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Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Final Fantasy XV: Episode Prompto

Final Fantasy XV:
Episode Prompto.

Wow, I just realised I actually never got around to reviewing Episode Gladiolus. Well, something for next week, I suppose.

As part of Square-Enix's bid to maintain interest and investment in Final Fantasy XV (working as a sort of not-absurd version of what the Fabula Nova Crystallis, where XV had its origins as Versus XIII, was meant to be), we've been given an aggressive schedule of free updates -- including a drastically overhauled chapter thirteen, new vehicles and outfits, and new game modes -- and at least three paid DLC with more potentially lined up for the future.

Each of these DLC boasts a drastic change in gameplay from the original game, with Episode Prompto being a sort of Metal Gear style stealth shooter with vehicle segments.

In fact, to be honest, Episode Prompto's gameplay is so solid that you could easily spin an entire game out of it, and it's almost a shame that instead those gameplay elements are being reserved for an hour-and-a-half DLC experience and, potentially, another alternate route through a chapter, much like how chapter thirteen was given an alternate route playing as Gladio.

A sad Prompto.

At its core, the gameplay is a third person shooter, with Prompto equipped with one absurdly weak pistol, one small sword for hacking people up in melee, grenades, and whatever the most recent weapon he picked up is (of which there are three possibilities: A submachine gun, a bazooka, and a sniper rifle). Stealth kills or melee kills allow you to grab weapons off enemies, meaning that the DLC at times becomes a frenetic game of grabbing guns off enemies, shooting people up, then grabbing another gun off another enemy when you run out of ammo.

Each of the weapons feels solidly different, with each of them also engendering different playstyles: You can use the bazooka to take out groups, but against singular enemies it's wasted, and it's too slow for the only boss you can use it on; you can use the sniper rifle to pick individuals off from afar, but if they know where you are, then it's too slow and too precise to be any use; and the submachine gun can do well with both groups and individuals, but everyone will know you're there when you start using it. The pistol, meanwhile, has infinite ammo but does barely any damage, while the blade requires you to close the distance first.

A happy Prompto!

The stealth gameplay isn't much to write home about -- hide behind things and creep up behind monsters when you have the chance -- but it works, and it works relatively well, which is honestly more than a lot of games. The DLC also has driving sections, where you drive a snowmobile across the frozen wastes, and for the most part, those driving sections handle surprisingly well.

In a slightly odd turn, the game ends on what amounts to a four stage boss battle, wherein the latter two stages are just a turret shooter section. That felt more than a little bit anticlimactic, especially when Episode Gladiolus ended with a pretty tense swordfight between Gladio and a character who wielded powers not wholly unlike his.

As far as the story goes, there's actually not a lot of it. Ardyn dumps Prompto in the First Magitek Research Facility, and from there, Prompto learns about his past, has a crisis of confidence, and then returns with Aranea to take out the Immortalis, a giant robotic snake that Verstael has fused with.

The story's main function is really to fill in backstory details, detailing both Prompto's past and filling in blanks like 'where did the Diamond Weapons come from' and suchlike. While Prompto has a crisis of confidence that results in him later deciding to live for himself instead of for Noctis, since that doesn't really impact the main game at all, it never feels that important.

A thoughtful Prompto.

Interestingly, though, just like Episode Gladiolus, this episode adds in some extra mystery: Verstael rants that Lucians stole Prompto, which is how he ended up in Lucis, but there's no evidence they ever did -- and, in fact, the motive Verstael ascribes to them for doing so (studying Prompto) is definitely not the case, and there's almost the implication that either Pryna and Umbra or Ardyn himself may have been the thief; similarly, Pryna, one of Luna's dogs who we'd previously been set up to think had died short after Luna did, appears to act as a guide for Prompto, raising some further questions on what exactly Pryna and Umbra's true natures are.

Aranea's inclusion in the DLC, while certainly welcome, is also a bit odd: We're not given any clear reason as to why she's out in the middle of nowhere, and her purposes are mysterious enough that towards the end of the episode, I was half expecting her to reveal herself to be Ardyn on one of his shapeshifting sprees.

It's a solid DLC, though, and we even get a teaser trailer for Episode Ignis, which seems to be set in Altissia and looks like it'll show how Ignis lost his sight. A hint: Ardyn is involved, somehow! They're really getting their money's worth out of Ardyn, aren't they.

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