It was easy to be frustrated when the game was unsurprisingly absent at several big-name gaming conventions. Fans were well-accustomed to the dearth of meaningful news towards its release or what gameplay elements would even look like. Square Enix seemed to develop a habit of releasing incredibly enticing trailers once in a blue moon only to keep quiet about it during gaming events. Among the list of upcoming anticipated titles, perhaps the second-most infamous had to have been the elusive Final Fantasy Versus XIII, announced back in 2006. Almost nine years later, we’re still never getting Versus XIII, since the project—now with trailers and gameplay previews abound—was relabeled as Final Fantasy XV, the newest sequential installment of the massively popular JRPG series.
On March 17, anyone who pre-ordered the HD remake of Final Fantasy Type-0 finally got their first taste of gameplay in the form of Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae, a roughly 2-hour downloadable demo. Taking place within the middle of the story, royal fugitive Noctis Lucis Caelum (aka Noct) and his loyal posse wake up and hit the ground running as they take up a literally monstrous bounty to fix their damaged car—taking on a giant Behemoth known as Deadeye in exchange for a hefty cash reward—and continue on their path towards a being named Titan for reasons not made clear in the demo. Noct’s fellow boy band memories are also given proper introductions. We finally get to officially meet Ignis, the team strategist; Gladiolus, the heavy-hitter and Noct’s official bodyguard; and Prompto, Noct’s playful and sharpshooting childhood friend.
From the get-go, the characters and scenery are graphically gorgeous to behold. The demo takes place in a large grassy landscape known as Duscae (hence the title), crawling with various creatures both large and small. Everything in Duscae from the grass to the trees to even the characters’ hair sway and bend with the virtual wind, making the game more akin to an interactive movie experience.
The gameplay also offers a refreshing experience that even Final Fantasy veterans might be surprised with. With other recent Final Fantasy installments having been criticized for lack of meaningful player involvement aside from an input that will literally fight battles for you, Episode Duscae gives us a look at a combat system that calls much of the player’s attention to action. Playing as Noct, his access to various swords at once—as well as the ability to change the arrangement of said swords into various combinations—allows for a versatile approach to many enemies, especially when attack patterns can change drastically between day and night. His defensive stance also rewards players with slick evasions and even parries if one reacts in time, making multiple facets of this combat to keep you on your toes at all times. Even gaining experience is rather different, as EXP accumulates throughout the day from battles and sidequests and is not actually rewarded until the player ends the day at a campsite, wherein the party levels up and Ignis cooks up a dinner that offers various status boosts for the next day. Much of the Final Fantasy gaming experience is different, but it’s certainly a welcome transition. The plethora of enemies across the expansive map of Duscae gives players ample opportunities to master this engaging combat, and even for a demo, beefing up your party and learning the mechanics lead to some satisfying payoff in the form of stylish and epic battles.
To be perfectly honest, the worst things that the demo suffers from are a finicky camera and some lag issues from having so much happen on screen—the latter being a consequence of the demo working at less power than the actual game. Not only does Episode Duscae finally let us play around with a long-awaited title with a truly immersive gameplay experience, but it also serves as an interesting test for the developers to address some issues that players will find to truly polish down the final product into something that looks to be very exciting.
Though the wait for Final Fantasy XV is still rather indefinite, the hype is easily reignited through Episode Duscae, a unique demo that serves as an enticing taste of what’s to come.