“This is going to ‘Oblivion’ me, isn’t it?” I asked the lad running the event. He laughed, knowing full well what I was talking about, despite the ridiculous term. ‘Oblivioning’ is, of course, taken from Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion, where after a tutorial/introduction sequence that takes place in a dungeon and sewers, you escape and are treated to an incredible vista. Lush green grass, a beautiful lake with crystal waters, colourful flowers dot the landscape. On the Xbox 360 and PS3, it was a real moment where your investment in what was then the ‘next generation’ of games consoles was justified. You were seeing something that previously couldn’t be done. It wasn’t just about the fancy graphics either. To truly Oblivion, you have to show off a sense of scale, too. See those mountains over there? You can go there, climb them, find stuff on them…
The Final Fantasy XV Episode Duscae demo starts with the gang of four lads waking up in a tent, their adventure (whatever it may be) clearly already begun. When they leave, you’re treated to an absolutely staggering view of the Duscae region, where the demo takes place. There’s the lush green grass and vegetation that stretches as far as the eye can see. There’s fantastical rock formations sprouting out of the ground, a few areas of forest and right in the middle there’s a huge crystal lake, with these gigantic dinosaur looking beasts splashing about in it. It really is an astonishing sight, but like all good Oblivion moments, you can take a look at that forest on the other side of the lake and walk all the way over there, finding battles and secrets and plenty of things to do on your way. The only thing coming close to this is The Witcher 3, and even then when you factor in the way that the characters in Final Fantasy XV are animated, the way they interact with each other and even little things like the way the fabric of their clothes moves, this really is a benchmark.
The demo is being touted at having around 3-4 hours of content and is built around the lads - Ignis, Gladiolus, Prompto and the player character, Noctis - trying to make some money to repair their fucked car by hunting a Behemoth that has been spotted in the area. The Behemoth is this hulking great purple bastard that has appeared in almost all the Final Fantasy games (usually as an end-game beast!) and normally asking to put one of these things down is a sizeable task. First of all, you’re going to have to learn how to fight. Bear with me, here’s the chat about the mechanics...
The combat has been a major talking point of every Final Fantasy game post-FFX, as they’ve struggled to find a consistently fun system to replace the classic turn-based battles. FFXV is the closest they’ve come to just giving you out and out real time combat, but there’s still a strong RPG/strategic flavour to it. It is interesting, because instead of the usual gigantic sword associated with Final Fantasy heroes, Noctis makes the different weapons he has equipped appear magically when needed for certain attacks. If you hold down L1, you will avoid most attacks an enemy attempts but at the cost of some of your MP bar, which is also needed to use specific special attacks. Pressing square once will activate your opening attack (called ‘Crush’), holding square down afterwards will initiate a combination attack (‘Ravage’) which will go on indefinitely until you get hit, stop or push square again, which activates a kind of combo finisher (fittingly, called ‘Vanquish’). What move will take place when you are in each of these states depends on what weapon you have assigned to which part of the combo. For instance, if you take a Zweihander - a big, slow sword that is carried in both hands - and stick it in the ‘Ravage’ slot (the hold down square part mentioned above) the combo attack will likely be a bunch of slow but damaging swings. If you stick it in the ‘Vanquish’ slot, you’ll likely get a big overhead slam or something to that effect.
You also have a ‘Counter’ attack move that can be activated when enemies attempt specific moves, allowing you to hit square just before impact and deliver a really strong attack of your own, and finally a ‘Descend’ attack, which is the attack you will do if you’re jumping down on someone from above, so there’s quite a lot of stuff you can customize. Different weapons have different speeds, moves and properties, so you can experiment with your loadouts. It is quite a bit like God Hand, in the way that you shape your attack combo out of the moves you find the most useful.
When you’re in combat, it takes a bit of getting used to how to pace yourself. At first, I was hold L1 way too much and burning through my MP, so suddenly found myself unable to avoid attacks or use special moves. A few adjustments and the opposite happened; I was getting hit way too much because I was being hyper aggressive, leading to me getting caught out against tougher enemies. It is a really simplistic but rewarding core mechanic - you’re either on the offense or the defense, judging which one is the most appropriate by watch for enemy tells and animations and occasionally spicing things up with one of your special moves, which use your MP, so they’re a risk as they could leave you unable to dodge and having to hide until your MP bar has recharged.
Although you play as Noctis, the other lads don’t just stand around during the battles. They all get fully stuck in, healing you if they can and sometimes taking part in some spectacular counter attacks. They all use different weapons, so if you perform a counter hit against a stampeding Garula and Prompto is nearest, he’ll pull out his guns and join in. It might sound really cheesy, but when you’ve just fought a really tough battle and the guys are all congratulating each other and fist bumping, it really feels like you’re on an adventure with some guys who are probably a bit out of their depth! Plot details are still scarce, but it is safe to say they’re some of the more likeable Square-Enix protagonists in a while. That’s protagonists, plural. Sure, you control Noctis, but the main ‘character’ is this group of guys that run around a beautifully designed world full of danger and excitement. They’re always talking and interacting (and in one excellent moment, actually noticed that I’d clearly gotten a bit lost in a cave and asked Noctis if he ‘was going the right way, dude? prompting me to get my bearings and push on in the correct direction)
So, I’ve compared the combat of FFXV to Midnight Resistance favourite God Hand, the way that you collect XP points borrows a fair bit from other Midnight Resistance hall of famer - Dark Souls. Episode Duscae is of course a demo and therefore doesn’t really tell us how versatile the levelling up system is going to be in the full thing, but the way in which you bank it, and the risk/reward system built around that, is clearly influenced by FROM Software’s masterpiece. As you cut about the Duscae region, leathering enemies and completing quests, you receive XP. The Dark Souls twist comes from the fact that in order to bank the XP you have to reach a campsite and set up camp for the night. As time passes, the game even prompts you that you should find a place to rest up, instead of just powering on throughout the night. If you die, all of your hard earned XP gets dumped and you start back at the last checkpoint. There’s a bit to this mechanic I’d like to explore in more detail, but sadly my time with the game didn’t allow for it. Only a few weeks before we can all get our hands on it, mind...
The Episode Duscae demo doesn’t give a lot to go on in terms of plot, but it gives us a great idea of how much fun this is for a Final Fantasy game. There’s always something to do, to look at, to fight, to explore in the Duscae region and the new combat system is genuinely one of the most enjoyable additions to a Final Fantasy game since, what, the Materia System?! And of course, it looks phenomenal, when it is at its most spectacular it is the best looking game I’ve seen to date. In order to get your hands on this demo, you have to pick up a ‘Day One’ edition of Final Fantasy Type-0, which is obviously a little bit cheeky but then again people have been buying The Order 1886 for like fifty quid and that game is incredibly short and hugely unoriginal. Even if you’re not into the forthcoming Type-0, I’d be tempted to drop my money on it anyway for just another taste of the future of one of gaming’s greatest series.
Played at an event in London. I declined the food because my timekeeping was shite so I had to kill two hours on the Southbank, so I sat in McDonald's and ate three double cheeseburgers, so I was bloaty as fuck by the time I showed up. If I'd known they'd put on some decent food, rather than the usual microburger and cheap curry rubbish, I would've waited, so more fool me. I did have one bottle of lager, so you can obviously assume everything I have written is now total bullshit. I also had a piss in the toilet. Probably worth mentioning that I also took my trousers off before I started playing, so I could experience the game in the most authentic way.