Archives for category: Final Fantasy

/happy
It’s been a few days now since I restarted my journey in Eorzea, and so far, so good; I’m loving the experience all over again and really wishing I hadn’t quit at all three years ago. I’m still taking my conjurer through her paces in Gridania, but progressing rapidly.

I did wonder, when selecting CNJ, if I might get a little weary of the Black Shroud; Gridania was my starting city last time after all, so I’ve spent many an hour wandering beneath its boughs. I needn’t have worried; I loved the forest then, and I love it now. Gridania had always felt like a second home to me and I missed it sorely in my time away. It feels like coming home.

I’m also really loving the pace of things. I mentioned in my previous piece that leveling seems to have been sped up dramatically – I’m getting a 100% xp bonus for everything I do – and after just ten hours, some of which I’ve just spent wandering around, soaking in the atmosphere, I’m already at level 18! I’m sure things will begin to slow down at least a little bit soon enough, now that I’m into levels that require tens of thousands of xp, but right now, I’m flying.

Everything feels much faster paced, which I appreciate having done all this before, and it means there’s much less downtime; where previously I might have needed to grind out a level or two in order to accept my next main quest, I’m now significantly ahead of the curve and free to just carry on with the story. Don’t get me wrong, there was always plenty to do to help you level up, such as taking on levequests, participating in FATEs or filling out your hunting log, but this time I’ve barely touched any of that content, relying mainly on main and side quests to shoot through the levels. I did finish off my tier one hunting log though, if only for old time’s sake.

Gridania has always been beautiful

Not everything is smooth sailing though. I’m playing the game across both PC and PS4, and each platform comes with its own set of hurdles for me to tackle. As I’m playing on a laptop, I’m finding target selection a bit of a pain thanks to the machine’s trackpad – there’s just not enough travel there for me to quickly and reliably switch targets. On console, I managed to remember that handy ‘L1+R2’ combo to switch to the next nearest enemy, but I can’t remember how to reliably target allies – a bit of a problem when you’re a healer! I suppose on the PC side I could increase my trackpad sensitivity – and it’s something I’ll probably play around with – but I think I’d be better off buying a USB mouse (seeing as i can’t seem to find one anywhere! I’m sure I had loads of the little buggers knocking about…). As for targeting allies in PS4, well… I’d better figure that out before I hit my first dungeon!

One thing that made me feel genuinely stupid happened late last night, though. I’d forgotten to log out in a sanctuary, so jumped back on for a few minutes to get my Miqo back to the Carline Canopy – she deserved a nice soft bed for the night, and I needs that sweet rested bonus. I entered the Carline Canopy and jumped on a table to dance for a minute while I checked something else (there weren’t even any sylphs around), and while I was occupied I heard a notification sound. Someone sitting at the next table over had sent me a tell. “Hello,” said a fellow adventurer called Peregrin Took. “New to the game, or coming in from another server?”

‘Well that’s pretty nice’, I thought, ‘I’ll reply!’ Now, I was on PS4 at this point, and I know it’s been almost three years since I last played this regularly, but I’m not kidding when I say it took me the better part of five awkward minutes, standing motionless on that bloody table, before I figured out how to do that. Well okay, maybe three minutes to figure that out, and another two to type a message out using the PS4’s on-screen keyboard. I mentioned before that I used to be in a fairly busy linkshell – indeed, some days I’d just sit for an hour or more talking in-game – but when I used to do that, I’d have a USB keyboard plugged into my PS3. I’m going to have to dig that out again – luckily, unlike the mouse, that hasn’t gone walkabout!

It’s all a learning process though, even if it’s mostly *re* learning stuff I once knew and have since forgotten. The important thing is that I’m back in Eorzea, and I don’t ever want to leave again.


Recently, I wrote about my return to the time-sink that is Destiny after almost two years away from the game, and it seems as if there must be something in the water; just this weekend, I returned to the realm of Eorzea more than three years after I last logged into Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.

