Every band has that moment. ‘Creative differences’, clashing egos, a deep, gnawing sensation that leaves one paralysed by fear and seeking out a demonic swordmaster in order to complete an ancient combat ritual: every band splits up, and each man must walk his own path. To that end, the path of Gladiolus in the latest Final Fantasy XV DLC – ‘Episode Gladiolus’ – sees Gladaddy-O set out to overcome the trial of Gilgamesh, and in doing so return to Noctis as a worthy Kings Shield… if he is to return at all.
Final Fantasy XV: Episode Gladiolus: Xbox One [Reviewed], PlayStation 4
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 27 March 2017
Price: £3.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Purchased by Reviewer]
To call this latest DLC Episode Gladiolus is somewhat suspect, despite the initial overview of the content. Assuming the role of the King’s Shield, players set out to clear a single dungeon, arranged in an all-too-familiar, cell-by-cell structure. Although Gladiolus is the poster boy for the first DLC experience, he is far from being the focal point as far as the episode’s story is concerned. The whole narrative of what is supposed to be an in-depth, personal journey undertaken by Gladiolus is, in fact, a third-person retrospective focused on the legendary exploits of the sole survivor of Gilgamesh’s trial: Cor Leonis, otherwise known as ‘Cor The Immortal’.
As Episode Gladiolus is eager to point out with almost every expositional line of dialogue shared between the two characters, Gladiolus is all-too-eager to practically drool over Cor’s swordsmanship, combat prowess, personal history and his own experience taking on Gilgamesh. With most of the campfire conversations between the two men focusing on Cor, Gladiolus is lost upon the lure, and lore, of Cor. If you paid to see an episode focused on Gladiolus… then prepare to be somewhat disappointed.
I say somewhat for two reasons. Firstly, you do play as Gladiolus, so Cor doesn’t completely overshadow the experience. Secondly, the lore that is shared between the two characters is genuinely interesting and watching these two driven, intense characters share war stories over cup noodles at makeshift campfires is oddly charming. Watching these two alpha-male, big brother type personas confront their own reservations and doubts – and attempt to confide in one another – made for some humanising exchanges between the two… plus, Cor The Immortal is an effortlessly ‘cool’ character, so delving into his backstory and his relationship with the Trial of Gilgamesh was enjoyable.
With only two characters to thicken up the extra-curricular offerings in terms of story and plot, the meat of this DLC is the combat. Gladiolus brings devastating power to the fore against his foes and the difference between him and Noctis in terms of how each character feels couldn’t be clearer. Gladiolus moves as you’d expect him to; a deliberate, devastating swordsman, capable of Herculean feats of strength on the battlefield. From grappling with enemies to wrangling winged beasts to the floor, the power on display is impressive, and one can’t help but praise Square Enix for the way in which they have made Gladiolus feel like a unique character, despite being beholden to what is, essentially, a similar combat system to the core FFXV experience.
Holding B allows Gladdy to attack, holding X allows him to defend. So far, so similar. If Gladiolus can maintain enough consecutive attacks, he builds up ‘valour’, which enables him to perform special attacks assigned to the Y button. Alternatively, as Gladiolus is attacked, he builds up ‘rage’, which multiplies his damage output accordingly. These systems converge to produce a fearful display of power from Gladiolus, and although wielding this power is immensely satisfying, the nature of this combat system means you can be rewarded for, quite literally, every move you make or fail to make. If you hit the enemies, you gain access to more powerful Y button moves, if you get hit by enemies you gain more attack power.
Add to this perpetually rewarding system a parrying mechanic (not entirely dissimilar to Noctis’s own in the core game), various passive power-ups that are earned via completion of combat trials in the episode, a guarding system that is virtually unlimited, and the ability to unearth stone pillars from the ground and swing them at groups of enemies, and you’re looking at one hell of an easy ride here. The synergy of these systems is brilliant, and you do feel as if you’re in control of a unique character when you grapple with the glaive of Gladiolus, but with so many complimentary systems rewarding even the most inept of players with awesome power, the King’s Shield quickly becomes the King’s Wrecking Ball, making the ‘trial’ of Gilgamesh far too easy an experience. Having only needed an hour and forty minutes to overcome the main game, I can only hope that future DLC provides more of a challenge.
On the whole, the spectacle is certainly maintained from the core game to the DLC. Gladiolus is a behemoth on the battlefield, and teaming up with Cor to crush enemies is as satisfying mechanically as it is visually. Mounting winged beasts, pummeling hordes of foes with concrete slabs, and devastating legions of enemies with Gladiolus’s unique attacks look and feel awesome. Yoko Shimamura delivers another astounding musical accompaniment unique to this DLC, with a rock-infused soundtrack keeping the tempo high throughout the experience.
Beyond the main game, Episode Gladiolus features a timed score attack mode that sees you hammering your way through the main game as efficiently as you can, with the campaign dungeon being split into sections that must each be completed within a certain time limit. Besides this addition, there is a Final Trial that allows you have a nice, friendly chat with Cor about the finer points of swordsmanship over a cup of noodles… and you also might just end up having an epic duel with him atop an ancient bridge.
And that is, essentially, what Episode Gladiolus can be reduced to the right character appearing in the wrong episode. What should have been Gladiolus’s tale quickly becomes a fan-fiction revolving around Cor, merely told from the perspective of Gladiolus. A glorified cameraman, Gladdy-O’s episode lacks any real sense of character development regarding the titular hero, and as such the experience is wasted upon him. From what we’ve seen so far, the next episode looks to provide a more emotive experience as players take on the role of the sensitive, insecure Prompto in the next DLC, and perhaps the seemingly darker tone suggested by footage revealed so far will juxtapose the shallow, action-oriented experience one is to find in Episode Gladiolus.
For the asking price, those looking for a reason to fall back into the world of Final Fantasy XV will surely enjoy the lore and gameplay on offer, as well as the title’s splendid visuals and almost trademark intensity. What Episode Gladiolus lacks in drama, it makes up for in destruction, and perhaps that’s the point: Gladiolus is the King’s Shield after all, not the King’s Storyteller.
Final Fantasy XV: Episode Gladiolus
- Brilliant musical score
- Gripping lore
- Unique, divergent combat mechanics
- Tangible sense of power is immensely satisfying
- Final Trial is great
- Less than two hours worth of main gameplay
- Post-game options are limited, with only a time attack and one boss fight on offer
- Too much emphasis on Cor, not enough on the titular hero of the DLC - wasted opportunity