Archives for posts with tag: Final Fantasy XV

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.

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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.

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.

So, it’s official: Final Fantasy XV has been delayed. Rumours sprang up over the weekend, based on conversations with retail sources and backed up by photos of marketing materials, but yesterday director Hajime Tabata confirmed it to be true, with the long-in-development title being bumped from its original date of September 30th to November 29th.

In a video, which you can see below, Tabata explained that, while the game went gold a few days ago and the team had begun work on a day one patch, they had ultimately decided to push the release back to make sure these fixes could be pressed to the game discs that we’ll all be buying at retail. “Our objective with Final Fantasy XV was to deliver a Final Fantasy of the highest possible quality, to every single person who buys the game,” said Tabata, who went on to explain that, because not everyone who buys the game would be able to apply the patch, the team felt the best course of action was a short delay. Not only will the patch improve the game’s performance and overall polish, it will also contain “pretty substantial content,” added Tabata.

And so, we’ll be waiting a further two months to get our grubby mitts on the game. And while it might seem a ridiculous thing to say about a game that was announced ten years ago, it’s probably for the best they don’t rush this one out before it’s done. Not only are there a decade of fan expectations riding on it, but possibly the Final Fantasy brand itself, which has taken a bit of a battering in the wake of the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy and the disastrous launch of Final Fantasy XIV Online. While XIV 2.0 has seen an enormous turnaround to become a massive success, the brand is still in a bit of a precarious situation. Square Enix needs this one to be a hit.

Perhaps as some form of consolation, we have been treated to some new content to tide us over for a bit. First off, we now have the first twelve minutes of CGI tie-in movie Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV available to watch on YouTube. The film, which takes place just before the start of the game, begins with a scene-setting narration from Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, the princess of Tenebrae, who brings us up to speed on the state of the world, and the conflict between the magical nation of Lucis and the militaristic empire of Niflheim, who desire the crystal that powers Lucis’ prosperity. As a young Noctis visits Tenebrae with his father, the kingdom is attacked by Niflheim soldiers in an attempt on the Lucian royalty’s lives. Noctis and his father escape, but Tenebrae comes under imperial rule.

Later, we see a battle between Lucis’ Kingsglaive, an elite force of soldiers bestowed with the power of Lucis’ crystal, and the invading forces of Niflheim, made up of human and mechanical soldiers, as well as an assortment of quite horrific looking monsters, including enormous behemoths. There’s even a cameo from a ‘daemon’ that fans of Final Fantasy VII will recognise. It’s been a fair while since we’ve had a CGI film out of Square Enix, and it’s clear to see the upgrade from Advent Children; Kingsglaive simply looks photorealistic at times, especially where character faces are concerned. The editing can feel a little schizophrenic during action scenes, as if the director was on a days-long Red Bull binge, but it does serve to give this first huge battle a frantic feel, and it’s certainly a hell of a spectacle, as the two forces clash over an abandoned town on the edge of a huge, precipitous rock bridge.

Ultimately, this quick look at Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV isn’t going to sate your thirst for anything FFXV-related, as it’s likely to just leave you wanting more. At least the full film will be available to download in just two weeks’ time.

The second bit of new content has just been made available to coincide with the start of Gamescom in Cologne, where the game is playable from the start. Unsurprisingly, it’s a gameplay video from the very beginning of the game, and it runs for almost an hour. This footage has been taken from the gold master version mentioned in Tabata’s apology video, so we can get a look at how the game runs at this stage in development, before the addition of what would have been the day one patch. Fans who played last year’s Episode Duscae will feel immediately at home as, after a rather interesting bit of foreshadowing, the game begins with Noctis and his retinue arriving at the Hammerhead garage to get their broken down car fixed. Luckily, this time Cindy isn’t asking them to hunt down an enormous behemoth, and instead charges them with a bit of simple pest control to pay off their debt.

There are changes though. The party meet Cid almost immediately, and the Hammerhead itself isn’t actually in Duscae this time, but the neighbouring region of Leide. So if you’re sick of seeing the green fields and shimmering lakes of Duscae, at least now you can look at some parched, mountainous scrubland instead. Result? Throughout the fifty-minute clip, we get to see plenty of features of the game, taking in combat, quests, camping, driving, and even a smattering of cutscenes, though with some judicious editing to make sure we aren’t spoiled too much. The footage comes from the first three chapters, which Famitsu report took them 25 hours to get through, so we’re getting a pretty in-depth look at the early stages of the game here.

