Final Fantasy XV: Episode Gladiolus Review

By
x
Gaming:
Jowi Girard-Meli

Reviewed by:
Rating:
3
On March 29, 2017
Last modified:March 28, 2017

Summary:

The foundation of Episode Gladiolus is excellent, which is why it's disappointing when the adventure comes to an end after less than an hour (not including cutscenes).

Final Fantasy XV was my second-favorite game last year, so the news that there would be even more of it coming — both in the form of standalone episodes and some sort of multiplayer offering — absolutely filled me with joy. My preview of the first episode at PAX East only intensified the excitement I felt: controlling a different character with a new set of mechanics was so refreshing that it almost felt like a new game entirely.

Now, Final Fantasy XV: Episode Gladiolus is officially here, and stepping into the shoes of one of the CPU-controlled allies from the main story is still a fresh and fun way to expand upon the original adventure. I just wish there were more of it… but then again, when one of your complaints about something is that you couldn’t get enough of it, that says quite a lot on its own!

Each of the DLC episodes coming to Final Fantasy XV puts you in the shoes of a different party member, giving them a small narrative arc and making them playable for the first time (although Gladiolus is technically playable now for a short while in the game’s revamped Chapter 13). It’s the big guy’s turn first, and his story concerns the “errand” he randomly had to run during Chapter 7 of the main game. Turns out that errand was a pretty tall order — defeating the Blademaster, also known as famous Final Fantasy boss Gilgamesh, in order to prove his worth as the king’s sworn shield.

Accompanying him along the way is Crownsguard alum Cor “The Immortal” Leonis, and honestly, the story details in this episode have a lot more to do with him than they do with Gladio. That’s probably a relief to anyone who was irritated with his unceremonious removal from the main game’s plot, and it sort of fits that a simple dude like Gladio (known for witty expressions like “stop bitching, start killing”) would have an equally simple story here.

As I’ve explained before, though, the main attraction here — by far — is being able to take control of the big dude himself. As I said in my preview, he plays differently enough that it refreshes combat all the way through, and almost made me feel like I was enjoying a sequel. The gist is that, while Gladio is slower and stiffer compared to Noctis, he also packs a much stronger punch with each hit. He can dodge roll and hold up a shield to keep enemy attacks away from him, but the timing of these is tricky thanks to his limited mobility.

To make up for that, he’s got a couple of meters that build up over time: a “rage” gauge that increases with each hit he takes, making him stronger, and a special move meter that lets him perform increasingly powerful moves as he scores hit after hit. This leads to an altogether different flow to combat; rather than zipping around, warping and switching weapons, Gladio largely stays in the same area and employs a hit-block, hit-block rhythm until his meters build — at which point he can completely turn the tide in his favor.

As he makes progress through the dungeon (and eventually completes it), Gladio’s moveset will grow to include a couple more special meter moves and the strange ability to pull pillars up from the ground and use them as weapons. If that sounds oddly specific, it is. It’s admittedly satisfying to whack enemies with a massive cylinder of stone to do huge damage and put them in their “Vulnerable” state, but getting to that point can be a challenge. For one thing, the actual process of picking up a pillar can be a sticky one — I counted a number of times where Gladio would inexplicably give up before the “smash circle to pull” command came up, which was incredibly frustrating in the heat of combat. Add to that the fact that his pulling animation takes forever, leaving you completely open to enemy attacks for a good 5-10 seconds, and, well… I was left with the distinct feeling that this move could have been much better designed.

If you’re wondering about the structure of Episode Gladiolus, it pretty much plays like one of the main game’s linear dungeons. There aren’t many puzzles or obstacles outside of the odd cliffside to clamber up — it’s just room after room of enemies to bludgeon. With that said, there’s a much greater enemy variety here than in pretty much any location in the main campaign, and there are even a few large boss-type enemies that are completely unique to Gladio’s episode. This combination of new mechanics and new enemies makes combat a lot more interesting and fun, and I was particularly impressed with the final encounter of the dungeon, which eclipses the vast majority of Noctis’s fights in terms of skill-based challenge. You’re not going to get through this one by just tapping the circle button on Normal difficulty, that’s for sure.

I was having so much fun exploring the cave, bashing baddies with Gladio and Cor that I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw how long it took me to get through the entirety of Episode Gladiolus — less than one hour of gameplay (obviously, this excludes cutscenes). Needless to say, I found this the most disappointing aspect; when there’s so much that feels new and fresh about controlling Gladio, it feels like the worst thing Square Enix could have done to let us play with him so little, in such a relatively small environment. Again, the fact that I was left wanting more only goes to show how much fun the base mechanics are, but it also makes this package sort of hard to recommend for anyone who wants anything of real substance.

To be fair, there’s some padding in the form of the Score Attack and Final Trial modes; the first puts you through a cutscene-free version of the dungeon that tracks points based on combos (with trophies and certain item rewards if you make it to specific point totals), while the latter pits you in a special, super-challenging boss battle. Final Trial does present what I think must be Final Fantasy XV‘s most formidable challenge at the moment, but I got frustrated pretty quickly and don’t see myself returning to it anytime soon. As for Score Attack, well… why did they recycle the dungeon for this mode, anyway? Boring though it might have been environment-wise, I would have rather fought in a circular arena against waves of enemies than go back through the linear dungeon I just played again. Ah well. Padding is padding.

As far as the aesthetics of Episode Gladiolus go, well, they’re a mixed bag. The dungeon isn’t particularly interesting from a visual perspective, to say the least. Even though it does appear to be put together from brand-new assets, it’s the sort of bluish, generic cave that isn’t likely to inspire much artistic admiration in any player. Considering this is the canonical home of Gilgamesh, who in this universe used to serve the crown of Lucis, I was expecting a little more from it. On the other hand, the music is uniformly excellent, with guitar-driven battle themes and two ludicrously good contributions from Nier: Automata composer Keiichi Okabe.

I really wish the running time of Final Fantasy XV: Episode Gladiolus could match the beefy heft of its namesake, because what’s available to play for its short duration is excellent fun. Unfortunately, one can experience just about all it has to offer in less than two hours, which is kind of a shame for a DLC episode we had to wait so many months for. Still, the ability to control one of the game’s other party members is more entertaining than I ever could have expected, and has me excited to step into the shoes of Prompto and Ignis. Since the developers have gone to all the trouble to make these characters playable, I hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of them… because I’d rather not wait another 5 to 10 years for my next Final Fantasy fix.

This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the DLC, which we were provided with. Reviewed on PS4 Pro.

Final Fantasy XV: Episode Gladiolus Review
Fair

The foundation of Episode Gladiolus is excellent, which is why it's disappointing when the adventure comes to an end after less than an hour (not including cutscenes).