I'm back in Final Fantasy XV for the fourth time. The first two forays into its world were playthroughs of the main story with the third being the bitterly disappointing Episode Gladio. This time I've returned for Episode Prompto, which presents an opportunity for Square Enix to redeem Final Fantasy XV's downloadable expansions.
Episode Prompto released June 27 as the latest installment in the FFXV extended universe. As the name implies, it is all about the lighthearted goofball of the group, Prompto Argentum.
Before going any further I should note that there will be no spoilers for the DLC here, but there are MAJOR spoilers if you have not yet beaten the main game. You have been warned!
The events of the DLC take place with Prompto in a bit of an emotional limbo. Noctis has seemingly tried to kill him, and left him behind. Of course the player, and eventually Noctis, know that this is actually the work of colossal baddy Ardyn Izunia. The player is reunited with a devastated and confused Prompto (in a new outfit, for some reason…) in the snowy terrain of Niflheim. The bulk of the story centers around a Magitek production plant, significant due to the major plot bomb that Prompto dropped in Chapter 13. He is a Magitek Trooper (MT), a genetically engineered warrior.
Square kept with the trend of differentiating the character’s playstyles, a decision that I certainly appreciate. In Episode Gladio we got to play with the character's brute force, at one point even wielding freaking pillars as weapons. From the very start, Prompto's time to shine feels profoundly different from Episode Gladio. Instead of sheer power, the expansion plays as a third-person shooter with a surprising variety of weapons.
While Episode Prompto's combat holds a peppering of frustrating moments and quirks, the overall experience manages to be good fun (simple descriptor intentional). Prompto storms into battle equipped with an infinite ammo pistol, melee weapon, and grenades. He can also scavenge a veritable arsenal of weapons found throughout the world. These include the Rapidus SMG, the Alea Bazooka, and a sniper called the Sagitta Rifle. Cool right? But instead of, oh, you know, reloading your guns - you will ditch these weapons when they run empty. A little annoying, but there are strangely plenty of them around to pick up, an almost a ridiculous amount. These minor annoyances don't really detract from the combat itself, they're more just odd design choices.
Square Enix divided Prompto's gameplay between the shooter sequences in the facility and an "open world." I was initially super excited to learn about the inclusion of said open world, but upon closer inspection it was underwhelming. We were treated to snowmobile sequences - something that certainly seems thrilling on paper - but they were rough and seemed like they needed more time in development. Side quests appear within the DLC, too, which seem like another awesome opportunity. Unfortunately the lackluster execution of these quests from a technical perspective leave them severely lacking. Most were glitchy with AI problems galore. Umm hi, why aren't the MTs moving?
Enjoyable combat aside, Episode Prompto's greatest strength can be found in its storytelling. Square took opportunities to use gameplay mechanics to unveil the story, something sorely missing in Gladio. As an example, one section has the player running as an MT in simple, but effective gameplay. Though this episode wasn’t radically longer than it’s predecessor, its pacing and tone were more appropriate and compelling.
Prompto’s big revelation was kind of thrown into the main game and glossed over. Granted, I didn’t expect the guys to toss him aside, but I wanted more of an explanation. With this DLC, Square created a great opportunity to expand on his story organically versus what we saw with Gladio.
These DLC releases habe many purposes for Square, but the main one is storytelling. There were many storytelling devices, flashbacks, audio logs etc., used to pack in as much exposition as possible. They exist to expand on the backstories for Noctis' support system. We saw plenty of Noctis in the core game, which makes sense, but so much of what made FFXV a great experience was getting to see the bond between the four characters. Though at times their in-game interactions were dry and unconvincing, the expanded universe was the chance to build these relationships further in a way that players could finally become fully invested.
That’s what made Episode Gladio so disappointing. Instead of getting the chance to understand Gladio more we got a rinse and repeat stereotype with some generic metal music in the background. Episode Gladio devolved his character rather than the other way around.
OK, enough rant, it's time for Aranea.
Aranea and Prompto stumble upon each other in the facility during an intense moment. The gray-haired warrior helps Prompto out through combat assistance and some tough love, but she never lets him forget that he needs to pull his own weight. Essentially, the two form the team that the world never thought it needed.
While players don't get to play as Aranea, she makes appearances and becomes a handy ally in combos and boss battles. Her powerful special attacks were pretty much a godsend for me and supplied an added a unique dynamic to combat. She also helps Prompto navigate through his funk, with full on Aranea attitude of course. As skeptical as I was, their chemistry strangely worked. I would love to see more Prompto-nea in the future (hint hint Square).
Since release, a fan base has steadily grown around Aranea in the Final Fantasy XV community, so giving her more screen time in this expansion was a smart move on Square's part. And while I'll still argue that she needs her own DLC, including her in Episode Prompto was at least progress. There were so many characters underutilized in both the core game and the Kingsglaive film - using them here shows that Square is listening to its fans.
During the entirety of my playthrough of Episode Prompto, I had Episode Gladio on my mind. I'm sure that might have been obvious in reading this review, but it makes me wonder, did I enjoy Prompto's story because it was better than Gladio's? My standards going in were pretty low, actually, something to the effect of "this better be longer than Gladio."
Overall, yes, this installment was way better in pretty much every respect, but of course, it could be better. It's my hope that going forward Square will only try to improve upon the experience and create a more complete story rather than rushing out content for content's sake, which unfortunately seems to be the trend for the extended universe. Episode Prompto was a step in the right direction.
Fans of Final Fantasy XV looking for additional canonical story for Prompto should absolutely play this episode. Though it had some bugs and camera issues, combat stands out as enjoyable and a refreshing change of pace within the Final Fantasy universe. It shows how these expansions can be done right, and it sets my hopes high for the upcoming Episode Ignis.
Final Fantasy XV - Episode Prompto was reviewed on Xbox One and is now for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
Edited by Naomi N. Lugo