noctis uses it to dodge, warp and use techniques such as a Drain Blade and Dragoon Jump. If Noctis runs out of MP, he'll enter "Stasis" where he won't be able to dodge, warp or use techniques until he can regain MP either by resting, taking cover, or using an item.
Noctis can equip various weapons including broadswords and lances, which he can swap and interchange on the fly depending on the stage of his attack (initial attack, follow-up, kill strike, etc.). Subsequently, some weapons work in some phases better than others.
Should Noctis or anyone else reach 0 HP, they do not instantly KO. Instead, they reach a critical stage, which I'll refer to as "in the red". They can't attack, but other party members can "rescue" them and restore them to their current max HP. I say "current max HP", because if they get hit while in the red, their max HP lowers. If their max HP reaches 0, then they're done for and need to be revived with a Phoenix Down. If Noctis' max HP reaches 0, it's a game over. Noctis seems to have control over items; if Noctis uses a potion on himself as soon as he hits the red, he'll restore his health back into a safe zone as long as he isn't hit in the duration. However, and I may be wrong on this, but the other characters won't use potions unless Noctis is both 1) near the character and 2) uses the command to force them to use a potion.
Characters gain experience by defeating enemies. After each encounter, the amount you get can added to by a percentage of what you earned based on how quickly you won, the damage you took, and the number of parries you successfully made. The demo features few enemies: a wolf-like enemy to start and a stronger palette swap later on, small and large varieties of Garulas, a mammoth-like enemy. Sometimes, especially late in the demo, robotic soldiers from "the empire" will drop in in a troop of six or so that can fire guns at you and stab you rather deeply with electric swords. In the cave, goblins are your main monster to fight.
The demo features multiple "camps" where the party can recover both current and max HP, while using experience earned in combat and quests to level up (they can't level up otherwise). The party can cook meals using ingredients either found on the ground, earned from enemies or bought in shops. For the demo, there are three recipes, each requiring two ingredients. Some are better than others, but you can't choose which recipe to use if you have enough ingredients for multiple recipes. Each recipe provides benefits to the party for the next day, which range from an increase of damage and experience gain, to immunity to certain status conditions. I haven't tried what would happen if you camped without ingredients for a meal, however.
After the events in the cave, Noctis gains the ability to summon Ramuh. However, Ramuh can only be summoned once Noctis falls into the red, at which point a button must be pressed and held for Noctis to summon Ramuh and, in a grand animation, the being destroys all enemies below him with Judgment Bolt. It seems like summoning is used in this game as a "last resort" to escape overwhelming battles, especially since enemies defeated by summoning give no experience or drops.
Overall, I had fun with the demo. There were a lot of rough edges, however, to how the combat works, some of which I'm assuming with be taken care of in the full release.
To start, as I noted, Noctis is the only playable character. The other three can't be controlled in any way except giving them potions. Ignis, the one who can use Cure, will use it sometimes but will often dive into combat with everyone else, making survival more trouble than it should be. Noctis' warp strike works pretty well in tracking down distant enemies, especially since battles can be somewhat chaotic when there are multiple enemies in play. Late in the demo, I was fighting against a few wolf-like enemies, a couple of Garula and two regiments worth of robot soldiers all at once. Thanks to lots of leveling and Drain Blade I fared alright, but it was tough to keep track of everything especially as some enemies were either zipping around or trying to flank you.
The area in the demo is moderately large. It takes awhile to go from camp to camp, or from camp to store, or from anywhere to the cave, and so on. In some wooded areas lie black chocobos (one subquest gives you quest experience for finding one), but you can't interact with it or ride it. A Sleipneir also wanders about - it packs a punch but it goes down quickly enough and drops an item that sells for a decent amount of gil. There are also two very large monsters wading in a lake. I did not confront them but I assume I would need to level up much more to stand a chance, if battle with them is even possible.
There was one segment of the game I definitely disliked. When the group tracks down Deadeye, there's a segment when Noctis, alone, has to keep track of Deadeye in a deep fog without letting Deadeye notice him or Noctis losing sight of Deadeye in the fog. Rocks nearby helped with cover, but often times I found myself frustrated by how easily Deadeye spotted me. I fared better when I didn't try to rush it but, as is often the case, stealth segments in non-stealth games are not fun to play.
The initial battle with Behemoth felt more like a QTE segment than anything else, as all Noctis needed to do was warp to a certain high point, and then you just ran from there. The second encounter encourages the player to suffer enough damage to summon Ramuh instead of trying to take down Deadeye manually, a somewhat counter-intuitive approach. I didn't really enjoy anything regarding the Behemoth as the game made it a point to force you to face it in odd ways. Deadeye reappears after you clear the demo but I have yet to re-encounter it. I hope to finally beat it on my own merit, though!
Overall, I enjoyed the experience but there were parts that were either frustrating or dull. Nothing too bad, mind you, but the things I noted above could use some improvement between now and the game's eventual release.
The party of four is definitely one of the more striking parts of the demo, of the game. Final Fantasy XV has, for now, an all-male party. No other Final Fantasy that utilizes a party of set, definitive characters has done that before. Furthermore, all of them are dressed nearly completely in black, in attire that reminds many of a Japanese boy band. It definitely seems like these four young men were designed to appeal to a specific demographic, and I don't live in the right country nor do I have the correct sexual preference to fall into that demographic.
Perhaps to throw a bone to those other demographics, the demo also showcases the scantily-clad Cindy, named "Cidney" in the Japanese game as a references to the series' recurring set of airship masters all named Cid. In XV, Cindy repairs the car and its implied you'll be able bring your car back to her for upgrades. Nothing about Cindy's personality struck me as unique other than calling her father "paw-paw", though.
I felt the demo's scenario of collecting a bounty to pay for car repairs to be pretty decent, but some other elements were kind of odd. The game notes the first entrance of "the empire" and its robotic soldiers a short time in, but these soldiers have no relevance to the plot within the demo itself. They likely serve as a grander reminder of what the full game will entail. The segment with the cave felt like storyline filler though I didn't mind actually playing through it.
The teaser trailer following the demo's conclusion was okay, nothing spectacular but it again establishes that the game takes place in a modern setting with cars and other modern technology but features medieval elements like magic, monsters, and royal kingdoms. The only other Final Fantasy to feature a combination like this was Final Fantasy VIII, and I thought that setting worked out alright, so I'm sure it will be the same here.
How excited are you for Final Fantasy XV?
I just now realized that I haven't really put much thought into the game's graphics and audio. I thought the scope of the area looked pretty well. Graphically, nothing particularly "wowed" me, though we've reached a point where nothing really can do so nowadays. The music sounded pretty good for the most part, and the game's audio was similarly good. I have no real complaints about the demo's graphical and audio package.
After completing the demo, I'm left with a sense of encouragement. The combat could use some tweaking, and the scenario focused around the four guys on a roadtrip leaves me a bit worried as well, but I think the game could turn out pretty well if the demo is a fair indicator of things to come. I'm cautiously optimistic about Final Fantasy XV, and I hope the full game doesn't let me down.