Episode Duscae holds promise for Final Fantasy XV, but there's a lot of room for improvement

Square Enix have been soliciting player feedback on the demo, which was bundled with Final Fantasy Type-0 for PS4 and Xbox One. Here are my gameplay impressions, gripes, and pleas to Square Enix for Final Fantasy XV moving forward.

Reining in the rainbows: Character design takes a measured approach

Final Fantasy games are often renowned for both graphics and design, but more recent additions to the franchise have drawn criticism for impractical (and often ridiculous) garments worn by the characters. This is often put down to a difference in sensibilities between Japan and the West, but Tetsuya Nomura's obsession with belts, chains and other accessories is often parodied on Japanese messaging boards like 2ch.

Thank Bahamut then, that in both Final Fantasy Type-0 and Final Fantasy XV this r̶i̶d̶i̶c̶u̶l̶e feedback seems to have filtered through. Episode Duscae's character designs are not the technicolor explosion of Final Fantasy X or XIII, but are instead grounded in the game's more measured art direction. Although some have written off Noctis, Ignis, Gladiolus and Prompto's suspiciously co-ordinated high-fashion style as a boy band-esque, it's at the very least a step into a realm of something a tad more relatable.

Western characters are typically devoid of any sort of fashion consciousness, and if they are its usually written in as a plot device. The Final Fantasy XV boys are very metro, complete with leather lapels, jewelled gloves and perpetually styled hair which certainly doesn't appeal to me, but Square Enix seem to at least be gunning for compromise.

Magical realism: Gorgeous world design

I think it'd be fair to compare Final Fantasy XV to Final Fantasy 8 in terms of world design. There's a lot of present day realism in the demo. The full game will feature a drivable car, as such automobiles feature heavily. The car designs marry the art the franchise is known for with the familiarity of contemporary tech. There's a lot to be appreciated, and every glimmer from the Final Fantasy mythos is presented well in a world that wants to achieve a more mainstream appeal.

The playable landscape in Duscae is massive and breath taking. Giant crystal spires adorn the horizon, completed with gigantic alien beasts roaming in the distance. Amidst all the contemporary trappings, Square Enix are keen to remind you that you are indeed playing a Final Fantasy.. It's probably best if you take a look for yourself.

On graphics at a technical level, its pretty clear that its poorly optimised right now, but they have an incredibly strong basis in this early build to work from. I'm fairly confident that nobody will be disappointed when it comes to shipping day.

Combat mechanics need a lot of work

The combat in Duscae is expectedly limited. You're afforded a subset of attacks and given a tutorial of how to perform in battle, but what I've seen thus far isn't particularly inspiring. You hold down a button to attack, and providing you aren't interrupted by other enemies you seem to be able to just bash targets until they slowly die, without them being able to attack in return. Occasionally you may be prompted to perform a counter, which have devastating effects - but the set up for this is incredibly unresponsive. The result is that you often have to wait long in advanced to perform a parry, rather than react to it dynamically.

Holding down the left bumper allows you to enter a defensive stance to block incoming attacks automatically, but the switch from attack to defence takes far too long, and doesn't cancel attack animations in progress, meaning that you simply cannot really react in the vast majority of situations.

Besides this, combat is simply chaotic and doesn't seem to sport the tactical feel that Final Fantasy is typically famous for. I should add that this is a limited demo, and tactics will likely (hopefully) be present in the main game, but in Duscae you effectively scramble around whilst landing blows in a brawl completely devoid of finesse. Since you can revive party members indefinitely, fights often devolve into a spamfest regardless of how many enemies you decide to take on, which thus far feels like bad design. You cannot control any members of your party besides Noctis, which furthers the sense of chaos.

Targeting can only be described as a nightmare. Once one enemy drops, your targeting mode does too, and locking on to a new enemy can often take longer than it does to kill it. The targeting reticule doesn't stick until you hit the right joystick, by which time it might've automatically flipped onto something else. It's a frustrating experience I pray Square Enix will rectify in future builds.

Besides these systemic issues, there are design decisions which leave me feeling a tad disappointed. In Duscae you can obtain Ramuh, the iconic lightning summon from previous games, only, the way he's utilized is a tad deflating. Ramuh is effectively an unlimited "I WIN" button you can use to obtain victory when fights aren't going your way. It makes me wonder if summons will actually be part of your arsenal when it comes to general battles. Using Ramuh to win will prevent you from obtaining EXP as well, making him nothing more than a spectacular escape animation.

