Final Fantasy XV Episode Gladiolus Review (PS4)on April 4, 2017 by Oscar TK
Episode Gladiolus is the first piece of Final Fantasy XV‘s character story DLC for each of Noctis’ three bestest friends. Just like the main game it accompanies, Episode Gladiolus is an interesting take on the JRPG genre, that shows enough promise to disappoint when it doesn’t quite hit the notes it needs.
The story is set exactly when you’d expect — during Gladio’s unexplained and mysterious absence from the rest of the party halfway through Final Fantasy XV. At the time he plays it a little coy, but his tale in the DLC is actually framed as him telling the rest of the gang what happened. Besides giving the DLC an opening and an ending cutscene that features the boys sitting around the campfire, there’s no real need for this framing at all.
Episode Gladiolus is some of Final Fantasy XV‘s most impressive storytelling
Gladio meets up with Cor in Duscae. Having been humiliated in his battle with Ravus, Gladio is seeking to undergo the Trial of Gilgamesh to prove his worth as the King’s Shield. The trial was rediscovered as part of an excavation effort some years before, and, despite a lot of exploration parties, Cor is the only to have returned — though he still considers himself to be a failure. There’s not all that much to Episode Gladiolus‘ story, but what is there it handles pretty deftly, and it’s some of Final Fantasy XV‘s most impressive storytelling. Not only does it provide some much needed screen-time for Cor (who seemed strangely absent in the main story), but it also gives a lot of time to exploring Gladiolus’ sense of who he is, via his relationships with Cor, and with his father (Clarus). The ending is a bit eye-rolly, though.
This generational aspect of hangs over some of Final Fantasy XV, and, while it was an interesting dimension to the story, often felt like it wasn’t given enough weight. In Episode Gladiolus, with Cor as his constant companion, it comes much more to the forefront. It all feels drawn out naturally too. This chapter does definitely add more to the story, and to the worldbuilding of Eos, but it does it in a pretty subtle way over the course of Gladio and Cor’s short quest — a handful of cutscenes, dialogue as they walk along, or resting at camp and chowing down on Cup Noodle (of course it had to be Cup Noodle). That is, except for the loading screen that goes into some detail about what exactly happened with Ifrit far, far in the past — clearly attempting to clarifying one of Final Fantasy XV‘s most confusing narrative elements. But that’s just one small thing, and pretty inconsequential when it comes to the story Episode Gladiolus tells.
Even though Gladio is joined by Cor, Cor is mostly just a guide to help him get through the Tempering Grounds. The individual “trials” themselves need to be undertaken by Gladio solo, to prove his worth to the souls of soldiers past (who will give him power ups when he does so). In between these trials (which essentially take the form of mini-bosses), Cor does help out with fights. He’s a force to be reckoned with, and, with Gladio already being pretty strong (his level, stats, equipment etc are locked and not related to your main game save), most of the mobs are pushovers. Cor doesn’t even have a health bar, so he’ll mostly just tear it up for you.
This does give the DLC’s single dungeon scope a taste of “challenge dungeon”, and, to a degree, it is. Gladio and Cor arrive at the dungeon at the beginning, and basically just press onwards, without ever any room to go off the beaten track. It all feels quite straightforward. As you dig deeper, the cave system begins to criss-cross over a the stunning Taelpar Crag, one of Eos’ most memorable landmarks from the main game. You can even see a bridge you may have driven over in the distance.
Some pretty awesome rockin’ fight music, does get the blood pumping more than a few times.
Combat plays out similarly to controlling Noctis in the main game, but is different enough to feel distinctive. Playing as Gladio gives the game more of a hack and slash feel, and, combined with some pretty awesome rockin’ fight music, does get the blood pumping more than a few times. Gladio’s attacks are slower than Noctis’, but there is a feeling of weight behind the attacks and combos he can pull off, carried out with the right face buttons and right analogue stick. Holding back an attack, for instance, will have Gladio chuck his big Berserk sword right at enemies.
He’s not just about that DPS though, Gladio’s also a bit of a tank too. Befitting his role as Noctis’ “shield”, he carries one himself that can soak up some decent damage. Perhaps most excitingly, Gladio can also perform a parry by blocking at just the right moment, which feels satisfyingly visceral. When it works, that is. Unfortunately, the block button is also mapped to dodge, so dreams of elegantly knocking attacks out of your way can give way to Gladio awkwardly hopping around in front of enemies. It doesn’t seem like every attack can be parried, and for the non-weapon wielding enemies it can sometimes be a little confusing.
More interesting is Gladio’s “Valor Meter”, a sort of substitute for Noctis’ Link attacks. As Gladio is doing it by his lonesome (Cor doesn’t count I guess, though he will help you in Blindside Attacks), he basically just does a finishing move by himself. The more you fight, the higher your Valor Meter goes, allowing you to do a different “Glaive Attack”. Naturally, the more you save these up, the more powerful the move will be, with the higher level moves being able to decimate mobs pretty quickly.
But the fun doesn’t stop there! Or, rather, it actually kind of does. Gladio also has the ability to tear up columns from the ground, and wield them like a baseball bat, with them crumbling after a few things. This pushes it a little bit into the realm of cartoonish, and, while a nice sounding idea, isn’t all that fun. You need to hit the interact button in the right spot, and then mash on another button to actually pull it up. With the pillar in hand, Gladio then moves super slowly. But it’s almost required to lay down the pounding on some of the tougher monsters (all conveniently placed next to pillars you can uproot).
XV‘s rendition of Gilgamesh is particularly badass.
Episode Gladio plays at its best pitting you against smaller groups of sword wielding enemies, and for the most part the mini-bosses provide a decent challenge. XV‘s rendition of Gilgamesh is particularly badass, and more of the deities in the game could have used deep dives like is provided here. The fight with him at the end of the Trials is a real challenge — and will bring you a world of hurt if you haven’t been saving healing items up over the course of your trials. It could have been clearer which attacks could actually be parried, though. While exhilarating in moments, it can also be a bit annoying. Metal Gear Rising, Episode Gladiolus certainly is not. After that, there’s also a super tough one-on-one “Final Trial” you can access from the DLC’s menu.
All in all, the first run through should take just over an hour. Beating it also unlocks a score attack mode, which give you points based on your hits and also has a chain combo bonus. Again, Devil May Cry this isn’t. It’s a very basic scoring system, and the Score Attack just removes the cutscenes from the dungeon and gives you a time limit in between each trial. A run through of that will take less than half an hour (even to achieve the 500k score necessary to unlock Gladio’s shirtless “rugged attire” in the main game), and just hammers home how straightforward and bland the dungeon design is.
Score Attack hammers home how straightforward and bland the dungeon design is.
Not much carries over to the main game — just the shirtless outfit if you unlock it, and a weapon for beating the game (which seems to have lower stats than Gladio’s late-game weapon anyway?). It’s a bit of a shame that this, and the super short Chapter 13 Verse 2, are the only opportunities we get to play as Gladio. His style of play is fairly fun, and quite unique. It would have been nice to have another game mode, or perhaps even the ability to play as Gladio in sections or free roam of the main game. They went through the effort of designing his playstyle after all, so it almost feels like a waste.
Episode Gladiolus shows glimpses of a super fun, if somewhat mediocre, hack and slash Final Fantasy. Those who are up for a little mini-dessert of Final Fantasy XV story and world will enjoy what’s on offer, especially fans of Gladiolus in particular. Individually priced at £3.99 (or 5 of your American dollars), it’s a fun little romp, and pretty good for that low price. But, like the main game, these are just glimpses of something great, rather than being truly spectacular in and of itself. Final Fantasy XV has yet to find its groove.