Final Fantasy XV looks to be in pretty great shape from this extended look, and though it’s a pain to see it delayed just as it was getting close enough to grasp, we can’t complain about a bit of extra time to polish it up to a pristine shine. And besides, after ten years, what’s a couple of extra months?

FFXV Leviathan
One of the most exciting announcements at last week’s Uncovered event was the news of a new playable demo for Final Fantasy XV. After the many thrills of the conference, it was an enticing thought that we’d be able to actually have a crack at the game shortly after.

Of course, we’ve had a decent look at the game already, or at least those of us who bought Final Fantasy Type 0 have. Last spring’s Episode Duscae was a nice little glimpse at how Square Enix expected their new game to play out, giving us a short, multi-part quest to follow and a fairly large expanse of land to traverse. The message was simple; here’s how the game plays, and here’s what you can expect the environments to be like. The message we get from Platinum Demo is much less clear.

We begin as Noctis, only it’s not the same slightly moody guy we might be used to. After some unexplained event (maybe that Marilith attack we see in the beginning of Brotherhood?), a young Noctis awakes in a sunlit glade. He’s greeted by an incredibly cute incarnation of recurring series summon Carbuncle who tells him – via text message, of course – that he’s stuck in a dream, and serves as our young protagonist’s guide as he runs, jumps and fights through a few short, linear environments. It’s an odd demo, to be sure, as Noctis travels towards the Royal Citadel in an attempt to wake up. Far removed from Episode Duscae‘s wide-open plains, Platinum Demo plunks our diminutive hero into three small areas where all he really has to do is find the exit.

Carbuncle

Beginning in that peaceful glade, we follow a forested path out into a rocky canyon, collecting some shining orbs along the way. These unlock strange metal plates embedded in the ground that, when stepped on, trigger various effects. We can change the time of day, watching the lighting adjust in real-time, or switch up the weather, going from bright sunshine to cloudy skies, and finally to a grey downpour. Other plates trigger very short cameo appearances from summons like Titan and Leviathan, while in the second area, in a scene surely inspired by 1989 classic Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, a tiny Noctis can transform into a pickup truck (yes, really) and drive around the table legs in a huge dining room, before climbing stacks of books to reach the exit on the tabletop.

Next, we find ourselves in the streets of Altissia, a striking city on the water, and while there’s still not much to do it’s nice to get a feel for what towns might be like in the full game. The chunk of the city we’re given to run around in is fairly small but dense, with plenty of stairways and alleys to search but again, our only objective is to find that exit, and to that end Carbuncle tells us to look for a long corridor (insert Final Fantasy XIII joke here). Of course, we have a few more of those transformation plates dotted about, and here they turn Noctis into one of three animals. No, I don’t know why, either. Stepping on a plate triggers a random transformation into either a crocodile thing, a buffalo thing, or a giraffe-antelope thing, and you can use these forms to rather clumsily attack the handful of enemies that litter the streets.

Noctis can of course fight through these three areas, but with only a toy sword and squeaky hammer to defend himself for the most part, it’s not the most engaging thing in the world. It effectively boils down to holding circle to win, with the occasional tap of square to evade. There are a handful of funny, childlike spells to find, such as ‘raindrops’, which pours a shower of neon sparks over the affected area, or Firework, which goes off like a firecracker and deals damage to nearby enemies, but there’s little here to set pulses racing.

The young Noctis gameplay is all rather lightweight and uninvolving, and it’s built on an odd premise, too. Really, this is a tech demo, built to show off the time of day and weather systems, while giving us a brief look at how magic and things like driving will work in the final game – both things that were conspicuous by their absence in Duscae. Tying it up in a strange dream narrative in environments that surely bare little-to-no resemblance to the wide open world map we’ll traverse in the full game is an incredibly bizarre choice; as someone who played Episode Duscae to death, it’s nice to get a sneak peek at some of those mechanics that were missing, but this is the demo that Square Enix have chosen to make available to everyone – it’s not behind a paywall that only the most dedicated fans would be willing to scale. If this was my first point of contact with the game, I have to think I’d be rather put off.

Thankfully, the final part of the demo is a little better. As Noctis reaches the Royal Citadel, he’s faced with an enormous Iron Giant that wishes to prevent him from waking up. Realising that he is in control of his dreams, Noctis promptly grows up, becoming the young man we all know, and we finally get the opportunity to properly get to grips with the battle system.

