30th March 2016 was a huge day for Final Fantasy fans around the world. During the Uncovered: Final Fantasy XV event in Los Angeles, we finally received a release date for the fifteenth instalment of the beloved series: 30th September 2016. After years of waiting for confirmation from developers Square Enix, excited fans were also treated to the announcement of a tie-in, CGI film starring Aaron Paul called Kingsglaive, a five-part anime series titled Brotherhood and, most importantly, a brand new sample of gameplay; the Platinum Demo: Final Fantasy XV.
Though much shorter than the previous demo (Episode Duscae), Platinum provides valuable insights into the full game, giving players a better understanding of what to expect upon its release this winter. Indeed, as someone who’s been longing for the immersive storytelling and fantastic gameplay that characterises the golden age of the series (entries six-nine, obviously) I feel increasingly confident that Final Fantasy XV will manage to recapture the unique brilliance that sets the franchise apart from other JRPG’s.
Set inside a dream world of protagonist Prince Noctis of Lucis’s creation, a setting which seems unlikely to appear in the actual game itself, the Platinum Demo offers almost no information pertaining to the overall narrative, whilst the absence of any other characters save Noctis means there’s a similar lack of development in this area. I don’t see this as a problem though, since there’s plenty of plot and character information available in trailers and other sources, allowing the Platinum Demo to focus on showcasing the new combat mechanics and the game’s undeniable technical prowess. That’s not to say absolutely nothing can be extrapolated from it. The complicated relationship between Noctis and his father, King Regis, is hinted at on a number of occasions, reinforcing the significance of their bond to the core narrative. Isolated lines of dialogue show the young Prince lamenting the dearth of time spent with his father during his childhood, conveying a certain degree of vulnerability in the young protagonist. This air of susceptibility, combined with the immense responsibility as exhibited in various trailers, augur well for a protagonist who is both multi-faceted and absorbing; something that’s been absent from the series for far too long.
As stated above, balancing this lack of story and character content is a highly enjoyable demonstration of the gameplay. In keeping with recent Final Fantasy titles, the combat is real-time instead of turn-based and seems to offer a far more satisfying balance between fluency and speed, reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts. A simple control scheme is employed alongside a streamlined HUD that manages to remain overtly Final Fantasy in style, whilst moving with the times. Overall I found the combat in the Platinum Demo less chaotic than Episode Duscae (the longer demo released in 2015), though as Noctis fights alone here, it’s difficult to say if this feeling will persist upon release of the full game. Other noteworthy features include the appearance of office block sized, semi-divine Eidolon/Aeon/Summon/Espers Titan and Leviathan, furthering the perception that these beloved creatures will play a major role in the final release. Likewise, the importance of vehicles is implied by the range of cars Noctis can drive throughout the middle stage of the demo, particularly as his father’s Audi appears to have a special place in the Prince’s early memories. It’s also possible to transform into strange, vaguely familiar animals at the very end of the demo; though it’s hard to see what, if anything, this implies for the finished product.
Graphically speaking, Final Fantasy XV looks absolutely brilliant both technically and artistically. The aesthetic of the various environments is reminiscent of the beautiful, immersive worlds veteran fans come to expect when playing a Final Fantasy game, whilst the technical execution results in a visual style which exploits every ounce of power eighth generation consoles have at their disposal. Everything from the rain effects to the urban environments at the climax of the game appears to have been carefully crafted to create settings which are believable and fantastical in equal measure. Likewise, the soundtrack (crowned by Florence and the Machines superlative rendition of Stand by Me) is a welcome return to form after a succession of acceptable but forgettable scores that have underwhelmed me personally from Final Fantasy X-2 onwards. Composed by Yoko Shimomura, the Platinum Demo promises a beautiful playlist to accompany Noctis and the player throughout the final release; pieces that will hopefully match the amazing work of former series composer Nobuo Uematsu.
For anyone who’s read this far, it should be obvious that my expectations are dangerously high for Final Fantasy XV, something I didn’t expect before the playing the Platinum Demo and the announcements on the 30th March. Before, I was concerned the combat system would be so far removed from the roots of the series as to be unrecognisable; just another, mindless hack n’ slash title. Now, however, this brief sample of gameplay has allayed those fears and, along with the character and plot information as presented in the numerous trailers, along with the gorgeous graphics and enchanting score, I can honestly say I’m as excited about Final Fantasy XV as I am Mass Effect: Andromeda; and that’s saying something.