As a longtime follower and fan of the Final Fantasy series, it was with great anticipation that I was invited to play the first 90 minutes of Final Fantasy XV at a Square Enix media event showcasing their newest lineup. Going into this demo I expected to get a glimpse of what this latest installment had to offer, however I found much more and I spent over three hours exploring what amounted to just over half the demo. If this were a PS1 Final Fantasy this demo would have comprised the entire first disc. I just skimmed the surface of side quests and miscellaneous things to do, and I barely had time to come even close to completing the main quest. This game is huge, the Grand Theft Auto of JRPG’s if you will. Don’t let that intimidate you though, as the opening of the game says, this is “a Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers.” Over the course of my play through I found this to be very true.

After playing the Kingdom Hearts demo to warm up, I started the FFXV demo and made my through a tutorial guided by my new friend Carbuncle from the Platinum Demo. FFXV touts an active combat system which is admittedly a grand departure from the turn-based systems of past. Witcher 3 is perhaps the first comparison that comes mind, as I auto-locked onto enemies and swung at them with swords and hammers, and blasted them with fire and ice spells. Stylistically this strays from Witcher 3 with futuristic elements like the warp system, that allows you to speed around the battleground restoring your health while you’re at it. My favorite part of the tutorial didn’t have to do with game play though, but rather the modern touch of having Final Fantasy emoji’s congratulate you for doing well with clapping chocobo’s and smiling cactuar.

Upon starting the game you are greeted with the realization that the skull-print shirt-wearing protagonist Noctis is a prince to be wed to a member of another royal family and hopefully bring peace to their world. The journey begins shortly outside their home city of Insomnia where the car has broken down, and you engage in a mini-game of pushing the car. This serves as the introduction to Final Fantasy and its new devotion to realism, which includes cars breaking down. A poppy harp-backed tune plays as the camera pans away and you’re greeted by the title Final Fantasy XV. Usually the title takes place after an epic battle, for example Squall and Seifer in Final Fantasy VIII, but this time our heroes are just pushing a car and it’s perfect.

As the demo proceeded, I got my feet wet in the combat system and was delighted by the ease with which different attack methods could be chained together. I thought I would miss the turn-based action of titles past, but FFXV seems to dispel the myth that active combat isn’t the way of the future, as random encounters are a breeze to get in and out of, and the open world environment allows different options for how to face enemies. Upon defeating adversaries you are rewarded with AP (action points) which can be used to level up abilities on the astral-sphere, which is a modern take on the grid-sphere from FFX. For my first ability I unlocked “Chained Fury” which provides a boost to damage, assuming you chain attacks together unscathed. There were also options to level up outside of combat in separate nexuses for recovery, magic, techniques, teamwork, stats, and exploration.

Before long it was time to face my first mini-boss, but not before we rested up and had something to eat. I prepared a veggie medley for my team, as it had the best perks for health, with added bonuses to attack . My characters also leveled up when eating and then again when resting, so these seem to be important mechanics. After this, fighting the boss was a breeze as I simply used the tempest technique a few times, and the blood-horn was history.

After picking up our car it was time to test out the driving mechanics. This was the one area that left something to be desired, as driving a car manually feels like its on rails, with no option to drive off the road or even turn around without using a specific button. Fortunately it’s optional as you are free to let someone else drive, and simply be taken aback by the dynamic animation of everyone in the car. The days of the three characters walking in a straight line are long over, so prepare to be wow’d by characters adjusting their glasses, or taking sips from the drinks, then putting them back in their cup holders.

More weirdness ensued when I reached the oceanfront docks and was advised to catch a fresh fish for a stray cat. This part was optional, but was still one of my favorite bits of the demo, particularly when our hero realizes he needs to cook the fish first, duh. Not much happens here, another fetch quest then rest for the night. In the morning we find the world has flipped upside down. King Regis is dead, and now it’s up to our hero to return home and avenge his father. From here I retook a gate, and then explored some caves for special weapons for our hero Noctis. My highlight from the demo though came in the form of boss battle against a villain named Loqi, who was equipped with a metal-gear esque MA-X Cuirass. This fight almost defeated me, as the mech’s attacks combined with enemy snipers made it near impossible to recover health. With one potion to spare I managed to take him down, but it probably would’ve been a lot easier if I’d spent my action points.

As our heroes drive away from the battlefield, Gladiolus remarks there’s “still a lot we haven’t seen” and I was inclined to agree. My time with the demo ended as the third chapter began, and our heroes made their way to a beautiful seaside town which looks like somewhere in Portugal. I wish I could have played the entire first third of the game as I now understand this demo consisted of, but this was as good a place as any to leave off, and I left happy with the choices I made to explore and take my time with the game.

Final Fantasy XV releases November 29th, and I can’t wait to dive back into it’s vibrant world of new-school innovation meets old-school tradition. The 8-bit characters on the lanyard they gave me aren’t lying, this is the real deal true Final Fantasy with enough umph to interest any serious gaming console enthusiast. Mark your calendars RPG fans and casuals, this is one you don’t wanna miss out on.

About the Author

Dylan Kulcher is an avid skateboarder, gamer, music fan, and aspiring journalist from the small airport town of Mount Hope, Hamilton. Always looking for a reason to visit the big city and network outside his comfort zone, Dylan vies to bring communities together with his writing. A member of many LGBTQ groups and participator in his local Pride rallies, he strives for transparency in his life and doesn’t feel like anyone should have to hide in the closet!.