Like many others, I was excited to hear that the HD Remake of Final Fantasy Type-0 would also include a playable demo for Final Fantasy XV dubbed ‘Episode Duscae’. I had already been excited about Type-0 since its first release on the PSP, so Episode Duscae made for a delicious little extra.
Final Fantasy Episode Duscae begins with very little exposition in terms of narrative positioning. There’s no explanation at all as to who these people are or where they sit in regards to any sort of large-scale story. And just who are these heroes? Noctis, Gladious, Ignis and Prompto (Links? Images? Something of that ilk): a quartet of young men clad in black who seem to fulfil every ideal of bishounen [anime/fandom]. It’s to be expected that a demo will focus more on gameplay, but I think a little exposition would have been better. If I hadn’t been followed Final Fantasy XV since its days as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, I wouldn’t have a clue who or why any of these characters are here.
Our adventures awaken in their tent with a singular challenge to tackle. Their car has broken down, it’s currently in the shop and they need money for repairs. Naturally, our heroes do what any video-gamer would do in this situation. They hunt monsters to collect their loot. In this case, it takes less than a minute to find a wanted poster for a Behemoth named Deadeye whose bounty will cover all your repairs. (How very convenient). With this goal in mind, you’re let loose on the unsuspecting open-world of Final Fantasy XV – Episode Duscae.
Exploring Final Fantasy XV’s Open-World:
Resplendent and picturesque; those are the two words for how this game’s world looks. The wetlands and forest that make up the demo are full of greenery and wild beasts. Since we’re in the Wet-lands, there’s also a decent amount of water which, regrettably, ends up getting in the way since our characters can’t swim. It’s a missed trick that breaks the flow of exploration and makes the whole experience less immersive (I can summon a spear out of thin air but I can’t swim? What sort of protagonist am I?) This becomes doubly bothersome when there are large monsters grazing in the water itself, openly incentivising you to swim towards them for a fight. It may seem like a small issue, but if the game ends up feature a lot of aquatic areas it will eventually become a more invasive impediment, so I very much hope that’s a change that gets made for the full game.
The size of the area in the demo leaves you with a lot of ground to cover and, once the awestriking landscape loses its lustre, walking from place to place becomes a touch tedious. With your car in the shop, no quick-travel mechanic and all of the local chocobos inaccessible, the almost-random encounters became a nuisance that I would often just walk way from. After the third hour of the demo, I found myself wishing my dear friend Diablos would show up and bless me with Encounter None. We know the car will be accessible in the full game and, since chocobos are also featured, you’d expect them to be rideable too (and hopefully breedable!). The car itself is the carrot-on-a-stick to motivate us and the characters during the demo, but, you don’t get to drive it once it’s repaired; very disappointing.
Still, after the corridor-fest that was Final Fantasy XIII, the open-world is a pleasant change. With the growing success of western RPGs over the past decade, it’s pleasing to see Japanese developers taking cues from that to create a more liberating gameplay experience.
Combat in Final Fantasy XV:
The combat system in FF XV feels like a natural progressions of the real-time combat system that Square-Enix have been using since Kingdom Hearts and has been long refined in other titles like Final Fantasy: Crisis Core. This time around, things feel much more minimalistic. As you can see in the screenshot above, there’s a lot less going on as far as the heads-up-display. Your basic attack is one button that can be held down. Special attacks are called ‘Techniques’ and can be cycled through left-to-right in a small menu in the bottom left (again, see above).
The defensive system is particularly worth mentioning. Unlike other real-time combat systems that Square-Enix have used, where you’d typically have an evasive roll as your principle maneuver, FF XV gives you a sort of perfect dodge instead. Hold down L1 and you’ll automatically dodge all incoming attacks – as long as you have MP. But, beware – no MP means no dodging at all.
I personally take exception to this design choice as it feels like a bad one. Combat is already over-simplistic with single-button attacking, so to also have single-button dodging ends up bringing it all down to three different types of maneuver. Worst of all is the fact that your defensive abilities are limited by MP. You replenish MP by attacking, but what this creates is a system that discourages use of Techniques in favor of a two-tune combat system where you alternate between holding down either the attack or the dodge button. It’s not a change that can be made easily, but it’s one that feel is warranted. This criticism comes about chiefly because the demo is bundled with Final Fantasy: Type-0 HD which, in understanding, is the polished improvement of a finished game. Still, as it stands, the combat in FF XV feels like it has taken an odd step where one foot has moved forward and the back.
Final Fantasy XV’s Graphics and Overall Presentation:
The graphics in Episode Duscae are predictably picturesque. I played it on my Playstation 4 and all of the screenshots in featured here are from the console itself with no editing. You can see that it’s all very amazing, which is exactly what we’d expect from cutscenes in a Final Fantasy game. Easily the most impressive scene in the demo is the summon Ramuh. I’ve included some shots of the sequence below and I’ll let them speak for themselves:
Gorgeous, without a doubt.
The Future of Final Fantasy XV:
Until the reveal of this demo, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that Final Fantasy XV (formerlly Final Fantasy Versus XIII) was lost to development hell. I’m glad to see that’s not the case and, so far, the developers have shown a much more open approach to how the development of the game is being handled. With no release date yet announced, I’m hopeful that Square-Enix will use Episode Duscae as an opportunity to gather feedback so that they can improve the finished game. What Final Fantasy really needs is a game that revitalise the mainstream series. Final Fantasy XV isn’t that game – yet – but it feels close to it and there’s still time on the clock.
I believe in Final Fantasy XV, do you?