Can you look back and identify that single moment when you officially considered yourself a gamer? Not just someone who played a game and moved on, but someone who has lived and breathed games and been forever changed by it? Because I can. I remember that moment like it was yesterday. Now don’t get me wrong – I’ve always loved gaming but I never really considered myself to be a ‘gamer’. I just wasn’t really all that bothered or obsessed with what I played, mainly just playing whatever was lying around my house for a few hours here and there before I got tired and moved on.

But then back in Christmas of 2001, my parents bought me Final Fantasy X as a present. It was my first ever Final Fantasy title and I haven’t been the same since.

Game info

From the moment that the game disc disappeared into my PS2 console, I was hooked. For the next week after Christmas all I can remember is not wanting to shower, sleep or eat, and instead, all I wanted to do was play the game and then when the game was done I wanted to start again. Even after the game was finished, every time I had ‘willing’ friends around and a swimming pool they would all ‘willingly’ play my own adaption of Blitz ball with me (basically water soccer) and they all loved it… Well, I loved it at any rate.

Final Fantasy wasn’t just a game for me, it was THE game for me. That simple Christmas gift was the start of a lifelong fandom that has stretched well into my 20’s with no signs of slowing down, it’s also made future gifts for me really, really easy.  I’ve changed a lot from my nine-year old self who watched that game disc disappear into the console for the first time, but one thing that has never faltered is my love for Final Fantasy.

Now I just experience that love while sitting watching the most beautiful sunset with three amazing friends for company. While riding my Chocobo…

As is customary for a Final Fantasy title, it’s pretty impossible to go into the story of the game without writing a full on novel, and this time they didn’t even try to fit it all in. Unlike other Final Fantasy games, you don’t really get much of an opening cut scene or a lot of background for the game – it pretty much starts you off right in the middle of the action. Most of that backstory and set up lies in the companion film Kingslave and the anime series Brotherhood, and while you don’t need to watch them to enjoy the game, you also don’t need to have snacks within arm’s reach when you play, but it does make it just that much better.

The story (without spoilers) centres around Noctis, Crown Prince and protector of Lucis, the last remaining kingdom in the world with control over crystals, and takes place in Eos amid a war between them and the Niflheim empire because it’s is the only region it hasn’t taken control of yet. Both sides agree on a peace treaty wherein Noctis will marry Lady Lunafreya, of course, things go really badly, and an adventure of a lifetime starts.

Everything unfolds over 15 chapters, with a good mix of open-world and linear missions so you never quite get used to what’s coming, and even if you want to grind and get through the story as fast as you can I’d say you have a solid 25 hours of gameplay. And while that may sound short for a Final Fantasy title, this game has so many things to do aside from the story that you will easily be able to lose 50+ hours in the game before you start to feel like you’re done.

Final Fantasy XV is just different. When you start playing you are met with a screen that reads: “A Final Fantasy game for fans and first-timers” And nothing describes it better. While I’m used to and love the brooding, dangerous feeling that the other games seem to revel in, this one feels much more light-hearted, modern and fun – while still delivering a story that can shake you to your core.

The game starts off with you having to push your broken down car to be fixed with the help of your friends, and instantly I was drawn into the story. Everything about the starting exchange between the four (ridiculously good-looking) friends is so real and relatable that you instantly feel at home in this strange world and the more time you spend with them the more they grow on you. Even when I just switch off for the night I already start to miss having them and having their playful stream of witty banter around. In my opinion, most of the game’s charm lies in the relationship you have with your three friends, Ignis (the brains), Gladiolus (the brawn) and Prompto (the personality) and it’s that relationship that also makes the game that much more enduring and accessible for people new to the franchise. I can’t remember the last time I felt so attached to a group of characters and actually looked forward to the time spent travelling and camping in game.

Another reason I loved the long trips in-game was for the music. You can collect and listen to the soundtracks of every single Final Fantasy game ever while driving in your car, which is just a small detail but one that brought me so much enjoyment. With the loss of structured turn based combat, you really start to miss the battle and victory music you’re used to hearing so this is a really nice addition. Also, every so often, your one friend Prompto will start singing an acapella version of the old Final Fantasy victory music which makes nine-year old me jump up and down inside, every time.

Another thing that’s different this time round is the combat system and the giant, awe-inspiring open world. Instead of the usual stop-and-start, turn-based combat from previous games, you now have a dynamic real-time combat system. And while that had me worried when I first heard of it, when you play it works beautifully. Having that steady flow of action makes you feel much more immersed in the actual fighting and adds to the atmosphere of the world instead of taking away from it. But if you still don’t enjoy the real-time combat you can switch to “Wait Mode”, basically this means time will stop moving when you stand still, letting you pre-plan attacks and moves. Once you start moving or attacking, everything will play out in real-time so while it’s not quite the turn-based combat you’re used to, it really does help fill the gap for players who enjoyed that style a lot more.  I personally LOVE the new combat system and yes, at times the camera and targeting seem like they are against me, but that’s nothing new for this type of combat, and when it all just pulls together and goes your way? It’s absolutely spectacular!

Another major change to the way you battle is Summoning. You don’t get your first Summon ability until you’re a good ten or so hours in, and even when you do have it – you can’t really call them at will. Or at least I can’t… I believe the game tried to show me what to do once but who has time to look at instructions while playing?

85Final Fantasy XV has delivered every single thing that I know, love, and want from a Final Fantasy game – and some brand new things that I didn’t know I did. It has a visually stunning combat system and world, interesting missions and side quests, a story that can both make you smile and cry in the span of just a few minutes, and delivers a deep-set feeling of fulfilment.

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