Now, I’m not going to sit and pretend that I had much hope for this new extension to Final Fantasy XV’s JRPG experience. Following the disappointing performance of Episode Gladiolus, my expectations for Prompto’s solo adventure were set up to shield me from the heartache I felt playing its underwhelming predecessor. I adore the main game; I spent a ludicrous amount of time mingling amongst the beautiful environments of XV’s massively immersive game world, battling fierce wildlife, decorating my BMW with chocobo stickers and dipping a fishing rod into a reservoir of giant giraffe-elephants before retiring to the campsite to whip up some fish and chips with my winnings. Then when I’d finally conquered the titanic storyline, sat at its summit piecing together my heart strings and mentally processing the dramatic emotional hurricane I had just endured, I was desperate for more. Thanks to that hunger, I was guilty of blindly boarding the hype train when the first DLC was announced, and I was summarily punished with a devastatingly short and unfulfilling hour of uninspired content. Having learnt my lesson, I went into Square Enix’s second round of paid add-ons with my trust shattered, prepared for another major knife in my heart. Not long into the duration did I start to realise that Squ-enix have well and truly learnt their lesson having finally cooked up some genuinely satisfying new material that brings a cool new shoot-em-up approach to XV’s combat system and storytelling.
Prompto’s solitary journey of self-discovery starts 2 days after he is inadvertently separated from Noctis & co. towards the end of the main game, opening with a displaced trek through the biting cold of a gritty snow storm somewhere in Niflheim. After a brief opening sequence, he finds himself sneaking his way through an imperial complex, dodging Magitek troopers whilst compiling a portfolio of found research notes and audio recordings recounting the morally questionable experiments and aspirations of a new high-roller in the Imperial hierarchy. Discovering devastating details of his own existence, Prompto’s story challenges him to come to terms with these new revelations and reestablish his connection with the lads still on the road. Something that I couldn’t shake during my playthrough was the overwhelming familiarity it has with classic series veteran Final Fantasy VII, as my escape from an Imperial research facility reminded me again and again of Cloud and Zack’s capture and escape from Nibelheim (Nibelheim – Niflheim. Is it just me?). Invigorated by the new combat mechanics, the adventure of Episode Prompto very nearly felt like playing Crisis Core.
In terms of gameplay, I was suitably satisfied with this crazy new third-person shooter gameplay style as the close-quarters melee combat of the main game takes a backseat to Prompto’s new arsenal of devastation. Whilst the familiar button-mashing elements are still present, the DLC’s over-the-shoulder control scheme dumps some of the responsibility of landing a successful hit onto the player, requiring you to line up the shot yourself: an exhilarating experience considering these new weapons only have 5 or 6 shots in them before abruptly vacating the holster on Prompto’s back, so when struggling with one of the many major bosses in the game, each shot counts. The basic controls run more or less parallel to those of the main game, but its shoot-em-up mechanics are perfectly implemented and beautifully animated, with Prompto executing his lethal new moves with graceful flowing finesse.
Being anchored to level 34 for the whole of the DLC’s runtime means the charge of tackling the frankly brutal enemies that inhabit the snowy wastes of Niflheim falls entirely to you and your ability to master your array of firearms. Unlike the main game, a tough fight can’t be tackled by briskly falling back to a field of Sabertusks to grind on, and the only respite is the arrival of a single party member to back you up for the last few sections of the game. The facilities to do it are the still there, though; Episode Prompto comes with its very own pseudo-Alaskan open-world arena, lumping you on a snowmobile to buzz your way around a winter wasteland inhabited by dangerous wildlife, beautiful scenery and the occasional sidequest to keep you busy outside the linear constraints of the main story. The new snowy environment is a refreshing change of atmosphere, balancing the sweaty ambience created by Noctis’ constant whinging about the main game world’s apparent heatwave. As satisfying as traversing the new environment is at first, the sidequests are mundane and scriptless, presenting more of a cycling sandbox to-do list than an actual series of “quests”; you might find yourself defending a baby garulet from a horde of Flexitusks, or conquering a new breed of Behemoth, but nothing with any real observable story or goal besides earning a few parts to upgrade your snowmobile. Still, there’s always some satisfaction in laughing maniacally as the Kaiser Behemoth finally falls dead after whittling him down with graceful cinematic bug bites for 10 minutes.
Another fresh new feature is the soundtrack, which is laced with heavy electronic dubstep beats at all times—inexorably fitting considering the industrial sci-fi theme presented by the new environments and narrative. The feisty and excited ambience also mirrors the new fast-paced combat experience. Even when taking in the sights of Niflheim’s sleeping icy landmass, the pumping beats eliminate any risk of the experience slowing down before the next heated firefight.
Episode Prompto was affectionately marketed to me by a friend of mine as “Metal Gear Prompto,” and watching the credits roll at the end of this awesome little bundle of gun-slinging fun, I can confidently vouch for such an aptly coined comparison. The DLC really does feel like something from the mind of my hero, Kojima himself: Prompto is armed to the teeth with cool new modernised weapons like SMG’s, sniper rifles, grenades, and rocket launchers to fight his way through a fast-paced sci-fi tale of complex science, human experiments, dramatic plot twists, a climactic Star Wars-esque narrative and some pretty creative stealth elements; there’s even a huge mechanical doomsday machine to save the world from.
Squ-enix’s second attempt at additional Final Fantasy XV content is a success, at least when compared to its rather stale predecessor. It’s rich with satisfying story, flowing combat, immersive attention to detail and invigorating animation, cut short only by its limitations as a little £5 add-on. My only regret is the story’s abrupt, grinding halt, but I can forgive it considering how rewarding the plot it had room for. It just leaves me pining for a little more, and its truly a shame there isn’t more meat considering how well-crafted this DLC is, but for me at least, the replay value is considerably higher than that of Episode Gladiolus.
Ultimately, Episode Prompto is totally worth the generously small price tag it asks for; it’s got action, drama, pace, style, finesse and my God, is it pretty. Even though it struggles with some observable limitations, Square Enix have packed a whole lotta good into this tiny package that brings Prompto’s own personal developments within Final Fantasy XV’s complex narrative into the spotlight—and arms him to the teeth in the process.