Seemingly, Final Fantasy XV ended up costing a lot more money than publishers Square Enix were expecting. A game some ten years (!!) in the making, though it may have first released on the PS4/Xbox One and PC getting on for two years ago, the company have been coming up with all sorts of weird and wonderful ways of getting the absolute max bang for their buck out of the game, its world, and its characters ever since. Just off the top of our heads, there's been an anime series, a feature film, a myriad of downloadable expansions, and, most relevantly, even a "simplified", Chibi-styled spin-off of the game, titled Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition, designed to bring the game to smartphones. Now, in a slightly unusual move, the game's actually come full circle, as Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition HD sees the mobile version of the console game launch on consoles.
Still with us? Good. Despite not exactly at the top of our list of 'Final Fantasy games which really need a remake' list (Final Fantasy VIII has to be at the top of that now, right? - Ed), Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition HD follows an abridged version of the same story, only with cutesy graphics, a more streamlined battle system, and a general bit of trimming of excesses around the edges. And oddly enough, it's actually all the better for it.
Following the same story as the original Final Fantasy XV, Pocket Edition sees you stepping into the shoes of Noctis, a prince with a stereotypically emo-ish demeanour and spiky haircut to match. Vaguely reminiscent of Romeo & Juliet, the two main kingdoms of Final Fantasy XV have been engaged in a long-running conflict, and childhood friends Noctis and Lunafreya, the royal children of the opposing sides, were betrothed to marry, hoping to bring an end to the conflict in the process. However, while en-route to meet his fiance, a fully-fledged war breaks out, killing Noctis' father, laying waste to the city and generally taking over his homeland. The prince, now assumed dead, must set out on a journey to reclaim his throne, avenge his father and finally bring peace to the troubled lands.
However, this makes it all sound a lot heavier than it is. Despite the backdrop of death and destruction, Final Fantasy XV is more of a 'lads on tour' epic road trip-come-stag do, with a side of fighting bad guys. Focussing much more on the story of Noctis and his friends than it does the tale of revenge, it's a game with a surprising amount of humour and banter. With both Noctis and his bride-to-be assumed dead, he's in no real hurry to head home and pick up the pieces, deciding instead to spend the trip growing stronger, finding himself and recovering a bunch of legendary swords, so that when he does return, he's 100% ready for his new duties. Of course, no man is an island, and so Noctis has some help along the way from his motley crew of mates come royal assistants, from the level-headed logical Ignis, to the buff bodyguard Gladiolus and the light-hearted joker, Prompto.
Like the original game, Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition has the same road-trip feel, with the quartet getting around in their flashy Regalia sports car. You'll move from town to town, dungeon to dungeon and boss battle to boss battle almost on autopilot, as, unlike the original game, it's much more of a linear, story-driven affair - there's no open world to explore, no easy way to return to areas you visited before and not a great deal of freedom. As such, most of your time is spent moving from A to B, watching cutscenes, and then exploring caves and dungeons, taking out the enemies you find within. It's all a very standard role-playing game affair, and if the story and characters of Final Fantasy XV weren't quite as engaging as they are, potentially a bit dull.
There are of course side quests to get stuck into too, although these tend to be a bit lacklustre and mostly involve dispatching a nearby enemy or two, or hunting down a lost item - such as helping a 'hunter' with the disconcertingly normal name of Dave track down his fallen comrades' lost dog tags, in areas heavily populated by enemies. One of the more involved quests takes place in Lestallum, and sees you going over the town with a fine tooth comb, hunting hidden Cactuar figurines for a kid who's the world's biggest Cactuar fan. There's also some fun treasure hunt-style quests where you need to find landmarks as drawn on a map, and dig for buried items where X marks the spot. Unfortunately, as there's no easy way to return to areas you've been to before, you'll want to make sure you clear up all the side quests in a location before you move on, as you can't simply drive/ride back later - unlike Final Fantasy XV proper.
One of our main points of contention with the original Final Fantasy XV was its battle system, as a bit of a confusing, hectic hodge-podge of mashing buttons. While Pocket Edition HD doesn't swap them out for more traditional, turn-based battles (boo! - Ed), it does make them a lot simpler and more streamlined. Now all you really have to do is mash the Square button while facing vaguely the right direction of an enemy, and you'll take them all out. To add a bit of flavour, QTE-style button prompts pop up from time to time, giving you a short time frame in which to press X to dodge or counter attack, or unleash one of your party members' special attacks, while Noctis also has his trademark 'warp strike', which lets him teleport to a far off enemy's side and give it a taste of his blade too. And, really, that's it - just mash Square, press X when a prompt pops up and use your warp strike to switch between targets at lightning fast speed, and you won't have any trouble.
Or at least, Noctis won't have any trouble. You see, the other lads can be a bit… daft at times, particularly in boss battles. While most boss battles are a familiar war of attrition, where you're gradually chipping away at a massive health bar, your team mates somehow manage to remain blissfully unaware of any incoming attacks. While the glasses-wearing Ignis may have a bit of an excuse, all three of your party members will repeatedly miss the giant glowing red marks that appear on the floor whenever a boss is gearing up for a big attack, often managing to stand perfectly in the centre of it, completely oblivious to the massive explosions, lasers and electro-balls careening towards their faces. Needless to say, this often ends in their untimely death. Repeatedly. Fortunately, all you have to do is run up to a 'dead' pal and press X to wake them up again, so it's more of a minor inconvenience than anything, and at least you're not forced to stock up on billions of revival items at each store you pass.
If you want to get a bit fancier, Noctis does have three different weapons at his disposal, which you can switch between at any time, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Your sword is your standard mix of speed and damage; the broadsword is much heavier, and slower, but deals much greater damage and can hit multiple enemies in a single swing; while his spear is the fastest weapon going, making it hard for enemies to get a move in edgewise, but is compromised by a comparatively low damage. As you progress through the game, you'll also find special 'Royal Arms', legendary weapons of kings gone by, which Noctis can wield in battle, albeit temporarily, as a kind of special attack. Once the corresponding meter is charged, you'll be able to switch to the royal weapon for a short time, boosting Noctis' attack power in the process - once the meter runs out, you'll return to your regular weapon, until you've charged it up again.
However, while we do prefer the battle system in Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition HD, it does feel like you lose out on a lot of other bits and pieces by opting for the mini version over the full-fat 2016 release. Pocket Edition is much more linear, essentially shuttling you from story section to town to dungeon and back again, with no sprawling open worlds to explore. Dungeons themselves offer the most chance to explore, often having a couple of extra pathways off the beaten track hiding pick ups and the like, but they're still largely a single path funnelling you down to a boss fight at the end. Arguably the biggest downside to the whole lack of open world is that you can't hire a chocobo to go exploring free-range, which was one of the best bits of the original game - although you can still ride them and race them.
In all, Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition HD is a bit of a hard one to rate really. In and of itself, it's quite a fun little game that manages to distil the epic Final Fantasy experience into a smaller, Chibi-er and less intimidating package. However, you do miss out on some of the more grander aspects, like the massive open world, making the game something of poor man's version of the original - only with much less frustrating battles. That's not to say it's not worth your time, as we've been having a blast with it regardless - but if you're going in thinking you'll be getting the full Final Fantasy XV experience, make sure you temper your expectations a little.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Switch