Archives for category: jRPGs

Switch console
I’m pretty excited about the Switch. I have to admit, I like the idea of a hybrid console quite a bit; while I love my home console blockbusters as much as the next person, I have a lot of admiration for my handhelds, because they offer games that either don’t see release on home console, or that just make sense to play on a smaller screen wherever you are. Games like Danganronpa, Steins;Gate and Bravely Default, and others like Rhythm Thief, Yomawari and Etrian Odyssey make systems like the Vita and 3DS worth owning, so the prospect of a machine that gives me both my handheld fix and Nintendo’s evergreen home console titles certainly excites.

Before the unveil, when rumours of a hybrid console were still just that, Nintendo moved to consolidate its handheld and home console teams, leading many to believe that their new machine would give gamers the best of both worlds in one box, offering a steady stream of typically home console-style titles and more traditional handheld fare, all in one place. Post-reveal however, the waters were muddied somewhat when Reggie Fils-Aimé, President of Nintendo of America, stated that the Switch would not serve as a replacement for the company’s current handheld, the 3DS. This statement was further strengthened when, during a Nintendo Direct stream for the Fire Emblem series, a new handheld-only title was announced.

Of course, it’s a good thing that Nintendo are continuing to support their 65 million-strong 3DS userbase, but the only thing I could think in the aftermath of that announcement was, “why couldn’t they put that on the Switch as well?”

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, a ground-up remake of the Japan-only 1992 Famicon game Fire Emblem Gaiden, lands on the 3DS in May, just two months after the Switch itself hits store shelves supported by a pretty meagre launch line-up. Of course, by May, new Switch owners will also be able to get hold of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, a Game of the Year-style port of the Wii U kart racer, as well as, presumably, a handful of other games, such as Disgaea 5 and Puyo Puyo Tetris. And while there was also an announcement for a new, Switch-only Fire Emblem at that Direct presentation, it won’t see release until sometime next year. So it strikes me as a bit odd that Nintendo didn’t think to put Echoes out on both systems, giving gamers the choice of where (and how!) they want to play the game, while also bolstering the Switch line-up at the same time.

It seems to me that Nintendo have an opportunity here to both beef up their new console’s catalogue and transition gamers over from the 3DS, by releasing those handheld games – and I’m making the assumption here that Echoes won’t be the last ever game made for the 3DS – on the Switch too. One problem here could be price, as gamers aren’t likely to pay significantly more money for a game that they could just get on their existing 3DS, and pre-order pricing for Switch games is currently a bit out-there (Super Bomberman R for fifty quid, anyone?). What I’d like to see Nintendo do is to make the games available on the same day and, crucially, at the same price for both systems. I’d be perfectly happy to pay, say, £30 to play a Fire Emblem Echoes or a Link Between Worlds-style Zelda adventure on my Switch, filling the gaps between the likes of Splatoon 2 and Super Mario Odyssey.

Project Octopath Traveler, from the Bravely Default team, suggests we will see smaller-scale, traditionally handheld-style games on the system.

Project Octopath Traveler, from the Bravely Default team, suggests we will see smaller-scale, traditionally handheld-style games on the system.

This is a new concept for a games machine, one that can be used as either a handheld or a home console, so lets see it take advantage of that unique selling point and bring as many games into our hands as possible. Handhelds like the 3DS and Vita are overflowing with tons of little Japanese curios, visual novels, old-school jRPGs and rhythm-action games, and sadly, eventually those systems are going to be put out to pasture. I want the Switch to pick up that slack, to continue that legacy, while pushing up the minimum target spec, allowing for more technically-impressive handheld games while also bringing Nintendo’s stellar home console output right into my lap, all at the same time. I want to see Nintendo really embracing the handheld aspect of the Switch; I want to see it become a super-powered successor to the Vita and 3DS as much as it is a sequel to the Wii U, even if they do keep insisting its primarily a home console.

Because if they mean to support the Switch and the 3DS separately, we have to wonder why they ever bothered to merge their handheld and home console teams in the first place.

