I glide through the blinding white landscape on a sleek and powerful snowmobile. The engine whines as I accelerate, hit a jump – then silence as I fly through the air for an eternally brief moment. I land back on the ground – hard – and correct my course, narrowly dodging a rock formation protruding from the matted down snow and ice. The wind tosses my blonde hair as I steal a glance back towards my female companion behind me. Arms round my waist, she smiles confidently as we near our destination. I ease off the throttle as we reach the top of a majestic overlook of a winding slope. I hop off the snowmobile to take in the vista. Ah. This is going to be fun.
I mount the snow-cruising craft, ready to race down the mountain in a challenging test of control and speed…
… And it doesn’t start. Or rather, it starts, but it won’t budge. It is stuck in an invisible wall. I have no choice but to reload to my last save and make the climb all over again. Even Aranea looks pissed off.
I, Doctor Doomcliff, have no shame in admitting I was an avid and passionate player of Final Fantasy XV. Just the concept of it was, to me, brave and limitless in potential. A cast of four friends who spend every minute together in an epic road-trip journey across a sprawling open world, with seamless combat? I was sold as soon as I read early material on the game, and last year, I was extremely satisfied with the final product. I was also excited for their DLC plans – building on the centerpiece storytelling of the main game by giving each of the additional characters their own episode. The first of this series, Episode Gladiolus, was a fun and innovative, at times limited, combat experience.
So needing to fill big shoes is the small-statured and big-mouthed character Prompto. This episode takes place after Prompto is (to avoid spoilers) separated from his team due to a “misunderstanding,” and finds himself abandoned in a tundra wasteland. Prompto has to make it back to his friends Noctis, Gladiolus, and Ignis while also discovering an unpleasant truth about his identity.
Sounds pretty intriguing so far. So where did this go wrong? To be fair, I found some of the elements of this between 1 and 3 hour adventure quite charming. The backstory here is engaging, especially if you’ve invested a lot of time into the characters. The mainstay voice actors for Prompto, Ardyn, and Aranea are back and give outstanding performances. And the visuals are quite beautiful – this snowy, open sandbox, although small, has some novelty just because of how different it looks from any location in the main game.
But the execution is just not there. Of all the glitches and bugs I experienced, the above mentioned snowmobile incident was the most infuriating. But it’s really all of the little things that seep out through this game’s many cracks that left a bad taste in my mouth. Little things like completing a side quest, but not having the “quest complete” marker register, so you have to reload and re-do the quest. Or when you leave the radius of a side quest accidentally, and it forfeits the whole mission. You have to wait for the quest to spawn again or reload your save. Even in the cutscenes, the dialogue often overlaps itself, ruining the only good thing in this experience, the storytelling, by janking up the pacing and weight of dialogue. And the snowmobile handling and physics are another story entirely, which is already accounted for by intense grumbling online.
This was an ambitious effort by the Final Fantasy XV team, and Sir Doomcliff, as a knight of justice, appreciates that courage. To put out an entire open-world sandbox as side content, and turn the core gameplay 180 degrees into a third-person shooter, cannot be easy. But on a technical level, Episode Prompto completely missed the mark. I still love Final Fantasy XV and I still want more story-based content from it (spoiler: the trailer for Episode Ignis was pretty dull), but this experience left me very sour. On the scales of justice, Prompto’s content is weighted at a light 5 out of 10. I can do without seeing another snowmobile for a very, very long time.