If you’ve been playing the Final Fantasy games for the past 20 years, or if you’re just now returning to the franchise after stepping away for a few years, Final Fantasy XV is going to have a few surprises in store for you. Many aspects of the traditional Final Fantasy formula have adopted a more modern approach without giving up the aspects that make them unique. Combat, for example, has adopted a set of modern action mechanics akin to the likes of Kingdom Hearts or The Witcher. While it may seem daunting at first, things really start to improve as you progress through the game.
On the surface, it isn’t very difficult to understand Final Fantasy XV’s combat basics. Hurting your enemies simply requires a button press, which performs a series of chain attacks on your current target. These attack chains can be altered by moving around your opponent in different directions, but the results will almost always be the same unless you manage to strike from behind for a blindside bonus. Basic attacks are complemented by Warp Strikes, which allow Noctis to teleport around the battlefield and hit for massive amounts of damage at the expense of MP. You can also block, use party abilities, and more, but without diving deeper and unlocking additional mechanics it just feels stale.
For the first six hours or so, I had a tough time coming to grips with the new action combat formula baked into Final Fantasy XV. I would Warp Strike into every group of enemies, then hold down my attack button to perform a series of flips and strikes that eventually took down my opponent. Occasionally I would have to block damage, parry an attack, or assist one of my friends when they took too much damage, but no matter how I attempted to make things interesting for myself I just couldn’t shake the feeling that combat was a three-button kick that wasn’t going to improve.
To a degree, I was right, but once you begin to advance through the main questline in Final Fantasy XV you’ll to attain new abilities, combos, and weapons for your party that introduce some interesting new mechanics to combat. The same three-button basics remained the same, but resistances start to play into how you approach combat against certain enemies. Specific weapons become more effective against different types of enemies and the skills from the Ascension system start to present new options for combat scenarios. At this point, I didn’t just have to worry about my basic attack patterns, I had to consider all of these added elements as well.
Eventually the story introduced the Royal Arms too, which allow Noctis to deal massive amounts of damage at the expense of his own health. Collecting them continued to add to my arsenal and unlocked an entirely new skill tree for me to pour AP into with a new set of bonuses and benefits. Suddenly, I started to see a whole new level of depth to the simply combat system Final Fantasy XV presented me with at the start. It was engaging, it was interesting, and more importantly: It was rewarding. It made me want to engage in combat and perform well, which was the aspect missing from the initial mechanics you start out with.
This sort of approach to gameplay isn’t something new when it comes to video games in general either, which often work to introduce mechanics to players in a way that feels comfortable and meaningful. The problem with Final Fantasy FX’s combat ramp up though, is that it takes hours to finally kick into gear — meaning that many players (such as myself) are going to have a difficult time sticking it out to the point where things click. And unfortunately, this slow-rolling approach is present in nearly every aspect of Final Fantasy XV.
As such, the first couple of hours you’ll go through in Final Fantasy XV may come across as a bit of a grind, especially if you pursue the many side quests present in the open world before tackling the main quest. If things are getting to be too stale though, work your way through the first few story chapters to get the depths of combat you deserve from the beginning.
Photos via Nicholas Bashore