When Final Fantasy XV came out exactly one year ago to the day, reception was mixed. Like many, Hardcore Gamer found the action-oriented combat and sprawling open world to be fantastic, but the story and pacing left a lot to be desired. The game felt unfinished and rushed, despite also being highly polished and beautiful. Well, 365 days have passed since release and Final Fantasy XV is a different game.
Spoiler warning: If you haven’t played Final Fantasy XV yet, you’re in luck! You’ll get to play a complete game the first time through. You probably won’t want to read the rest of this, though. Major spoilers for pretty much the entire game ahead.
Filling in the Missing Pieces
Upon release, Final Fantasy XV was pocked with major plot holes that particularly affected the later sections of the game. Each of Noctis’ comrades had major character arcs that seemed to be yanked out of the game and occurred off-screen. Because Final Fantasy XV’s Season Pass was already announced to contain side stories where you played as each of these characters, most fans came to the (correct) conclusion that these plot holes would be filled by this paid DLC.
Sure enough, Episode Gladiolus came out in March and follows good ol’ Gladio after he unceremoniously leaves the group at Cape Caem in order to train and make himself stronger. Then in June’s Episode Prompto, the player takes over the genial wise-cracker after he’s knocked off a train by Noctis and is forced to make his way alone through freezing conditions to meet up with the party again days later. The upcoming Episode Ignis will follow the brains of the operation as he goes on a side-mission that results in him losing his vision. These episodes, unfortunately, are only accessible via the game’s main menu and have not been directly integrated into the game as a whole. It wouldn’t be impossible, however, for Square Enix to allow players to access this content naturally during a full play through of the game in the future.
In an Active Time Report broadcast hosted by Final Fantasy XV Director Haijme Tabata, Square Enix announced that there will be three additional pieces of single-player DLC. The first of these is Episode Ardyn, named after the game’s antagonist. It’s unclear if the player will assume the roles of different characters in these pieces of DLC like in the first three, or if the whole foursome from the main game will tackle the challenges themselves. Hopefully these will help fill in similar missing holes in the plot that exist at both the end, and beginning, of Final Fantasy XV.
Though general gameplay was one of the more praised aspects of Final Fantasy XV, there were sections that needed a bit of tender loving care. Chapter 13, in particular, slowed the pacing of the game down to a halt and forced Noctis to be alone for a couple of aggravating hours. Square released a patch that shortened this section, also offering a side-route where the player followed Gladio and Ignis instead.
Similarly, gameplay additions have been made across the board over the last year. There have, naturally, been plenty of weapons and armor added to the game, but less expected gameplay enhancements made the cut as well. The Regalia, the car Noctis and friends drive throughout Final Fantasy XV, is now capable of driving off-road. Parts of the game that were inaccessible, like the massive stone arches in Duscae, are now totally available for players to climb on to their hearts’ content. Similarly, other areas blocked off by invisible walls have been opened up, and the game feels much more complete as a result. More side quests, monsters, level progression options and more have been added as well, getting Final Fantasy XV closer to what fans expected it to be at launch. Oh, they’ve also released a multiplayer mode and the stand-alone fishing VR game Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV, but most fans still aren’t entirely sure why Square made those at all.
The biggest, and most surprising, addition was just announced during the most recent Active Time Report: all four party members will now be playable throughout the main game. Fans bemoaned the fact that they could only play as Noctis during Final Fantasy XV when it first came out. This not only conflicted with the character swapping that hand been shown for Final Fantasy Versus XIII, but also goes against Final Fantasy tradition in general. Now players will be able to swap freely between the four characters, using the gameplay mechanics present in each of the DLC episodes for the respective party members. It’s a huge addition, and will likely change how many fans play the game their next time through.
Still a Hedgehog Pie
Though these massive additions have been made to Final Fantasy XV, the game feels cobbled together as a result – though the overall impact of the changes are positive. The beginning of the game unfortunately still expects the players to have consumed outside content, like the decent anime Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV or the genuinely awful feature-length CG film Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. As it stands, the beginning of the game makes little sense to those who haven’t watched these pieces of media and Square Enix would do well to put a bit more effort into mending earlier parts of the game as well.
Of course, it would have been great if Final Fantasy XV included all of these improvements at launch an entire year ago, but the realities of game development often force games to be released before they’re ready. Haijme Tabata and the entire team that worked on Final Fantasy XV should be commended for all this effort they put into improving Final Fantasy XV. It’s akin to what Square did for Final Fantasy XIV with the release of A Realm Reborn, though Final Fantasy XV was never quite the disaster that its MMO brother was at launch.
In the future, fans can expect Square Enix to add DLC to Final Fantasy games post-launch, but hopefully they’ll give the inevitable Final Fantasy XVI enough time in the oven so similar fixes don’t need to be made at all. Final Fantasy XV was never a failure: it has reportedly sold over 6.5 million units, making it one of the best-selling games in the franchise. For a game that spent over ten years in development (if development time for Versus XIII is included), the generally positive reviews and financial success it achieved is outstanding. Only time will tell if Final Fantasy XV will ultimately shape up to feel like a complete experience, but man, one of these days Final Fantasy XV might just be an amazing game instead of simply a good one.