For long-time fans of the iconic Final Fantasy franchise, few things beat the thrill of exploration. Whether traversing vast landscapes, delving into deep dungeons or wandering through sprawling cities, free roaming gameplay adds an extra layer of immersion and adventure. So which Final Fantasy title offers players the most freedom to explore as they please? The standout is Final Fantasy XV.
Released in 2016 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Final Fantasy XV pioneered a huge open world for players to get lost in. Protagonist Noctis and his trusted allies cruise across the realm of Eos in the sleek Regalia Type-F, taking in sights like the massive metropolis of Insomnia, the beautiful Galdin Quay coastline and the rocky Duscae region. With an open world estimated at a staggering 700 square miles, FFXV is undoubtedly the most free roaming Final Fantasy to date.
But what exactly makes Final Fantasy XV so special for exploration? As a long-time FF fan, let me walk you through why this breathtaking world is a wanderer‘s paradise.
Vast, VARIED Landscapes
From the moment you first take control of Noctis and start driving around the environments of Lucis, the scale and diversity of the world is striking. One minute you‘re cruising down a dusty desert highway, the next you‘re admiring the neon-bathed buildings of the Crown City. Dramatic weather effects like storms and fog roll across the landscapes, creating constant visual drama. The feeling of freedom and a world that stretches to the horizon is incredibly alluring.
While many open world games suffer from repetitive, copy-and-paste environments, FFXV dazzles with the range of locations on offer. The standouts for me are Altissia, an astonishing water-bound city, and the epic scale of the Rock of Ravatogh, a volcano Noctis can hike to the summit of. Every corner of the map feels hand-crafted with care.
Rewarding Side Activities
Driving and walking around the world of FFXV is fun in its own right, but Square Enix filled the map with tons of rewarding side activities. You can take on monster hunting missions, go fishing at various spots, take photos at scenic outlooks or just cruise along the highways listening to classic Final Fantasy soundtracks on the car stereo.
These activities encourage you to explore the open world rather than just rushing through the story. And the more you explore, the more locations, secrets and challenges you uncover. Before you know it, you‘ve spent hours happily distracted from the main quest!
Immersive NPC Schedules and Environments
As any true adventurer knows, an immersive open world is made up of more than just landscapes – the inhabitants and their daily routines also matter. Final Fantasy XV succeeds in this regard too, with NPCs that follow day/night cycles in the cities and wilderness.
Seeing a bustling diner full of patrons during the day transform into a more subdued nighttime hangout adds life and realism to the world. The cities like Lestallum and Hammerhead feel "lived in" thanks to residents going about their daily business. This attention to detail makes exploring every corner that bit more rewarding.
Adapt the Experience to Your Playstyle
Not every gamer wants to spend 100+ hours in an open world, and Square Enix smartly provided options to tailor FFXV‘s experience. You can focus on just main story quests or take the completionist approach and try every bit of side content. The choice between traveling on foot, by chocobo or driving the car also lets you control the pace.
Perhaps you want to slowly take in sights on foot? Or blast through environments in the Regalia to get to the next location faster? FFXV accommodates different playstyles, so you can enjoy the open world in a way that suits you. This accessibility helps explain why the game appealed to critics and fans worldwide.
Other Notable Open World Final Fantasy Games
While Final Fantasy XV represents the pinnacle of free roaming gameplay, other entries in the franchise have also featured open world elements:
- Final Fantasy XII – Large, open zones to explore in the 2006 classic.
- Final Fantasy XI – This MMORPG has sprawling, fully open world maps.
- Final Fantasy XIV – Also contains open world zones blended with instanced content.
- Final Fantasy VII Remake – An expanded, explorable Midgar brimming with life.
Modern installments in particular are moving towards open ended playspaces rather than purely linear paths. But no entry to date can match the breadth and diversity of FFXV‘s open world masterpiece.
How Open World Design Can Enhance Future Final Fantasy Games
As a long-time Final Fantasy fan, I‘m hopeful open world elements continue to evolve in future entries. Though mostly linear, even recent games like FF7 Remake and FFXVI have expanded environments to encourage exploration.
When implemented well, open world design provides that sense of embarking on an epic journey across rich, beautiful worlds. A feeling that harkens back to the franchise‘s roots. Implementing open narratives around procedurally generated maps and quests could make each playthrough feel fresh too.
And with constantly improving hardware like the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S, the immersive potential is staggering. We could see persistent worlds teeming with life and dynamic weather systems to make environments even more spectacular. An exciting prospect as the series continues to innovate!
The bottom line? Final Fantasy XV stands tall as the most free roaming entry to date. And with the appetite for exploration stronger than ever amongst RPG fans, the stage is set for even more immersive open world odysseys in the future. I for one can‘t wait to see what fantastical realms Square Enix lets us loose in next! The possibilities are endless.