The first thing to note is that fighting has seen some changes since Episode Duscae. In that demo, you’d set different weapons in a series of slots, which would then determine where those weapons would appear in your combo, carried out by holding the attack button. While you’ll still be holding the attack button in Platinum Demo to effectively auto-combo, we now have real-time weapon switching, with weapons taking up the four direction slots on the d-pad, allowing us to tailor our combos and mix up attacks in a more pleasingly-manual way. Here, we have the Airstep Sword, new in this demo, that allows Noctis to use that iconic Warp technique – whether that’s to swiftly close distance or escape – and the Zweihander, a massive Buster Sword-alike that swings slower but deals more damage, and has a nifty charge attack. Look around the Citadel, and you can also find a couple more weapons, the Cross Shuriken and Hero’s Shield. The Shuriken in particular is good fun to use, allowing you to attack from range and start your combo from a distance, before, perhaps, warping in to continue your assault with one of Noctis’ swords, while the shield allows you to stagger opponents with a well-timed button press.

PLATINUM DEMO – FINAL FANTASY XV_20160406152443

As in Duscae, you can hold square to enter a defensive state or manually dodge-roll with a press of the button and a directional input. In Duscae, entering a defensive state allowed to you automatically dodge pretty much everything, at the expense of a rapidly-draining MP meter. Holding the button here doesn’t drain MP anymore, but that trade-off does mean that you no longer dodge everything – you’ll still get hit a fair bit if you only really on holding the button down, but it does allow you to parry certain enemy attacks. The way these are telegraphed has also changed since Duscae, and I preferred the system in that demo, where enemies would briefly flash and a discrete spider-sense-type icon would appear on-screen. Here, we get a huge red “DEFEND” sign pop up in the middle of the screen. I guess it’s easier to notice, but it doesn’t look great.

We also get to use Fire in this battle, and there are a handful of explosive barrels (yes, really) dotted around the battleground for you to blow up – luring the Iron Giant towards one of these before flinging a spell at it is always a good idea, engulfing the enormous boss in a massive fireball in the process. Magic feels good to wield, allowing you to aim and throw it exactly where you want it, but one complaint I do have is that any magic spells you have also need to be set in one of those four d-pad slots, meaning you then have less space for weapons. I would like to see one button – maybe L2? – act as a modifier; hold that and you’d get a second set of four d-pad slots, allowing you eight in total, for instance. Four slots for both weapons and magic just feels too limiting. Perhaps this will actually be the case in the full game, where we’ll have access to far more weapons and spells than we’re afforded here.

Overall, combat feels like one step forward and another one back; while the Armiger mode – essentially Noctis’ limit break, available when he’s at full MP – returns here, the weapon-specific Techniques that existed in the Duscae demo are completely gone in this build. They were an enjoyable wrinkle in Duscae‘s combat, offering a bit of a risk-reward mechanic as they could hit hard or siphon HP while leaving you open to retaliation if you missed. The fact they’re gone here, in a demo far closer to release, is rather concerning, even as the Platinum Demo combat offers its own advances. It’s a bizarre state of affairs.

Once you’ve defeated the Iron Giant, you can choose to respawn him and fight again, and it’s worth doing so to get a proper handle on the battle system. Combat isn’t explained all that well for newcomers, so you’d certainly be forgiven for thinking that combat boils down to holding circle until you win. There’s actually a reasonable amount of depth, even here, with only one character, a handful of weapons and one spell, but there’s no real reason to explore that depth except for your own curiosity. After slogging through three rather sedate areas as Young Noctis, I have to wonder how many people would bother – some would likely be glad it’s all over. A little direction would go a long way – this is supposed to be a demo to get people excited about the game, to show them some of the things that might excite them. If you don’t illustrate anything beyond the basics, the basics – like simply holding circle to combo – are all many players will see.

When all is said and done, it’s that sense of confusion that hangs over the Platinum Demo, and I can’t help but think Square Enix would have been better served sprucing up the existing Episode Duscae demo, perhaps by adding some new areas and quests, and updating the battle system to the one seen here in Platinum Demo. That would surely have been a better indication of the final game’s quality and structure than whatever this is. Again, those of us that played Duscae will appreciate the glimpses at towns, magic and driving, but newcomers – surely the focus now – are most likely going to be confused and a little bored. The Iron Giant fight at the end is obviously placed at the demo’s climax to get players excited to come back, but it seems a little too lightweight at first blush to really grab the attention. It’s something of a shame that this will be most people’s first experience of Final Fantasy XV, as the game is otherwise looking very impressive, and I personally can’t wait to play it. But this demo did little to make that wait any harder.

