Episode Duscae, famously, comes with a free copy of Final Fantasy: Type-0 HD fans have waited around a decade for the chance to play FFXV, and now that it’s here, we’ll gladly shell out any money to get our hands on Tetsuya Nomura and Hajime Tabata’s troubled follow-up to the troubled FFXIII. Years have led to this moment so was it worth it?

Yes. It’s a tentative yes, and maybe without any exclamation marks, but a yes all the same. Duscae follows in the footsteps of the lean Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, condensing many of the mechanics and characters of a more fulsome game into a self-contained, prologue-y slice. You can finish it in an hour or two, but if you’re dedicated enough to buy a decent-if-unspectacular spinoff in order to gain access, we suspect you’ll be rinsing Episode Duscae for all it’s worth.


We’ve done just that, and it took us around five-and-a-half hours. Five-and-a-half hours of exploring, hunting, fighting, camping and finding secret things. The Duscae region might look huge, but it’s smaller than we were expecting: a patch of sunny wetlands, woods and crags enclosed by invisible walls that gently insist on turning you around while cheekily advertising the full game. Despite this, there’s much to do before you get bored and load up Type-0.

The bulk of this demo revolves around the Deadeye Behemoth, a giant beastie that’s taken up residence in Duscae. There’s a bounty on his head for a cool 25,000 gil, which just happens to be 1,000 more than the gang need to fix their busted car. In the full game you’ll be able to drive and fast-travel between locations, but here it’s a useless lump of metal.
The demo revolves around the Deadeye Behemoth, a giant beastie with a bounty on him
Prepare, instead, to do a lot of walking or running, when hero Noctis’ tired legs allow. You’ll run from one camp to another, between the two outposts that bookend the map, and in search of its many hidden items and few squirrelled-away points of interest. The only thing you need to finish the demo is that 24,000 gil, and you can acquire this by hunting Deadeye, or by flogging acquired pelts and doodads at shops (although that second option might take a while).

It’s a pleasingly open approach, and once you’ve fixed your vehicle and watched the concept art ending, you’re returned to mop up any remaining side-quests at your leisure. Deadeye himself will be a tough, tough fight unless you grind a fair bit, discover the three secret ancient blades, and make a pact with Ramuh the demo’s sole, spectacular summon monster but it is doable, and there are likely YouTube videos boasting about it already.

Dusc-t up
The other thing there’s a lot of in Duscae is fighting. You’ll pummel buffalo-style creatures, monstrous wolves, goblins that look like they’ve wandered out of Arthur Rackham’s sketchbook, and even the occasional humanoid robot. These Magitek troops are delivered from the sky by Imperial dropships, making perhaps the best entrance of any JRPG enemy. Thankfully, combat is quick, enjoyably punchy and fairly tactical, although it took us most of our playthrough to really get to grips with it.

You only control quiet royal hero Noctis, and you don’t gain access to any magic spells here. You do, however, have a range of phantom bladed weapons to summon from thin air. These include the Blood Sword, which allows Noctis to steal health, a mighty Zweihander and a lance that bestows the classic Dragoon jump. Rather than picking between them, he sensibly wields all five at once, dragging a specific one from the ether for use in starter attacks, countering or combo moves. Shuffling the weapon order grants different abilities it’s a system that rewards experimentation.
We’d like to see a crueller battle system and a more interesting range of characters
Somehow, Square Enix has fit all that onto two attack buttons, with the others used for guarding, dodging or warping around the battlefield like a Marvel hero. Dodging, at least at the start of the demo, happens wholly automatically, providing you hold the relevant bumper down and have enough MP. However, find the hidden ancient blades and you’re able to teleport-dodge at will, deflect damage, and even activate a Limit Break all enhancing the real-time combat considerably.

Rock Scar
FFXV makes good use of its environment during battle, allowing you to hang from telegraph poles to prepare an aerial attack, or take cover behind rocks to restore HP and MP. It’s not quite Kingdom Hearts, but there’s a satisfying mobility to the rumbles that makes it easy to stomach the frequent wildlife attacks, or the goblin-infested gauntlet that is the game’s sole, spooky cave. The closest point of reference is Capcom’s Dragon’s Dogma, another JRPG that could do with a slightly more generous stamina system.

When they’re all tuckered out and ready for bed, Noctis, Gladiolus, Ignis and Prompto (Latin for Barry, Alan, Gary and Keith, respectively) can pitch tents at one of four campsites around the map. They can also squeeze into a Winnebago. Camping is the preferred option, however, as it lets you turn in your XP, and gives Ignis an opportunity to whip up a tasty dish made from locally sourced, organically murdered ingredients, which grant a number of temporary boons, such as increased XP gain or poison immunity. Resting might be necessary, in that respect, but it never feels as essential as, say, Dark Souls’ bonfires or the welcome sight of civilisation after a night in Dragon’s Dogma’s wolfy wilderness.

Battles soon become almost trivially easy, given the limited scope of this demo and the heightened pace at which Noctis levels to godlike proportions. The full game will need to be much meaner to keep things interesting over the long haul.

There’s enough here to get you started on your journey, however, and to make you intrigued enough to see where it’s heading. Episode Duscae is a pitstop ahead of the main event, a discrete chunk of FFXV that may or may not be particularly relevant when it finally passes the finishing line. We’d like to see a crueller and more developed battle system, a more interesting range of characters, and a meaningful use for all that XP and gil it’s pretty likely that Square is already working on answers to all of that.

It’s taken years of fumbling (FFXIII), of reactionary sequels (FFXIII-2 and Lightning Returns) and of outright disasters (FFXIV version 1.0), but the company finally seems to be looking outward, to the fans, for advice. Tabata and co have been more open with Final Fantasy XV’s development over the past few months than at any point we can remember. It’s a sure bet that they’ll be learning from the reactions to Episode Duscae, be they positive, mediocre or internet. The game we have now is certainly good we can’t wait to see how it will look in a year’s time.

Ramuh Beginnings
Duscae’s devastating summon
If the rest of the game is anything like the demo, FFXV’s summon monsters are going to be very special indeed. Once acquired, gargantuan old man Ramuh will lay waste to any enemy with  a single strike of his trusty Justice Bolt, including the Deadeye Behemoth, Episode Duscae’s snarling, one-eyed Big Bad. Better yet, this attack ravages the surrounding area after he swaggers off, leaving it a smouldering, stormy wasteland for a while.