Final Fantasy XV Episode Duscae Impressions

Final Fantasy XV Episode Duscae is the long awaited demo for Final Fantasy XV. Coming bundled with Final Fantasy Type-0 HD in a 'Day One Edition', this is our first look at the upcoming game which currently has no release date.  However, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD was released March 17, 2015 for the PS4 and the Xbox One.  The copy I have was made for the PS4, but the quality should be similar across all platforms (and barring any unforeseen circumstances, there will be a review of Type-0 at some point soon).

Firstly, I would like to mention that the gameplay contained within Episode Duscae may not be totally indicative of the final product.  What has been released is merely a sampling of the final game, a sampling which is likely to be changed before the final product makes its way to consumers.  As such, this is not a real review, merely a look into the released product.  We shall see once the game is truly released how well these impressions hold up.  With that out of the way, I shall get on with the bits you came to see!

Episode Duscae begins with some backstory explaining that our band of brothers, Noctis, Ignis, Gladiolus and Prompto,  are traveling across the country when their car breaks down in the province of Duscae.  In order to get back on the road (and, presumably, continue eluding Imperial forces) a sum of 24,000 Gil must be gathered.  While it seems possible to gather the sum without ever following the story of the demo, that story is laid out immediately after gaining control of the group: hunting the great 'Deadeye', the Behemoth.  Giving a total of 25,000 Gil upon successful kill, the aim of the demo is ultimately to kill Deadeye.

After a short tutorial on combat - it is skippable, but since the combat was such a departure from previous entries, I deemed it appropriate to go through with it as a matter of principle - you are given free rein.  I started my demo by running off and killing some of the wildlife, which I was informed was called a Sabertusk.  A pack animal, they typically attack in groups of 3 to 5 from what I could tell.  After dealing with the lot of them, this game's version of the Battle Over screen appears as an overlay that tallies up the EXP gained and a couple other morsels of information which factor into an EXP bonus, which modifies the base EXP given by each enemy.  The better you handle the battle, the more EXP you get, which is a very nice addition.

After I killed a few of the Sabertusks, I turned my attention to the Garulas.  Looking like enormous cows, they are harmless to you...until you attack one of the herd. I found this out accidentally as I happened to hit one while trying to fend off a Sabertusk attack.  What made that battle even better was the further addition of rare spawning Imperial Guard Troops.  While playing the demo, a patrol of Magitek Troops will land near you and engage.  That battle was quite hectic, as I was fending off three different groups of enemies - though the AI seems to keep them separate, as each engaged the other in differing ways as well, making it quite fascinating.  Luckily it's hard to die in this game.  When your HP gauge is depleted, that nice white HP bar becomes red.  Which it's fully depleted, you drop to your knees and are susceptible to 'permanent damage', which means damage you take depletes the red bar.  After each battle, your health regenerates, but only up to the end of the red bar; so the more damage you take while downed, the lower your total health until you camp.  Having the red bar totally depleted results in death and Game Over.  However, if you manage to escape the scrum, one of your brothers will come stand over you and allow you to recover, returning your nice and white health bar.  The same thing can happen to them, and any of you can help them - I've 'rescued' a comrade a couple times, and the other AI partners did so in a later battle.

Another departure in this game over previous is that EXP isn't automatically given.  In order to level up, you have to camp - usually done once the sun goes down, but presumably whenever you like.  When camping, a meal is made based on ingredients you have in your inventory (killing the wildlife can give you drops normally found on that animal, and you can also buy foodstuffs from shops around the area), and this meal confers bonuses the next day.  After the meal screen, you're taken to a screen that tallies up all the EXP gained for the day, and then levels your characters up based on that.  Personally, I'm slightly against the need to camp to level up, but the meal buff makes it almost worth it.

At any rate, after destroying a few packs of Sabertusks and Magitek Soldiers, I turned my attention to the mission at hand: killing Deadeye.  The structure of the mission was exciting: I had to track his position and finally move in on his apparent den.  Once you enter the den and come face to face with the beast, you have to track him through the mist, using his blind eye and rocks for cover - this use of the cover system was quite ingenious, but it functioned like any insta-fail stealth mission from other games, so it got annoying after a couple failures - before finally moving in on its true den.  Ignis laid out a rather good plan - though rather simple - and following through on it seemed too easy.  My fears proved right when the beast jumped up and attacked.  We regrouped and fought it for a bit before it proved too much and we were forced to flee.  I feel like the game should've explained that better, since I hit a game over screen far too many times because my group ran off without me, leaving me alone with the beast and unable to flee.

After I managed to get away, we searched for clues and found out that there was a cave near a ranch that was apparently 'haunted'.  Obviously, four bros were  more than up to the task, so we went in search of that cave.  After battling through a goblin horde, Noctis acquires the summon for Ramuh.  From what I've heard (since I have stopped playing the demo for other reasons at the moment), the summons only activate upon 'death' so I have yet to see this in action.  However, it appeared to be what I needed to do, since my current quest objective is to return to the lair of Deadeye.

From what I can see, the game is very well crafted.  It looks gorgeous, the controls feel right (though the camera could probably use some work) and the banter seems okay - I do hope there are more lines in the finished product, since they repeat themselves quite often.  The Duscae region we are exposed to is but a small portion of the game proper, so I'm sincerely hoping to see as varied a continent as we've seen in not only other entries into the franchise, but also other open-world games like Skyrim that we can see have been borrowed from.  Just look at that monstrosity to the right; that was as close as I could get, so each of those spines is easily as large as Noctis.  I hope to be able to walk across that water in the finished product and lay waste to that hulk, just to see if I can do it - much like every encounter I had in Skyrim.

All in all, I"m very happy with the demo.  I'm sure I'll be playing it multiple times to see what I can find locked away in it, but until then, the demo simply stoked the fire I have for this game.  I hope E3 gives us more information about this game, most importantly an actual release date.