By William Haderlie / April 7th, 2017
|Title||Final Fantasy XV: Episode Gladiolus|
|Release Date||March 28, 2017|
|Age Rating||ESRB T for Teen|
Final Fantasy XV may be a single player JRPG, but its post release period has matched an MMORPG more than you would expect from a traditional JRPG model. As such, I have had to decide at what points it will be necessary to write a new content review. Since I wrote up my original review, there has been the ChocoMog Festival limited time content, limited time Hunting Targets, Free and Season Pass Items, and the addition of the New Game+ mode. I have experienced all of those things in order to give our readers a continuing sense of how this game is evolving over time, but I saved up all that content to review at the right time. Now with the release of the first story DLC, I plan on folding my impressions of all the content since release into this new story DLC patch, like I would do if I was reviewing Final Fantasy XIV (an MMORPG) instead of Final Fantasy XV.
For better, and for worse, you can immediately gain access to this side story right from the game’s main menu. You don’t travel there via Umbra, nor does it have any attachment to your Main Game experience. The good part about this is that if you have previously played through the game and have just started a New Game+ run, you will not have to advance your characters to a certain point in order to play this new content. In every other way, it is a bad decision. It does not load your save file at all, so it does not care how powerful your Gladiolus really was at the time this story takes place. Also, any powers that he gains from this experience (which I’ll go into shortly) will not transfer over to your game. There is one thing that will carry over if you finish the DLC, and that is the large katana you see above. It has some interesting characteristics, but it still is over 100 Attack Power less than the Apocalypse sword you can get in the post game of the main game. So there is really only one reason to play this DLC, that is to learn how Gladiolus got the new scar on his face while the party was having fun with a sexy Dragoon mercenary.
But honestly, you don’t learn much more about him as a character (nothing surprising happens). You do learn a little bit more about Cor though. You finally learn how Cor got his Immortal name, and you also learn a lot more about Cor’s past and what he thinks about himself. Perhaps it’s because I’m an old man myself, but I did find him to be a bit more interesting than Gladiolus by the end of the DLC. But this is not a surprising development since, as you can read in my original review, I’m not fond of any of the 4 characters in this game. I liked Gladiolus the most at the beginning of the game, but then I really soured on him during the last 25%, and it was the opposite reaction for Ignis (Noctis and Prompto I never really liked at all). One of the more troubling developments in this DLC is how it not only does not make sense that he gains no power in the main game from these events (he was in fact underleveled when he rejoins the party), but his actions towards his king a short time later make no narrative sense after this Episode either. It’s basically saying that now Gladiolus knows how to be a great shield for the king, he’s going to suddenly start saying his king doesn’t deserve his service. But the most troubling development is the fact that everything in this DLC felt like it should have been in the game already, not costing extra to find out why a main character disappeared for an entire chapter, or to find out the least bit of information about Cor himself.
Gladiolus as a character plays quite a bit different than Noctis. It’s not surprising that he’s not nearly as fast or capable of dodging, and his attacks are rather slow with a lot of windup and active frames. The largest change is that he can dodge, but it’s not his most effective tool: blocking is what will make or break you in the DLC. You can hold down the block, but it will drain his stamina, and he can get guard broken by doing that. If you block right before an enemy is going to hit you (with the exception of some unblockable attacks), you will gain the ability to perform a counterattack. Most of the major enemies in this DLC will need to be beaten into submission using that counterattack. He can also build up his limit gauge by either hitting enemies or successfully blocking attacks. His limit gauge starts at 2 bars, but eventually he unlocks a 3 bar ability (and an upgrade to that after he defeats the final boss of the DLC). Unfortunately he only has access to two outfits and his default sword, along with Potions, Hi-Potions, and Phoenix Downs that he can find scattered around the cave. So really, your only advantage is in your reflexive combat ability: you start out at level 24 and you finish at level 24, with no way to level up at all. There are a few new strategic moves that you can do, such as pulling out pillars from the ground and smashing enemies with them. But overall you will just have to work on your reflexes and reactions if you aren’t much of an action game player: this is even less like a traditional JRPG than the main game is.
