Review: Final Fantasy XV Windows Edition

While Square Enix is primarily known for their console (and occasionally handheld) products, the Japanese publisher has been making a name for themselves in the PC marketplace. Some of their efforts have left fans sorely disappointed, such Final Fantasy XII and the recently released Chrono Trigger, while other attempts, such as Final Fantasy X|X-2 and Final Fantasy XII, were met with overwhelming gratitude. They’ve come a long way from barely only supporting the platform outside of western-developed games, and while we still have to wait a fair amount of time to receive the Japanese ports, the end result generally turns out better than we could have hoped for. After just over fifteen months, Final Fantasy XV has finally been ported to the open platform. The developers have been seemingly doing everything in their power to appease fans with this port, creating modding tools (which are coming after launch), giving players a bevy of visual options, not to mention higher than normal resolutions and frame rates, and even including all of the content we’ve seen rolled out over the last year. At least from what they have been touting, Square Enix is doing everything right for the Windows Edition of Final Fantasy XV, but how well do they stick the landing?

I started off the original review for Final Fantasy XV stating that while it had a vast universe full of potential, the plot was a disjointed disappointment. Since its arrival over a year ago, Square Enix has been doing a lot to rectify the issues, with numerous updates that add more to the story, including cinematics to better flesh out events and not leave them in the background. For example, one of the major players in the plot more or less dies off screen, while another transforms into a hideous beat with little to no explanation. After a decade of development, you’d almost expect the developers to not even bother modifying too much, but instead they went back and created a better narrative that properly told and showed the events that transpired behind the scenes, making the latter half of the campaign finally feel complete. There’s even a set of new scenes and bosses at the end of the game, making the conclusion become grander than ever before. While it was a massive mess in 2016, the story of Final Fantasy XV in 2018 is finally more coherent and well worth experiencing.

Granted, the story isn’t entirely fixed because there are moments throughout the campaign that are still vague and sloppy. This is especially exemplified during the earlier parts of the plot where scenes from the Kingsglaive movie and the Omen trailer are spliced throughout with little to no understanding of what’s going on — notably the latter. A lot of the story itself somewhat relies on the player having to have seen the anime and movie to get a full grasp of the state of the world, along with the complex relationships between the characters. Outside of the core story, those who own the Royal Edition or Windows Edition will also gain access to the three episodes (and the multiplayer component) found in the original Season Pass, each focusing on one of Noctis’ friends. These are short adventures where you can try different mechanics outside of Noctis and interact with some of the more interesting characters that inhabit the world. This also gives some insight on where some of the characters went after they mysteriously disappear during certain chapters. Unfortunately, these episodes aren’t essential to the overall enjoyment of the experience and are a bit throwaway, with maybe the one exception being Episode Ignis considering there’s an alternate ending for the main campaign.

Outside of the improved story elements, not a whole lot has changes outside of a couple of costumes and additional enemies. The combat remains arguably the best part of Final Fantasy XV, focusing on a (prominently) real-time action oriented format that’s both flashy and exciting. It can be a bit automatic at times, but the various weapons you’re able to wield allows for a lot of variety and experimentation. It helps that the events throughout the story are breathtaking encounters, at least visually. They are all grand in scale, but the mechanics tied to most major bosses can be a tad dull. This is still an RPG, though as you’ll be leveling up your four characters and building up various skill trees. The open world helps with the exploration elements, though, allowing the player to adventure to their hearts content. If they want to over-level, search for hidden dungeons or monstrous slay creatures, they can do so early on. Unfortunately, one of the more negative aspects to the gameplay is that the camera can be a pain to work with. At least the controls are a little better on keyboard and mouse as the button for jump isn’t the same for picking up items or getting on your Chocobo. Ignis, Prompto and Gladiolus also always seem to want to get in the way, making things a little frustrating at times. They seem to enjoy impeding progress more than anything, with Ignis especially stopping everything around you to either exclaim that he has conjured up a new recipe, or that “the roads are perilous at night” when you just want to get a move on.

Final Fantasy XV was a good-looking game when it hit consoles in 2016, most notably on PlayStation 4 Pro, but finally we can have an unchained graphical experience. The Windows Edition sports upwards of 8K resolution, 120 FPS and a slew of graphical options to mess with. This is an absolutely gorgeous game through and through, with superb lighting techniques, crisp textures, additional assets, impressive hair tech and everything you’ve come to expect from a PC port, and then some. This is all fine and dandy, but the big question is how well optimized is it? For the most part, the port runs without much problem. It can be demanding to hit 60 FPS if you’re running this at a higher resolution such as 1440p or 4K, but this is an open world game with a lot of activity on onscreen, so unless you have a GTX 1070 or better, expect to modify some of the settings if you want a high, stable frame rate.

With that said, it’s not all positive. The port does seem to suffer from technical issues that hopefully will be patched in the near future. For example, whenever performing a summon, it would seem the PC version will drop the frame rate by close to half. We’re not talking about during the flashy event itself, as that doesn’t seem to deteriorate the experience at all, but afterwards, the Windows Edition will run at a much lower frame rate until you quit back to the main menu and reload the game. We also ran into smaller problems such as the clothing on characters would freak out and the frame rate would occasionally become erratic. Fortunately, we’ve yet to run into any crashes, and while we’ve run into a couple of issues throughout our time with the port, our overall performance impressions have been positive. Outside of the graphical prowess, Square Enix has done a surprisingly good job with remapping the controls to the keyboard and mouse setting. Granted, there is a ton you’re able to do in terms of control, so you’ll be using the entire spectrum of the keyboard, but it works so well that it’ll become more of a preference when choosing between keyboard & mouse and controller as there is no right answer here.

Closing Comments:

After fifteen months on the market, Final Fantasy XV is finally complete. Well, more or less. The biggest complaint with the initial release was that it felt unfinished, with glaring plot holes and story elements that never were fully fleshed out. A number of minor gameplay issues could be overlooked, but when the second half of an RPG feels rushed out the door without a coherent vision, then there’s a problem. Fortunately over the last year, Square Enix has been making things right, not only publishing post-release episodes that focus on the three lovable companions or including quality of life improvements, but they actually filled in the giant plot holes with story content via cutscenes and additional scenarios. It’s a shame the original game didn’t ship with this, but we finally have a neatly-wrapped package where we can experience a story that feels conclusive. It helps that the Windows Edition comes with a number of graphical enhancements, solid keyboard & mouse implementation, and the potential to go beyond console limitations with ridiculously high frame rates and resolutions. There are technical issues here and there, some that will cause frustration, but this still is a sensational port for both those who want to double dip and those who have yet to play the RPG. It may not be perfect, but Final Fantasy XV Windows Edition is the dose of Final Fantasy we all need.

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