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For all the hopes pinned on it and hype that surrounds it, Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae begins unassumingly, in a tent. The sun is already up, but Noctis, the main character, and his entourage are still asleep. A cell-phone alarm goes off and Ignis—the responsible one, already up—positions the blaring phone directly next to his comrades’ heads one by one until they all stir awake. It’s exactly the kind of affectionately annoying thing that lifelong friends do to each other, and that tiny gesture sets the tone for the rest of this FF15 demo.
Whatever Final Fantasy XV’s story ends up being about, none of it is on display here. Instead, everything in Episode Duscae, from the dialogue to the body language to the combat, smartly focuses on these characters and their relationship with each other. In battle, they boast and tease each other. The doted-on Noctis is the only character who is ever offered genuine praise (to his embarrassment). When someone’s health falls to zero, they can be revived with a chummy slap on the back. The dialogue is naturalistic and quip-filled, and the acting might just be the best the series has ever had.
The action is just as strong as the writing. Battles require Noctis to switch between defensive and offensive modes. While defending, Noctis will consume MP to automatically dodge enemy attacks. While on offense, he swaps between multiple weapons that can be equipped for different functions—one weapon each for initial strikes, prolonged attack chains, powerful finishing blows, etc. Each weapon has its own special attack that offers more strategic options, like hitting multiple targets with a wide swing or draining an enemy’s health to heal yourself. Noctis is also able to throw his sword and warp to wherever it lands, a useful skill for approaching distant enemies or escaping dangerous scraps.
It sounds like a lot to keep track of, and it can be at first. But Noctis’ abilities fit together neatly, and most encounters require you to make smart use of them all. Once you’ve gotten accustomed to how Noctis handles, using his entire arsenal becomes effortless. I found myself picking fights with the local wildlife just for fun. The only thing slightly awkward about the combat is that melee attacks are mapped to one of the face buttons and positioning the camera is done with the right analog stick, so you can’t attack and control the camera at the same time.
But the combat isn’t the best thing offered here. My favorite part of Episode Duscae is the camping. Experience points earned in battle aren’t collected right away; instead they’re banked until the next time your team pitches its tent at one of the map’s campgrounds. Setting up camp allows your party to level up, and you’ll earn different bonuses for the following day’s activities depending on what you eat for dinner. Every time you turn in for the night, you get a scene of the four lads sitting around a campfire, drinking out of travel mugs and doing chores. It’s a little touch, but it gives the game a spirit of adventure and camaraderie.
The phrase “worth the wait” would be dangerous to throw around in this context. After nine years in development (it started life as Final Fantasy Versus XIII), Final Fantasy XV would have to dispense freshly baked chocolate chip cookies from the system’s disc drive to be considered “worth the wait.” For what it’s worth, though, Episode Duscae made me feel something I haven’t felt in a very long time: excitement about an upcoming Final Fantasy game. What about all of you, beloved commenters? Is anyone going to be playing the demo this weekend? And if you already have, what do you think of it?