Though there are similarities here – both games are persistent worlds that require a large investment of time and a willingness to group up with others – the situations surrounding me leaving each game were quite different: where Destiny disappointed as much as it thrilled, I loved A Realm Reborn right from the get-go. I took part in phase 3 of the game’s closed beta on PlayStation 3, pre-ordered the Collector’s Edition, bought a PS4 almost solely to play the upgraded version, and even had a small series on here, called ‘Postcards from Eorzea’.

But around April 2014 – not long after I’d upgraded to the PS4 version – I just drifted away from the game. From the official launch on PS3, I’d been playing with a good friend, levelling and running dungeons together, spending hours working on our digital avatars almost daily, and eventually, that friend decided that he didn’t want to pay the sub anymore. I understood, of course: a subscription MMO is a commitment, after all, and if you’ve paid for access you feel like you have to play the game as much as possible. These games have a habit of monopolising your time.

After my friend quit, I tried to soldier on for a bit. I had a group of fellow Eurogamer forumites that I’d chat with in our Linkshell, but they were all far more hardcore than me, and so were much further ahead in the game. It just wasn’t the same. So I stopped, and I’ve honestly missed it ever since. I’d still pay attention to news from the game, I’d sometimes look back through my captured screenshots and reminisce over some of the beautiful landscapes that make up the continent of Eorzea, but I didn’t have any plans to come back. So what’s changed?

My interest in Final Fantasy XIV was reignited in a big way when noclip’s excellent three-part documentary covering the game’s development was released just last week. Most people that follow the game will know that the original iteration of Final Fantasy XIV – what Square Enix now refer to as “1.0” – was an absolute disaster, with then-CEO Yoichi Wada going so far as to claim its launch “greatly damaged” the Final Fantasy brand as a whole. Square Enix embarked on an ambitious plan to not only continue to support 1.0, but secretly make an entirely new version of the game under new director Naoki “Yoshi-P” Yoshida, dubbed A Realm Reborn. The three-part documentary from noclip is an excellent, in-depth look at the death and rebirth of Square’s latest MMO, and I’m honestly quite surprised how open members of the development team were allowed to be in their interviews. It’s well worth a watch even if you aren’t particularly interested in visiting Eorzea.

However, the main reason behind my decision to dive back in actually does relate to Destiny, in a somewhat round-about way. If you read my piece about going back to that game (and I am still playing! I’ve recently picked up Rise of Iron and am currently trying to get my hunter up to the required level to do the Wrath of the Machine raid), you’ll remember that I joined a group on the100 – a good group of chaps united under the banner of Town Called Malice. One of the players there has also dabbled in Final Fantasy XIV in the past, and had also expressed an interest in going back. So now I had someone to go adventuring with! I was heading back to Eorzea.

I considered grabbing the Starter Edition on PC, as it’s currently £7.99 in the Steam summer sale; I already have the PS4 client installed (and it took an entire evening to update!), but I quite liked the idea of splitting my play time between the two platforms. However, I remembered that I’d once bought a Square Enix mystery box which contained a Windows license that I never redeemed – I was fairly sure I wouldn’t be playing the game again, back then. So I searched my inbox, and found the email containing my keys from the Holiday Surprise box bought in December 2015. Sure enough, there was a key for A Realm Reborn, but with it being a year-and-a-half old, I wondered if it might have expired. I headed to Mog Station, redeemed the code, and was granted a Windows license and a thirty-day sub! So I’m back in the game without having to spend a single gil!

As my original character, Khroma Midgard, was a male Elezen bard on the Odin server, I decided to roll something different this time. Please welcome Khroma Moonsong, a Conjurer on Louisoix.

I created a pink-haired catgirl. Yes, I know, I’m a walking cliche.

Ahem. Anyway, on my previous character I had played Archer up until Bard (levelling Pugilist along the way to unlock the Bard job, of course), as well as playing Conjurer up to level 17 and dabbling in a bit of Weaving. This time, I want to focus more on healing, so Conjurer is going to be my main class until I can get into White Mage at level 30 (I’ll obviously have to get Arcanist up to 15 as well!). I think playing supports so much in Overwatch has conditioned me to dish out the heals rather than the DPS!

