Game Rant had the opportunity to go hands-on with an almost finalized build of Final Fantasy 15, and the storied fantasy RPG franchise is in safe hands.
Final Fantasy 15 is, despite the protestations of some, the lens through which the gaming world sees the entire genre of JRPG titles. As Final Fantasy 15 goes, so too will the ability of companies to market the genre to the west - and let's not forget, there's still a very real chance that Final Fantasy 15 will have a major impact on the console market in Japan, to the point that its viability might be defined entirely by sales figures from Square Enix's latest effort. To say that Final Fantasy 15 is a game with a lot of expectations to meet is a great understatement.
Luckily for fans of the genre, however, Square Enix appears to have recognized the importance of Final Fantasy 15 and thrown everything the publisher could into making it a multimedia giant. The success of side projects like Final Fantasy 15: Kingsglaive and the game's anime adaptation on YouTube has kept a constant buzz surrounding its development. While all of that excess content is a nice addition, however, it will still fall to Final Fantasy 15's gameplay to make its release a true success - and after a recent hands-on experience with Final Fantasy 15, we're prepared to say the game will revolutionize Square Enix's iconic series.
That's largely thanks to Final Fantasy 15's combat system, which has been a labor of love for Square Enix over the past year or two. For a system that underwent drastic changes mid-way through Final Fantasy 15's development, many would likely be pleased to have passable combat gameplay and a good game surrounding it. Instead, however, Final Fantasy 15 is the series' finest hour when it comes to battling enemies, and it's the kind of breakthrough in technology and implementation that Square Enix built a reputation for on the back of titles like Final Fantasy 7 and Final Fantasy 10.
On the surface, the switch to an action-based combat system is nothing special for a RPG title - The Witcher 3 found success doing it in the west, while the Kingdom Hearts franchise has had a variation of real-time action combat for over a decade now. As gamers explore the initial tutorial for Final Fantasy 15, they will be exposed to quick-paced, chain-based attack cycles that, while entertaining, feel as though they've been done before to a similar high standard in the Kingdom Hearts games. The tutorial is important, and teaches the basics well, but it feels as though it intentionally withholds a lot of the nuances of combat so that players can be surprised and enthralled by them once they come up over the game's narrative.
Once the game opens up a bit and lets its combat breathe, Final Fantasy 15 becomes a bastion of entertaining, fun, and challenging gameplay. The combat in the game is extremely fluid and highly customizable - players can quickly switch weapons on the fly to exploit enemy weaknesses or create unique spells that have various secondary powers alongside their elemental affiliations. We were able to build a Blizzard spell that also healed Noctis when he cast it, for instance, and that kind of flexibility is a huge boon for players who enjoy complete control over their combat experiences.
The Ascension system, Final Fantasy 15's answer to the popular Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy 10, makes combat even more malleable. There are skills that boost Noctis' ability to employ his warp techniques, but they are split into two schools of thought. Players can make Noctis' warp strikes more powerful, or they can give him the ability to warp away from enemy attacks at the last second more efficiently. The choice always feels like it is in the player's hands, and it is one that enables a number of different play styles.
Ultimately, though, beyond the intense depth of Final Fantasy 15's combat system and the triumph of the way it has laid out its skill trees, there is an underlying factor that ties the game's combat together under one unified purpose - entertainment. Final Fantasy 15 battles just look and feel cool, and watching Noctis phase in and out of existence while chaining together attacks with a javelin twice his size seems as though it will never get old. The magic spells are flashy, the enemies can be epic in scale, and Noctis' crew is a welcome, capable addition to AI-controlled party designs. Final Fantasy 15's combat has style in excess, and all the royal black clothing in the world couldn't water down the game's vibrant action.
It wasn't too long ago, according to Final Fantasy 15 director Hajime Tabata, that Square Enix earnestly believed its beloved Final Fantasy franchise was on the brink of dying. How far the game, and the series it belongs to, has come since then. In the two hours we spent hands-on with Final Fantasy 15, it felt like a title that was at once celebrating all of the successes that came before it while dutifully marching forward into the future. If the combat stays as fresh and invigorating as it is in the game's opening hours - and we have every reason to believe it will - Final Fantasy 15 is the game fans have been waiting for, and it is well worth the wait indeed.
Final Fantasy 15 will be available on PS4 and Xbox One on November 29, 2016. Game Rant previewed both the PS4 and Xbox One versions during the hands-on gameplay session.