Final Fantasy XV, originally titled Final Fantasy Versus XIII, has been a long time in the making. Console jumps, shifting creative focuses, development road blocks and the overall constant evolution of the game’s design have plagued this nine year phantom. But, through many rumors and struggles, Final Fantasy XV has a tentative release date for the end of this year and, what better way to celebrate the game’s near completion than to give the fan base a taste for what is to come. That’s where Episode Duscae comes in. A small slice of the overall game, taking place on the plains of Duscae, this demo introduces the player to the basic mechanics, graphical fidelity and narrative tone of the whole package. If Episode Duscae is any indication of how enjoyable the final product will be, than Final Fantasy XV is looking to be one of the most outstanding titles in the series.
Right off the bat, I was thrown into a lush grassland, spotted with marshlands and surrounded by mountainous barriers. Final Fantasy XV is a gorgeous game that exudes details, whether it’s the various brands of food found in the lone gas station/auto shop or it’s the movement of the trees and flora as you pass around and through them. Everything is rendered beautifully and it really showcases how the game will present its open world and the various locations we’ll get to visit. There are, unfortunately, still some problems present in the demo when it comes to the more technical side of the title; framerate drops and delayed texture loading pocketed my experience, along with some interesting graphical glitches. But in terms of the visuals, it’s apparent how much work went into creating a world that looks organic.
But looking organic isn’t the only component to making a game visceral. It needs to feel organic as well. This is where the four main characters come into play: Noctis, Gladiolus, Prompto and Ignis. As I roamed the small serving known as Duscae, each one revealed their fighting styles, their personalities and the little quirks turn them into full realized characters. They’re well-rounded, three-dimensional characters that interact with their environment, browsing the demo’s stores, commenting on their surroundings and playing off the local fauna’s actions. I discovered that Final Fantasy XV didn’t just make me feel like an observer to this road trip, but it immersed me into their gang as they shared wise cracks and generally acted like most friends do. One of my greatest fears in terms of this particular game was that the narrative could be described as ‘typical’ or ‘bland’, but Episode Duscae has greatly alleviated these apprehensions.
Final Fantasy XV’s demo dazzled with its graphics and wowed with its characters/world, but the main purpose of Episode Duscae is to let the players play the game and get accustomed to its mechanics and gameplay design. First off, take everything you know about Final Fantasy combat and throw it out the window. I’ll admit, adjusting to the third person action oriented combat system did take some acclimation — to the point that at times, I sometimes forgot that I was playing a Final Fantasy game. But this new style of combat succeeds in delivering its core mechanics, boasting a fluid fighting system that had me teleporting from one enemy to the next in a flurry of strikes. But it’s not just a hack-and-slash; the MP system, which basically determines the cost of most actions, kept me on my toes about whether going full offensive or throwing up some defense was necessary. Free form is the word I’d use to describe it — along with the rest of the demo — as everything from summoning Ramuh and to taking down a pack of carnivorous beasts was brilliant both mechanically and visually.
Though this is just a taste of what is to come in the end, this small start towards an actual release for the game bodes incredibly well. Each facet of the game’s design mixes and morphs into a cohesive experience, brimming with both treacherous excitement and lighthearted antics. It’s a shame that this demo will not be released outside of Type-0’s launch, but as an indicator for what is to come, Episode Duscae has shown that Final Fantasy XV is a title for all gamers, both non and avid fans of the series, to check out.