Final Fantasy XVI has been out for two weeks now and most players are potentially crossing the finish line of the main story. Newcomers and beginners to the series who completed the game might be enticed to dig into the past games or otherwise work backwards, starting with Final Fantasy XV as another easy entry point. We’re going to take a look at Final Fantasy XV – specifically the more readily available Royal Edition – and find out if it’s still worth playing in 2023.
Final Fantasy XV originally launched in late 2016 for PS4 and Xbox One. Upon release, it was met with mostly positive reviews though it was also heavily criticised for its lack of content that left gaps in the story as well as its more drastic shift into action territory than any other Final Fantasy game that came before. Today, the Royal Edition has mainly addressed those issues and we’re going to go through all the changes including why it’s a must-play title in the franchise.
Final Fantasy XV Royal Edition – Is It Worth Playing in 2023?
The story of Final Fantasy XV follows protagonist Noctis Lucis Caelum, the crown prince and heir to the throne of the kingdom of Lucis. Noctis is set to marry Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, the former princess of the Tenebrae kingdom and his childhood friend. Traveling from the royal capital city of Insomnia to meet Lunafreya, Noctis gathers his closest companions: Prompto, Gladiolus and Ignis to go on a long road trip to his royal wedding. Of course, tensions between kingdoms causes the road trip to be more than just a breezy drive down to the coast.
The story of Final Fantasy XV in its Royal Edition added important contextual cutscenes to fill in the gaps of the original’s plot, such as flashbacks to the Kingsglaive movie during a pivotal moment in the game. Side characters are also given more importance thanks to the DLC episodes which integrate stories for Ignis, Gladiolus, Prompto and antagonist Ardyn during key points in the story, covering a lot more plot than what we got in the base game.
While the story still isn’t perfect in the Royal Edition, it feels much more substantial now thanks to the new cutscenes and DLC. It doesn’t rank as one of the best stories in the Final Fantasy franchise and can often feel convoluted (as is the case for most Final Fantasy games, to be honest), though the strong characters bring it up a few notches. The theme of brotherhood is its strongest aspect and you’ll quickly come to love the banter and bonds between the four main characters throughout the adventure.
In fact, despite some of its storytelling missteps, Final Fantasy XV is one of the most emotional games in the series due to the fantastic chemistry between its characters. Noctis starts off as a bit arrogant and stubborn but slowly shows tremendous character growth as his friendship with the other characters is tested and deepened, resulting in a some tear-jerking moments towards the climax. We’ve heard the saying “it’s about the journey, not the destination” before and that absolutely applies to this game.
The world of Eos which Final Fantasy XV takes place in is quite interesting because it’s a traditional open-world setting. For the first time in the franchise, players could explore a full open-ended map with desert areas, forests, seaside vistas, volcanic regions, isolated towns, hubs and gas stations along the way. Bounty hunts and side quests are plentiful in the world as you travel by car to your next main quest pitstop, all of which serve to strengthen the lore, though some tend to feel pretty mundane.
There has been arguments made about Final Fantasy XV‘s open-world feeling bland and empty but I disagree. The map isn’t as dense as other RPGs like The Witcher 3 or Skyrim but you really feel the scale of the world here – and scale is very important because it ties directly into the road trip story as well as punctuating some of its big action set pieces involving Summons, larger-than-life monsters and massive locations. The world feels grand and mysterious, capturing your attention every step of the way.
Final Fantasy XVI‘s real-time action-focused combat is a divisive topic right now but it was actually Final Fantasy XV that took that crucial first leap in the gameplay department. Most would be surprised to hear that the gameplay in Final Fantasy XV, despite being teased for “press one button to win” mechanics, is actually a lot deeper than you think. Contrary to popular belief – and especially thanks to the Royal Edition – you can’t just mindlessly tap one button and expect to win a fight.
While Noctis’ basic combos can be easily strung together by simply mashing the attack button, there are other mechanics beneath the surface that gives layers to combat. Magic and elemental spells, collected from stones throughout the world, can be modified and tuned in various ways to enhance their proficiency and power. Several enemies have elemental weaknesses that can be exploited once you figure out what magic works best against them, encouraging you to commit some time into fine-tuning the capabilities of fire, lightning and ice.
Succesfully parrying an enemy at the right moment and following up with a Warp Strike can cause them to stagger for openings. The Royal Edition lets you take direct control of either Prompto, Ignis and Gladiolus in battles too, whereas in the base game, you could only command them and chain link attacks. Speaking of chain links, these combo attacks are powerful when used at the right time, requiring you to be aware of your team’s positioning at all times.
As you can tell, Final Fantasy XV‘s combat is a lot more flexible than just button-mashing to victory and a lot of that can be attributed towards the improvements made by the Royal Edition. Hell, even if you don’t like the real-time action, there’s another combat mode that emulates Final Fantasy‘s traditional turn-based combat now thanks to an update. The Royal Edition has seemingly addressed most of the base game’s criticisms and it’s now the quintessential way to experience it.
Final Fantasy XV is arguably one of the best-looking games in the series thanks to its strong art direction and world design. It’s reminiscent of other fantasy RPG settings but given a distinct Final Fantasy flare, whether its in some of its familiar roaming monsters, lovable creatures like moogles and chocobos or grandiose action. The soundtrack by composer Yoko Shimomura stands toe-to-toe with some of Nobuo Uematsu’s best, especially the standout tracks “Apocalysis Noctis” and the dance-infused “Braver” from Afrojack.
Is It Worth Playing?
The short answer is a resounding yes. If this is your first time playing Final Fantasy XV, the Royal Edition is worth it. If you played the base game and want to experience all the excellent updates and improvements that Square Enix has introduced over time, the Royal Edition is worth it. It’s worth addressing some of the criticisms surrounding the game at launch, though. Some of it is very valid and won’t change the minds of those who didn’t enjoy the game the first time around, but flaws and all, it’s a special game for many reasons.
When taken as a journey about brotherhood, bonding and friendship, Final Fantasy XV earns its accolades. It makes the most out of its bromance-fueled road trip adventure with a great cast of well-written characters and emotionally resonant moments. The combat may not be to everyone’s liking and the story falls short of being as great as its predecessors. That said, if you’re transitioning from Final Fantasy XVI to XV, you may find another fulfilling Final Fantasy adventure awaits.
Final Fantasy XV Royal Edition is now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC as well as PS5 and Xbox Series X/S via backward compatibility. You can play it as part of the PlayStation Plus Extra library too.