Announced at Square Enix’s Uncovered Final Fantasy XV event in Los Angeles, Brotherhood is a five-part anime miniseries that leads into the main game. We’d heard rumours of both a CG film and a new demo to be unveiled, both of which came true, but apparently no one saw this coming, so it was a surprise to say the least. In my write-up of that event, I talked about how Square Enix seems to be extremely bullish about Final Fantasy XV‘s prospects – creating a cross-media sub-series right off the bat surely signifies their confidence in the game’s success.

Brotherhood focuses on Noctis and his three chums Ignis, Gladio and Prompto and aims to give fans a closer look at these four young men and the bonds of friendship between them. Fans have long questioned whether they’ll be able to get behind these characters, pointing out that they look like a Korean boy band in matching clothing, so hopefully we’ll be able to get a good feel for them over the five episodes. With the first eleven-minute episode available to watch now, we decided to take a look.

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The series begins with a short flash-back scene, in which we see a young Noctis, bloodied and seemingly at death’s door thanks to an enormous sword-wielding snake monster. Luckily, he is saved by his father, King Regis, who appears with his glittering Phantom Swords and engages the beast. We soon join an adult Noctis, asleep in the Regalia as he and his friends make their way to Caem, and we learn that they’re on the run from Niflheim’s forces in the wake of the empire’s defeat of the Kingdom of Lucis and occupation of the Royal City. It seems that Noctis and his party were on their way to his impending wedding to Tenebrae’s Lunafreya Nox Fleuret when the Empire attacked, meaning they were out of the city when it fell. The Empire has told the world that all members of Lucis’ royal famiy were killed during the fighting, and they’re now hunting Noctis to make that lie a reality, sending Magitek soldiers to track him down.

As the four friends stop at a diner to grab some food, we sense that they’re at ease with one another, comfortable in each other’s presence despite Noctis’ royal blood. Ignis is a little stiffer than the rest, which is to be expected from his position as Noctis’ royal advisor, but Prompto – constantly hyperactive, taking pictures and wanting to play games – and Gladio – more laid back, confident – seem to enjoy engaging in a little friendly teasing when it comes to the Prince. Noctis himself is portrayed as a little immature; he’s rather unwilling to talk to his friends about his betrothed, Luna, and refuses to eat the salad in his burger, which both Gladio and Ignis gently chastise him for as he carefully extracts pieces of lettuce and tomato and discards them on poor Ignis’ plate. Given the circumstances he finds himself in, I’m sure we’ll see Noctis grow and mature somewhat across the following four episodes, though going by what we’ve seen of the game so far I wouldn’t be surprised to see him retain a hint of childish petulance.

Oh, Noctis...

Oh, Noctis…

Near the episode’s conclusion we’re treated to a nice battle scene, as Noctis and friends try to break through an imperial roadblock, and it’s a nicely-drawn scene, if a bit lacking in peril. It manages to showcase a number of Noctis’ abilities from the game, like his now-iconic Warp Strike, which he uses to stab a Magitek soldier in the head from extreme distance, as well as some of his other weaponry that materialises out of thin air and his almost ethereal dodging of enemy attacks. At one point we even see Noctis use Tempest, a wide-arcing Zweihander technique that you can use in last year’s Episode Duscae playable demo. For their part, the Empire’s Magitek soldiers don’t appear to pose much of a threat; they’re slow to react to Noctis and friends’ assault, and slow-moving and ineffective when they do.

These guys are pretty damn lethal in Episode Duscae, adept at punishing your mistakes and soaking up a ton of damage, but here they’re simply fodder: as the battle rages on, it becomes clear the empire have set a trap for our heroes. As a dropship thunders into the scene, dropping a reinforced metal crate onto the battlefield, out comes – you guessed it – that very same monster that nearly killed young Noctis years earlier. Consumed with anger, Noct charges the creature, sword in hand, and our first episode of Brotherhood ends on a cliffhanger.

It’s a good start to the series, with decent animation courtesy of A-1 Pictures, the studio behind Sword Art Online and Blue Exorcist. It does a good job of setting up our protagonists, offering a decent bit of interplay between them despite its brevity, and it’s nice to see that they’re all distinct enough to want to get to know them better. We have four more episodes to look forward to before the game releases, and it’ll be interesting to see how it leads into Final Fantasy XV itself. I’m certainly eager to find out. You can watch episode 1 of Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV below.

