Well here we are. Five months and 16 Final Fantasy games. For now we are at the end of the road so let's go on a trip.
Final Fantasy XV:
Final Fantasy XV opens with a message that reads, "A Final Fantasy for fans and first timers alike." This statement is bullshit because this is the only Final Fantasy game that has a movie, an anime, and a mobile game that all tell part of the story. It's one thing to jump into a Fantasy game of any type and have to learn a bit about the world before you really get into the swing of the story. But it's another when a huge chunk of the story is told off screen and doesn't even tell the player where the story happened.
So already FFXV fucks up. The game opens with Noctis and the boys on a road trip with a car that doesn't work. Noctis is a prince so you wonder how the hell his car broke down like a half mile from home, but we wont talk about that. Noctis is a Prince and he is joined by his homies Gladious, Promto, and Ignis, and immediately you know they are bros because they shit on each other from moment one.
The basic premise here is that Noctis's kingdom is being over run by the Empire (which is obviously evil) and in order to stop them he has to go marry Lunafreya who's a notable figure in another kingdom, or possibly the empire, I can't fucking remember the reasoning behind the marriage. Everyone acts like Noctis and Luna are in love too but in every scene they have absolutely zero chemistry together.
Look the story, doesn't really matter here. Which is strange for me to say in a Final Fantasy game, but seriously it's a mess even worse than 13's and you are better off not thinking too hard about it.
Where FFXV really shines is Noctis and the boys, driving around, hunting monsters, and just being bros. That is when the game is at its best.
As if a direct response to people complaining about the linearity of 13's three games, FFXV instantly starts you in the open world. And it's a pretty big map considering. However it's clear that Square simply don't know how to make open world games because it's an open map with not much in it besides gas stations and like two cities. There are no random events here, nothing dynamic, every encounter you have will be a hunt with a monster that's scripted and actively chased by the player which again is a bummer.
Combat is completely action based now, holding a button to attack, pressing another to dodge, and pressing another to teleport attack around the map. Sadly no combos here, and a few minor interactions with your friends where you issue them special attack commands based on a meter that fills. It's not going to shake the foundations of a DMC game, but it's also not completely terrible either. Magic is weird too because you basically have to mine elemental energy from nodes at every camp site, then combine that energy to make magic grenades.
A lot of the game is strange. So much so that Square spent a couple years fixing a lot of issue with the game before transforming it into the Royal Edition. There were moments in the plot where you would lose one friend for a while, and when they came back they change in certain cosmetic ways. The Royal Edition includes DLC chapters for every character where you see what they did while they were gone, and they are all pretty good side stories but nothing super exciting.
There is also a day night cycle where monsters are tougher at night and you are encouraged to sleep at an inn if you are in a town, or camp at a safe site if you're out and about. Here Ignis will cook for you, monster pieces you get from fights will sometimes inspire him to come up with a new recipe, which you'll never get tired of hearing trust me. These meals will grant you a buff for a while during the next day and come meals that completely break your party for a while so you can go obliterate some of the hardest monsters in the game with ease. It's okay and the food looks good.
Once you've had your fill of the open world you are to invade your homeland and liberate it from the villain Arden. Who is a bad guy I guess. He certainly seems evil, but because a lot of context isn't in the game, even in the updated version, you don't really know who he is or why he's a dickhead.
Basically once you're done in the open world, the back 20% of the game is kind of weak. Again they tried to add stuff and expand it in the Royal Version but it doesn't really help. FFXV suffers from a long development cycle and a lack of a consistent vison for the game. It's sad because the open world and hunting monsters with the bros is a lot of fun and it's a relaxing game while you're doing that. But the mess of a story, janky combat, and randomness of the game just makes it feel hollow in the end.
I've certainly played worse FF games, but there are a lot that are better too.