I’m a massive Final Fantasy fan. It’s the main reason why I got so involved with gaming at an early age. Whilst there’s no doubt that I would have become much more invested in gaming at some point in the future, Final Fantasy VII was my early gateway into what the world of video games had to offer, like it was for most of us in the 90s. I actually only played Final Fantasy VII because I happened to notice it on a friend’s bookshelf, and asked about it. I find it quite funny that I just stumbled onto a gaming classic, because I happened to see it in the corner of my eye on someone’s bookshelf! Kind of like how I bought Pokémon Snap, but ended up getting a Zelda: Ocarina of Time cartridge placed in the box by mistake at the store. That’s how I ended up discovering another “best game of all time” by accident!
It stands to reason, then, that I should be one of the most suitable people to ask about the latest Final Fantasy XV Platinum Demo, as I’ve been watching the game like a hawk for years. Since 2006 when it was first announced alongside Final Fantasy XIII (let’s not go there…) I’ve been up to date with every trailer, announcement, game details, and changes that have been ongoing throughout the Episode Duscae patches (a small section of the overworld explorable as a demo for people who pre-ordered and bought early copies of Final Fantasy Type-0). Not everyone was willing to buy a Final Fantasy game that was a HD port of a handheld title to be able to play a demo of Final Fantasy XV, so for many, Episode Duscae was something that could wait.
“[Platinum Demo is] the best kind of demo, that not only serves as a brief representation of the final product, but can be replayed over and over again to experience various aspects of what the game hopes to offer in various ways”
The Platinum Demo I’ll be talking about however, is free for all to download and play themselves right now. It was one of many announcements Square Enix made during their live “Uncovered: Final Fantasy 15” event. Other announcements included a release date (30 September 2016), a movie and anime adaptation, and what limited editions were available to pre-order. The Ultimate Collector’s Edition, that will be bundled with the movie and anime series, an artbook, soundtrack CD, exclusive Noctis Play-Arts figurine, in-game DLC, steelbook case and postcards, went on to sell out on the Square Enix online store within an hour worldwide. Only 30,000 units were being sold globally, and has been met with controversy as there was no real purchase limit for the copies, and people have bought multiple copies to sell on eBay for over 250% its original price. It was initially priced at £189.99, but noweBay listings are anywhere between £350 and £450.
So what’s present in the Platinum Demo? A surprising amount actually. It’s the best kind of demo, that not only serves as a brief representation of the final product, but can be replayed over and over again to experience various aspects of what the game hopes to offer in various ways. It can be played quickly as a short 10-15 minute playthrough of a young Prince Noctis, who finds himself within a dreamscape-like scenario, alongside the summon creature his father gave him to protect him within his dreams; Carbuncle. Carbuncle is a long time staple of the Final Fantasy series, a reappearing summon creature alongside the likes of Ifrit, Shiva, and Leviathan (who also makes an appearance partially). The player starts off walking around a forest as young Noctis, given a smartphone by Carbuncle, who is able to communicate with Noctis through text messages via the phone. The aim for them both is to escape the dream Noctis has found himself trapped in, and Carbuncle tells him that he needs to wake up. Carbuncle for those who don’t know, is a cat/fox-like creature with whiskers and large pointed ears, enveloped in white fur, with a small red ruby lodged into its forehead to cast magic with.
After some exploration, you learn that there are orange crystal shards scattered around to collect. The counter increases, but we don’t know what these are for yet. As the player progresses and finds strange bronze/silver/gold/platinum pedestals on the floor, hopefully you make the connection that you’re collecting these shards to unlock the plates’ functionality. Some plates change the weather, some change the time of day, and others enable you to enter a random vehicle, play as a random creature, or bestow you with a new weapon/item to use in combat. Running around as a gazelle-like creature, or as a crocodile is fun and novel for a while, and distracts long enough to make the demo last a bit longer. Combat is kept simple with young Noctis, where he uses a toy sword and inflatable mallet to take down small phantom goblins based on the same goblins in the Episode Duscae demo. Before escaping the forest, it’s possible to activate a plate that summons a phantom version of Leviathan which gives the player a sense of the scale these summons will take on when present during gameplay. Those that summoned Ramuh the lightning god in Episode Duscae will know the epic scale of these creatures in-game.