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Though GameSpot managed to spill the beans mere hours before Square Enix’s Uncovered: Final Fantasy XV event in Los Angeles last night, spoiling the upcoming title’s release date in a since-removed YouTube video, they certainly didn’t manage to ruin all the surprises. Square Enix’s social media accounts had promised that fans of the long-running Final Fantasy saga should tune in regardless, promising they’d be missing out if they didn’t watch. And, as it turns out, they were absolutely spot on, as Uncovered featured a bevy of reveals, announcements and surprises, the first of which was Hironobu Sakaguchi, the father of Final Fantasy, opening the show.

Taking the stage to rapturous applause, Sakaguchi-san talked about how he views the series as his child, and much like a child, a parent often wonders whether they are on the right path or not – a not so veiled reference to the franchise’s recent struggles that sent some ripples of laughter through the 6,000-strong audience, and set a playful, self-assured tone for the rest of the night. Though he hasn’t been involved with Final Fantasy for quite some time now, leaving Square Enix over a decade ago, he spoke about how he had a chance to sit down with Final Fantasy XV director Hajime Tabata, who told him that he planned to take the series back to its ‘challenger’ roots. This reassured Sakaguchi, who had always thought of Final Fantasy as something that always sought out new challenges, and it certainly looks like that’s what the team are hoping to do with Final Fantasy XV.

The main takeaway from Uncovered is that Square Enix seem to be incredibly bullish about Final Fantasy XV‘s chances at recapturing the public’s imagination. They’re going all out with this property, treating fans to a lavish event streamed around the world, with Final Fantasy royalty in the house – as well as Sakaguchi-san, long-standing series artist Yoshitaka Amano, FFXV composer Yoko Shimomura and director Hajime Tabata were all in attendance. Last night’s event wasn’t just to generate hype for the new game, which we now know will be launching worldwide on September 30th (yes, this year); it was also to announce that Final Fantasy XV will be accompanied by its very own compilation of expanded material. Years after Final Fantasy VII’s release, with its legacy already assured, Square Enix began the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. With Final Fantasy XV, they’re establishing it as its very own metaseries right now.

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In an astonishing display of confidence, last night Square Enix, via presenters Greg Miller and Tim Gettys of Kinda Funny Games, announced that Final Fantasy XV will be getting a five-part anime prequel series, a feature-length CG movie, and a mobile app minigame. They’re going all-in with this, turning Final Fantasy XV into a complete cross-media sub-franchise of its own, so let’s talk about each of those in a bit more detail. Brotherhood, the anime prequel, stars the game’s four main characters – Noctis, Ignis, Gladio and Prompto – and serves as a direct prequel to the game, promising to elaborate on the history and bonds between our heroes. Made by A-1 Pictures, the animation house behind the likes of Sword Art Online, the five episodes will be free to watch on Square Enix’s YouTube page, and the first one is already available to watch now. I’ll be writing about that in more depth in a separate piece.

Kingsglaive is the name of the CG movie, a feature-length film in the vein of 2005’s Final Fantasy VII sequel Advent Children, and it focuses on the characters of Noctis’ father King Regis of Lucis, Noctis’ betrothed, Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, and the soldier Nyx, a member of the titular Kingsglaive, an elite unit commanded by King Regis as they try to push back Niflheim’s imperial army. In another show of confidence, the film will feature an all-star cast, with Sean Bean, Lena Headey and Aaron Paul starring as Regis, Luna and Nyx respectively, though it’s not yet clear whether these same actors will reprise their roles in the game itself (or whether Nyx will even appear in-game). It certainly doesn’t seem to be the case, going by the game’s latest trailer, in which Regis sports an American accent, but time will tell. Kingsglaive will be available to stream and download worldwide sometime this year, and you can see the trailer below.

And then there’s Justice Monsters Five, a minigame that appears and is playable within Final Fantasy XV. Existing within the game’s fiction – we see our heroes excitedly come across a table in a diner – Justice Monsters Five appears to be some kind of pinball/battling hybrid featuring iconic Final Fantasy monsters. Leading up to its unveiling, names like Tetra Master, Triple Triad, Blitzball and Chocobo Racing were bandied about, so we can assume that Justice Monsters Five will be the main minigame in Final Fantasy XV. But it won’t just exist inside the game of course, as it will be coming to iOS, Android and Windows 10 as a standalone app, so you can get your Justice Monsters Five fix on the go.

