Dragons and Dudes of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XV

Come on, it’s just four dudes with feathered hair in matching outfits riding around the countryside in a black convertible, chopping up mammoths what’s weird about that? Okay, it’s pretty weird. But what would you expect from a game that began life with the title Versus XIII ?

A flurry of Twitter memes absolutely wrecked the gameplay trailer for this rebranded Final Fantasy outing, shown at last month’s Tokyo Game Show likening it to a broodier version of that bit in Zoolander where Ben Stiller and his troupe of ridiculously good looking male model pals sip orange mocha frappuccinos. Where are the outlandish characters the series is famous for ? Or the strong female leads like Lightning, Kimari, Tifa or Yuna? Our supposed heroes look more like a duff boy band.

But then, this is a series that’s never been normal. Each instalment tends to diverge dramatically from the last. Here you play Noctis, prince of a royal family that rules over a technologically advanced city-state. War rages between two nations: Lucis has the last remaining crystal, and Niflheim wants it. When Niflheim invades Lucis and steals the crystal during a sneaky attack, Noctis and his friends escape. Now they’re ona mission to retrieve it and quell Niflheim’s forces.

Along with a darker tone, fights centre on fast-paced real-time action. You can chain ridiculous combos with magic weapons such as swords, axes, lances and guns; issue commands to your three-person party, and switch control for multi-man moves. (Prompto, Gladiolus and Ignis are your guys at the start, but it seems you can switch to less blokey members later).

Stealing mechs and tanks from enemies is possible and, this being Final Fantasy, summoning increasingly fearsome monsters is back as long as you first defeat them in combat, naturally. Also, there’s no loading before engaging roaming enemies.

You can even bring vehicles into the fray. Outside of battle, your car is crucial in navigating the massive open-world. Shots of Noctis standing near gas stations suggest it’ll occasionally need a top-up, but thankfully he can enable auto-drive. For more active traversal, you’ll want to try the warp mechanic where Noctis throws his sword at suitable spots in the environment and latches onto it.

The world is typically unique, comprised of nations that have regressed to medieval states, the futuristic Lucis standing in contrast among them. It’s said to borrow from Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, where Square Enix is based, right down to the bicycle markings. In fact, parts of the district such as the Shuto Expressway and the Ginza tunnel have been replicated wholesale.

It’s gorgeous, of course, which is the least you can expect after an eight year wait Versus XIII was announced way back in 2006. The TGS demo showed off how dynamic rain convincingly dampens hair and clothing, and a beautifully lit day,night cycle draws out different enemies at different times. Interestingly, if characters don’t sleep their combat suffers.

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