Game Reviewby Dustin Bailey,
Final Fantasy XV: Episode Prompto
PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Final Fantasy XV's photography boy is back in action for a DLC adventure taking place in parallel with the events of the main story.
Final Fantasy XV's DLC didn't get off to a great start. Coming off a tremendously flawed launch where certain aspects of the game—you already know which ones—felt anywhere from “half-baked” to “completely unfinished,” the notion of turning around and paying for additional story segments to fill out the patchy plot of the original seemed pretty sketchy, especially once you factor in how the promised “improvements” to the infamous Chapter 13 basically served as a glorified commercial for Episode Gladiolus. Then the episode itself was a one-note plot featuring an entirely linear set of combat challenges that was over inside of an hour. The best you can offer Episode Gladiolus is a shrug and sigh about it only being five dollars.
Episode Prompto is also five dollars, and while it is certainly small it's a much more interesting, engaging addition to the world of FF15. Focusing on the most apparently carefree of 15's boy band of brothers, Episode Prompto is able to expand the plot and explore the backstory of that character in a way that feels pretty organic, adding a nifty—if often clunky—gameplay system that's totally different from anything in the main quest.
If you haven't finished FF15, you should steer clear—and in fact you'll probably want to stop reading this review if you're wary of spoilers for the main plot. Episode Prompto takes place following the train scene in the back third where our titular star gets separated from the party thanks to some magic shenanigans from Ardyn. The setup leaves Prompto in a pretty mopey place as we join him, referencing back to the childhood explored in the Brotherhood anime and explaining the strange origins revealed in the later parts of 15.
The adventure takes place in remote magitek bases and the snowy wilderness that surrounds them, and plays as—no joke here—a third-person shooter. As Prompto, you've got your trusty revolver with infinite stores of ammo, and you can pick up SMGs, rifles, rocket launchers, and grenades along the way, all fired with a very traditional “left trigger to aim, right trigger to shoot” control method. Those controls do not feel great, with aiming being oversensitive, a slight animation delay whenever you pull out a weapon, and enemies that often rush to knock you out of aiming mode.
The system avoids being insufferable by largely not requiring you to shoot accurately. After a bit of damage enemies will enter a stunned state, which you can either take advantage of at range for a high-damage attack, or move in close for an instant kill and a full ammo refill. It's oddly reminiscent of 2016's Doom (albeit without the sublime gun feel), where just shooting down bad guys leaves you without the resources to continue fighting. Instead, you're looking at every enemy magitek as a potential source of fresh ammo, and strategizing how to exploit those resources is just as important as killing everything in the room. Even if the feel of the firearms is straight-up bad compared to games in that explicit genre, the meta-layer of strategy makes it engaging.
For the two hours or so that the story lasts, it's pretty much the linear roller coaster that defined FF15's final act, with a series of combat encounters set between story sequences exploring Prompto's feelings toward the party and his own origins. It's barely possible to say more than that without giving away everything too much of what happens, and while the story told here isn't incredibly memorable on its own, as an exploration of an already established world it fits in well and offers some fairly interesting character drama.
There's also a barely explored open-world element which has you completing subquests for snowmobile upgrades to aid in further exploration. Those missions are scarcely relevant to either the story or mechanics—the snowmobile is rarely used outside this segment—and the melee-based wolf enemies in the woods are pretty frustrating to deal with in the gun-focused combat.
The accoutrements around the main story are a bit superfluous, too. There's a final optional challenge against a major boss, just like in Episode Gladiolus, though this time the enjoyability of the challenge is undercut by the frustration of Prompto bringing a gun to a knife fight. Ranged combat against melee enemies just ain't that fun. At least there's the long-awaited return of snowsports to the Final Fantasy franchise. The snowmobile races aren't good, per se, but they're a kooky reminder of a time of FF7's infamous snowboarding sequence, and that's okay by me.
Episode Prompto doesn't offer anything to shatter whatever conceptions you might have about about Final Fantasy XV, but it does tell a solid story that adds interesting layers to one member of the core cast while putting up some novel gameplay concepts that keep the quest from becoming a drag. It's far from essential, but compared to the utterly forgettable episode that preceded it this may as well be an epic. In any case, at five dollars standalone it's easy to recommend for anyone still invested in the lives of the chocobros.
Overall : B-
Graphics : B+
Sound/Music : A
Gameplay : C
Presentation : B
+ Solid story, strategic layer to action combat
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