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Another week, another Square Enix demo. This weekend I’ll be spending a little bit more time with Platinum Demo: Final Fantasy XV, the second demo to be released for the decade-in-development 15th entry in Square’s flagship series.
As demos go, this is a strange one. Our first taste, Episode Duscae, was a traditional affair, a slice of game excised from the main game and served up on its own. Platinum Demo, though, could almost be described as experimental. It takes place several years before the events of the game, when protagonist Noctis is still a child, and is set in a dream the boy is having. A furry creature that communicates through text messages is Noctis’ guide through the dreamscape. The goal is to reach the end of the dream so that Noctis can wake up, while taking in a few surreal sights and sounds along the way.
Platinum Demo is brief—it can be completed in just 45 minutes—but impressively sprawling. It’s set across four areas, each containing battles, nooks and crannies to explore, fantastical events to witness, and large metal buttons to press. These buttons, which need to be gradually unlocked by collecting glowing tchotchkes from throughout the stages, allow Noctis to affect the world in some unusual ways. Some speed up time, others change the weather, others still will transform Noctis into cars or monsters. If Episode Duscae was a traditional game teaser, Platinum Demo is more of a tech demo, offering players a glimpse of what the passage of time and changing of environmental effects will look like in the finished product. It’s been a long while since a game having a day-night cycle was considered a novelty worth showing off in advance, but it’s nice that Square Enix is proud of itself.
Besides the ability to manipulate the time of day and weather, the other main draw of Platinum Demo is its showcasing of the game’s tweaked combat. While the system itself is generally an improvement over its last iteration, the demo is actually a poor representation of it. Young Noctis doesn’t have access to all the skills his adult self will have by the time of the main game, so Platinum Demo’s combat is missing a lot of what was so interesting about Episode Duscae’s. Specifically, Noctis’ “Warp Strike” ability, which allows him to fling his weapon at an enemy and then teleport to it to continue a combo, is absent from all but the final enemy encounter here. Platinum Demo is also a solo outing, which is a shame. Noctis’ homies Ignis, Gladio, and Prompto brought a lot to the game both on and off the battlefield in Episode Duscae, and it doesn’t really feel the same without them.
Platinum Demo was announced at Uncovered: Final Fantasy XV, the gauntlet of reveals and celebrity drop-ins held in Los Angeles last month. It shared the stage with an animated series, a prequel film, a mobile game, a Florence + The Machine cover of “Stand By Me,” and the reveal of when the game is actually coming out. It’s hard to say whether this all-you-can-eat buffet of tie-in extras contributed to the game being in development for so long, or whether it’s being offered up as an apology for its interminable development. Final Fantasy XV has been in production since the Bush administration, but it’s finally (supposedly) coming out on September 30th, for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.