At this point, it’s starting to feel like I’ve been playing Final Fantasy XV for most of the last two years. From its original release we’ve seen the steady arrival of new DLC story packs, as well as updates to the original game to iron out some of its weaker moments – everyone’s looking at you, Chapter 13 – and that was before we were handed the revised console edition alongside the long-awaited PC version earlier this year.
Just in case that wasn’t enough FFXV for the world, Square Enix then brought the shrunk-down, chibi-fied Pocket Edition to mobile phones and tablets, and now things are coming full circle with an HD version of the mobile title coming across to consoles. Yes, I’m as confused as you are.
Final Fantasy XV Pocket HD takes the narrative and main gameplay beats from Final Fantasy XV and condenses them down to their base components. Following Prince Noctis as he attempts to reach his betrothed and save his fallen kingdom, XV’s open world becomes a series of small hubs with quests to complete and enemies to defeat, but where it was less noticeable on mobile, on console they tend to feel empty and disconnected.
While some aspects have suffered from the multiple transitions, the original game’s often-derided combat is definitely improved by playing with physical controls, and one of Pocket HD’s strengths is the immediacy and familiarity of the action-orientated combat. It’s a shame then that there just isn’t enough of it, and without any real grind to get into thanks to the overly forgiving difficulty level, you’ll begin to see the problems with this mobile game on console.
In fairness I can’t quite fathom why you’d pick this up on PS4 or Xbox One, especially when at this stage it’ll likely cost far more to buy than the original version of XV. It’s perhaps intended as a primer for the series aimed at younger gamers, or for those who just want to return to the story again in a slightly different manner, but, if we’re being mostly cynical today, it’s to squeeze just a little more cash out of XV’s exceedingly high production costs, as well as the Final Fantasy franchise and its fans.
The game’s adorable aesthetic and pocket-sized protagonists almost make this feel like a completely different thread of the Final Fantasy mythos, shifting from the realism of the recent run from X onwards, back to the more stylised turns of IX, Crystal Chronicles or the Theatrhythm games. It’s an art style that feels perfectly at home on the Switch, and given the lack of the full-fat version on Nintendo’s console, it all feels like this is the right place for it to be.
What doesn’t quite sit right is the game’s often-dour outlook and serious tale. Noctis and his consistently chatty retinue have brought a ton of their dialogue with them from the full-fat version of XV, and while Pocket HD does a decent job of building up the sense of camaraderie and friendship amongst the group despite its truncated form, the new art style doesn’t help convey the gravitas of the game’s events. It feels as though it would actually have been better off leaving the spoken dialogue out, with the text and the simplified character models adding a touch more lightness to proceedings.
Most disappointing though is the game’s performance, as you’d have hoped with the jump to Switch they’d have ironed out the mobile version’s frame rate issues. Instead when you enter a larger or more detailed area there’s a clear drop in frame rate, which sits alongside some pop-in just to diminish the game’s other achievements elsewhere. It’s not like there’s a ton going on visually at any point either so it makes very little sense, and it gives the whole production an air of something that’s been rushed out rather than had care lavished upon it.
Final Fantasy XV Pocket HD is a bullet-point RPG that just about gets away with its narrow focus thanks to the charm of its lead characters, fun combat, and having been able to crib some of the original’s great production values, particularly the epic soundtrack. It’s more or less impossible to recommend to PlayStation or Xbox owners, but for Switch fans it’s a light snack before next year’s deluge of proper Final Fantasy games.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch – also available for PS4, Xbox One, Android & iOS