After a decade in development, Final Fantasy XV was finally released this week. The game - formerly titled as Final Fantasy Versus XIII and originally a PS3-exclusive - marks the first time that Square Enix released a numbered non-sequel, non-MMORPG Final Fantasy game since the divisive Final Fantasy XIII back in 2010.

That's a long wait for fans of the long-running role-playing game series. Fortunately, Final Fantasy XV was worth the wait, if the early reviews are any indication. The gameplay received much of the praise from critics, while the story unsurprisingly did not meet expectations. So what's old and new in this latest entry from arguably the most popular RPG series in the industry? Let's take a look.

A more Earth-like world

Unlike previous Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy XV features a more modern world that resembles Earth, called "Eos." This is readily apparent in the design of the structures in the game, which is a far cry from the fantasy steampunk world of Final Fantasy IX, considered by some as the epitome of a Final Fantasy game. To get a good look at the beautifully crafted world of Eos, check out this short tour courtesy of Square Enix:

Amazing isn't it? Thankfully, the game allows you to turn off the heads-up display (HUD), giving you the chance to fully gawk at the breathtaking sceneries. But don't get too caught up with that; powerful monsters still populate Eos, waiting to pounce at random travelers like they always do.

Royalty is in the blood

Final Fantasy XV has only one playable character: Noctis Lucis Caelum. For some, this is quite a bummer, especially since almost all the other main Final Fantasy games featured team-based combat with multiple playable characters. But more on that later; let's talk about the background of the main protagonist first. Noctis is the crown prince of the nation "Lucis," who sets out on a journey to reclaim his homeland after it was invaded early in the game.

The premise may sound like a cliché, but this is actually the first time that a main Final Fantasy game featured a main protagonist with royalty running down his veins. Here's a rundown of all the main characters in all previous main Final Fantasy games (excluding sequels and spinoffs) in case you're curious:

  • I - an unnamed adventurer
  • II - Firion, a regular villager
  • III - Luneth, an orphan
  • IV - Cecil, a knight
  • V - Bartz, an adventurer
  • VI - Terra, a slave soldier
  • VII - Cloud, a former soldier
  • VIII - Squall, a mercenary
  • IX - Zidane, a thief
  • X - Tidus, a superstar athlete
  • XI - a random adventurer (you)
  • XII - Vaan, a sky pirate
  • XIII - Lightning, a former soldier
  • XIV - a random adventurer (you)

Noctis is the first one to come from a very privileged background, although his black outfit doesn't really picture his royalty. He also has access to multiple kinds of weapons, which is something not normally seen outside of games that feature a Job or Class system. This means Noctis has no "signature weapon" akin to Cloud's Buster Sword and Squall's Gunblade.

"Active Cross Battle System"

The game doesn't feature the traditional turn-based combat prevalent in previous Final Fantasy games. Instead, Final Fantasy XV makes use of a real-time battle system where the buttons are assigned to specific commands, similar to the Kingdom Hearts series (also owned by Square Enix). Random encounters don't play out in a separate battle screen - they simply happen right then and there, like in Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. This switch to a more fast-paced battle system isn't really surprising, not after Final Fantasy XIII and its two sequels, Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, featured action-packed battle systems.

Noctis is flanked by three other characters: Gladiolus Amicitia (the one with the badass mullet), Ignis Scientia (the one with the glasses) and Prompto Argentum (the blond-haired Cloud Strife lookalike). All three are controlled by the A.I. during battle, with the option for Noctis to either issue limited commands or team-up to perform, well, a team attack.

A leveling system and skill tree system is present in the game, but the former is different from previous iterations. Noctis and co. still acquire EXP after each battle. However, once they reach a specific EXP milestone a.k.a. the required EXP to level up, they don't automatically go to the next level. They must first go to "Havens" or spend the night at inns and hotels in order to use the accumulated EXP to level up. It's like they're cashing in their EXP points every time they take a break, so to speak. But the bad news is that all EXP will be lost once a character dies before resting - the EXP counter resets to the last level up.

This really shouldn't be a problem since it's a common practice for players to immediately head for the inn as soon as they visit towns and cities in an RPG - Final Fantasy or not. However, the flip side is that Noctis and co. would be potentially underpowered when sent into battle against a boss monster after a very long journey. Well, unless you backtrack all the way to an inn or Haven. Fortunately for you, backtracking is relatively easy in the game, thanks to the shiny car called the "Regalia" used by the party and the fast-travel system.

A true Final Fantasy game at heart

Despite all the things that make Final Fantasy XV seem different from other games in the series, it's actually still a "real" Final Fantasy game deep inside. Players progress through the game in the same way via plot advancement. Non-playable characters, shops, side-quests, summoned monsters (called "Astrals" in the game) and the 3-element magic (Fire, Ice and Thunder) - the whole Final Fantasy package is in the game.

And yes, an uber-powerful optional boss is also present, along with the lovable Chocobos. A Final Fantasy game wouldn't be complete without the yellow-haired creatures. Many will most likely nitpick at the game for one reason or another. But there's no denying that the game, as mentioned, is truly worth the decade-long wait. You only need to look at the eye-popping numbers to know that Final Fantasy XV is a much-awaited installment.

Final Fantasy XV is now available for the PS4 and Xbox One. If you want to further complement your experience, you can check out its tie-in animated movie "Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV" and the upcoming Final Fantasy XV VR Experience.