Analysing Final Fantasy 15’s combat mechanics and their inherent difficulty compared to Kingdom Hearts.
What a tumultuous ride Final Fantasy 15 has been. From being announced exclusively for the PS3 as Final Fantasy Versus XIII to falling into development limbo to re-emerging and falling into limbo again and finally being re-branded as Final Fantasy 15 once the Fabula Nova Crystallis project died a quiet death, there is perhaps no other Final Fantasy game that has been as confused but highly anticipated as Final Fantasy 15. Even detailing its development process is hard without resorting to hyperbole.
Final Fantasy 15 has undergone several changes since its initial introduction though. The game is no longer being directed by Tetsuya Nomura, the man who directed Kingdom Hearts 2 and helped turn it into the mega franchise it is today. Instead, Final Fantasy Type-0 director Hajime Tabata is at the helm. We’ll never know just how different the two directorial visions could have been since Nomura’s Final Fantasy didn’t have much of a real showing in the past decade or so of its announcement.
"Magic attacks could be used, different types of weapons could be equipped to generate variations of materialized attacks and that Teleport Slash could be used to zip between foes. However, the combat in Final Fantasy 15 - at least at this stage - seems adamant on punishing players."
However, on playing the recent Episode Duscae demo, one can’t help but wonder if Tabata and his team are working a bit too hard to distinguish the game from Kingdom Hearts.
This was a paramount concern when gameplay was first revealed for Nomura’s title. Many were worried that Final Fantasy had lost its turn based roots and was entering into a more hack and slash style of gameplay. Not that this would have been a bad thing – anyone who’s played Kingdom Hearts 2 will know that Nomura has a penchant for action-heavy, RPG-esque titles. Further iterations like Birth by Sleep and Dream Drop Distance may have tacked on one too many gimmicks for fans’ tastes. However, Nomura could be trusted to make a fun combat system for what was essentially a mature game.
However, Nomura is now on Kingdom Hearts 3 and is implementing such zany combat features as rollercoaster attacks and whatnot. Final Fantasy 15 maintains some of the cooler aspects of the initial Versus XIII showing as seen with the Teleport Slash and materializing weapons. But protagonist Noctis is far from being the bad-ass initially introduced.
Running through Episode Duscae’s combat mechanics was straightforward enough. You have the ability to parry and automatically dodge attacks by consuming MP. Magic attacks could be used, different types of weapons could be equipped to generate variations of materialized attacks and that Teleport Slash could be used to zip between foes. However, the combat in Final Fantasy 15 – at least at this stage – seems adamant on punishing players. Parries are hard to execute, the camera is uncooperative and you’ll often find enemies ganging up on you mercilessly. You can’t block but the dodging should get you out of most predicaments, right?
Unfortunately, when you run out of MP, Noctis enters “Stasis” which prevents him from moving or doing, well, pretty much anything. One can’t simply use the attacks and dodges as one pleases. Some real thought needs to be put into combat and even if this is an early stage of Noctis’s abilities, it represents a fairly hard struggle for your average action RPG fan.
"In the end, it will all depend on how the combat is balanced out and while it won't be the one thing to determine the game's quality, it will be an integral part. And at this point, taking such a strict approach to combat doesn't seem worth it."
Then again, Final Fantasy 15’s combat is at least different from the slash-heavy, flashy combat of Kingdom Hearts. Fights are determined by retreating and taking cover to recuperate your health and magic points as much as going HAM on tougher foes. To some fans, this combination of dodging and strategy may be appealing. For a Kingdom Hearts fan such as myself, it didn’t quite feel as fluid or natural as I would have liked. Each battle felt like a chore to get through rather than an enthusiastic romp against the forces of darkness.
If there was anything that could make me question Final Fantasy 15’s potential to this extent, it would be the combat. Make no mistake – this game will be a success even if some of the more punishing aspects aren’t addressed. Challenge-seeking players who want that hardcore Final Fantasy experience, albeit without too much of a turn-based aspect, may like it.
At this point, who knows? It doesn’t quite appeal to the Kingdom Hearts fan in me, it doesn’t appeal to your average JRPG fan who’s more used to turn-based combat and planning things out in an orderly pace and it sure as hell isn’t going to supersede Dark Souls in terms of difficult and rewarding combat (and that’s a game which is more about the difficulty of the enemies than the combat).
We’re still at an early stage with Final Fantasy 15. Square Enix could choose to overhaul the combat significantly based on feedback. It could choose to reduce the health of enemies or the severity of the Stasis effects. In the end, it will all depend on how the combat is balanced out and while it won’t be the one thing to determine the game’s quality, it will be an integral part. And at this point, taking such a strict approach to combat doesn’t seem worth it.