E3 2016: Final Fantasy XV Has the Heart of a Millennial – Hands-On Preview

Every generation gets the hero (or anti-hero) they deserve. In 1997, Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud was very much a slacker; a spiky-haired loser who couldn’t care less about joining a known “terrorist” organization. Like the plot of The Matrix, the political struggle of the world of Midgar and the actions of those who would bomb it wasn’t really a big deal to Gen Xers. Regardless of the story originating from Japan, such pre-9/11 folly was standard back then.

Nearly twenty years later, the latest Final Fantasy aims to register with the current generational snowflakes: the millennial. Our hero, Noctis is a prince, no less. He was born with all the advantages life can give him, and as he matures into manhood, he’ll (hopefully) feel the pangs of social responsibility. The story seems to be asking: What exactly does a young man born into privilege owe to society? And yet, can he still have a sweet ride, an entourage, and overly sexualized gals to flirt with? And so, the goals are clearly epic…

All jokes aside, that focus on “having it all” is presented in a lighter tone at the start of chapter one titled “The Departed.” Noctis and his fellow bros are pushing a large Cadillac-sized automobile down a deserted barren landscape. Players literally have to push this vehicle, one that dons the license plate “insomnia”, for minutes before arriving at a gas station in the town of Hammerhead. (Those minutes are felt as the sun meter on your HUD turns to dusk.)

We meet Cindy the impossibly curvy blonde mechanic who in short shorts and a visible thong makes MGSV’s Quiet seem subtle. She tells the lads that the repair will take awhile and, oh, here’s a few people you can speak to for quests…

The gameplay is similar to the battle scenes in the demo last year. You can only control Noctis for the duration of the campaign. You can walk around and talk to folks like a shop guy who runs his business out of a food truck. As is standard in the series you can jump but not really on things like, say, a car. Weird.

On your way to finding “varmints” to take down, you can quickly sprint. Once in a fight, the square button is the always-reliable roll-dodge. There are one-handed and two-handed swords, since what would this series be without overly huge weapons? Noctis can also phase through all oncoming attacks at the cost of MP. (I used this a lot.) The demo continued with a side mission on searching for a dude named Dave. He was supposed to be at “the shack”. He wasn’t, though, so I’m sure things don’t bode well for old Dave.

Along the way Noctis decides to make a camp for the night yet this is no quick moment like in the PS1 era. Noctis and his pals have full-on expensive outdoor equipment to sleep in the desert. Not exactly roughing it, but this guy is, after all, a prince. Once awake the big boss fight occurred against a beastie called a Dulhorn, which looks and moves like a rhino. The battle was okay, but the focus of the demo is on exploration and on getting to just hang with Noctis.

How players will respond to the antics of a Final Fantasy game that uses a cover of “Stand By Me” by Ellie Gould to highlight the bond of these young men will no doubt be how Gen Xers viewed Cloud’s antics back in the day so it’s all a matter of perspective. As E3 Week takes hold of LA, we’ve seen at least one other entitled young leader that looks to right the wrongs they’ve inherited: Emily, the princess of the upcoming Dishonored 2.

With virtually no load times Final Fantasy XV feels like an open world. After making a final delivery for Cindy, the car was fixed (!) and I was given the option to drive, but I opted for alpha male Ignis to get behind the wheel. (Essentially, it’s like taxi-mode in GTA.) A grand sense of adventure feels just on the horizon for these guys. One that arrives on September 30, 2016 for Xbox One and PS4