Right off the bat, the game looks really good. The first cutscene was on par with the current Final Fantasys in terms of visual fidelity, which is pretty great. From what I have heard, your mileage may vary on this, but it ran perfectly on my computer, never having noticeable dips in the new 60 fps run.
When it comes to gameplay, I have to say I love it. So many aspects are customizable - how fast do you want combat, do you want it ‘turn based’, real time, or real time with pauses? Do you want the combat slow, fast, or ridiculous thanks to the new speed up modes? You can even start the game at level 99, level 1, unlock all the gold, or all the license points! I have personally been running almost everything at 4 time speed with combat at medium pace, occasionally slowing down to 2 times speed to navigate, or 1 times speed for some optional bosses.
My “version” of the game isn’t really ‘me fighting enemies’ but rather ‘the AI that I have built fighting enemies’ and that is a really cool, unique experience. For anyone unfamiliar, Final Fantasy has a ‘gambit’ system where you give up to 12 ordered commands at all times to anyone in your party. At its basics, you do things like say ‘if an enemy is weak to fire, cast fire’. Then you get a little more advanced with ‘if an enemy has 100% health, steal from it’ so you only steal from enemies at the start of a fight. But then you can start to really have fun from a programming standpoint of putting orders in unique combinations to gate your actions accordingly.
The combination of having super fast speed running and the party automatically fighting, stealing, and healing means that when I am grinding, the game plays itself. And that’s awesome! I can literally just steer my party with one hand while I use the other to eat/text/look at strategy guides. This is probably the most fun that I have had grinding, which is really what I wanted out of this game - something I could put on a playlist, and just grind away at for hours. Another thing that is great about the grinding is that you can play way out of your level. If you want to grind somewhere that you shouldn’t be, most of the time the game doesn’t gate you out by anything except a quick and painful death. This lead me to explore areas out of my league and get some sweet gear, which in turn let me farm harder areas, and get that all important RPG OP satisfaction.
And all of that grinding really has paid off, as I have been sucked into almost all of the optional content, which I did all of except for the bestiary completion and finishing trials. Some of these were more memorable than others - encountering a lair of zombies and an esper in an area telegraphed as ‘don't be here’, to the amazing fight against Gilgamesh, voiced by Marcus Fenix. Several times I have wound up completely outclassed by random mobs or by a boss, and then I have to reload my auto save and try again or turn back. Oh yeah, there’s autosave, which in an RPG is a delight that almost feels like cheating. In earlier titles, death often meant losing an hour of progress in your dungeon, having to trek back to the final boss yet again, or decide to grind it out more. Now, it is an easy fix that just feels so damn modern.
Fuck you and your 50 million health
Finally, I am delighted by all the callbacks to previous entries. Gilgamesh, the Deathgaze, Ribbons, and many other staples make it in the game, and it provides a good sense of grounding to the world of Final Fantasy. If only there were a straight up warmech...
So right off the bat, why is Vaan even here? I really dislike the whole ‘teenager saves the world’ trope already in JRPGs, but both Vaan and Penelo have no purpose in the story. There’s the princess trying to reclaim her throne, the kingslayer accused of treason, a once judge turned sky pirate riding with his bunny wife who cast herself out of her village and...scrappy doo, tagging along for the ride! At several points I have wondered why the hell everyone lets these two kids stick around, and near the end of the game, I still have no good answer. It would be easier if I could relegate them to the back of the party, but nope, emo Aladdin has to be the poster child for the party in every town and village. And their faces are all kinds of messed up. They did a lot with textures, and the cutscenes look beautiful, but some of the signs, and most of the faces are just...damn.
One of the main reasons why I didn’t like Mario Odyssey as much as everyone else is that I always felt like the developers were snickering whenever I missed a moon. I wasn’t trying to play the game, I was trying to think like an asshole to figure out where the secrets were. Most of the late game and hidden stuff in FInal Fantasy is the same way. The game gives you a full map of an area in a special chest, but it doesn’t show hidden paths. Then it isn’t a full map, now is it, you asshat. Several times you can enter a map only to get hit with hidden traps that, more often than not, kill Balthier for some reason. The entire game is littered with these traps that you can only see with Libra, so I hope your last gambit slot on you favorite character is always Self: Libra, or you will have a bad time. Or you could equip one of the 40 or so oddly specific accessories to solve that or any other problem. But you are just going to equip the bubble belt as soon as you can, because that shit is overpowered. Would you rather take half damage from fire, or have double your health all the time, always? You can be immune to slow and have +1 speed, or have an additional 6000 HP. Your character has reflect, or you can tank the next nuke because you have double health! It’s like the ring of Favor and Protection in Dark Souls - it is literally so good there is no point in equipping anything else in 95% of the scenarios, and 4% of those scenarios are “I wanted to challenge myself”.
In order to equip that, or anything else, you have to have the license points, an obscure system designed to let you know that yes, the Muramasa is in the game, and yes, you can equip in in 20 hours when you finally find it. Silly me thought that grinding LP would help me later on as I would have access to all the top tier gear, but really, the entire system just seemed pointless. Maybe if the game didn’t have the class system added to the original release, this system would make sense, but as it is, it really just stuck out as completely pointless. Also, on the class system, they make you pick a class right away, and I have no earthly idea what to go with. I picked one of everything, except two white mages - I panicked in the early game because I didn’t have my white mage in my party and I really needed one, so I assigned the next party member added to my team (Ashe) to be the white mage, only to get the original white mage (Penelo) back like half an hour later. I still don’t know if any character has an affinity to any job, and how well my jobs mixed and matched, and I really would have appreciated any insight from the game on that. Maybe highlighting the best 3 jobs for a character, and suggesting 3 that play well with your current selections when you get a second class? I don't know.
This one is a bullet point with no good segway - selling monster drops for gold sucks ass. Its just time consuming when they could drop gil. But what about the Bazaar? What about it? I can’t even say it’s confusing in the game, because the game doesn’t tell you what combinations make what item, so you look into guides, and then it’s just a hellscape of information on how to get the best items by farming whatever enemies or bosses in trial mode so you can get a ten percent discount on the next item upgrade. Many things in the late game follow this pattern, although some are much worse. Some quests have ridiculous amount of steps with inane requirements to be able to fight the end game bosses. In a way, I guess that is the ‘single player MMO’ that I have been hearing about, but still, the entire crystal area and the 22 gates just seems excessive. It kind of reeks of ‘we had to sell strategy guides somehow’, the olden days before lootboxes and DLC. And if you don’t have that knowledge, you can miss so much content either through items you didn’t know you could obtain through the bizarre choice of randomized chests, to drops from megabosses that you have to sell on the bizaar to get an ultimate weapon. Looking at you, specifically, Gilgamesh, for making me turn off gambits just so I could steal repeatedly to get all of his unique loot without having to go into the trials mode.
Despite all of that though, the game is incredibly solid and left me wanting so much more. It scratches the RPG itch really well, but at the same time respects your time in ways that many games of the genre don't.