On the technical side, this DLC is actually pretty good. The graphics and design of this area is slightly better than the main game, in my opinion. There is also an old school Japanese flair to the interior of the cave that was entirely missing from the main game, which I found appealing. Also, the music for this Episode felt like a general upgrade to the main game, even though that was one of the strongest parts of the previous package, so it really did stand out. On the negative side, try not to ever die in this DLC or you are going to find a really frustrating negative. If you thought the load times for Bloodborne were punishing, wait until you get a load of this game. I forgive the long load times for the Main Game because they are trying to load in a whole huge world, but this is just a small cave, and there are very tiny variations to what Gladiolus can wear or the items he can have. That the load times take as long as they do for the primary campaign is some very bad development.
There was one more addition to the game which also released at the same time as this DLC, but was free: the Part 2 section to the infamous Chapter 13 in the main game. This update also included a rebalancing of the ring spells. You can only play Part 2 of the Chapter from the main menu, so it will also not affect your main game, but you do get to play it as Gladiolus and see what he and Ignis were doing when they got separated from Noctis. The buffing of the ring was nice, as it makes the chapter slightly less annoying, but it doesn’t fix what my largest problem with the chapter was in the first place. The story there was uninteresting to me, and the entire feel and format of the chapter still feels like Resident Evil 5, instead of a Final Fantasy game. So I still really dislike the chapter, even if the ring feels better now. Revisiting the chapter on New Game+ actually reinforced my distaste for it. And that was generally true of the entire game. I played the entire game over again with New Game+, and I have to say that even though I’m glad that they included the new mode (one that should have been in the game from day 1), it exposed the story to be even worse than it was my first time through the game. Because I no longer went away to grind up levels and had to really work towards accomplishing hunts and just spending time exploring, I was instead able to just focus on the story, and that exposed how bad it really was. So I would frankly be even more critical of the game if I had to re-write the review over again now. I don’t hate the game, but after over 300 hours of gametime, I am even more certain it’s not a good Final Fantasy.
But one overall theme has emerged in all the post release content for this game. I used to be a huge Square Enix fan, but I’m not sure how much longer I can be one. This game is leaving a very sour taste in my mouth because I feel that they are trying to milk the most money that they can out of their fans. Not only do I consider it terrible that they separated story that should have been included in the game into other products like the movie and anime show. But it feels even worse when these season pass stories being added post release also feel like they should have already been inside the original game. That is far worse than the in-game advertisements for Cup Noodle and Coleman, although those are terrible as well. But the thing that upset me the most is that some of the Season Pass items present pay-to-win scenarios. They gave out one AP gaining ring for free, and then included two more of them as part of the season pass. With one of the AP rings equipped you can earn 1 AP per battle for completing it in A+ time (something that I wish they included in the original game without an Accessory slot filled, but I digress). It would be bad enough if by having the 2 extra Season Pass rings you could earn 3 AP per battle instead of just 1, as that would still be pay to win in my opinion. But instead, if you gain 2 A+ grades you get 3 AP, and if you gain all 3 A+ grades you get a whopping 7 AP per fight. That makes completing your skill tree grind lightning fast and gives a significant advantage to owning the Season Pass.
So you are getting story that feels like was cut from the original game, and you are making the main game easier and less grindy. This almost feels like a Free-to-Play model, but one with the original game costing full price, and it is deeply troubling that possibly my favorite franchise of all time is heading in this direction. I know the realities of how expensive large RPGs can be to make, but other companies are doing it far better, and I’d prefer they scale back on the technical performance and just make a good story again, if it will save them from these tactics. Is this DLC technically well made? Yes, it certainly is, even if it’s very short at only an hour long. But is it worth the $9.99? I can’t say that it is if it’s giving you something that should have been in the game in the first place. Likewise with all the content that has been released since its original release. Even considering the 10 year development of the game (I feel that is a bit of an unfair criticism to make, so I try to separate it from any commentary), I cannot help but feel we payed full price for 75% of a game, and now we are paying more to get it closer to 100%.
The Season Pass was self purchased by the Reviewer.
DLCFinal Fantasy XVFinal Fantasy XV Episode GladiolusJRPGPlayStation 4Square Enix