Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae Impressions [Guest Writer!]

Today we’ve got a guest writer, Jon Edicola from alocidegaming!

Eight years, ten months, and seven days. That is the cumulative time that has elapsed since Square Enix announced what is now known as Final Fantasy XV and when we got something playable.

A lot has happened around Square Enix in that span of time: an entire console generation passed, Final Fantasy XIV failed, Final Fantasy XIV was resurrected, rumors surrounding the death of XV were more present than the game itself… Eight plus years is an obnoxiously long development schedule, yet here we are– FINALLY with something tangible to touch and play.

Was the wait worth it? The pragmatic side of my brain says no. I can only think of one other title that has ever gotten ‘stuck’ in such a hellish development cycle, and we all know how that turned out. However, the reasonable side of my brain is being completely drowned out by the excitement of a new mainline Final Fantasy title not starring Lightning and crew.

I’ve heard it said that “a delayed game has a chance of being good; a bad game rushed out the door will always be bad.” While that little adage doesn’t make for a good excuse or the wait any less painful, I keep reminding myself that the more time and effort poured into this game, the more likely that it will actually be good.

Episode Duscae is our first glimpse into just what exactly has been taking so damn long. It has answered a lot of my questions and done an adequate job of whetting my appetite for the full release.

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From my understanding, Episode Duscae is a unique scenario that will not be part of the actual storyline. That being said, I’d bet that the massive patch of wilderness in the demo will crop up at some point in the full release. Square Enix did something similar with the Bravely Default demo by plopping us down onto a self-contained island with very little revealed about the actual plot. Thus, for this preview, we’ll skip the bare-bones plotline and instead focus on the gameplay — namely, the combat — which I think was the whole point of the demo.

Let’s address my main concern right out of the gate: how the warp mechanic works and how it blends into combat. The trailers we’ve seen up to this point have the main character Noctis porting around between enemies and locations at a dizzying rate. I was a little skeptical with how well this would work with a controller in hand, but I was delighted to find that it is actually quite intuitive. A single button controls the ability, and the UI is nice enough to highlight any available point that Noctis can port to within his field of view. This setup makes the ability extremely user friendly, and since it is only limited by Noctis’ MP pool, it is an easy thing to integrate into general play and battle sequences.

I was also curious how the young prince’s weapons would work. The ‘knight swords’ that he cycles through while attacking are actually assigned by the player to five categories: Crush, Ravage, Vanquish, Descend, and Counter. Rather than flipping between all five weapons for each attack sequence, Noctis will pull out the weapon assigned for a given situation.

final-fantasy-xv-episode-duscae_weaponsThe weapon assigned to the Crush category will initiate your string of attacks before being swapped out for the Ravage weapon. If you keep smashing on the attack button, Noctis will continue to swing the Ravage weapon until the enemy’s HP dips below about 10%, at which point the Vanquish weapon is drawn in hopes to land one last heavy blow and…well…vanquish the target. Counter is pretty self explanatory, but the Descend weapon is where some strategy may come in to play. Not only is Noctis able to teleport between enemies, but he is also capable of porting to vantage points high above the battlefield where his HP and MP will regenerate. If he ports down to assault an enemy, the Descend weapon will do the talking.

Each knight sword also comes with its own special ability that can be activated at any time. These abilities consume MP, but usually deliver devastating blows to any enemy it hits. During the course of the demo I was only able to play around with the five knight swords that you start with (I’m not sure if there were others to find), and they each had a different feel when assigned to different attack categories.

All in all I enjoyed combat. The battles are not random and any enemy that you happen to encounter is visible on the field of play. A red indicator will flash along the top of the screen if you are spotted by an aggressive foe, and it is completely up to you if you engage or keep on running. The only complaint I might have is probably a common one, and that is the camera. In tight quarters the camera tended to get hung up pretty easily, which was somewhat jarring, especially with a hoard of enemies raining down on you. I hope the AI driving the camera is tweaked so we don’t have to babysit it so much in dungeons.

ffxv_duscae-FightFrom what we’ve seen so far the game is going to be similar to a road trip movie, where the characters will be traversing the world encountering all manner of strange things. The people of the Internet have poked fun at the game for its undertones of bro-manticism, and the camping sequences that divide the days do nothing to counter this suggestion. I found it surreal to see the Coleman logo sticking out from one of the camp chairs, but then, I found the entire setting to be surreal. Thinking on it, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, after all, this is supposed to be a fantasy setting. Stumbling upon a gas station after bushwhacking through a cave of goblins did feel weird though.

As for the main cast of characters I think I am going to like the dynamics of the little group. Prompto gives off a little brother vibe, while Ignis and Gladiolus bring a more mature viewpoint to the group. Noctis himself is a total throwback to the angst ridden heroes of Final Fantasy’s past, so from what I can gather fans of Cloud and Squall will like him quite a bit. Luckily the group balances itself out with the four unique personalities, so there will likely be something that everyone can relate to.

I’m not going to draw any permanent conclusions in this preview other than I liked what I saw. If the final product is as engaging and fun as this brief glimpse, then we should be in good shape when Final Fantasy XV does grace us with its presence.