No Final Fantasy should open with a mobile phone alarm going off, and yet the 2.0 update to Episode Duscae hasn’t changed that abrupt introduction, nor does it diminish the frat-boy camping trip and leather-clad attitude it brings with it. Whatever you may think about Noctis and his friends at this early stage, it’s interesting to see Square-Enix taking the time to update a demo, and the improvements to the gameplay and the game engine are pronounced.
As I’ve noted before, Final Fantasy XV is an incredibly important entry in the series for the developer, as it is the first true Final Fantasy to take full advantage of the current generation’s increased power. It’s also the first game to use their impressive in-house Luminous Engine, and it’s clear that they’re improving its performance all the time.
Episode Duscae’s frame rate was variable, and on the Xbox One it was downright disastrous. Testing the PS4 version, the 2.0 release unequivocally improves the refresh rate when out roaming the landscape and during combat. It makes for a much more polished experience and the improved stability allows you to enjoy the impressive visuals, with the landscape stretching out in front of you. It’s still far from perfect, skipping frames at times, but given the time before the game is due to launch, things are definitely moving in the right direction.
The Luminous Engine’s texture scaling is interesting, with details fading into view, though at times it makes you feel as though you’re a touch short-sighted as you run about the world. It is effective though, and presumably helps keep the frame-rate at a relatively stable level. Version 2.0 doesn’t appear to have directly improved graphical fidelity, but the enhanced frame rate is what really makes the difference.
The improvements to the combat are also quite distinct, with the addition of the dodge roll being a key component in making encounters easier to deal with. The warp function now allows you to escape combat, and is more consistent in use, though its targeting is still somewhat woolly and unclear. The action can still get too hectic at times, particularly at night against faster enemies such at the Sabreclaw, but it is snappy and immediate. The square button continues to get a pounding as well, but there’s plenty of nuance with the different special moves, dodging, warping, parrying and combination attacks keeping you on your toes.
Part of the difficulty with tracking the action on screen is that, although the camera has been improved, it struggles when in confined spaces in the midst of combat. The enemy lock-on does make a difference here, and realistically you should be using it at all times anyway in order to play with confidence, but it could still be polished further.
The new two-party side quests are pleasant asides, and the reduction of your team makes combat tougher even against lower-level enemies. The bro-mance is in full effect, mind you, as you go mushroom picking with Prompto after he comes to your tent to invite you, and the Boys’ Own adventure isn’t helped by his surety in finding just the right kind of mushrooms for each of your compatriots. The fact that there’s supposed to be an increased sense of friendship within the group is clearer, though the fact that we’ve been told that there’ll be no women within this central group still doesn’t sit right, particularly with the hyper-sexualised mechanic Cindy still in full effect in the demo.
The mushroom-collecting mission ends in spectacular style though, as you have to run for your lives from the immense Catobeplas, who in the original version would sit benignly in the middle of a lake. You can fight it if you so choose, though the fact that it can kill you with one hit probably puts it beyond most people’s reach. Alongside the main quest’s Behemoth, it proves that Final Fantasy XV can certainly do large-scale, and I can’t wait to see what the full release throws at you.
Episode Duscae remains an exciting and substantial demo of what is potentially going to be a divisive entry in the Final Fantasy franchise. The improvements made in 2.0 are clearly taking player feedback into consideration, and the combat and visuals are both increasingly attractive. The setting meanwhile, with its real world components nestling next to fields of fantastical creatures, may take some getting used to, and the all-male central team, and their interactions could prove the game’s undoing. For those yearning for an enjoyable Final Fantasy experience it’s worth remembering that Type-0 HD – which many bought purely for the Episode Duscae demo – is a great game in its own right, and perhaps now with the release of Version 2.0, it’s the perfect time to experience both.