The player then moves into a manor environment, where Noctis is shrunk down into a very tiny version of himself running around on the floor of what seems to be a sort of dining room-come-playroom. This is where you get to try out vehicles, and drive around on the floor like a small toy car. Carbuncle jumps onto the table and waits for you to catch up. You then move into a city environment which may or may not be a part of the capital (there are other towns and villages planned for the game). More goblins to fight, but this time there are creatures to transform into via the pedestals, and a few more magical items to use. The magical items are just a fancy way of showing off the engine’s new physics-based particle system. There’s one that summons rain type particles to flow down from where the item is thrown, with the drops bouncing around like sparks. Another is meteorain, which summons dozens of small red balls that bounce around, which will likely become a fully-fledged spell in the final game where meteors will likely shoot down from the sky and explode into chunks that bounce around (if previous versions of the spell in other Final Fantasy games are anything to go by). There are other spells, but you can try them out for yourself!
“Platinum Demo does its best to provide a grand showcase of tiny extractions taken from the main game and put them on display in a tech demo style”
Finally we enter the last area in the demo, which is the steps leading up to the Capital building, and the courtyard below it. An iron golem appears to try and defeat Noct. Before the fight however, Noct changes into his adult self, and is granted access to his real weapons once more. You get a one-use fire spell to try out, and a sword to fight the golem with. There are more pedestals around the courtyard that grant you more equipment, and two special ones that grant you new weapons if you look up at the balcony behind you when standing on the steps (sword with shield, and a shooting star throwing weapon). If you’ve been collecting the crystal shards until this point, you should have them unlocked to use. After defeating the golem, you’re treated to a brief cutscene and the demo ends. For your trouble in finishing the demo, you’re granted access to the Carbuncle summon when the game releases in September. So there’s a permanent reward granted as a reason for trying out the demo if you haven’t already!
So what did I think about what I played around and experimented with in the demo? Well, first off, it was clearly a tech demo-styled affair, which is why I used the word “experimented” for my experience. Episode Duscae is what I would consider a traditional demo, where there was a small section of the overworld presented for the player to roam around in, with a clear objective, small amount of narrative, and a proper boss fight. Episode Duscae let you try out summoning as well as a few other things which Platinum Demo was lacking. So in the sense of being a demo, it was severely underwhelming. Had I not owned the Episode Duscae demo to play around with, I would be disappointed as a fan, because the brief boss battle at the end where you get to play as adult Noctis doesn’t last much over a minute if you’re really trying.
Before I started to criticise the demo any further, I sat back and tried to decide what it was that Platinum Demo was trying to achieve. The more I thought about it, it really was just a tech demo to excite fans with the new game engine. The spells aren’t really spells, and are more like toys that are thrown with pretty particles to give you an idea of how they’ll finally be used alongside real spells in the final game. Most of the game being played out as a young Noct is a parallel representation of the player’s first steps within a public demo. You’re given smaller and less complete forms of the equipment and abilities you’ll have access to in the final game; toy versions if you will. As such, Platinum Demo does its best to provide a grand showcase of tiny extractions taken from the main game and put them on display in a tech demo style. The forest at the start is a nice introduction to movement and exploration; the manor’s room is an introduction to physics objects with the children’s toys that can be pushed around; the vehicles to drive around and test; and some more combat sections with the goblins. Finally we reach the city, where you get an idea for metropolitan exploration and design, and the chance to play as the creatures you’ll find yourself fighting against, with the chance to use childlike versions of the spells you’ll be able to use as well. You’re also given a small taste of the full game untethered with the section involving adult Noct, which lasts briefly, but brings you into what a normal combat situation without restriction might entail. It wets the appetite.
