Final Fantasy XV Has Come a Long Way Since Episode Duscae

Square Enix certainly knows how to hype an upcoming game, ya? Final Fantasy fans have been excited about Final Fantasy XV back when the game was originally called Final Fantasy XIII Versus. Which was supposed to release not long after Final Fantasy XIII, I should add. It's been quite the wait.

As a way to both satiate the frothing fanbase and to work on its own gameplay devices, Square Enix released a demo last year called Episode Duscae. It was a sample of what players could expect from exploration, side quests, and combat. But as beautiful as the demo was, gameplay was rough.

The developers had changed up the combat formula for an FF game once again, which is fine, but the demo felt as though they had no idea how to introduce these elements properly. It was overwhelming, a bit sloppy, and incredibly confusing. Part of the problem was that they set players in the middle of things, and another part of the problem was the tutorial which threw everything at players at once. Nothing made sense. Nothing flowed with the combat. It felt and played like a heaping mess—a pretty mess, but a mess all the same.

Fortunately, with a hands-on demonstration at PAX West 2016, we were treated to nearly the same scenario as Episode Duscae, but it was redone completely. Prince Noctis is traveling with his three best friends, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus, all members of the Crownsguard, to Altissia to marry Lady Lunafreya and unite these two kingdoms. Noctis has known her since he was a child, but he has not seen her since then. While he's not opposing the marriage, it's not entirely a marriage out of love, either. It's a political situation—nothing more, nothing less.

This road trip from the Crown City to Altissia with his friends is almost like his bachelor party, but without the booze, hookers, and Vegas. Instead it's filled with their car breaking down, hunting monsters, camping, and listening to Prompto whine about how he wants to court Cid's granddaughter. I suppose that could be a rather amazing bachelor party to some.

As shown in Episode Duscae​, their beloved Regalia vehicle does indeed break down, but instead of hunting down a Behemoth to raise cash, this demo had us push the car to Cid's garage. Cid agrees to fix it, but he takes all of Noctis' money to do so. While they wait for repairs, they agree to clear some "varmints" troubling Cid in exchange for gil. There are three sets of monsters to kill, and with each set, Square Enix introduces a bit more of the gameplay mechanics, making learning how to play this game manageable for once.

It's an action setting, and players only control Noctis. He has four weapons on hand that do various degrees of damage at various speeds, and players can switch to each at any time. Finding which weapon works at each stage of combat becomes almost a dance—​dodge-rolling, blocking, parrying, throwing his weapons to hurl himself toward an enemy or away (called a warp strike). Some of these abilities cost MP and when a character runs out of MP, they enter a stasis, where they can still fight but their movements are slow and sluggish. By taking cover, MP (and some HP) will recharge. Taking cover and sneaking are also cunning ways to start combat without the enemy getting the drop on you, and doing so will yield a higher score after the battle.

Noctis can also call on his teammates to use a certain attack, which are often quite powerful, by spending one segment of a three-segment gauge that gradually builds during combat. If the player successfully hits the brief quick-time event at the end of the attack, Noctis will follow up with a strike of his own, making it even more powerful. Combat is incredibly fluid once the player is introduced to all of the various elements, which is probably why in Episode Duscae the developer threw all of the info at once at the player. But by slowly introducing each element and explaining it, several of Noctis' abilities make far more sense in how they work in battle.

Everything else from the first demo is still present, and nothing appears to have changed. Players will still have to camp in order to reap the benefits from the XP they earned in battle, you most certainly do not want to wander around at night, and Ignis will cook a fabulous meal at camp to give status boosts for the following day. All of that has stayed the same, including the Astralsphere (straight out of the Sphere Grid handbook of Final Fantasy X), which is what players will utilize to unlock new skills across the party. Unlike the Sphere Grid or the Crystal Grid from FFXIII, the AP earned is for the entire grid of the party. Players will have to divvy up the AP earned amongst the characters and try not to pour everything into Noctis' grid and leave the others in the cold.

I could not be more pleased with all of the fine-tuning I experienced with the game's current build over the Episode Duscae​. The differences are vast with both the game mechanics as well as learning how to play the title. If these are the kinds of things that are getting polished with the extra few months, then I am more than happy to let them delay it as much as the need to get it right. We've waited quite a few years for FFXV. A few more months to perfect and smooth the gameplay is well worth waiting for.