Cautiously optimistic

Despite the flaws in the demo's combat system, I can easily see how it could eventually work out. Allowing players to parry/counter regardless of their current target or attack could make combat very fun and responsive. Square Enix need to strengthen the elements of combat they've borrowed from slash 'em ups, and inject a little more of the command based tactical combat from the Final Fantasy's of old. The combination works fairly well in Final Fantasy Type-0, but is far from the intuitiveness of Dragon Age Inquisition's squad based active tactical combat.

The sense of grandiose adventuring is there, expansive open world areas, gorgeous graphics (even pre-optimisation) and thoughtful art direction all coalesce to fill me with a sense of hope for Final Fantasy's latest outing.

The demo's ending offers a glimpse at things to come; war, blood shed, regicide and conspiracy - far removed from the light hearted Behemoth hunt you undertake whilst playing. I am curious, optimistic, and finally ready to step back into the world of Final Fantasy.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • They should've renamed the franchise Neverending Fantasy like 15 years ago.
  • But then you lose the brand recognition, and it makes people think its a knockoff. They're sadly stuck with it.
  • T​hey lost brand recognition when they destroyed everything that Final Fantasy is loved for and turned it into a tedious emo hack and slash. Bring back ridiculous outfits, chirpy characters and tactical combat please and transfer the director to the next DmC game since that's obviously what he wants to be building   ​
  • What does this have to do with WP, though?
  • Well to be fair this is being released on the Windows platform and this site is now Windows Central not WP central.
  • Reigning in the rainbows? Really? This is probably the most absurd and problematic things I have read on this site. And don't pretend it doesn't mean "reign in the gay" jfc
  • Ugh
  • I'm 100% sure they were referring to colour. Rainbow = colour, not gay.
  • I can assure you that I was referring to overzealous use of colours. Attempts to find victimization where there is none is a plague upon the civil rights movement.
  • It felt an awful lot like a strike against the flamboyant character design of previous titles. I am not looking to be victimized. If that wasn't your intent, understand that some people might find the wording abrasive. Though if your response to a long time readers agitation is to suggest a victim complex, that does make me sad.
  • I don't believe you for a second, to be honest. He made a statement, you took it out of context and got offended, he explained that wasn't the case and made a general statement about the (correct) attitudes of too many complainers, and then you got re-offended. Perhaps if those same wannabe-victims didn't do things like claim the word "raindow" as trademarked by a specific group of people, this wouldn't happen. Please point us all to the mundane words that have been claimed as offensive for no reason, so we can properly walk on eggshells becuase of a bunch of people who have more interest in being offended than having a discussion.
  • You don't have to believe me.
  • @realemotionx Not every gay person likes flamboyant character designs. Why stereotype?
  • That's not my general issue. And I may have been quick to agitate because I very rapidly become tired of the borderline misogynistic rhetoric that gamers have with the final fantasy character designs. I remember when vaan was first revealed and the dialog around him then and when the game came out has set a benchmark for my tolerance for the discussions.
  • You think my dislike for the lack of colour co-ordination is 'misogynistic rhetoric'? :/ People like you make me afraid to have an opinion.
  • No no! I meant the dialog around other characters, specifically vaan To call that statement of yours misogyny would be actually reaching. I was explaining why I jumped even after rereading the section. After hearing your side I believe you I am just gonna bow out of the conversation. I am not articulating myself properly and I am just stirring the pot. The rest of the article was absolutely on point. Sorry to bother you
  • Ah okay, I misread. I agree with you that some of the discussion is stupid, especially on Vaan. I remember similar complaints about Raiden in MGS2, not being manly enough haha. I have OCD and I'm a graphic designer, and when I see conflicting colours mashed together it hurts my brain. :P <3
  • Indeed, that's a real problem I have trying to have any civilized discussion, the desire to turn anything into an offense. I got where you were going with the design commentary, and that's as an outside observer of the franchise who only has second-hand interaction with it through Kingdom Hearts. It's often been a very eclectic, colorful design for that franchise, but I admittedly thought it was fine. That's again as an outside observer though, so maybe those who have played many of the games are looking for a change. I just didn't think of that as the case because many of the mainstream releases of today take the approach of muted colors, like with tom RaiderShadow of Mordor, Dying Light, many of the military shooters, and so on. That change in design seemd to be a major point Insomniac wanted to drive home with Sunset Overdrive's advertising. However that happens to be, I like the preview review. It sounds like there's a LOOOOT of work to be done, but without any kind of firm release date, I'm guessing they have plenty of time to sort the bugs and missing elements just fine.
