Things have been dicey in the realm of "Final Fantasy" for some time now. One of the most renowned — and almost certainly the most recognizable — series of Japanese role playing games, the last half decade or so has had its fair share of disappointments ("Final Fantasy XIII") and restarts ("XIV"). A demo for "Final Fantasy XV," the long-awaited (and nearly long-forgotten) next installment in the series popped up for download last week on Playstation 4 and Xbox One. I gave the PS4 version a look.
The so-called "Platinum Demo" is its own separate entity from the core game, so playing through to test and tinker with the in-game mechanics now isn't going to spoil any spikey-haired happenings before the main game launches later this fall. You take control of a younger version of the game's main character, Noctis, and fumble your way through a dreamworld with the guidance of fennec fox-like Carbuncle, a familiar face for fans of past FF games.
Players are encouraged to take the demo as an opportunity to tamper and explore. Like coins in any given Mario game, floating golden crystals are scattered around the environment. Collecting these activates certain panels on the ground that do things like change the weather by rolling fog in or driving clouds out. Others speed the passage of time, showing off a night-and-day cycle that will undoubtedly be a (very pretty) part of the main game.
It's all very graphically impressive — the series has always held on to a high standard for visuals, and the latest installment is no exception. A new combat system gives the game a more action-RPG vibe than other entries in the series. Noctis can equip a few different weapons through the demo, and swapping between these on the fly allows gamers to chain attacks together.
What stood out to me most was the second area of the demo. Keeping with the dreamlike theme, Noctis is shrunk down to the size of a bug and roams around an ornate living room, decorated with a stacked block castle and small enclaves of stacked books and knick-knacks. It's a pretty friendly environment at first glance, but the scale of the room's adornments looming over your head is noticeably menacing.
The only real gripe I had was with the game's magic system. Spells are equipped in the same way that weapons are, but using them feels more akin to lobbing a grenade than channeling the elements. Stopping to fiddle with the arc and landing zone reticle that appear when a gamer wants to cast an attack is a little at odds with the fast pace of the rest of the combat, which emphasizes constant dodging and stringing together quick-stinging attacks. The demo only had a few spells to show off, though, so I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.
I had all but given up on "Final Fantasy XV" before playing the "Platinum Demo." The game's 10-year development cycle and developer Square Enix's tendency to dish out news about its release in grating piecemeal had left it pretty far down the list of things to care about, but I've developed some genuine interest now. I won't be plopping down $280 for the collector's edition, but I'll keep my eyes open when the full game hits shelves on Sept. 30.
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