In a move uncommon to anything we’ve seen in the world of game demos, Square Enix released an update today for Final Fantasy XV Episode Duscae, the playable slice of Final Fantasy XV that first launched in March. This latest version–released to address fan feedback from the original demo–feels like a full-on patch, adding a handful of new content to the roughly four-hour (if you explore everything) demo.
Last month, Final Fantasy XV director Hajime Tabata discussed fan feedback from the original demo, noting that the updated demo would address fans’ concerns. Players had problems with the targeting system and slow-moving camera, which hindered fluidity in battle. But after completing the updated Episode Duscae, I can comfortably say that Tabata made good on his promise and then some; in addition to the bevy of fixes, there are a few new missions providing new ways for Noctis to interact with his friends.
After installing the patch, the first thing you may notice about Episode Duscae are changes to the camera. In the previous demo, it ran sluggishly, making it hard to track quick-moving enemies as they darted on and off the screen. The update has rectified this; the camera moves more quickly and is much smoother, allowing you to whip it around in any direction to keep up with the flow of battle.
One element not present in the original demo was Cross Chains, the ability for Noctis to team up with one of his friends and execute joint attacks. In Episode Duscae, these attacks are introduced while Noctis is “On Tour” with one of his companions–which essentially means Noctis and a friend are off on a two-person side mission that will temporarily pause the main quest. In the first tour with beefcake Gladiolus, Noctis learns to use Cross Chains while slicing up some Garulas for their late-night sirloin dinners.
Cross Chains are essentially a small chain of quick-time events and are easy to master once you get the hang of the timing. Noctis’ companion will summon a gold circle, which he must enter in order to instigate the Cross Chain. After the companion lands a hit, it’s Noctis turn, and a successful Cross Chain occurs when Noctis and his partner take turns landing hits three times in a row, for six hits total. If you manage the seesaw-like execution and all six hits successfully land, the pair gets one final, powerful dual attack that will usually bring down enemies in an instant.
According to a message screen in the demo, when all four companions are on the field at once, they will all participate in the final attack of a Cross Chain, allowing them to kill larger, harder enemies like the giant pale blue Catoblepas roaming the watering holes of Duscae region (you know, those massive long-necked creatures you couldn’t engage with in the first demo).
There are three “On Tour” missions in Episode Duscae, one for each of Noctis’ companions. With Gladiolus, you learn how to use Cross Chains. Prompto takes you searching for mushrooms, and Ignis just wants some bro time stargazing. All three friends have their own Cross Chain attacks, making for some fun variation on the battlefield. When you first notice an enemy and the red detection bar appears at the top of the screen, one of Noctis’ friends may approach him to talk–for example, Ignis may come up and ask, “Want to hear more of my plan?”; these interactions will indicate which teammate will want to team up for Cross Chain attacks in that battle, so look out for his prompts.
But my favorite change is the overhaul of the targeting system. Originally, when locking onto an enemy, the camera would not follow them or keep the target in focus in the center of the screen. This has been completely changed, and now you can lock onto an enemy and expect it to stay in the center of your field of vision. It’s now easier to chase enemies as they dart around and move between targets
How you lock onto a target has also changed. Clicking R3 centers the camera in the direction you are looking at, but pressing and briefly holding R1 allows you to hard lock on to the target. A quick tap of R1 will also briefly target an enemy and bring them into focus in the center of the screen. It’s a much more comfortable way of targeting than the previous scheme, which mostly used only R3.
Noctis now has a dodge-roll ability, which can quickly get him out of harm’s way. The parry system has also been tweaked slightly; parry symbols appear above enemies as they charge you, and holding down L1 allows you to dodge and then parry with a strong attack. Previously it didn’t feel like you were given enough time to successfully execute a parry, but now you are given enough warning time to prepare the move. These two changes, coupled with the addition of more in-battle warp points–the top of rocks, mostly–have granted players more freedom of movement, opening up the battlefield for Noctis and allowing for some pretty sweet attack combos.
Other small changes to Episode Duscae include brief scenes of the boys playing around together. Controlling Noctis, I approached camp just as Gladiolus tackled Prompto into our tent and began beating him up. Ignis regaled us with tales of shooting stars while the company drank from mugs around a campfire. After slapping a robotic soldier away from me in combat, Prompto reached out for an ecstatic high five. These brief interactions between the four make their relationships feel stronger; I feel like I’m watching four old friends pal around, and I believe how deeply they care about each other. Each subtle fist-bump and shoulder-punch and pat on the back make Noctis, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus feel more real, more interesting, and I can’t wait to see what adventures they get into in the main game.
Also, at the end of each solo mission, you’re shown a cell phone selfie of Noctis and his companion. It’s sweet.
Does the second version of Episode Duscae live up to the promises Square Enix has made? I think so. We’ve got huge improvements to the camera and targeting as well as significant additions to the battle system, and with combat making up such a big part of Final Fantasy games, it’s exciting to see these cool systems play out. And with four main characters as visibly invested in each other as XV’s heroes, I’m optimistic for a promising story.