While there was quite a focus on the supplemental, expanded universe content during the Uncovered event, that’s not to say we didn’t get a good look at the game itself. Viewers were treated to a few short gameplay clips featuring things such as chocobo riding (chocobos can jump, glide, and even drift around corners), and driving in the party’s car, the Regalia. Of course, an open world game with driving wouldn’t be complete without radio stations, and Final Fantasy XV doesn’t disappoint here, offering a selection of classic Final Fantasy songs from across the franchise’s entire history to cruise along to – we heard short snippets of the overworld theme from the first Final Fantasy game, as well as Sunleth Waterscape from XIII. As a huge fan of Final Fantasy music this is something that will make me very happy indeed, and I can imagine driving around the world for hours just listening and humming along to some classic FF tunes.

While driving around, we also see a car stopped at the side of the road, its occupants trying to flag down help, and it’s suggested that this is an example of some of the side content we’ll be seeing in the full game. Following that was a short clip of the party in battle, mostly showing off stuff that you’ll be familiar with if you played Episode Duscae last spring, with the addition of a short look at magic as we see Noctis manage to scare off an enormous Behemoth by casting Blizzara. Then we’re treated to a brief glimpse of an absolutely titanic Titan, and at this point it’s worth remembering that the summons in this game are going to be insane. We also saw a clip showcasing some of the beautiful, sprawling environments that we’ll be visiting throughout the world of Final Fantasy XV, including our first in-game look at the gorgeous, Venice-inspired city of Altissia. Final Fantasy XV has long been billed as “a Fantasy based on Reality’, but fans of the fantastical need not worry that the game will appear mundane; there seems to be plenty of fantastical elements and environments in there to justify the name, and you can see the clip shown last night below, courtesy of Youtuber YongYea. Honestly, it’s worth watching for the music alone, which is stunningly beautiful.

Before our final surprise of the night, there was time for a couple more announcements. First heard in the opening trailer, the theme song for Final Fantasy XV is a lush, orchestral reimagining of Ben E. King’s Stand by Me, performed by Florence and the Machine. I must admit that I thought it sounded incredibly out of place when it suddenly began, halfway through that trailer, even if does seem like an obvious song choice for a story about four friends heading out on an uncertain journey. But I think it’s going to grow on me. Florence Welch’s powerful vocal performance certainly sells the emotion of the piece, and as the trailer goes on it seems to fit more and more. If Square Enix must insist on this kind of thing, at least it’s a much better choice than Leona Lewis’ My Hands was for Final Fantasy XIII.

Perhaps most exciting of all, however, was the announcement of a new demo. This one isn’t tied to a purchase, unlike the Episode Duscae demo that accompanied Final Fantasy Type-0 HD last year, so it’s available for everyone to try on both PS4 and Xbox One. Titled the ‘Platinum Demo’, it begins with a strange premise; you control kid Noctis as he journeys through a dream, guided by Carbuncle as he makes his way to the royal citadel, armed only with a toy sword and a squeaky hammer. It sounds odd, but the good thing is you don’t have to wait to find out just how weird it is, as the demo is live on both storefronts right now. I haven’t yet had a chance to play it myself, so, like with the Brotherhood anime, I’ll be writing up some impressions, complete with video, a little later, much like I did last year with Episode Duscae.

And so we were coming to the end of the Uncovered event, with Director Hajime Tabata taking to the stage to announce the release date that we all already knew. This didn’t mean the stream ended without a surprise, however; Tabata had recently teased that the team had determined how to include airship travel in the game, a core FF motif that has been essentially missing from the last few main series titles that fans really want back. At the very end of an epic, extended trailer, we see the party’s flash car sprout wings and take to the skies. If I’m being honest, I found it to be a little goofy, as the car begins to transform and a pair of wings fold out before it rather quickly takes off. Hopefully it’s just one method of transport – the same trailer shows the boys speeding across the water in a yacht, for instance.

Still, the thought of driving, boating and flying around this massive world is tantalising, and with all of last night’s announcements still ringing in the ears, today is a good day to be a Final Fantasy fan. Square Enix seem hugely confident about the prospects of this long-in-development epic and its chances at winning back the limelight and returning to the enormous, world-conquering franchise it used to be. And I for one cannot wait to dive right in and experience it. I’ll have to wait until September of course, but what’s another six months when you’ve been dreaming of it for ten years?

See the epic extended trailer for Final Fantasy XV, complete with flying transformer car, below.