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Episode Prompto: XV in Microcosm

July 3rd, 2017 by Andy

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Since its launch back in November, fans’ mileage with Final Fantasy XV  has varied. The overly ambitious title clearly had a turbulent development cycle given the various changes from even the 2014 trailers, the uneven plot structure, and other minor gripes that add up. Through updates and downloadable content, the developers are playing catch-up to finish out what Square-Enix has dubbed the “Final Fantasy XV Universe.”  Its flaws are definite, and the moments of “I can see what they wanted to do here, but…” are common. Yet there is still a distinct charm and flair that the game possesses that kept me playing into nearly the 100 hour mark. Through the long, daunting, and fluctuating development cycle, a product of contradictory successes emerged.  The reason I am mentioning the title proper in this analysis is because in many ways the second story DLC—Episode Prompto— encapsulates the complicated feelings of Final Fantasy XV‘s quality in microcosm.

This content starts slow, and even when it picks up it never transitions into an audacious stride. Arduous load times (I played on a vanilla PlayStation 4), constant pauses for tutorial pop-ups, and graphical shudders parsed the flow throughout. The story’s writing is about on par with the base game; JRPG writing that is a gross improvement in the genre, but, aside from a few lines and moments, unremarkable in its depictions of conflict and character. The climax, even for such a short segment, is slow to arrive, and Prompto spends much of the story battling his inner demons by muttering to himself in self-deprecating fashion. Without an adequate foil, there isn’t much to move the story forward, and when there is an other to engage with (your party member and a certain antagonist), they bask in the limelight themselves more than they add intrigue to Prompto’s struggle. Which, to be fair, is fine; I didn’t realize how much I missed them.

Prompto’s origin story is faintly hinted at in the main game. The mystery is not particularly enticing given its late mention and the intensity of the events that followed its mention. This DLC goes delves into Prompto’s history and explores an element of the Empire and magitek previously only mentioned. In some ways this slow exploration is familiar, as a similar arc occurred in Chapter 13 of the main story, so even though new information is revealed, the new information’s place in the narrative is uncertain, especially considering many who are playing the DLC have already are returning after completing the game. As a result, this brief dip into our blond buddy’s psyche loses some of the payoff, but the catharsis, however meandering the road to it was, still feels at least a little rewarding.

The game play is a neat extension of Noctis’s style and of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted. As Prompto you run and gun with his revolver, moving from cover to cover, and can beat enemies in close quarters. If they haven’t seen you yet, Prompto can preform a stealth-kill, or if they’re weakened from gunfire, preform a spectacular melee kill. After killing an enemy, you often can loot their gun (or find caches of them throughout the levels) to switch to an over-the-shoulder or scoped weapon with limited ammo to stun, snipe, or simply blow up the magitek soldiers and unfortunate wildlife. Lastly, you collect fire grenades throughout the levels to burn out crowds of enemies. Not unlike Noctis’s swords, you seamlessly swap between your arsenal in the heat of battle. With these tools, and your unrelenting ally, Prompto can combo waves of soldiers and wildlife and then finish them off with his special abilities or limit break. Between gauntlets of enemies, the pace slackens and you can explore the empty halls for items, collectible documents, and most audio diaries that explore the Empire’s designs over deamons, magitek, and mysterious clones.

Due to the clunky nature of the system, however, this isn’t quite like  the anthropologically-mind and action-packed romp I compared it to. There is a loose cover system that works sometimes, however it you’ll also find yourself just shooting the boxes you’re poised behind. The enemy AI’s tactics haven’t changed much, and certainly do not look for cover when shooting at Prompto. If the developers were aiming (pardon the pun) for a Cover Shooter and JRPG marriage, they didn’t achieve it. This new battle system isn’t leveraged, and so there is only one boss where it is truly utilized in a meaningful way. It isn’t bad by any means, but like many mechanics in XV, it seems that the developers were still trying to figure out the constraints and possibilities of their own system. But at least, as you may expect, you can take a selfie with your armed opponents.

These complaints may appear damning, but in writing them they also inadvertently become hyperbolic; the DLC is fun, its just not a slam dunk. Like its predecessor Episode Gladio, it has extra modes and weapons that add replay value. And, there are a handful of side quest to complete as well as documents and audio diaries you will surely miss on your first pass. However, I don’t know if I will end up doing those things to completion.

If you are having fun, you response may be “it’s only 1-2 hours?” If you aren’t, your response may be “thankfully, it’s only 1-2 hours.” If you, like I was, were absent from XV for a couple of months, this DLC won’t be sufficient to re-immerse you into Eos. The strategy of short, replayable content doesn’t interest me in the same way that a longer, story driven experience does. But, part of the disappointment in this DLC is that it isn’t entirely meant to be a standalone experience. That is to say, to fully enjoy it it ought to be book-ended by playing other aspects of the title; either with other modes, DLC, or the game itself. That, its beginning, middle, and end are not worth coming back to unless its part of a greater continuum of content and story. It seems that it would have behooved them to include brief asides with Noctis’s comrades to familarize the players with their unique styles, and to give the developers the opportunity to practice with them and the ability to hone them for their standalone DLCs.

If you own the season pass, or are thinking about dropping five dollars on the DLC; perhaps wait for all of the post-release content to be out (Episode Ignis drops in December), and jump in to a litany of things that, altogether, will make for a more meaningful experience. Prompto provides for a fun distraction from Noctis’s hack-and-slash style, and allows you to once again to meet some of the more imposing personalities in XV.

About Andy

Andy23 | male | writer| admirer of storytelling through video games and other media, indefatigable fan (and apologist) of RPGs.