Impressions from the first few chapters
There's been so much teasing leading up to Final Fantasy XV, I just want to play the damn thing already. The Duscae demo, which actually served as a public proving ground of sorts for [good] changes, was fair. But the self-aggrandizing Platinum build, all of the preview events that have basically shown nothing of substance -- it's a little too much.
That song and dance was on loop when I got my hands on a preview build that contains the first five chapters, but at this point I feel like the curtain is finally getting drawn and we're almost there.
Despite my distaste for all that showboating, it did have a bonus effect -- because I watched a full anime series featuring Noctis and his bro crew, I felt attached enough before I even booted up the game. At least, more so than I did with characters like Vanille and Hope after the credits rolled in XIII (or, after I saw them in subsequent follow-ups). None of them, including Noctis, really stick out to me after an extended stay, but none are offensively bad either. That could improve over time if they get into some real shit story-wise (there's been a few spoilery things worth mentioning, but I'd like more on a macro level -- and based on the very spoilery intro, it looks like I will). But for now, I'm relegated to a partial tale. If that sounds all doomy and gloomy, it's not.
I liked XV in its Duscae incarnation and I like it now just fine. Even in my extended time with it I'm not ready to crown it as a top contender for the RPG throne, but it's far from the disaster many feared it would be. Combat still isn't the most interesting endeavor (their attempt to half emulate a Kingdom Hearts system resulted in just that, with some mashy dodges and an MP system that feels way too pace-killing), but it does feel modern and is well-suited for the "team" angle they're going with. Most of our heroes might look generic at a glance but they're emotive, have more intriguing motivations than a lot of previous Final Fantasy party members, and the world -- Eos -- is easily the best part. Think of it like a wondrous jacked-up Spira from X, with a bigger budget and less tacky nonsense like Blitzball (I actually don't hate it despite said tackiness, but that's a discussion for another day).
Even if XV crashes and burns with a horrible mid to endgame (is anyone else really jazzed to see what the superbosses will be like?), I think Eos will carry the adventure. It's gorgeous and teeming with life and personality, and there's going to be a hefty community around the high level of food porn present in XV. It's fantastic. The same goes for traveling around by foot, Chocobo, or car -- it really just grows on you over time until you're stuck in the world, committed to seeing it through until the end. Folks who dig the meandering nature of the pair of Xenoblade games will fit right in.
Will it make back its budget and become a massive hit? I'm not so sure. I think the concept of focusing on a rich band of boys is already niche as it is (I'm cool with it, but my goodness, some of you won't be able to deal with the cheese), as is the large focus on travel and (so far) backseat story. There's just so much downtime in which to explore the world that the pacing is partially what you make it, which hasn't been a popular means of storytelling, and possibly isn't suited for the typically pointed Final Fantasy series. We'll see.
You can get a good look at the early-game antics of XV in the video above or the nuts and bolts screenshots below. Even then, my guidelines for the preview stated that I couldn't give you a look at the full intro sequence, the intro cutscene, or any cutscenes for that matter. So you're still going to be somewhat in the dark until close to launch -- great!
Provided that there isn't some act of God that prevents it, that day is still November 29 worldwide.