I dive into Duscae, a sparsely populated region of the new Final Fantasy title and my jaw is immediately floored by the gorgeous scenery. Massive natural bridges and gorgeous lakes cover the landscape. Rocky crags in the distance are imposing and a good distance marker to judge just how far you need to travel. Yet there is the ever present reminder of civilization as well, as cars travel down the highways to either side of the area. Even in this early, small sample the environments are a testament to the power of the current generation of systems. The visual quality also extends itself to the characters and enemies. The main characters coat blows in the wind. I found myself constantly impressed when pieces of magical husk soldiers fell off as I did damage to them. Huge, brachiosaur-like creatures stride through the central lake. You can even see the individual muscle groups of a behemoth fire off as it leaps onto a clifftop. While the visuals are indeed fantastic, they are just a small bit of what was an incredibly encouraging demo.
During the game, you’ll control Noctis while your allies act on their own accord. In Final Fantasy XV, there are no random battles, nor load times, as simply coming close to hostile creatures will start a fight. Pressing the attack button will cause Noctis to launch into a flurry of attacks. Noctis is able to lock onto enemies, and it toggles with the press of a button. There are different techniques you can use as well, one for each equipped weapon. Using techniques takes MP, which unlike most Final Fantasy games just takes some time or damage to recover. One of Noctis’ key abilities is that he can teleport around the battlefield by throwing his sword, it’s not just used for getting out of danger either as striking an enemy with a teleport slash does solid damage. The only real oddity I felt in the controls was the dodge/parry system. Holding the dodge button will activate an automatic dodge whenever an enemy attempts to attack you at the cost of some MP. To me it just felt unnatural to hold a button to guarantee a dodge, when I would much rather press dodge to roll as in Final Fantasy: Type 0. The dodge button is also used to parry and counter enemy attacks, and as of now it feels a little overpowered. If you manage to press the button prompts you’ll do massive damage, and likely instantly kill the countered creature.
The actual flow of combat feels natural. Striking enemies at key times can cause them to fall over, giving you time to lay into them. You’ll automatically switch weapons at particular moments in combat. Aside from using techniques, your weapon will be determined by whether you’re countering, comboing, or finishing off an enemy. The default finisher weapon is the lance, which is incredibly slow, and fast moving enemies will dodge it often. Sometimes, I found myself blocked by my own allies, both in combat and exploration, while it didn’t happen often, when it did it quickly became annoying. During combat, other hostiles that pass by and hear you will come and join in the battle, and can quickly cause you to be overwhelmed. Should one of your allies fall in combat you’re given an amount of time to pick them up, much like a “bleed out” timer in a shooter. On the other hand, if you finish off an enemy quickly and with low damage to Noctis you’ll get a massive experience boost.
While exploring the world, quests can pop up naturally. I was wandering in the Marshlands searching for signs of the behemoth that’s been stalking the area, when one of my allies pointed out a sign. This sign led me on the search for a piece of magicite that was hidden in the area. These small quests don’t affect the story in huge ways, but they provide interesting diversions that help the party members and the world come alive. Hidden items dot the world and can be sold for small amounts of cash. Money is of little use during the demo though, as aside from the standard RPG items and some food, there is little to buy. At night, it’s best to camp at the sites that are spread across the environment. Camping out is the only way to increase your level, additionally you’ll prepare a meal that will give you a number of buffs for the next day. These buffs are essential for tougher battles, as cooking food that prevented status ailments let me defeat the goblins in the cave with ease. During Episode Duscae, you’ll level at a rapid pace, during the course of my playthrough I went from single digits to the mid-twenties. Obviously, this kind of pace can’t be indicative of the main game.
I was a bit disappointed that the demo offered little hint to the plot of Final Fantasy XV. The demo begins after your car breaks down. With our intrepid heroes broke and stranded they decide to make the money by hunting the behemoth Deadeye. Your team will attempt to engage Deadeye, which doesn’t end to well, so you’ll try to find a way to defeat him. This said, I was impressed by the plan that Noctis and team implemented, and if stuff like that shows up in the full game I will be ecstatic. There are two basic ways to defeat Deadeye, level up and fight for an incredibly long time, or just find a summon. If the demo is anything to go by, then summons have returned to a role akin to FF 7, and the one we get to see in this demo is mind-blowing(I’ll post the embed at the bottom of this, if you want to experience it first hand then don’t watch it).
I was also left rather impressed by the sound in Final Fantasy XV Episode Duscae. From the somber title screen theme to the simply epic boss battle music, it just felt right. The sound effects are just as amazing. You can hear the wind whipping across the plains. The behemoth’s roar can be heard hundreds of meters away. Even the simple sound of the foot hitting the ground changes across various types of grass and shrubs.
Overall, Final Fantasy XV Episode Duscae has got me more pumped than I’ve been in a while for a Final Fantasy title. I was impressed at how finished this demo felt. From what I’ve played, there is very little that I think needs to change in the finished version. Whenever they decide to release Final Fantasy XV, after today it will be a day one purchase for this writer.