E3 2016 'Final Fantasy XV' Hands-On Gameplay Demo Impression: I Am Titanically Concerned

  • Playstation 4
  • Xbox One
  • Action
  • RPG
"Trial of Titan" in 'Final Fantasy XV.'
"Trial of Titan" in 'Final Fantasy XV.' (c) Square-Enix

I was finally able to get my greedy mitts on Final Fantasy XV at E3 2016 and took on the challenge with all the excitement of a kid on Halloween. Unfortunately, between a wild camera and a demo that funneled me so precisely through its giant set piece that I couldn’t really get a feel for the game I was supposed to be previewing, I left feeling rather worried about the combat system in the long-awaited next installment of Final Fantasy.

The demo I ran through was “The Trial of Titan” stage demo, which you can see below:

I played on Xbox One, and as I played, the wildly sensitive camera seemed to flop hither and thither much like the Titan’s own massive limbs, clipping me through rocks, more rocks and Noctis’ body. The demo began with me running in the direction of a blinking pin on the map, accompanied by hunky Gladiolus. Everything was brown and clumpy, like I was traveling through the intestine of a rock boulder. It was not the most impressive environment to show off.

Once I reached the pin, the prompts continued. It turns out there’s nothing I could do in the demo that wasn’t exactly what the game wanted me to do. When the Titan swung its giant foot or hand at me, I had to press x to block and y to parry. I knew this because the screen flashed those buttons at me, and if I failed to do as the screen said, Noctis would be swept away and hurt, or Gladiolus would come charging in to try and save me.

When the Titan wasn’t actively lowering its dusty rock foot upon me, I had to press y to warp, y to warp again, and then y to warp strike while targeting the Titan. Eventually I was instructed to switch to a weapon with one-hand, and finally to switch to Blizzara magic, all of which were assigned on the d-pad.

There was no real opportunity to discover mechanics on my own. The menu was not available for me to explore; when I pulled it up, all I could see were my party members slouching stylishly against an elegant background with their basic stats on display. I couldn’t fiddle with any options as all were disabled for the demo.

Instead I was marched from goalpost to goalpost, leaving me with no sense of accomplishment once the Titan came crashing down in huge slow motion. I hadn’t participated in the epic scene of destruction unfolding before me, not really. I’d simply followed along and obediently pressed buttons as they flashed on screen. It felt less like combat and more like a series of quicktime events. All the fuss of the Titan falling apart after the nothing I had contributed to its collapse felt like a toddler getting a ticker-tape parade for completing naptime.

Why the lack of freedom in the demo? Is it because the Titan set piece is so magnificently huge, so carefully calibrated? Did Square Enix not trust that anyone running through the showfloor demo would be able to figure out how to battle, even with controller diagrams labeled and placed at each spot? Or were they concerned that the battle system was still not ready to really be put through its paces?

I don’t care about losing turn-based battle, but I do care about an oversimplified system that’s all flash and no substance, and one in which the warps that are critical to controlling Noctis in battle send the camera spinning like a whirling dervish. The demo did not showcase depth in the combat system. Considering the major changes to combat, missing this opportunity was a mistake.

Technically there was a third party on the battlefield -- mechanical soldiers dotted the clumpy ground -- but they did nothing to me, possibly because I was warping non-stop in compliance with on-screen instructions. Still, the lack of action from the third party that was supposed to be mixing it up on the battlefield was also concerning. Presumably they were supposed to be another threat, but they could barely stand against the Titan themselves. My Noctis ran freely between them on his way to his party members.

The “Trial of Titan” demo is short, but suffice to say, I did not like what I played. Hopefully the final combat system doesn’t have so many on-screen instructions, or at least has an option to turn those off, especially when fighting some rare monster type that you should really be allowed to figure out on your own. I’m hoping for a lot more epic combos or strategic opportunities than I got in the very narrow demo.

I still think the world and characters of Final Fantasy XV merit attention, and there’s a lot to Final Fantasy XV that the showfloor demo didn’t even try to show off, like crafting food recipes or traveling in the car. But the brown and gray Titan battle on the brown and gray landscape alleviated only by the electric blue of Noctis’ warps wasn’t a great choice for the showfloor demo.

I can follow the thought process behind it: the Titan is huge, the environment crumbles around you, it’s supposed to feel very high-stakes and leave you with an impression as giant as the Titan. But I didn’t need or want the training wheels, and fighting a giant foot just isn’t cool. I am concerned. My fingers are crossed that on Sept. 30, I am proven epically wrong.

Final Fantasy XV
Combat, Plot, Characters Create Something Flawed, Beautiful, Fantastic
Despite it's flaws, Final Fantasy XV is a milestone achievement: not just for being completed, but for being completed with polish, aplomb and love.
  • Engaging main cast of characters
  • Fun, fast-paced combat
  • A massive, beautiful world to explore
  • The Regalia!
  • Continuous updates have addressed some shortcomings of the initial release
  • Major aspects of the story feel rushed or absent, particularly toward the end of the game
  • Stealth sequences feel out of place
Join the Discussion
Top Stories