Since Final Fantasy XV‘s launch last November, there have been a multitude of free updates to the game that either add features or have a bit of fun. “Episode Gladiolus,” however, is the first paid story DLC that’s out after the original box. Two more featuring Noctis’s chums are coming too: “Episode Prompto” in June and “Episode Ignis” sometime this year.
While a lot of games that employ a similar post-launch DLC structure, FFXV plans to have unique gameplay types based around their titular characters. Gladio, for example, is a big bruiser in the mothership game. Much of the design of his episode is built around this fact. This time, it’s intended to have a more action game style that also dips a little bit into Soulsbourne territory by having you slow down a bit and think more carefully.
Personally, I like it when games try to change things up a bit and dabble in other types of gameplay, provided that there’s an easy transition to and from the main course. You actually see a lot of this in XV, like the Pitioss Ruins, Chapter 13, and so on. In the case of the former, I’ve expounded on why I’ve felt that it’s an awkward, yet fun — even good — piece of side content. The latter, well, let’s say I echo the sentiment that while it might have been good on paper, what resulted was a tedious slog.
Sadly, Episode Gladiolus falls in the camp of the latter.
(Note: The following will contain spoilers for Final Fantasy XV and Episode Gladiolus.)
I’m probably not alone when I thought: “oh, here’s where the DLC goes” when Gladiolus suddenly and mysteriously left the party during Chapter 6. In a previous run-in with Ravus Nox Fleuret, one of XV’s antagonists, Gladio is easily swatted aside when Noctis is threatened. Embittered by the whole thing, he sets off to become more powerful, so that when it comes time to protect his King from Ravus again, he’ll be ready.
To meet this end, Gladio beckons Cor to allow him to face the Trial of Gilgamesh, meant to test the Lucian king’s defenders. Cor, having survived the trial himself, reluctantly agrees and escorts him to the Tempering Grounds where the Blademaster is known to dwell.
Unfortunately, we don’t really get much of an intimate background on the pair other than Cor’s recollection of his own attempt of the trial. It would have been a wonderful opportunity for Gladiolus to talk about what his service to Noctis, Regis, or his duty to the royal line mean to him outside of his immediate, personal ambition to “get stronger.” None of the story is bad by any means, it just feels functional at best.
Why it’s a letdown is that XV’s story problems are heavily steeped in trying to create big moments without building them up properly. What could have been an opportunity to further explore the characters in this DLC episode here just doesn’t happen, so hopefully “Prompto” and “Ignis” pick up the slack. You just get flakes of something. “Something something pasts,” “something something stronger.” The kicker is that anyone who has already played through FFXV knows that Cor is pretty much a non-character past Chapter 3 or so, and that a showdown between Gladiolus and Ravus never really happens. (Here’s your cue to google “Chekhov’s gun”) The only scenes that seem to work well are the guys around a campfire — they’re scenes that bookend the Episode. It’s no wonder, as the bond between the four dudes was the only element of FFXV’s story that I felt delivered. Why? It was consistently and thoughtfully built over the course of the game, unlike everything else.
At the camps littered throughout the cave system you explore, you’ll get a brief respite with Cor where they chat a little bit about the situation. I rolled my eyes when the pointless dialogue wheel came up each time, the only options were for Cor to proceed or to essentially end the conversation. I mean… we have a cutscene skip option right?
The hook of the combat is intended for you to think practically and carefully, as barging around or button-mashing will get you killed quickly — defending and countering are especially important. That all crumbles when you’re forced to negotiate with large groups of enemies or trying to feel out Gladio’s moves. Menial enemies don’t offer much of a challenge aside from swarming you. This is the combat at its most tedious, as Gladio feels way too unwieldy to do much other than turtle up or just smash around recklessly.
I understand the idea of wanting to preserve some of his combat style for this episode, but it just doesn’t work here at all. Often, reacting to tells was a bit of a crap shoot depending on how fast Gladio’s animations could keep up rather than mastering the timing of something. It’s a bit frustrating having learned how to deal with a certain attack, then mysteriously fail the tell. As much as I hate using the word “clunky,” I think it’s an apt description here.
The bosses don’t really have much going on either. Half of them obfuscate tells with a slew trash mobs for you to fumble around, while others have basic attacks you’ve seen many times before in the XV. Also like XV: the camera suffers in critical situations, and there were many times where an autonomous, misbehaving swivel caused by hitting an invisible wall sent everything out of sight. It doesn’t help that this is especially problematic in the final fight, which takes place on a narrow “bridge.”
Episode Gladiolus’s take on Gilgamesh is quite different, perhaps his first “serious” cameo in the franchise’s history. I’ve heard some of the griping about this, but I’m down for new interpretations of familiar things; it’s kind of what this series does.
The main course took me less than an hour to complete, and while the short runtime isn’t a bad thing necessarily, it still feels like it squanders what could have been a way more polished experience with regard to encounter design. Luckily, if you do jive with Episode Gladiolus, there’s some post-game stuff including a Score Attack mode (get 500,000 points to unlock shirtless Gladio for XV) and an extra trial against Cor.
I mentioned before that we know that Episode Prompto and Episode Ignis will offer different experiences than Episode Gladiolus, so I’m hoping the XV team can take a look at Gladio’s shortcomings and inject a bit more care into upcoming ones. That, and build more on what already worked in FFXV’s story: the bond between friends.
- New tracks and arrangements from Keiichi Okabe are quite good.
- The play area’s quite pretty; I enjoyed the art direction.
- The story adds very little to the overall to Final Fantasy XV, a bit limp on its own too.
- Combat is unwieldy, menial encounter designs feel pointless, none of the bosses have interesting mechanics.
- Using the camera is a frequent struggle and will often work against you in critical moments.
- I’m all for short and sweet, but this one’s just short. Even then, some encounters feel like padding.