What a difference…

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Besides a small slither of X-2 and XII, Final Fantasy XIII was my first proper foray into the series. I can’t begin to tell you the excitement I had for that game for what was a first-timer. I was that excited to the point I imported the game from Japan on PlayStation 3 without knowing a lick of Japanese – guides don’t let me down now. And there I was again for the Western launch months later, which just marked its fifth anniversary last week.

After a decent start, there was a point in the game where I just got bored. And not in a good way. People say the game opens up massively after its linear opening ten hours, but I’ve not gone past that point despite my best efforts in trying to go back to the game in the past. XIII-2 improved things, but not by much and the only experience I had with Lightning Returns was its demo, which was okay, but nothing that could entice me to the full game.

But after the disaster that was the XIII trilogy, I still had some sort of vested interest in the game formerly known as Final Fantasy Versus XIII. The former PS3 exclusive who’s setting and tone had me curious and keen to know more of the game but who’s development was mostly met with silence that’d be broken intermittently with a soundbite or two from then-director Tetsuya Nomura and a trailer once in a blue moon, it got its rename and re-reveal at E3 2013 as Final Fantasy XV for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

And the footage shown of the game that year had me excited but with a cautious footing after what happened a few years earlier. Fool me once, etc etc.

So here we are, nine years short of its intital announcement as Versus XIII, but now under the moniker of XV in our first playable taste of the game with Episode Duscae. And I’ll be honest with you: spending an hour-and-a-half with it (so far) has washed out a good chunk of the taste of Final Fantasy XIII out of my mouth.

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The one other aspect of Final Fantasy Versus XIII/XV that enticed me was the fact it was real-time action gameplay, not turn-based. Basically, similar to how Kingdom Hearts is played (considering Kingdom Hearts is a game that I massively enjoyed playing in ye olde days on PS2, that really helps too). And after initial worries it was doing away with it following the E3 2013 re-reveal, it’s managed to maintain it. The pace slows down when you go into defence, but otherwise, I felt almost giddyness when taking on my first enemy in Duscae.

That said, I can not parry oncoming attack to save my life for shit. After getting through most of the tutorial with flying colours, trying to parry was nigh on impossible. Although that’s on my part and how shite I was, not the demo’s admittedly.

Also, the game’s switch from the Crystal Tools engine to the Luminous Engine has seemingly paid off because bloody hell, it really does look massively impressive. And some of the stuff sprinkled in the demo from Yoko Shimomura’s score is absolutely terrific, including some reworked versions of stuff previously heard when the game was known as Versus XIII.

As for the relationship between Noctis and his entourage, it feels real and sincere. It gets dorky at times, but there’s a real chemistry there for sure. Even if some of the voiceover acting is not as good as it should be (though after the dubbed Tokyo Game Show trailer, it could have been worse, I guess).

Bottom line: in the space of 90 minutes, I had a lot more enjoyment than I did with the time spent with Final Fantasy XIII. The regret I have in investing so much hype and antcipation for that game will live with me for a long time. With XV, although I’ll still remain somewhat more restrained this time, I think I can go into it with better judgement than I did with XIII because as first tasters go, it’s quite good.

Disclosure: This is based on a final PlayStation 4 digital code of Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae, provided by Square Enix. Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae comes with copies of Final Fantasy Type-0, out now on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

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