It has to be said right at the top: I wasn’t a fan of Final Fantasy XIII and haven’t played XIV, so I haven’t been the franchise’s biggest supporter in the past few years. For a long time now, I’ve felt that long gone were the glory days of this franchise. Maybe it wasn’t directly caused by the XIII series of games, but for me, those were three games that dealt a killing blow to the elite JRPG to which all others have always been compared. By the time Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII came around, I was completely disillusioned with the franchise. But even that didn’t stop me from trying Final Fantasy XV…
At this year’s PAX East, I spent an hour behind closed doors with the very top secret Final Fantasy XV demo, Episode Duscae, which you’ll be able to play next week if you purchase Type-0 HD. Although we’ll have a more detailed write-up of the entire demo once it officially drops next Tuesday, I thought I’d share my first impressions of Episode Duscae.
It’s actually quite odd to be writing a preview for a demo of a game that probably won’t even release this year, isn’t it? The fact of the matter is that Episode Duscae feels like a bit more than a demo. Think of it along the lines of what Kojima Productions did with Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, which served as more of an introduction to the revamped gameplay mechanics of MGSV than a full game, but carried enough of its own wait to be classified as a full release. In the same way, there’s enough to explore and learn in Episode Duscae to warrant this sort of attention.
This little slice of the story (there’s nothing to really tell, to be honest) sees you and your merry entourage broken down somewhere on the road to Cauthess. With no money to fix the car, your forced to go hunting for very big game: the Behemoth, which I’ll get to in moments.
Jumping into the demo, I was immediately thrust into this beautiful open world full of strange beasts that I could hunt at will (for an hour). In fact, I spent a lot of those first few minutes just running around and picking fights with the different packs of animals, enthralled with the real-time combat system at my disposal.
Gone are the days of the long pauses in battle while you scroll through a menu of commands. Instead, the combat was fluid, as I switched through weapons and the attacks at will, moving freely during a fight. You know longer have to stand there and wait for it to be your turn to notice there’s a giant monster preparing to kill you. Actually, Square Enix even added a dodge mechanic this time around. It’s a tricky bit of footwork, and I still got smacked in the face a lot, but it feels great to have that freedom for the most part. And if you successfully dodge an attack, you can quickly counterattack. Oh, and there’s even a summon in the demo, although I can’t reveal much more on that. You’ll find out soon enough!
A big IF I had before stepping into the demo room was whether that warp sword was going to work as well as depicted in the trailers. Being able to warp around the map is certainly a big advantage, especially when fighting bigger, slower creatures. It comes in particularly handy when fighting the Behemoth. I was able to use the ability efficiently for the most part, although it was sometimes hard to find something for the sword to latch on to, and there were times when I meant to pick up an item and instead was warped into a big animal I didn’t want to disturb.
My favorite portion of my aimless roaming around the map (completely ignoring my main objective until perhaps the last 20 minutes of the session) was when it turned to nighttime and an enemy soldier patrol suddenly arrived on a dropship, the wind blowing me off my feet. There seems to be some kind of curfew in this world set by the oppressive military forces because the robot soldiers didn’t take too kindly to my group of charlatans in the middle of the woods. Fighting this armored guard, which is equipped with guns, swords, and ridiculous melee attacks, was 10x more enjoyable than fighting any of the creatures. Or maybe I just like that bit of sci-fi more than all of the fantasy.
After a while of troublemaking, the game prompted me to camp for the night. At a point during the in-game day, you’ll just have no more energy to continue adventuring. That’s when you need to make camp and rest until the following day. It’s a pretty cool touch that gives your adventure just a bit more weight.
The nap was great, so I finally decided to go hunt the Behemoth. First, I had to track it by investigating different points on the map. The menu is pretty easy to follow, so finding your objectives is a breeze. Actually, tracking down the Behemoth and following it back to the spot where you’re eventually going to ambush it is all quite easy. The real challenge is in killing the damn thing, which I wasn’t able to accomplish in the last few minutes of the hands-on time. Maybe I was careless. Maybe I was ambitious.
There were plenty of side quests and points of interest I didn’t get to explore due to the short session, so that’s promising. You’ll get to play a bit more out of this demo I reckon, and based on how much of a good time I had with it at PAX, that’s a really good thing.
John Saavedra can’t find Cidney’s number. Help him find it on Twitter.