Final Fantasy XV
When I was allowed to mention I played Final Fantasy XV this morning, people all had the same first question: How is the combat system? Square Enix's fifteenth main entry in the franchise is the inevitable evolution of the series' fits and convulsions as it tried to modernize a formula fallen out of favor.
Square Enix worked itself away from turn-based combat with Final Fantasy XII (and more recently Lighting Returns: Final Fantasy XIII), and in many ways, I suspect that XV is a product of lessons learned from fan feedback. It is pure action that borrows much from Kingdom Hearts.
Customization options abound though, as players can assign different melee weapons to five different slots. These correspond to Crush (initial assault), Ravage (melee chain attacks), Vanquish (lethal force strike), counter (retaliation after parrying), and descend (attacking from above). Each of these also brings its own active ability.
These weapon-specific flourishes consume MP and deal heavy damage. You'll need to be conservative though, as dodging and warping (yes, you can blink around the battlefield and even close the distance with a warp strike) consume magic points. If you run out, you'll be staggered and can't use any of your abilities.
Square Enix has also devised a party-oriented approach to health. If you or one of your friends is knocked out, you have a limited amount of time to use a potion or get a revive from another member of the party. The animation associated with the latter looks like a magical pat on the back as reassuring words are shared. It fits the motif.
Tactical use of terrain is also important. Players control Noctis, the leader of the party and a prince in Final Fantasy XV's world. He can hide behind cover or warp to high ground, both of which accelerate recovery of health and magic.
Another influence from Kingdom Hearts is the streamlined menu system that is used to select one of the five active abilities. We had access to a health-draining strike, a spinning broadsword attack, a dragoon jump, and a spear lunge. All of these elements come together fluidly, despite the drastic departure from the series' roots.
The Duscae demo includes four or five hours of content, including the tutorial. Playing through it as a speed run might yield a completion time of 40 or 50 minutes, but the world is so gorgeous with odd juxtapositions between high fantasy and contemporary technology that it's worth spending time in it for longer.
It opens with a lengthy cutscene setting the tone of the relationship among Noctis, the prim and proper Ignis, the brutish Galdiolus, and the young and immature Prompto. As the scene opens, the boys are sharing a tent, as one of their cell phones begins to ring. The sequence serves to show the boys as immature, jocular, and friendly.
These aren't the unknown upstarts or destined heroes found in so many JRPGs. They're just kids, and the dialog and mannerisms reinforce that. It's refreshingly "normal" despite the fights against rabid predators; lumbering, docile beasts; and a foolhardy quest to stalk an enormous creature for money to fix the car they wrecked.
There is danger lurking, though. Enemy magitek troops flood the area, creating a challenge for the party. This barely scratches the surface of what we assume will be a major conflict in the full version of the game.
It's also dangerous to be out at night. Enemies are vicious and numerous under cover of dark. It's best to use that time to camp, which has a strategic impact on the game.
Your accumulated experience doesn't register until you rest for the night. You'll also have the chance to cook and get an MMO-style bonus for being rested.
There's a lot to Final Fantasy XV, and the Duscae demo seems like a great way to ease players into the overarching concepts. It will also likely polarize a community that has widely divergent opinions about what the series should be. If you're picking up Final Fantasy Type-0 on March 17, you'll be able to take it for a spin yourself. Other players will be able to download it at a later, as yet undisclosed date.