Brittany Vincent: Final Fantasy XV was one of the games I had been waiting on for what feels like an eternity. I actually can't believe it's here already. Ten years in development usually isn't a good sign for a game (just ask Gearbox's Duke Nukem Forever development team), but in Final Fantasy XV's case, it seems like that extra time just helped form a more cohesive and detailed end product.
The world of Eos feels vital and connected in a way that rarely presents itself in video games. There's typically some fourth-wall moment in every game that breaks the illusion that you're occupying another person's life in a different world and puts you firmly back in your chair with controller in hand. Final Fantasy XV manages to avoid these issues with a myriad of tiny details that combined bring Noctis and his friends' environment to life.
Unlike its predecessors, Final Fantasy XV gives you the freedom to roam the lands of Lucis almost right off the bat, and that's something the series has sorely needed for quite some time. In fact, that's a big part of why I was able to get into the game so quickly despite the many ways it takes a detour from the long-prescribed Final Fantasy elements that typically present themselves. When your car breaks down and you have to make your way to the outpost of Hammerhead for it to be repaired, you meet mechanic Cindy (one of my favorite characters in the game) and her grandfather Cid, who run a garage and will help you throughout the game.
Since Noctis and the gang are short on cash, Cindy asks you to do some errands for her while she repairs the car, which introduces you to Final Fantasy XV's quest system. After you complete these tasks your car, the Regalia, is fixed the whole province of Leide, a big chunk of land, is opened for you to explore at will. It sets the tone for the big "road trip," and it feels like hanging out with some of your best friends in the world for much of that time until the game veers off into more serious territory -- just like a real trip with your friends could end up with one singular phone call. It's all set up to feel familiar, yet sweeping at the same time, and that's a big reason why I chose it for my game of the year.
Josh Hawkins: I have to agree completely, Brittany. I wasn't really sure what kind of a train wreck to expect out of Final Fantasy XV, and I'm glad that I was proven wrong by it. There are still a few things that feel cringe worthy to me at times, but I can appreciate the Backstreet Boys as much as anybody else, and they really seem to mesh together as characters, which is important when you're dealing with a group this large. I still have a lot to accomplish in the game, but with twenty plus hours under my belt, I'm really surprised by how much this game continues to just pull me in and exhaust my time. It's a wonderful thing, that doesn't happen with too many games I sit down to play, and I haven't really seen anything pull me in this much since The Witcher 3 release last year (I've beat it, by the way Steve, like four times now. So shush).
I'm really stoked to continue my adventure through Eos, and even more stoked to see what happens to Noctis and crew along the way.
Jason Faulkner: I think the character relationships are what surprised me the most. I expected the traditional Japanese character archetypes, but it really seems like the wrote Noctis and the gang from a much more Western point-of-view. The dialogue felt more like Mass Effect than it did Final Fantasy, and I think that made these characters "click" for me more than some other jRPGs that rely on Japanese cultural references for humor and whatnot. Not to say anything bad about Japanese cultural references, they just fly over my head most of the time because I'm an ignorant Gaijin.
Brittany Vincent: It is truly an exceptionally "Western" RPG in contrast to the rest of the series, and that's one reason I found myself gravitating to it even more despite my massive love for all things Japanese and so-called "anime-styled" characters. There was a refreshing lilt to it that came from this design decision. But that's not the only reason I love the game. I love interacting with characters and watching them interact with each other. Prompto's love of photography feels organic and fresh. Cindy is a rugged, no-nonsense mechanic who's a cool drink of water for thirsty eyes and minds tired of the typical JRPG female character archetype.
The changes to the Final Fantasy formula don't just stop at characterization, though. Eos isn't a world that you're shepherded through by happenstance and fate -- it's the world you're free to embrace as much or as little of as you want. There's plenty of side quests, powerful items, and crafting to be had in the wilderness of Lucis. However, if you want to bypass all of that for a more traditional Final Fantasy experience, you can just stay on the beaten path and the game will let you move from narrative to narrative without penalizing you.
Josh: Yeah. They really did a good job kind of giving players multiple avenues of moving forward. I've spent so much time just exploring in the game, that it will probably take me weeks or months to complete the game and accomplish everything that I want to accomplish. Especially when you consider that I'm the type of guy who has been conditioned by RPGs to complete side quests before moving on through the game's main acts, as I'm always afraid the side quest will be ripped from me, removed from my journal because it just can't be completed anymore while still fitting into the story.
The side quests also aren't too bad about being redundant. There are a few bad gems out there, but for the most part I found them fairly enjoyable considering how rampant dull side quests have become in this day and age.
Brittany: I think we can all agree this is the best Final Fantasy yet in terms of having something for everyone, which is an impressive feat to accomplish in the industry climate these days.
Josh: Yeah. I can definitely get onboard with that sentiment, Brittany. Square might not have done the best job sticking to the "final fantasy formula" that many fans wanted out of the game. But, for a game that began as something so far un-attached from the original, I feel like FFXV hit all the right notes that it needed to hit to be a success.
Jason: FFXV is one of the rare games I'd label a "good product." Any game can appeal to a certain subset, but it takes a lot of finesse and hard work to make a game that truly crosses all the boundaries of gaming and has something for everyone. I loved the game and I can't wait to see what new adventures and changes the DLC brings.