This is going to be a rare quick one from me. Square-Enix on Wednesday night released a ton of information about its upcoming game, Final Fantasy XV, including a release date, collector’s edition stuff, and so on. Along with that was a demo release dubbed the Platinum Demo. You may be aware, but last year a more traditional demo was released for FFXV as a pre-order bonus for PS4 versions of Final Fantasy Type-0, an upscaled PSP game previously unreleased outside of Japan. I did not play that demo as I really didn’t have much interest in a PS4 version of a PSP game, but I did download this new one.
The Platinum Demo is a non-traditional demo, unlike the first demo released. Instead of being dropped into a sequence from the upcoming game, the demo has you play through a dream sequence starring a child version of the game’s main character, Noctis. This dream sequence is not going to be included with the full-version of the game, which gives it a unique experience, but it’s also fairly traditional in the sense that it gives the player an understanding of how the game will play.
Tetsuya Nomura was the original director of Final Fantasy Versus XIII, which has since become Final Fantasy XV. Nomura is best known as the mind behind Square’s Kingdom Hearts series. As such, it should come as no surprise that elements from that series have found their way into FFXV, and yet it still does come as a shock to find that FFXV essentially is a Kingdom Hearts game. What I mean by that is that the game is a true action RPG and the feeling of just about everything gameplay-wise is Kingdom Hearts. Be it the combat, the camera, the way Noctis even jumps, it all feels like Kingdom Hearts. This is not really a good thing, in the opinion of this writer. The strength of Kingdom Hearts has always been less on the gameplay and more on the fan-service combing Disney and Square products. I’ve always found the gameplay to be adequate, and it’s improved, but it’s also always been flawed. Sora felt stiff, floaty, and the camera is just a constant battle. The series has improved since the original, but the criticism still remains. The FFXV demo has all of that, just no Mickey Mouse.
The demo itself guides you through it in a pretty tame way. Death is apparently impossible and the enemies, aside from the boss at the end, are pretty inept. A familiar friend serves as the guide for Noctis, Carbuncle, who’s appeared as a summon in multiple Final Fantasy games. He’s been redesigned only slightly, appearing as a fox/kitten hybrid that would feel right at home in a Pokemon game. I cannot deny, he’s pretty cute, and he also looks pretty believable. Easily the demo’s strongest point is the presentation, as the game looks great. There are a few moments of self-indulgence that serve it well, though also a couple of hiccup moments where the frame-rate seems to chug. We’ll have to wait and see how the main game holds up. Supposedly completing the game will allow Carbuncle to be used in the main game so there’s incentive to not only finish the demo, but keep it installed on your PS4/Xbox One.
The demo is fairly linear, though it does give the player some time to just mess around. It offers a few locations, one of which sees Noctis miniaturized in a home which is quite a bit of fun to explore. There’s also some “plates” on the floor that serve as triggers. Most of these speed up time to show-off the day/night cycle and some give Noctis a new weapon to try out. A select few transform Noctis into either a car, crocodile-like monster, or a deer-like monster. They’re kind of neat, and I have no idea (aside from the car) if these transformations are indicative of anything in the main game, but they’re a fun diversion here. The final boss encounter of the demo seems to be the only moment where the combat is opened up a bit and we get a better idea of how the game will eventually play out. Like Kingdom Hearts 3D, Noctis is able to warp around the battlefield and utilize attacks from advantageous positions. These attacks consume MP, which is constantly regenerating, and seem like they’ll be necessary components of future battles in the game. The game presents button prompts for counters and attacks, which I assume is part of the learning process. I didn’t feel like I got a good grasp of what was going on, and there’s definitely going to be a learning curve to combat even though it’s fairly simple at its base.
The Platinum Demo for Final Fantasy XV left me unconvinced. Immediately when it ends the demo asks if you would like to pre-order the full game and I did not have to think long about how to answer that. I’m still holding out hope that the full game will turn out well, but I’m struggling to understand the creative direction of this title. I know it started off as a spin-off, and the decision to make it the next proper title in the series was probably more of a financial decision than anything, but the game just feels unnecessary. It’s way too similar to Kingdom Hearts right now. Fans of that series who have thought to themselves “I really want Final Fantasy to play more like this” should be happy. Others will probably just wonder what happened to one of gaming’s most iconic franchises. Final Fantasy has a real identity crisis on its hands. I don’t know where the series needs to go, but I feel like this isn’t the best destination for it.