So far I’m still in Gridania, and it feels like the pace of levelling has been increased somewhat – after just a few hours I’ve already hit level 10, and though the last time I did this was almost four years ago, things do seem to be moving at a much faster pace than I remember. I’m guessing this is done to help newcomers get up to speed for the recently-released Stormblood; now that Final Fantasy XIV is two expansions deep, I suppose the dev team want to offer new players an easier ramp up to the late-game content and encourage them to get into the newer stuff.

I don’t know what’s possessed me recently and made me dive back into two games that demand so much of your time, especially when I’m struggling to get through single players games (I still need to finish Nier Automata, Mass Effect Andromeda and Breath of the Wild) and my backlog continues to grow (Oh hi Valkyria Revolution!), but right now, all I seem to want to do is wander through these populated, persistent worlds. Hopefully this time, I’ll actually be able to make it through the base 2.0 storyline, and then I can think about moving onto Heavensward! This time, I’m planning to stick with it. And who knows, maybe I’ll even revive Postcards from Eorzea!

regalia
Little more than two weeks before the release of Final Fantasy XV, Square Enix released the third and final demo for their ambitious open world adventure. First there was Episode Duscae, our first proper look at Final Fantasy XV that released more than 18 months ago, as a bonus for those purchasing Final Fantasy Type 0. Then, as the company held a lavish event this past March to announce the (now missed) original release date for the game, we were, ahem, ‘treated’ to the Platinum Demo. With each demo, there has been as much to complain about as there has been cause for celebration, but this time the good massively outweighs the bad; this latest taster, Judgment Disc, shows not only that the game has come along in leaps and bounds, but that the two months Hajime Tabata’s team bought themselves back in September have been wisely spent indeed.

Of course, before we get into the gameplay and technical details of Judgment Disc, it’s important to note that it is a Japan-only demo. As such, if you want to play it, you’ll need to either change your Xbox region to Japan, or create a Japanese PSN account. As there’s no English text or speech, you could also do with some working knowledge of spoken and written Japanese. I have neither, but managed to stumble through the demo regardless (though not without a couple of issues, as I’ll get into later).

Getting into the demo itself, the first thing you’ll note is that it both looks and performs much better than either of the previous releases; offering nice clean image quality and steady frame rates, Judgment Disc shows Final Fantasy XV looking and feeling better than it ever has before. It’s even noticeably improved from the Gold Master footage Square Enix made available in the days after the delay announcement, so there’s no doubt that pushing back the release was absolutely worth it. The chunk of the game we’re given picks up right from the start, with the unexplained (and somewhat bewildering) chapter 0 flash-forward giving way to the present day as Noctis and chums must push their broken down car along a sun-baked highway to Hammerhead, before moving onto Galdin Quay in hopes of catching a boat to Altissia so that the prince can make it to his wedding in time.

Before long, you’re set free and out into the sandy region of Leide, to hunt monsters as payment for your car repairs, and it becomes immediately obvious that the chunk of world we’re given to run around in is absolutely vast, the generous demo recalling memories of Panzer Dragoon Saga‘s entire first disc being given away on the cover of Sega Saturn Magazine back in May ’98 (I still have that disc!). Indeed, it’s a shame that this demo hasn’t been made available to everyone, such is the positive impression it leaves; few will have played the promising Episode Duscae, tethered as it was to first print purchases of Type 0, and Platinum Demo really wasn’t something that deserved to be most people’s first point of contact with the game. Granted, it’s easy enough to get your hands on Judgment Disc – especially on Xbox One – but the fact that all text and voice is in Japanese will be off-putting to some.

