The more things change, the more they stay the same. This was never more true than when I recently got the chance to play the upcoming demo for Final Fantasy XV. Familiar elements were there in spades as I guided Noctis and friends on a hunt for the classic Final Fantasy monster, Behemoth. The series' victory chime, chocobos, and Noctis being able to jump like a dragoon will make series veterans feel right at home. There was even a reference to magitek if all of those other things were not enough. As is always the case, it's not what's the same, but what's changed that shows how Final Fantasy games are set apart.
The demo features an impressively large open area to explore with no loading times in sight. There were some performance issues, but for a demo it ran smoothly. Final Fantasy XV's version of random encounters appeared in the form of beasts wandering into the heroes path and soldiers occasionally being airlifted in. The action-based combat has had many fans worried, but the combat doesn't go to the depths of such action games as Devil May Cry or Bayonetta. Holding an attack button will perform a continuous combo against nearby enemies, while holding down another button will dodge incoming enemy attacks. Of course, combat isn't quite as cut and dry as it sounds, as a properly timed press of the attack button will perform a parry and allow for a strong counter attack. Dodging also uses up MP, so players can't simply dodge everything.
Noctis has various skills at his disposal. He will manifest different weapons during his attack combos, which vary based on on which weapons he has equipped in his four slots. Each weapon provides a skill that can be used in combat, such as the aforementioned dragoon jump. These can be selected via the D-pad and activated via another button, consuming MP in the process. Noctis is also able to use a warp strike, letting him immediately close in and attack an enemy. He can also warp to cover or high ground to restore HP and MP, which refill when in safety. Combat is fast-paced and frantic, especially against the massive Behemoth featured in the demo. Some way to give some simple commands to party members would be helpful, but this hasn't been ruled out for the final game. Level-ups do not occur during battle, but instead happen when resting at camp sites. There weren't any options to customize characters during the demo, so it's unclear what if any options of this sort will be in the final game.
Things are looking up for Final Fantasy XV, a game that was originally announced another generation ago with a completely different title. Despite some technical hiccups with the demo build, things largely pretty smooth and the game's huge open area was quite impressive, especially with the backing of some brand new Final Fantasy tunes. It was hard to glean anything about the setting or characters from the demo, outside of a more modern setting and some quality voice acting. The occasional framerate issues and the apparent massive size of the full game's world do leave worries that perhaps the developers have bitten off more than can chew in a timely manner, but only time will tell. For now, the demo paints the picture of what could be a truly special entry in the Final Fantasy series.