2B and 9S
I absolutely love NieR. It wasn’t always so; until a little over a year ago, it was one of those games that sat in my perpetual backlog, waiting to see if I’d ever get around to playing it. Friends had tried to convince me, telling me of its unique characters, its genre-hopping tendencies, or its wonderful soundtrack, but still it sat unloved on my shelf. And then, at E3 last year, there was a surprise. A sequel was coming, and it was being developed by Platinum Games! I saw friends celebrating this announcement the way I celebrated Shenmue 3‘s reveal and I knew that I had to pull my finger out and finally play the 2010 original. After doing so (and coming to realise that it’s one of the best games of its generation), I came to regard that E3 surprise as something of a dream project: Taro Yoko was back to direct, as was producer Yosuke Saito and composer Keiichi Okabe, and they were being joined by frigging Platinum Games and Akihiko Yoshida. Holy fucking shit.

And so here we are, a few months before release, and Square Enix have bestowed upon us a little Christmas present: a high-octane demo to take us through the festive period. If there’s one weakness the original NieR had, it was probably the functional but fairly uninspiring combat, so the idea of Platinum handling the fighting engine is cause to salivate, and there’s plenty of opportunity to try it out here. We’re let loose as android warrior 2B, as she fights aggressive robots through an otherwise abandoned factory, a rusty, dilapidated setting somewhat reminiscent of the first game’s junk heap dungeon, though the boss waiting for you at the end is much larger than P-33 (or Beepy to his friends).

Bullets!

Combat recalls Bayonetta at her balletic best, as 2B pirouettes around the arena with a pair of swords at her disposal. There’s a heavy and light attack for you to create combos from, with jump and heavy attack performing a wide-arcing launcher allowing you to continue your assault while airborne. Executing a heavy attack in mid-air will see 2B slam her sword heavily into the ground, while holding the button when stationary will charge up a short, brutal heavy combo. Of course, this being an action game, you’re going to need a dodge, and NieR Automata‘s might well be the best I’ve encountered in any action game, allowing you to not only nimbly evade enemy attacks but glide elegantly around the battlefield. It even has a touch of Bayonetta‘s witch time about it, with a perfectly timed dodge seeing 2B almost dissolving into thin air. It doesn’t slow down time, but it feels just as satisfying to pull off, and looks terribly flashy. But this isn’t just a straightforward action game, it’s a NieR game, and that means there’s going to be plenty of bullet hell sections, too. To aid you in this, you have a robotic pod that hovers above your head and sounds a lot like Mass Effect‘s Legion, effectively playing the part of Grimoire Weiss here and empowering you to shoot down enemy bullets. It’s definitely not anywhere near as charming as a floating magic book that sounds like Alan Rickman, though.

Reaching the end of the dungeon, there’s of course a massive boss to contend with, and even a touch of fighter jet/mecha action, and as you finally defeat the gargantuan construct, only to witness more of them rise from the depths of the ocean, it hits home just how much Automata feels like a perfect mix of Taro Yoko and Platinum; there was the worry that one would dilute the other, or both might only be able to operate at half strength, but it feels like everyone is firing on all cylinders and working together nicely. Though the demo is combat heavy – and as such we are yet to see the more expansive environments, genre-splicing madness and deeper RPG trappings you’d expect of a sequel to NieR – there’s a sense that you can feel the touches of everyone who has had their hands on this, whether it be the character action combat of Osaka’s finest, the perspective shifts and bullet hell sections that made NieR such an idiosyncratic gem, or the wonderful Akihiko Yoshida character designs and haunting soundtrack from Keiichi Okabe, this really is NieR x Platinum Games, and it seems like it’ll be everything I wanted, and everything that this particular collaboration promised. It’s almost as if it’s a game tailor-made for me: I can’t quite believe that the next great Platinum character action game is also going to be a NieR sequel. What a time to be alive.

Side-on

Now there are only two things to wonder about. Firstly is how well Platinum have kept to the structure of the original, which drew a fair bit of inspiration from the Legend of Zelda franchise; as much as I love Platinum’s games, I don’t want a NieR game to be a series of discreet missions (although, now I think of it, I’d love to see them have a stab at Drakengard somewhere down the line, too!). It also remains to be seen just how much Automata will tie into the original game, with this one apparently set more than eight thousand years after the events of NieR, with humans having fled to the moon, the earth having been overrun by hostile robots, and taken to sending androids like 2B to the surface to reclaim the land. We already know that a few characters will be returning in some fashion, so I’m hopeful that we’ll get some kind of insight into the immediate aftermath of the first game, where the world was left in a pretty sorry state. But then, when has Yoko ever done the expected thing and given us a direct sequel? Only time will tell.

NieR Automata releases on March 10th 2017. You can see a playthrough of the demo below.

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.

etro

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.