Most games that spend a decade in development wind up being terrible – looking at you, Duke Nukem Forever. Most games aren't Final Fantasy XV though, which has pulled off the nigh impossible by becoming one of the best entries in Square Enix's vaunted JRPG series in years.
Then again, calling it a JRPG feels increasingly inaccurate. Already, Final Fantasies XII and XIII – and especially Lightning Returns – had edged closer and closer to action gameplay, and XV feels like it's taken the final step into that genre, while mixing in a heavy dose of Skyrim-style open world RPG adventuring.
As you travel the world with exiled prince Noctis and his retainers Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto – appropriately Shakespearean names for a game clearly influenced by elements of the Bard's works, from Romeo and Juliet to Hamlet – battles flow thick and fast. Gone are the days of bespoke encounters; here you clash swords with, or are attacked by, enemies that roam the same world map as you, with no splintered screens. So integrated is the combat that you can even run away by, well, literally running away from monsters and hoping they don't give chase.
Battles themselves are lightning fast too. In another departure from series norms, you only really control Noctis, with his allies running on autopilot according to pre-set actions. Final Fantasy now feels closer to Kingdom Hearts, albeit with less cartoonish leads. Combos can be a bit too simple – director Hajime Tabata perhaps not wanting to overwhelm series purists? – and low-level encounters can be won by a repetitive tap of the PS4's circle button.
Visually, it feels drastically different too. While the staples of Final Fantasy games – breathtaking summons, Chocobos, surprisingly engaging minigames – all feature, they're given a more realistic makeover, while the locations you visit feel solid and real, grounded by mostly conceivable machinery and architecture. Oddly, seeing impossible creatures and sci-fi weapons of war juxtaposed against an ostensibly 'normal' world makes everything feel far more fantastic.
There are still the hallmarks of RPGs past to be found though. Delve into the character management systems and there are plenty of numbers to juggle and items that make those numbers larger and, accordingly, more powerful, and the rules you can set for Gladiolus, Prompto, and Ignis become satisfyingly complex. Eventually, you'll be pulling off combo moves with ease, using Noctis' short-range teleportation skills in concert with your team to dominate battles.
There's another hallmark of Final Fantasy to contend with though – the story is largely bobbins. It's serviceable, and its road trip structure helps drive home the deep and genuine friendship between the four protagonists, but you'll struggle to care too much about yet another overthrown fictional kingdom.