If there’s one concern I do have at the moment, it’s that, at this admittedly very early point in the game, I think I preferred the combat in Episode Duscae – well, certain aspects of it at least. The systems are broadly similar of course, with Noctis switching between four weapons, stringing together combos as he goes, all the while dodging enemy attacks with an MP-draining defense stance or a more traditional dodge-roll. What’s different here is that, rather than building your combo by placing weapons in specific spots, influencing when and how they’ll show up in your ongoing assault, you now have the ability to switch weapons in real-time, a change originally seen in the Platinum Demo. This is absolutely A Good Thing. What’s less welcome, however, is the absence of Duscae‘s weapon-specific Techniques. In that first demo, each weapon in Noctis’ armoury had a powerful ability attached to it – his Blood Sword, for instance, offered Drain Blade which, after a short wind-up would hit the enemy and transfer some of it’s vitality to Noctis, while his Dragon Lance would grant you access to that iconic Final Fantasy Jump command. While we’ve known about this change for a while – they were also missing from the adult Noctis battle at the end of Platinum Demo, for instance – it’s still a rather disappointing change, and can serve to make combat feel a little more one-note than it previously did; while the game still isn’t a case of ‘hold circle to win’, as many detractors would claim around Duscae‘s release, it does now feel a little closer to that than it previously did. That being said, these Techniques do have a replacement here, of a sort. They’ve been given to your allies.

Well, kind of. You see, above your weapon UI, there’s a green bar with a few notches along it that fills as you battle enemies. Attaining a notch on this metre allows you to perform a party attack, ordering one of your entourage to carry out a specific ability. For instance, Gladio, Noctis’ beefy bodyguard, will perform Tempest, a wide-sweeping sword attack that pulls enemies together and was last seen attached to Noctis’ Engine Blade in Duscae. Ignis and Prompto have their own abilities of course, with Prompto firing a piercing shot at the targeted enemy and Ignis throwing his daggers out to mark a number of enemies, which Noctis will then warp between. These actions are always enjoyable to use, and successfully landing one triggers a QTE which allows Noctis to follow up with a tap of a button. And while they are definitely an addition I like, as they make the otherwise-uncontrollable members of your party feel a bit more involved and under your control, I must question whether they had to come at the cost of Noctis’ own weapon techniques, which were, more often than not, a risk/reward mechanic in Duscae, as they needed both a long wind-up and a good chunk of MP. Without this mechanic, the rhythm of battle has changed from one where you’d constantly be looking for a bit of time and space to slip in a damaging technique to one where you just attack until you build enough meter to trigger a party member into action, which then takes you out of the fight for a few seconds. Again, it’s very early in the game at this point, and I’m sure there’ll be later additions to the core combat system that shake up that rhythm somewhat.

gladio

What’s a little more concerning is the somewhat unresponsive nature of your button presses. There’s a noticeable delay between pressing a button and having a command carried out; running through the world and jumping over obstacles will see you needing to press jump before you actually reach that obstacle, for instance. While this is something you’ll get used to fairly quickly, it’s exacerbated by the combat system’s reliance on animation priority, making it very easy to get stuck in the middle of a sword swing – especially with a slow weapon like the Engine Blade – and then take a hit despite holding down the defend button while you wait for the animation to finish. Animation priority alone would make the combat a little more ponderous, as you wait for an opening before committing to an attack (think The Witcher 2‘s sword combat) but marrying this to unresponsive button presses can and will cause frustration. Enemies are weak to specific weapons, so if you’re fighting a monster that requires you to use a heavy sword – like the crabs near Galdin Quay you can see in this article’s second video – you’ll probably end up getting knocked about before you land a hit. I’m hoping that the responsiveness will be improved for release (we will still be getting a day one patch, of course), but otherwise it’s something I’ll have to adapt to by playing much more cautiously, watching enemies for an opening rather than just wading in with a massive sword.

There is actually a mechanic in the battle system which seems to exist to give you a bit of breathing space, however: link attacks. Should you land a parry or a back attack while standing next to an ally, you might trigger a cool, cinematic co-operative attack with that party member. These segments always look fantastic – witness Gladio throwing Noctis into the air from the point of his sword, before the prince comes crashing down to earth with his spear – and like the aforementioned party actions, these also take you out of the action for a second or two. I can imagine that attempting to manoeuver yourself into a position to make link strikes happen as often as possible will be a big part of your combat strategy, giving enemies less of a chance to attack.