  • @realmotionx Dude, you were really reaching on that one. Final Fantasy has always had over-the-top character designs but, given the age of a lot of it's fans, it doesn't hurt to tone it down a bit.
  • I'd recommend reading the article beforing complaining about something.  It's pretty clear the writer quite specifically mentions fashion and how silly earlier games have been.  It's a fair critique with a fair fix.  Granted I'm not entirely sure I'm a fan of nitty gritty.  To each his own I suppose. 
  • I promise you I did. Twice. Before coming to the conclusion I came to. But apparently if a gay man is upset at something and the clear use of silly in thus context for flamboyant, he is "reaching", as a previous commented suggested.
  • You need to think different thoughts then... You associated rainbows with gays.. Plus out of all these comments you're the only one who though such ways.
  • Then maybe I was quick to the dress. Still, it would definitely not be the first time the suggestion that final fantasy males are too "flamboyant" or "colorful", and as a person who is a long long time fan of the franchise, I get tired of hearing all that nonsense and have become a little sensitive to that sort of rhetoric. And I am definitely not the only person, gay or otherwise, who slaps rainbows on things perceived homosexual.
  • I don't think you were. I can understand how one would come to that conclusion, especially considering some of the, uh, more colourful conversation that surrounds FF characters. Casual homophobia is an unfortunate consequence of hetero-normative ideals and of 'straight' culture and I can most definitely understand why you, as a long term fan of the series, would feel this way.
  • Woh
  • As a rare fan of Final Fantasy 13, I think that was the best battle system since Final Fantasy 10 where you could switch out players. With that said, the demo left something to be desired and I agree with most of the points the author makes here. I have hope that this game when finally released will be a success but I don't know if it will keep my interest though. It reminds me of Metal Gear Rising to a degree but with a party.
  • How did you feel about MGR? I quite enjoyed it, I also feel rare in my opinions about it haha. Every time I try to enjoy FF13 I just end up bored and throwing in the towel. People keep telling me that there's depth after the first few hours but, its a massive struggle for me to step beyond the first 10 hours.
  • Characters can be hard to relate to, but I think the script is what a lot of people find unbearable.. Cringed in many of the cut scenes lol
  • Pretty much this, cringe cringe cringe. The first scenes are really odd, there's a "holocaust" happening but, everyone seems surprisingly ready to joke around and have fun.
  • What makes me cringe most are the American voice actors. They just don't have the same conviction as the real Japanese voice actors. I wish upon final release of the game you can have Japanese dialogue with English subtitles. 
  • Great story, awful script. The ending was a PERFECT example of that. I wonder if the Japanese dialog was this bad?
  • Just started playing ff13-2 again after a 2 ulyear hiatus and its worth the play. Ff13 has a gripping story.
  • I'll give it another try at some point.
  • MGR was somewhat repetitive to me, however FF-13 had a good story and even though many complained it was linear, once you get to (I believe Chapter 7-8) it opens up like past FF games and allows you to explore and grind and do side quests.
  • Nope, just now coming up on the end of FFXIII on PC and I can tell you that it is nothing but hallways and grinding.  Sure, there is a story in there somewhere, but if anyone thinks that it is engaging or interesting (or even cohesive) then they need to get out more.  That is not to say that it is flat-out bad, because it certainly did not earn the flack that it got in reviews, but if you didn't like where it was headed in the first hour or two then you were not going to like what was going to happen later.  Certainly not as bad as FFXII or X-2 (though X-2 did have some fun gameplay in spite of it's many faults), but it is not their best work either.
  • I'm gonna try and take it for what it is when I revisit it. FF6 through 9 defined my childhood/teen years, so I kinda look at the franchise through rose tinted glasses.
  • VI through IX. Those were the days. Good times!
  • Don't you be mocking my beloved FF XII. Besides 12 wasn't really story based - it was more environment based. The producers took a decidedly "western" view of the game - even the characters are less anime than the others.
  • Original FF13 was the best from the three ;)
    Game is what made me buy a 360, environments were amazing, battles were pretty fun too. Rising is definitely on my shortlist, though story was terrible... C'mon, the fight with the president of the US? Lmfao
    Gameplay was too awesome, story had little bearing on the overall value
  • FFXIII was actually quite popular, especially to those who were new to the series. I too think that FFXIII had the best combat system of any final fantasy game.
