It is not often we see the evolution of a game’s mechanics while in development, especially in AAA titles. Which is why Final Fantasy XV is such an interesting thing. Not only has Square presented us with free playable demos at key moments during the development cycle but it has also used to feedback from those demos to improve the game’s combat mechanic.
This all started with the release of the Episode Duscae, back in March 17, 2015. While not exactly free, it was included with every purchase of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. While a solid game in its own right, I suspect that majority of the sales for Type-0 were attributed to the demo. It was for me. I bought a PS3 specifically to play Final Fantasy Versus XIII (The previous working title of Final Fantasy XV) and I jumped at the chance of playing part of the game I have been waiting a decade for.
Episode Duscae allowed us to see the many mechanics they have added to the game: There was a day and night cycle to show passage of time; camping where Ignis cooks for the entire party which gives bonus stats for the next day; experience system that only takes effect if your party sleeps; summon system that showed us just how destructive these things can get when summoned in real life; And finally, the game’s combat mechanic.
The combat in Duscae focused on Noctis’ ability to switch from one weapon to another. The combo strings were defined by what weapon came out when you pressed the attack button. This looked absolutely wonderful and made you feel like you were playing the teaser trailer for Final Fantasy Versus XIII. With all the flashiness of this system, it had a major problem. Some of the weapons in the combo chain, like the Great Sword leaves you open to attack. While it was not much of a problem when fighting a monster on two, it became problematic real quick once you were dealing with multiple enemies.
A lot of people felt this way and the development team and took many of the feedback they received and started improving the system. A small glimpse of this can be seen when they deployed a patch for Episode Duscae that introduced new combat mechanics. While not a huge departure from Duscae‘s combat mechanic, this patched introduced what I would like to call the “Buddy System”. It allows you to perform coordinated attacks with specific party members when certain situations arrive and made combat a little more bearable.
True change in combat wouldn’t be felt till the Platinum Demo. This was announced during the Uncovered: Final Fantasy XV event in March, 2016 and was made available to download by everyone on the same day. The Platinum Demo removed the weapon combo of the previous demo and changed it for a quick-change system which was tied to the d-pad. While this allowed for a more controlled combat experience, I feel that it lost a lot of the magic that Duscae‘s fighting style had.
Speaking of Magic, magic is finally introduced and is the primary focus of the Platinum Demo. While it was nice to finally see magic in FFXV, it felt like you were not able to use it as often as you would like. Magic was consumable, by consumable I mean they were numbered. You had X amount of Fire magic right now so use it wisely. Another problem I found was that magic took up one of the 4 quick-change slots on the D-pad. So you had to sacrifice a weapon slot or extremely limit the types of magic you can use during a combat scenario.
Now with the release of Final Fantasy XV just weeks away, they released Judgment Disc. This is currently a Japan exclusive demo and covers the first chapter of the main game. By Japan Exclusive, I mean you need to create a Japanese PSN account so you can download the demo. The demo is also entirely in Japanese so if you are worried about spoiling yourself, you won’t. Unless you understand Japanese.
The Judgment Disc demo has a lot of things. My favorite being the FFXV Universe trailer at the start menu. This is a trailer that shows you FFXV: Brotherhood, the animated miniseries; Kingsglaive, the full length CG movie starring Aaron Paul; and of course Final Fantasy XV itself. Outside of the trailer, the demo allows us to see how all the tweaks and changes to the combat mechanic over the years finally plays. You can now activate a party member’s ability using the L1 button. Ignis’ was my favorite. He threw knives at multiple enemies and Noctis teleported to each one dealing damage.
The problems I had with the combat mechanic from Platinum Demo were still there albeit not as glaring. The problem with Platinum Demo was that Noctis was the only character that fought which made combat feel monotonous. With Judgement, all the party members are active and team combos sometimes happen that inject a little flare in the combat system.
Outside of combat specific things, the demo showed me that the game will once again have a sphere grid like many FF titles before this one. Landmarks can be learned from dinners, this world’s version of taverns. Outside landmarks, you can also take on bounties which give you Gil and XP. There are dialogue options which give you XP. There are “Life-skills” tied to each party member. That would be fishing for Noctis, survival for Gladiolus, cooking for Ignis, and photography for Prompto. During camping cut-scenes you can see the party doing their favorite skill. One of my favorite would be when we decided to camp in a RV and the first thing Ignis did was check if the stove was working.
Everything from how the combat works, to the passive animation shows to me that FFXV is all about the bond between the 4 main protagonist. I can’t wait for the game to release to finally understand what I was playing when I was playing Judgement Disc.
Final Fantasy XV is releasing in November 29 on the PS4 and Xbox One. That would be 8 days from now. If you are like me and can’t wait that long, Judgment Disc would be an ideal thing for you.