Mar 23, 2015

    Expect a more action-packed Fantasy

    IT HAS been close to 10 years since Final Fantasy XV (FF15), then called Final Fantasy Versus XIII, was first unveiled in 2006.

    Now, the first playable PlayStation 4 and Xbox One demo for the game has been released, bundled as a free 5GB download with another game, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, which hit the shelves last week.

    Has the wait been worth it? For the most part, yes.

    The demo, called Episode Duscae, takes place early in FF15. You assume the role of a young and emo-looking prince, Noctis, who is accompanied by three friends with hairdos that are as outlandish as his. Thankfully, the voice acting is quite well done and the banter along the way can be fairly entertaining.

    Setting-wise, the game mixes present day-sensibilities (think petrol stations and highways) with science fiction (hover ships and robots) and fantasy (swords and magic).

    What grabbed me when I started the demo was its visual flair, something the series is known for. The demo is set in the great outdoors, with a beautiful lake, clouds scudding overhead and coniferous trees dotting the rugged, sometimes alien landscape. The petrol station in the distance has a store with curious trinkets.

    It is all very detailed and immersive, especially with the fairly well-done sound effects that make the world come alive: an enemy hover ship hums ominously and sword attacks make satisfying clangs.

    The lighting in the demo is a big plus, especially since there is a day and night cycle.

    Sunsets are particularly beautiful as the scenery becomes tinted a lovely orange.

    While the visuals are like a flashier version of FF13 for previous-generation game consoles, FF15's graphics are not immaculate, at least for the PlayStation 4 version I played. The demo's resolution could be sharper, some textures are a bit muddy and the game's graphics stutter in some spots. That said, the final product could look better.

    Combat is a big standout and it is the most action-packed that I have ever played in an FF title.

    Many FF games of yore have a turn-based element in combat. But in FF15, it all happens in real-time like an action game. This means I could not take my time to decide what attacks to use on a monster.

    Enemies can be seen from a distance and when engaging them, there are no screen transitions, unlike many past FF games. This ups the pace of the action.

    The end result is a stylish and fairly high-adrenaline affair, requiring me to run towards enemies, slash them, dodge their attacks and time my strikes.

    It helps that Noctis has a nifty ability to warp towards enemies from a distance to strike at them.

    This consumes special points called "MP" that regenerate over time. MP is also needed to execute special attacks, such as one that sweeps through multiple enemies.

    Items like health-recovery potions can be used in combat and my party members would toss me one on occasion.

    But Noctis' three allies are not the smartest - they are controlled by the game. Still, they do a decent job bashing up monsters and rescuing me from death's door from time to time.

    As thrilling and responsive as the combat can be - sometimes playing out like a movie fight scene - it can be hard to navigate the battlefield in tight spaces. It does not help that my party members can block my path, too. At times, the camera or the environment gets in the way, obscuring the action.

    Combat is not the only place where the action happens. There is a scripted scene that requires Noctis to warp to a wall and then zip down to strike a monster below. Another part of the demo involves sneaking.

    If you do not have the adventure bug like me, the demo can be completed in three to four hours. I took at least six.

    Episode Duscae hints at some ambitious gameplay ideas for an FF game and a more action-packed title than previous instalments.

    Technical issues aside, I would have liked more music on my adventures but the tunes that are played do catch my fancy, and serve only to whet my appetite for the full game, which has no release date as yet.