  • I'm also the most optimistic I have been since playing FFXII. The game looks great, sounds great too but it just needs that refinement. There's a fair way to go in development yet so we will hopefully get another demo when the game nears release, maybe even the current demo released to everyone but with improvements to the performance etc.
  • Agreed. How do you feel about Type-0?
  • To be honest Jez I haven't even put it in my Xbox yet haha. I know it's different as it was designed for the PSP but I'm going to stream it in the near future. Give it a proper go.
  • I'm really enjoying it so far, loving it in fact. I expected to hate it, pleasantly surprised.
  • That's good to hear. We seem to have the same taste in FF games so hopefully that means I'll enjoy it too. Still so busy playing XIV and another play through of VIII though xD
  • Square enix has to make another Deus Ex
  • This. 100%
  • I finished human revolution yesterday, most beautiful game ending ever (all 4)
  • Now I need to go and play it again!
  • Very excited to see FFXV!  The first trailer leaked for it some 7 years ago when it was supposed to be part of the XIII franchise, and it has been in dev hell ever since. I really liked the original top-down FF games as they were really fun and were the first games available with a real story.  Then the 3D games came out and they got progressively better through IX.  X was a little worse than IX but is a close seccond in my favorite in the series.  And then came Square-Enix and the franchise has been floundering ever since.  X-2 had suprisingly good gameplay but was otherwise too far over the top or annoying for me to really enjoy.  XI and XIV were MMOs so they did not interest me.  XII was a graphical mess and is one of the few that I never bothered to finish.  By the time XIII came out I had switched to PC gaming exclusively, so it has been fun finally catching up on that series now that it had a PC release.  Not their best work, and it is a bunch of hallways and grinding, but the battles are fun (though I wish there was more control over party members), and it certainly was not diserving of all of the flack that it recieved in reviews.  Then the X remaster came out and I got all excited to replay that (was going to purchase a console for it)... but they fixed everything but the most annoying part of the game!  All they had to do was redub the audio with less akwardly timed/delivered dialogue and up-res the graphics and it would have been perfect.  But no, instead we have the same great game with the same embarisingly bad voice acting.  That was a sad day. But XV was always billed to be the more open, modern, and darker version of XIII, and it looks like they are delivering on that promise (even if removed from the XIII universe).  My only fear is that it would be console-exclusive, and I would not be able to play on PC; but then again they are porting just about everything else to PC, so maybe it will be great.
  • We've followed the same FF career path pretty much! I regretfully haven't finished 12 either. FFXV and Type-0 still feature Westerners-trying-to-be-anime cringe voice acting, but luckily you can switch the VA to Japanese and just read the subs if you're so inclined (like me haha)
  • Last fairly good FF game was 12 that had both open world and a fairly good compromise of a combat system. To bad I have to yank out the old PS2 to play it :|
  • One day, maybe, Square Enix will release a Final Fantasy Master Collection in HD for Xbox One... right after hell freezes over. T~T
  • FF12 was a masterpiece. i soo love ivalice! i actually want a sequel on it. there hv been rumors bfore, bt it seemed quite unlikely now. :/
  • So...where's naruto?
  • Spot on Jez, these were the same opinions and gripes I had on the demo. I'm still looking forward to it though and am enjoying Type-0 in the mean time.
  • I love Type-0 so far. There's similarities between it and FFXV's combat system. Just needs a bit of refinement to get there.
  • FFXIII had a great method for controlling the other members of your party- or at least giving you some degree of control. The AI was pretty good as long as you had the right paradigm set. In XV though, I don't really think there is a way. Even in the tutorial when you're only controlling Noctis, it's a huge mess. There's a lot of talk of Square Enix going mobile-only if XV doesn't meet their sales expectations, so I hope they do fix all this (the release date is STILL TBA so they can push it back if they need to).
  • Yes, worse than any FF XIII game I played with. Beautiful graphics, yes but is this the FF we grew up and fell in love with? No.
  • FFXIII was ugly!
  • It can't stay the same forever. I actually really enjoyed the demo. Felt like a proper Final Fantasy to me, even at this early stage. A long way to go with development yet don't forget.
  • The last Final Fantasy game was FF X. Bye
  • Wrong.
  • No need to yell.
  • I absolutely LOVE type 0 which truly feels like a spiritual successor to Crisis Core FF VII, my favorite psp game of all time. The only thing I can see trumping this port from the psp though, is an HD remaster of Dissidia FF, which was a very close runner up for me.
  • It was said that the game was 60% complete so I'm sure these issues will be resolved by then. I like the battle system but I do agree it needs to be polished a bit more.
  • Type-0 feels quite similar to FFXV with the targeting and so on. I hope they try to make it a little bit more responsive in that sorta vein.