We got a brief look at magic usage in the Platinum Demo, and Judgment Disc gives us an opportunity to try out the game’s new spell-crafting system. Gathering magic is somewhat reminiscent of FFVIII‘s draw system, as throughout the world you’ll find naturally occurring deposits of elemental energy that you can absorb and then use to craft magic spells. Unfortunately, I couldn’t manage to wrap my head around the crafting mechanics, whereby you select an equippable magic bottle, an amount of elemental energy and then modifying items from your inventory to create spells with differing effects, such as a fire spell that will also poison your target. As I couldn’t read the text prompts, I had to settle for pressing all the buttons in hopes of making something happen but sadly, elemental mastery eluded me. It’s a system that should help add a few wrinkles to combat, and I can’t wait to get to grips with in the full game, but Judgment Disc does at least gift us a few uses of the base fire spell partway through the demo. Try not to throw it at your team mates. Or do, if you want to see them panic a bit, as magical friendly fire is a thing that exists in Final Fantasy XV.

Another aspect of the game that I look forward to finding out more about is sidequests. In the chunk of game offered here, you can take on hunts at local diners before heading out into the open world to exterminate troublesome mobs, but other than that side content seems a little thin on the ground. Again, not being able to understand the language puts me at a disadvantage here – for all I know, it’s possible to pick up additional quests simply by overhearing NPCs or reading in-game items – I’ll find out for sure when I have an English copy of the game. We’ve also seen some side content in the material Square Enix and various press outlets have put out in the last couple of months, it just remains to be seen how impactful that content will be; will it boil down to fetch quests and monster hunts, or is there something more interesting in there?

What is interesting is that we finally get to play with the Regalia this time. We came tantalisingly close in Episode Duscae, with the demo ending just as we were ready to get behind the wheel, but here we get to finally take our flash set of wheels for a spin. You can choose either to drive manually or let Ignis take control, and this mode is surprisingly enjoyable, as you’re left free to spin the camera around and enjoy the scenery, all the while listening to classic Final Fantasy tunes on the car radio. I can see myself driving all over just to enjoy some old school Uematsu magic, though if I have one piece of advice, it is this: do not forget to fill up on fuel!

Story remains my biggest interest, though. In a sense, I’m quite glad I can’t understand any of the text or dialogue in this demo – though I have seen all of this content in English, thanks to Square-Enix’s aggressive video policy post-delay, the language barrier has kept me from getting too interested in the goings-on of Noctis and his retinue, allowing me to focus solely on the gameplay. But this has always been one of the biggest draws for me in a Final Fantasy – following the narrative beats, getting to know the characters, and losing myself in the world – and having avoided all spoilers, I know just enough to be very interested in where things go from here. One thing I had been worried about was the absence of the imperial invasion of Insomnia – originally slated for the game and now only appearing in Kingsglaive – fearing that the events of the game might feel a bit disconnected from that really quite important story detail. Thankfully, the day one ‘Crown Update‘ will add scenes from the film (as well as the excellent Omen trailer) to flesh out the current state of the world, so that should help. As I mentioned in my Kingsglaive review, I am a little sad we’ll never see the Insomnia invasion in-game, but I’m ready to see where this version of the story takes us, and I can’t wait to join Noctis and crew on the road. After ten years of waiting, I can’t believe its merely days away.

nocto
Yesterday, a new demo was released for the upcoming Final Fantasy XV. Called Final Fantasy XV Judgment Disc, it is unfortunately limited to Japan, with no plans to release it outside of the region.

This is a bit of a shame, considering that it’s effectively a chunk out of the beginning of the game, and while you will have seen it all a hundred times over if you’ve been paying particular attention to the post-delay coverage, there’s nothing quite like getting to play it for yourself. This is especially true when you take into account that the rather disappointing/baffling Platinum Demo is still the only exposure most people will have had to the game.

Still, just because it’s Japan-only doesn’t mean we can’t get our grubby mitts on it. It’s available on both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One’s respective stores, and with a little effort you can grab it for yourself. If you’re on PS4, you’ll need a Japanese account, but things are a little simpler on XBO; simply switch your console’s region to Japan (you can even leave language to your original setting), locate the demo on the store (I searched for ‘Final Fantasy Judgment’), set it to download, and then switch your region back. Although I will be buying the game on PS4, I grabbed the demo on Xbox One simply because it was easier.

CARBUNCLE'S BACK!!

