Yeah, you read that correctly. Final Fantasy XV is my first proper experience playing a game in the series. I’ve dabbled for maybe an hour or so with Final Fantasy III in the past, but it never grabbed me and despite all my peers telling me it was one of the best video game series out there, I just couldn’t get into it. Rather than try and force my way through one of the older titles, I looked towards Final Fantasy XV as my last beacon of hope. Its tagline, “A Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers,” gave me the reassuring nudge I needed to make the purchase, and I’m glad I did.
It’s safe to say that this very same tagline that nudged me into trying out the game had long-term fans a bit concerned. After all, Final Fantasy games, for the most part, had nailed down a set of mechanics that worked perfectly well and the thought of these being diluted down for newcomers set alarm bells ringing of a less challenging experience inbound. Final Fantasy XV doesn’t go about making itself accessible by watering down the challenge and simplifying its mechanics. In fact, the game’s default Normal difficulty setting can prove a challenge to even seasoned Final Fantasy fans. What it does do, however, is change these mechanics up and offer optional tips that you can turn off in the menus throughout.
Stepping into Eos for the first time initially felt a little daunting, albeit softened by the aforementioned tip boxes appearing every time I was about to explore something new. The Elemancy (this game’s magic system) and Ascension systems were both explained extensively, and party management came with a plethora of reminders and tips, too. This extended throughout the first opening hour or two of Final Fantasy XV, and I was incredibly grateful for the helping hand. I’d always felt like the Final Fantasy series had this depth that required extensive time to master and fully understand. Yet, after an hour or two with Final Fantasy XV, I was ticking off side quests, developing my party to suit my own play style, and having my own road trip with the guys completely problem-free.
To say my Final Fantasy XV experience as a newcomer to the series has been a success would be an understatement. Thanks to each Final Fantasy title’s isolated nature when it comes to story, I don’t feel like I’m clearly missing out on something from having not played anything that came before it. Within the space of a couple of hours, I was tackling the challenges the game threw at me, albeit probably with a little less finesse than series experts, and following the story… even if I was cringing at the dialogue quite a bit.
One of the most controversial elements of Final Fantasy XV leading up to its release was the switch from turn-based combat to real-time, and this, at least in my experience, is where Final Fantasy XV’s accessibility is a mixed bag. While I personally find the combat to be enjoyable and fairly straightforward to master the basics, this isn’t my first time with real-time combat. What this switch allows for, however, is a more accessible game to advance in if you’re not that great with deep RPG mechanics, menus, and management.
If you can get a good grasp of how to navigate the battlefield, chaining abilities and attacks together, and linking up with your other party members, then you can still find yourself defeating enemies that are levels higher than you, even if you haven’t got the perfect team setup. On the other hand, if you haven’t played many ARPGs like Kingdom Hearts, for example, then you may find yourself needing to spend a little more time getting to grips with party development in order to give you the upper-hand in combat.
There is something to be said, however, with regards to enemy movement in Final Fantasy XV compared to other action RPGs. While the likes of Dark Souls and The Witcher 3 offer challenge in the form of tough opponents, once you learn their battle pattern and movements for particular attacks, it then comes down to simply mastering the technique and dance around their moves. Unfortunately, Final Fantasy XV’s enemies seem way less predictable thanks to them having multiple targets to spread their focus on. While this does offer a good challenge and forces you to be more aware of your surroundings, it can be overwhelming for newcomers. Not to worry, though, as the new Wait Mode in combat can help give you a moment to breathe and formulate a plan when you just can’t seem to pin your target down.
Aside from the combat, my only other newcomer complaint was the somewhat baffling story if you’ve not invested into it prior to starting your game. While most games’ stories start when you start a new game, Final Fantasy XV’s weaves itself through Kingsglaive and some of its smaller character details into its Brotherhood anime series, too. Though the basic premise is simple enough to follow, I did feel like my understanding of the plot would have been enhanced had I checked out Kingsglaive beforehand. Had Kingsglaive been bundled in with every version of the game and not just the deluxe edition, this wouldn’t have been a problem, but with newcomers potentially not even knowing about the movie, the narrative’s references and complexities almost detract from the overall experience. Newcomer top tip – watch, or at least understand the events of Kingsglaive for the best Final Fantasy XV experience.
My first experience with the Final Fantasy series has been a very good one so far, and I still find myself eager to return to Eos and embark on random quests. If you’re familiar with real-time combat, then rest assured Final Fantasy XV will guide you through its more complex character development and inventory systems. On the other hand, if you’re someone who struggles with real-time combat mechanics, the difficulty curb can be a little steep. However, thanks to Wait Mode and other numerous tips and pointers, Final Fantasy XV is an incredibly accessible game, and will likely be responsible for many new Final Fantasy fans. You just might want to check out our Kingsglaive summary, first.