Note: This review contains SPOILERS for both FFXV and DLC Episode Gladiolus. Please no bully.
Of Final Fantasy XV’s “Chocobros”, Gladiolus was my least favourite. I found his rapport with the rest to be the least compelling, I thought he reacted to the weightier moments of the game like a colossal asshat, and, in general, I happen to harbour a deep mistrust of men with mullets. Mind you, I daresay I’d be a miserable bastard, too, if I’d been born into a venerable line of soldiers, and my mother had thought it was a great idea to give me the same name as a crappy flower. So, in many ways, I perceived Square Enix’s decision to release the DLC Episode Gladiolus first a merciful one in that they wanted to get the obvious monotony and odiousness out of the way quickly.
Yet, in spite of myself, and the fact that I’m still not much of a fan of Gladio, what Episode Gladiolus offers is a brief, but challenging and enjoyable way to spend a few hours. There’s an optimum balance of familiar gameplay mechanics and novel, unique ones, and the ephemeral narrative does much to develop Gladio, and elucidate what he was up to during his sojourn away from the ‘bros in Chapter 7. Also (in case you’re a massive Matthew Mercer fan), this DLC happens to shed some light on Cor Leonis. You know- that guy that was in the main game for all of two Chapters, and was never seen again, but still seemed pretty cool? Yes, that one.
Episode Gladiolus primarily deals with Gladio’s inadequacy as Noctis’ primary protector in the aftermath of losing in a stoush with Ravus Nox Fleuret, and his desire to acquire power to remedy this. To this extent, he seeks to prove his mettle by taking the trial of Gilgamesh, and enlists the help of Cor, as both extra muscle en route, and as the only other man to have faced the trial, and lived. Cor questions if Gladio is ready to face death in the name of his duty, or has the mental fortitude to arise to such a challenge, but nevertheless, the two proceed to a grotto, the Tempering Grounds, in Duscae, where the formidable Blademaster resides. Despite seeing the desiccated corpses of several failed combatants strewn around the place, Gladio seems undeterred, even as they are reanimated and begin to fight once more. These reanimated souls claim that their only purpose is to test the one who wishes to become the Shield of the King, and they constitute the majority of enemy encounters throughout the DLC.
Gilgamesh challenges Gladio relatively early on, and, naturally, hands Gladio’s pompous arse on a platter to him. In order for him to becomes stronger, Gladio must prove his worth by unlocking the power to defeat the legendary Blademaster sequentially in a series of daemon battles interspersed throughout the cavern.
If you’ve played through the patched content in 13 as Gladiolus, then you’ll already be familiar with his playstyle. If you haven’t, then just don’t; Zegnautus Keep isn’t any better despite the fact that stealth no longer needs to be an option. In any case, despite not having Warp Strikes at his disposal, Gladio’s playstyle sti utilises the same button mapping as in the main game. Basic attacks are still executed with Circle, and blocks with Square, with perfectly timed blocks able to be parried. Despite his size, there’s something about Gladio that feels faster, more driven in his animations, and he can sprint for much longer than the likes of Noctis. Whilst their gaits are distinguishable, and they’ve captured a greater sense of weight and poise to Gladio’s stride, he’s still been to the Noctis School of Jumping-Instead-of-Picking-Up-Items, and will still leap like a deranged clown if players aren’t facing items exactly head on.
Whenever Cor is in tow, Link Strikes are still viable options, and great for when you can focus on just one of the many enemies at a time the episode flings at the player. However, whilst most mooks will be evocative of a standard counter, blocking is Gladio’s primary strength, and blocking is a mechanic players will need to master in order to do well. To this end, Gladio’s unique Rage meter is reliant on perfectly timed blocks, with his damage output increasing up to x4 with the more damage he blocks. Furthermore, whereas Noctis could counter with a sword slash if blocks were timed correctly, Gladio can inflict a much more devastating counter attack. If the thought of Gladio parrying an attack by clambering on to a gigantic dragon’s back, and pummeling it with his fists before stabbing it sounds like the kind of schadenfreude you’re into, you’ll adore battling as him. However, being separate to the main game, Gladiolus starts at a predetermined level and has only the basic Crownsguard Attire and the Claymore weapon equippable. Alas, players won’t be able to equip any other weapons, and cannot gain any new ones until the very end of the DLC, which will carry over to the main game.
Cor serves as a guest party member, who leaves sporadically as Gladio faces the tasks alone, and magically reappears by defying the laws of physics and common sense once Gladio has finished. At level 52, he’s more than twice Gladio’s level throught the DLC (Level 24 by default), yet players can’t afford to be too complacent in battle with him around. Whilst Cor can certainly take care of himself, he won’t necessarily do the same for Gladio, and players may find themselves sorely missing the Chocobros’ ability to help the player character out of critical health, or Ignis’ healing techniques. Whilst Gladio can tank damage well, and the game practically throws potions at you, he won’t regenerate health unlike the normal game, and players must be especially vigilant around stronger enemies.
Gladio can also still regenerate health through camping at selected spots interspersed along the relatively linear path, and briefly receive some status boosts, but aside from using at as a means to save, there’s very little advantage in doing so. No EXP is generated from battles, which helps emphasize the entire ordeal as more of a test of Gladio’s character above all else, but might come as dissatisfying for veteran players. Thankfully, as alluded to earlier, mastering Gladio’s blocking mechanic is prodigiously gratifying, and elevates the larger encounters to greater heights. Gilgamesh himself is nothing to sneeze at, and whatever potions you managed to find throughout the game (and there is an achievement for finding all of them, I might add) will almost all be consumed in this fight. It serves as a thrilling finish to the campaign, and provides Gladio an impressive story (and scar) with which to impress upon his friends.
Beating Gilgamesh will unlock two modes; Score Attack Mode and The Final Trial. Score Attack repeats the main campaign, but each increment must be beaten within a time limit, and there are no saves throughout. Furthermore, extra emphasis is given to hit combos through scoring, encouraging players to think about how best to utilize the valor gauge and Rage meter. Reaching a score of 500 000 will unlock the Rugged Attire outfit for Gladio for the main game, which may or may not be as awesome as it sounds, depending on how much you like his abs. Whilst this will no doubt provide players with much incentive to beat their scores and times, the replayability in this mode is nothing compared to The Final Trial.
The Final Trial is where most players will get their money’s worth, as it pits Gladio one-on-one against Cor. My earlier remarks as to Cor’s level being 52 come into full fruition here, as he is bloody tough, and requires maddening patience and perseverance to survive against. Blocks will need to be perfectly timed, and, if you’re lucky, quickly countered with a single hit, for Cor leaves extremely little margin for error, and players are left facing him with only three measly potions and a Phoenix Down. As of writing, I still haven’t beaten him, yet the beauty of this fight is that, like Gladio, the will to persist remains. I want to keep trying, because as challenging as it is, it’s a test of skill, a poignant match of master against student, and it’s fun.
At $7.55 AUD ($4.99 USD), and a main campaign that can easily be beaten in less than two hours, Episode Gladiolus is hardly the best value for money on a superficial level, and yet here I am, having revisited it a number of times now for its other modes, and ultimately content with my purchase. FFXV fans won’t find any especially profound or novel story threads here answering many of the lingering questions from the main game, but they will have some of their curiosity sated as to where Gladio disappeared to during Chapter 7, and discover a little more about one of the Crownsguard’s most formidable soldiers.
Still, if you’re looking for something to fill that cavernous void in your soul since you finished FFXV, and need a little help surviving until Episode Prompto comes out in June, this will be your panacea.
…Or, at least until you view the teaser trailer at the end.
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