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Episode Prompto is Final Fantasy 15 in a nutshell, for better and for worse

Command Prompto.

I ended up falling for Final Fantasy 15 in quite a big way when it finally released late last November, but good lord did it have more than its fair share of faults. A plot pockmarked with holes, a battle system that lacked some of the depth and elegance of the series' high-point and an open world that was a little threadbare - it was, if you looked at it from some angles, a bit of a shambles. But what heart it had. I struggle to think of another big budget game - especially one with such a tortured history - delivered with such enthusiasm, character and winning warmth.

No matter who your own personal best boy was in Final Fantasy 15's line-up, it's hard to disagree that Prompto was so much of that heart. A playful presence who constantly broke the fourth wall - humming the victory fanfare at the end of a battle! - his character arc was perhaps the hardest to swallow, taking a sombre turn with scant context given. Some of that was to be found in the Brotherhood animations that preceded Final Fantasy 15 (what a weird and needlessly complex web this transmedia business has spun), while the rest is plugged quite satisfyingly in this, the second big DLC drop for the game.

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Odd as it looks, this really is still a Final Fantasy game.

Episode Prompto is a bigger, meatier affair than the disappointing Gladio spin-off that preceded it, a 90-minute detour that fills in the gap left in the main story when Prompto was flung from the top of a speeding train. It's a pleasingly bonkers spin-off, too, folding in all-new mechanics and a fair amount of diversions if you want to spend a little longer with the standalone episode, all while convincingly answering some of the questions left lingering after the conclusion of Final Fantasy 15's main story. Big emotional beats delivered just seconds after you've posed for a selfie with an enemy soldier? You wouldn't want Final Fantasy any other way, really.

Episode Prompto really is Final Fantasy 15 boiled down into a single evening's play, a prospect as enticing as it can be frustrating. You start off in the anonymous grey steel corridors of a research facility while being swiftly introduced to the big new trick - this is Final Fantasy as a third-person shooter.

There are echoes of the aptly named Final Fantasy 7 spin-off Dirge of Cerberus here, mostly in how this isn't a very good third-person shooter either. Enemy AI isn't exactly tooled up for ranged encounters, and there's a real clumsiness to it all that's slightly counter to the blunt ballet of the core Final Fantasy 15's combat, but it hardly matters. Given the relatively brief running-time, you're likely to only really notice the shortcomings as the novelty begins to wear thin, and by that point it's all being neatly wrapped up.

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I'm undecided as to whether the snowmobile chase is a knowing parody that mashes together the opening of Final Fantasy 6 with Modern Warfare 2's famously bombastic set-piece or an example of Square Enix clumsily appropriating western blockbusters. Either way it's a fascinating thing.

Before that point you'll also have been treated to an all-new open world, an icy expanse that you're free to explore on an all-new snowmobile (an addition that ties into the introduction of off-road driving into the main game with the latest update). It's a small but perfectly formed playground that offers a nice contrast to the parched plains and forests of the core adventure, and there's a nice selection of side missions on offer too. Throw in a couple of extended cameos from Aranea Highwind and Ardyn, two of Final Fantasy 15's more intriguing characters, and you've got the making of an add-on that's near enough essential for anyone who enjoyed the original adventure.

Is it just more of the same? Not really, given how there's a hearty selection of new mechanics and locales to get stuck into, but given how it's all slightly lumpy and falls apart upon close inspection it's hardly going to be winning over any new fans. But, as with so much of Final Fantasy 15, Episode Prompto is absolutely bursting with character and heart. I'd happily take that above all else, really.

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