CARBUNCLE’S BACK!!

Of course, just because we can play it, doesn’t mean we can understand it. There are no options for either language or subtitles, so unless you can understand spoken and written Japanese, you won’t have much of a clue as to what’s going on. I can pick up a handful of words of spoken Japanese, but when it comes to text I’m SOL. Luckily, a helpful Redditor has compiled this list of menu translations. It won’t help you understand the game’s dialogue, but at the very least it allowed me to invert my look controls before I lost my damn mind.

So far, I’ve only muddled my way through the tutorial (which, thanks to on-screen button prompts, isn’t particularly difficult to do) and played a little bit into the first chapter, killing a few oversized scorpions in a bid to get my flash car fixed. I’ll have a full write-up going up in the following days, once I’ve had a chance to play through it fully, but for now there’s one thing I can say for sure: Prompto is best bro.

bd
Blue Dragon is now backwards compatible on Xbox One.

Announced on Twitter today by Xbox Live’s Major Nelson, Blue Dragon has been a much-desired title for the console’s legacy support program and follows hot on the heels of Mistwalker’s other Xbox 360 exclusive jRPG Lost Odyssey, which hit Xbox One back compat a little over a month ago.

Like Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon is a very traditionally-styled multi-disc Japanese RPG, though while Lost Odyssey hews closer to the Final Fantasy template, Blue Dragon feels more like that other juggernaut of the genre, Dragon Quest, right down to the designs by Akira Toriyama. Like Lost Odyssey and a few others, the game is currently disc-only as no digital version exists. Phil Spencer has commented that the BC are looking into making this possible, so we’ll have to wait and see if that happens. In the meantime, we can expect second hand prices to rise in response to the announcement.

This brings both of Mistwalker’s big Xbox exclusives to the current gen, both of which were part of Microsoft’s early push to try and make their console a success in Japan. The 360 saw a number of exclusive Japanese games in its early years, including Tales of Vesperia (which is absolutely the best jRPG of its generation and you should play it right now) and a few others, and it’s a shame that it’s a strategy that never really paid off. We’re certainly seeing the results of that now, as plenty of Japanese games are skipping the Xbox One, from smaller titles like the recently announced Danganronpa and Nonary collections all the way to larger publishers like Square Enix, who are skipping the console for games such as the upcoming NieR Automata.

No Automata :(

No Automata ;_;

I’d like to see Microsoft invest a bit more in Japanese games again – not necessarily to make inroads in Japan, because I don’t think anyone believes that’s even the remotest of possibilities now, but to diversify their line-up a bit. So far, we’ve only seen a collaboration with Yukio Futatsugi that resulted in a pale imitation of his cult favourite Panzer Dragoon series in Crimson Dragon, and the multi-team partnership that gave us ReCore, even if Keiji Inafune’s Comcept only really consulted while the US-based Armature handled development duties. Scalebound is yet to come, and I’m really looking forward to that, but I’d love to see Microsoft throw handfuls of cash at Hironobu Sakaguchi again to get something like Lost Odyssey made.

Still, one thing Microsoft do deserve massive amounts of kudos for is their support for backward compatibility. The catalogue grows every week, and in the last few months we’ve not only been given access to some big hitters, but others that weren’t performing quite so well have been updated to run even better than they did on native hardware. It feels like Team Xbox is really hitting its stride now with BC.

One of the Xbox 360’s most beloved titles has finally made its way to the current generation, as Mistwalker’s Lost Odyssey launches today for Xbox One’s backward compatibility programme.

Directed by ex-Squaresoft legend Hironobu Sakaguchi – the father of Final Fantasy – with music by fellow Final Fantasy icon Nobuo Uematsu, Lost Odyssey is something of a rare breed: a jRPG exclusive to a Microsoft platform. It stars the immortal warrior Kaim Argonar, who has wandered the world for a thousand years, yet remembers little of it thanks to a bout of jRPG amnesia. It’s an incredibly traditional example of the genre, complete with a turn-based battle system – albeit with a dynamic touch thanks to a timed ring-matching system – that many fans hold up as being truer to Final Fantasy‘s legacy than the last decade of titles in the series that effectively spawned it. Also of note are the ‘Thousand Years of Dreams’, lost memories of Kaim’s that you can find throughout the adventure which contain some of the best writing you’ll find in the genre.

