By Sam Greer
The original Final Fantasy came out in 1987, which makes it five years older than me. By the time I was playing FF it was already a storied and established series, and alongside that comes familiar elements and expectations. For as long as I've been playing FF certain things have defined it but, after three decades, one huge change is coming: when Final Fantasy XV releases on November 29th, its combat will be realtime.
Some might lament that their favourite series is setting out in such a new direction, but Final Fantasy has always been at its most exciting when it's taken risks - like the trailblazing FF VII.
Final Fantasy XV's real-time combat no longer transports you into a conveniently secluded arena for battle. Instead battles happen anywhere, with monsters and enemies visible from a fair distance. This seamlessness alone has its merits, but even more interesting will be the ability to approach enemies in unique ways as well as utilise the environment during a fight. Not only are parts of the environment destructible, they're susceptible to the elements; discarded oil can be set aflame or water can be can be frozen. It's simple enough but will give the combat a dynamism it's never had before.
You won't queue up a list of commands anymore either, but this is as far from a simple hack and slasher as you can get. Attacks can be sequenced into combos and those combos can be strung together with any of the standard weapons, such as swords, daggers, shields and guns, that you swap between with the d-pad on the fly. You can collect a magical set of weapons throughout the game called the Royal Arms. And for those willing to be dexterous, the swordplay offers the same level of strategy one would expect from a Final Fantasy but much more thrilling and immediate. This means you can change tactics at almost any time - if something fails to make a dent, quickly retreat and change your approach.
And you can move about freely thanks to the new Warp ability which tries to capitalise on the possibilities of the combat. Warp lets you teleport, or warp strike straight into the enemy from far away. The overall effect is that you'll never feel trapped in a dead end, forced to make do with the setup you chose before battle.
But that doesn't mean FFXV’s designers have abandoned the fundamentals of the series. You still have a magic bar to consider, and this symobilises the amount of warping and dodging (or “phasing”) a player can execute. Recovery is automatic when in cover, but there are also potions and elixirs as in previous games that can be purchased and stockpiled, and utilised during combat.
There is still a party to accompany you and with specific techniques, they can be ordered by the player by holding the left bumper/L1 and selected with the d-Pad. Each of these can be levelled up, and new techniques can be unlocked via the skill tree ("Acension Menu"). The party member is there to aid you and can join at key moments in battle for special attacks or pull you out of harm’s way. Some might miss being able to exert fine control over their party but, in making your comrades independent, they seem more like actual buddies rather than willing subordinates.
Final Fantasy XV is at heart a liberator, true to its JRPG roots but bringing the genre bang into the modern era - aiming to both exceed expectations and, in some cases, upset them. If anything exemplifies the possibilities of this approach it's the combat system, which is new in every way but - in the camaraderie, strategy and dynamic shifts of battle - captures and pays tribute to what has gone before.