The visuals have come a long way since Episode Duscae. On the whole, it’s still the same sort of quality present, but values have been tweaked and fine-tuned to create more stable framerates and make the content more efficient to run. Square Enix took the complaints of framerate and other graphical-based complaints from Episode Duscae seriously, and it looks like they’ve fixed those issues, or at least within the environments shown off in Platinum Demo. This might be a false claim, since Episode Duscae is set in a massive open world scenario with distant scenery and large details of foliage and other objects, but a patch for Episode Duscae did improve framerates amongst other graphical anomalies, so it serves reason to believe they’re present here regardless of the small areas the demo is set in. Shadows are still a bit fuzzy, and lack real definition to them. They also fade into view at fairly obvious close distances. When in the city, take a look at the tree off to the right as you walk up the steps towards the front of the fountain. As you approach the tree during daytime, the back of the tree is fully lit, and becomes enveloped in shadow as you approach it.
“The visuals have come a long way since Episode Duscae”
It seems a low level of detail is present for most objects around the player, and pops in at distances that are still far too short that they become noticeable. The definition of shadows also has a clear line that denotes where soft low quality shadows end, and the slightly sharper but still fuzzy shadows are revealed. Episode Duscae had this problem too, where walking in the woods made it all too easy to spot this graphical transition. Lack of real time shadows cast by the headlights of vehicles across some geometry is also noticeable. Lastly, the water seems to lack the detail it does in Episode Duscae too. Rather than create ripples in the water as the player walks around, the ripples seem to spontaneously appear all of sudden after every footstep. This is less of a smooth gradation of waves constantly rippling during movement that we saw in Episode Duscae, and is likely a change to optimise the water effects with multiple characters and creatures all interacting with the water at once in the more populated scenes of combat in the overworld. All of these gripes however are small in comparison to the other fantastic effects at work. The physics-influenced particles are the real showstopper, alongside the time of day, weather, and lighting effects. Physically-based rendering and some form of radiosity is present too, giving scenes a much more lifelike quality to them. It’s beautiful to just walk around, and ignore the rest of the demo for a while.
In a weird way, I’m criticising Platinum Demo for being more of a tech demo than an actual demo in the traditional sense of taking a part of the main game and representing multiple aspects of itself in smaller and more restricted forms. I’m then praising it however, for using imaginative sandbox-style methods of showcasing all of this to the player. It becomes a strange sort of metagame in how it presents itself, and works quite nicely for letting the player “try things out”. It’s like those demos you’d play back in the day, where the content of the demo would never make itself into the final game, and was made specifically for the demo. In that sense, it perhaps serves as a better representation for the final game, as the demo is made with that purpose in mind rather than be a modified extraction of a more holistically thought-out game taken out of context.
Whatever you come to think of its approach to demo design, it’s a demo that I’ll be playing just as much as Episode Duscae, which I’ve already sunk a good 100+ hours into since I had it with Final Fantasy Type-0. It was also nice to have different environments to explore, without just being confined to a big field with a gas station and ranch. With Final Fantasy XV now only being mere months away, the demo doesn’t need to do too much to generate excitement and interest. Everyone was already excited, and Episode Duscae had already given the most hardcore fans a real taste of the game and its combat. In that sense, Platinum Demo doesn’t serve as a “main demo” as such, but rather just an additional, bonus taste of what’s to come. I feel it complements Episode Duscae much better than it does at attempting to replace or supersede it. If you’re a fan like I am, you’ve already played both demos and don’t need convincing. If you’re a casual acquaintance of the series, it’s a shame you’ll only get to play this without experiencing the free roam aspects Episode Duscae let you enjoy, with a little more narrative to it. You’ll also miss out on the combat of adult Noct beyond a small courtyard boss fight, which is where I feel the game shines alongside the free roaming. That’s the sacrifice here however. It’s a trade of freedom and complex gameplay systems, for a smaller and more concentrated sandbox of tools and toys to play with. If Final Fantasy XV is an ocean, and Episode Duscae is an indoor swimming pool, then Platinum Demo is an inflatable paddling pool with rubber ducks and toys.