LIRUM ;____;

Lirum!!! ;____;

Lost Odyssey has been one of the most wanted games for Microsoft’s backward compatibility programme since it was announced back at last year’s E3 conference, though the lack of support for multi-disc games (Lost Odyssey comes on four of them) held up its availability. Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director’s Cut was the first multi-disc game to launch for the programme earlier this year, so it had been assumed that it was simply a matter of time until Mistwalker’s game saw release.

Lost Odyssey will remain a strictly physical release, as a Games on Demand version does not exist on the Xbox storefront, so you’ll need a copy of the game if you wish to play it on your Xbox One. Inserting disc 1 will prompt a 22GB file to download and, according to a post on NeoGAF, the game is only playable with that first disc in the drive; discs 2, 3 or 4 simply will not work. While this sounds a bit odd, it also means you will no longer need to switch discs while playing, which can only be a good thing.

LO-Battle

Also announced for backward compatibility today are Disney’s Toy Story 3 and Guwange, a Muromachi Period-set vertical shoot ’em up from genre legends Cave. They come hot on the heels of the addition of Call of Duty 3, World at War and Sega’s Virtua Figher 5: Final Showdown and it’s excellent to see continued support with more big name, much-loved titles making the generational jump. There are now more than 250 Xbox 360 titles available to play on Microsoft’s current machine, and apart from the benefit to end users, it’s a great way to ensure some degree of preservation for games otherwise locked on old systems.

Luna
Back in March, Square Enix’s grand event to finally, finally announce a release date for the long-in-development Final Fantasy XV came with a number of surprises. The Japanese publisher appeared to be incredibly bullish about the upcoming RPG, and unveiled a catalogue of cross-media projects to compliment it. There was a five-part anime series to give us the background on the main characters and their relationships. There was the obligatory mobile game tie-in. And then there was Kingsglaive. Easily the most exciting part of the extended media offering, here was a beautiful CG movie in the vein of Final Fantasy VII‘s Advent Children, and it came completely out of nowhere.

Of course, the game’s release date has since slipped, even as all the marketing has remained on target. And that includes Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, now available to buy on a handful of digital platforms. What was once a mouth-watering starter to the main course of Final Fantasy XV must now span a two month gap until the long-awaited title is in our hands. But does it slake our thirst for Final Fantasy or leave us unsatisfied?

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV effectively acts as a visually-spectacular two-hour cutscene intro to the full game, setting the scene for Noctis and friends’ world-spanning road trip. It introduces us to the conflict between the magical kingdom of Lucis, empowered by an enormous crystal, and the military empire of Niflheim, which uses its magitek creations and enormous ‘demons’ to conquer and subjugate other nations. King Regis of Lucis assembles a group of elite warriors empowered by the crystal, dubbed the Kingsglaive, and though they are able to wield powerful magic, they are unable to turn the tide. After years of war, the empire sends its chancellor, Ardyn Izunia, to initiate peace talks to be held in Insomnia, the capital of Lucis. Of course, there is an ulterior motive, and as both sides scheme around the talks, each takes the opportunity to end the war in their favour.

Which begs the question: why would the Lucians agree to hold the talks in their capital city, inviting their enemies right into the heart of their land? Why not a neutral location? Because Kingsglaive doesn’t really make a lot of sense, that’s why. It’s entertaining enough in its big, flashy action setpieces, and there’s a ton of fan service in here for those looking (including monsters like the behemoth, summons, and even an appearance by a curious character from Final Fantasy VI), but the thrust of the story isn’t particularly engaging thanks to implausible decisions made by literally every character in play.

regisclarus

There’s a curious subplot about immigration threaded through much of Kingsglaive‘s narrative. As Niflheim marches through Lucis, conquering the outer reaches of its territory in the process, its citizens are driven toward the capital city of Insomnia, to take shelter beyond its magical wall. It’s a thread that’s never really developed or explored beyond a few jibes and uses of the word immigrant; even our protagonist Nyx, Kingsglaive member and so-called immigrant himself, is unable to give us any real insight into what life was like for him before he came to Insomnia. And then there’s the fact that these people are still Lucians, they’re just not from the nation’s capital, which makes the whole thing feel a little forced. Perhaps ‘refugee’ would have been a better word to use, and it may have even enabled Kingsglaive to say something interesting about people fleeing conflict.

