After ten years in development, two console generations, and one name change, Final Fantasy XV is almost here. Well, it would’ve already been here if not for the last minute delay from September to November, but game development is hard.At a New York Comic Con event, Square Enix let us play the first few hours of a nearly finished version of the RPG blockbuster for PS4 and Xbox One. Could this be Final Fantasy’s last chance?I can’t talk about all the plot points and cutscenes I saw, and I haven’t seen Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV so I’m not caught up on all of my Lucis lore and the state of the armistice with Niflheim. However, at least in these first few hours, I was surprised how comprehensible FFXV’s premise was. Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum awkwardly says goodbye to his father and hits the road with his bodyguard friends to get married. Compare that to the dense, dumb jargon of the Final Fantasy XIII cycle (Fal’cie! I’cie! Cocoon! Pulse! Miitomo!) and FFXV feels as simple and universal as a fairy tale.The story FFXV seems like it really wants to tell is the bro-tastic bond between Noctis and his party, all with anime hair so detailed it looks almost grainy at this visual fidelity. Alongside Noctis are hunky strongman Gladiolus Amicitia, classy chef/chauffeur Ignis Scientia, and last, but certainly not least, plucky surrogate little brother Prompto Argentum. Oh Prompto. He may need constant babysitting, he may have the dumbest outfit, and he may look too much like Cloud Strife, but he’s the heart of the team. And he takes in-game photos of you like that dude in Earthbound. He even talks about RPGs he likes! How meta.The Final Fantasy XV PlayStation VR demo wasn’t at this event, so this is the closest I got to becoming Prompto.FFXV as anime road trip simulator is by far the most intriguing aspect of the game. After a fiery smear of an opening cutscene, the first time players interact with the game is when they help push their broken car forward down a dirt road. It’s crazy. You’re doing such an ordinary, tedious task right as “FINAL FANTASY XV” majestically appears on screen for the first time. But that whiplash defines so much of this experience, at least in these first few hours.Instead of riding a horse or a chocobo or an airship, you travel FFXV’s open world for quests in a fancy but otherwise normal car: the Regalia. At night you have to drive yourself to avoid danger, but during the day you can relax in the backseat while Ignis steers and you play dubstep on the radio. Prompto whines about food while Gladiolus sticks his arm out of the window. Noctis wonders about how to deal with the press. Stop to get gas. Feed a cat on a bridge. I love it. It really feels like four bougie best friends cruising their way to a bachelor party. It’s like a less obnoxious Hangover filtered through anime.And then you park on the side of the road so you can go slay a monster you just saw or charge into a goblin’s nest.The contrast between the mundane and the magical is FFXV’s entire aesthetic and when it works it’s truly compelling. There’s something magnificent about seeing a gigantic wyvern pass overhead as you drive down what might as well be Route 66, and there’s something extra unnerving about getting stopped on those same pastoral open roads by sci-fi/fantasy stormtroopers.The problem, however, is that between those neat moments you’re just looking at boring open roads. The magical realism devolves into just realism. One of the first locations you visit is a greasy spoon diner. Aside from Daisy Duke-esque Cindy, hick granddaughter of the new Cid, the “fantasy” diner has even less personality than some real diners I’ve visited here in New York.As far as wardrobes go Noctis and his crew look relatively restrained compared to the belt-and-zipper nightmares of past games Tetsuya Nomura got his precious hands on. However, the heroes still look absurd walking through crowds of NPCs in normal clothes eating normal food. Perhaps this is to visually show class difference in this world, but it looks like characters from Square Enix’s Japanese studios characters got transported into a Grand Theft Auto clone developed by Square Enix’s western Eidos branch.Along with not looking like a Final Fantasy game much of the time, Final Fantasy XV’s gameplay departs from past entries. FFXV opts for a real-time, action-RPG combat system in lieu of some variation on turn-based, active time battle systems. Noctis has four slots for weapons or spells he can equip as his primary attack at any given moment (the weapon summoning animation is also used for whipping out the pole in the fishing minigame which is hilarious). He can dodge and parry and use magic-draining Warp abilities. Warp Strikes teleport Noctis across the room to instantly attack enemies. He can also Warp to higher ground to get a strategic angle.Party members do what they can to help in battle, attacking foes and helping Noctis back up when he’s critically hurt. But fill up a meter and you can trigger specific team abilities like Prompto’s Piercer gun shot. With the right timing you can chain together team attacks.That’s a fair amount of options, and when you choose to engage them instead of just mashing they can click into place with stylish results. However, all of the options in the world can’t cover up how messy and sluggish actually playing FFXV can be. I played a demo at E3 and was astonished how unresponsive and slow and awkward the game felt, and that was after I got the terrible camera to focus on what I was looking it. Fortunately, this recent demo didn’t feel as bad, probably I was mostly fighting regular enemies instead of poorly designed bosses. But the game is still too slow to be satisfying. Not methodical, just slow.My issues with the Kingdom Hearts franchise are numerous, but the combat and platforming of the Kingdom Hearts II.8 HD Final Chapter Prologue (ugh) demo also at this event felt as snappy as Bayonetta in comparison to Final Fantasy XV. More than anything, FFXV’s lackluster character action reminded me of how Mass Effect, while a great RPG, is only an okay third-person shooter.Speaking of Mass Effect, that’s a series Final Fantasy XV borrows from as part of its naked attempt to be more palatable to western tastes. Even if it’s a shame how ludicrous worldwide sales expectations seem to be the reason for this mandate, but it’s not an inherently bad direction. It worked like gangbusters for Metal Gear Solid V.I don’t think FFXV has lost its Japanese soul, and while the focus on a realistic open world has its problems, the ersatz American bro road trip premise is perhaps the most pleasantly fascinating thing about these opening hours. But between turret sequences, hiding behind cover to regain health and magic, or branching morality dialogue options with NPCs, the western influences are obvious.If the franchise’s history is any indication, these first few hours of Final Fantasy XV only represent a fraction of the entire experience. The tension between eastern mysticism and western realism can still be harmoniously reconciled. Here’s hoping the final game gets its two great tastes to go great together by November 29.