Instead, it’s used as a basic plot device to provide justification to characters who don’t quite get the development they need, despite a relatively small core cast and a two hour runtime. These are pretty digital avatars that exist to look cool and do awesome things, rather than believable people with their own needs and desires, and as such it’s hard to develop much of an attachment to them. We’re told what these people are fighting for, but never shown, so we never really get a real feel for their motivations. And when we see a character die, we’re not sad for the loss of someone we had become interested in, but rather disappointed that we likely won’t see them in the game, where we might have learned more about them and actually come to care for them.

There’s also the issue of Luna. The female lead in both the game and the film, Lunafreya Nox Fleuret is the princess of the conquered kingdom of Tenebrae, and we’ve long been assured that she’ll be a strong character – necessarily so, to balance out the all-male core cast of the game. Yet she spends almost the entirety of the film being dragged around by men who either seek to use her or need to protect her. Telling the audience, repeatedly, that she’s not afraid to die if it means accomplishing her mission doesn’t really count as strength when she repeatedly throws herself into peril that she needs to be saved from. Here’s hoping there’s more to her in the full game, rather than just being a device to enable Noctis’ destiny.

And yet for all that, Kingsglaive still manages to engage and entertain in a handful of ways. Of course, part of the attraction is the astonishing animation work on show; if you thought Advent Children Complete looked amazing, Kingsglaive is on another level altogether – it simply appears photoreal at times. The illusion is tarnished somewhat by the widespread use of ADR, but the film is just incredible to look at, whether you’re gazing at its characters, locations or flashy special effects. Fight scenes are big, brash and full of carnage, well choreographed even if the director sometimes forgets to frame the action appropriately, though the latter stages of the film can hew a little too close to Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel for comfort. And while much of the supporting cast are a little overwrought, the core trio of Sean Bean, Lena Headey and Aaron Paul turn in good, naturalistic performances – at least, as far as the material they’re given allows.

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Of course, the other big draw Kingsglaive has is that it allows us a look into that enigmatic universe that so many of us have been dying to get to know for a decade now, and that the film finally cracks open a window that we might peek inside is genuinely exciting. That fantasy based on reality is now a little closer to being real and in our hands, and Kingsglaive even has something for those that have been following every trailer since the first one back in 2006, delivering its own take on that now-iconic party/invasion scene that fans had been obsessively watching as they hung on for news, this time playing host to a meeting between Nyx and Luna, rather than Noctis and Stella.

It’s clear to see that some material excised from the game in the switch from Versus XIII to XV has been repurposed for this film, and the fact that we’ll now never experience the invasion of Insomnia in-game genuinely saddens me. As such, Kingsglaive ultimately leaves me with mixed feelings; though I’m more excited for the game having seen the film, I’m simultaneously a bit sad for what might have been. Since its re-reveal back at E3 2013, fans have been digging into every detail in an attempt to pick apart the differences between Tetsuya Nomura’s vision of Versus XIII and Hajime Tabata’s Final Fantasy XV. As a preamble to the game, Kingsglaive doesn’t give us much to go on, other than adapting the invasion of Insomnia and contriving a reason for Noctis’ absence, but there’s still the nagging sense that maybe this isn’t quite the same world we’ve spent a decade pining for, even if the nouns remain the same.

But ten years later, this is the world we’re getting, and the journey begins with Kingsglaive. As an introduction to Final Fantasy XV‘s world and lore, it works – just about – and there’s plenty for series fans to salivate over. It’s also gratifying to see just how much fantasy there actually is in this newest incarnation of the veteran series, despite the glossy modern city setting and trappings thereof. As a standalone film? Not so much. But then it was always going to be one for the fans, a gateway into Square Enix’s next grandiose adventure.