Note: This article contains spoilers.
Final Fantasy XV is a beautiful mess of a game. The trouble that plagued its development shows in the storytelling, with characters disappearing abruptly and many important events seeming to happen off screen. Nobody can say they didn't expect a haphazard game — that's what happens when you try to take an entirely different game (i.e., Final Fantasy Versus XIII) and merge it with a new project (i.e., XV). To top it off, Versus XIII was meant to be an epic, or a series of games, and its condensed nature shows in the sudden loss of an open world in the latter chapters. The story is rushed and, while not necessarily poorly told, is outright missing many elements.
As a whole, I adored the story in this game. The ending and the villain were fantastic, and the entire affair was far darker than any narrative from other #FinalFantasy games. After beating it, I was having a conversation with my brother about how much I loved its concept, even if its execution was lacking in places. My brother — a metalhead, bassist and music aficionado — responded with, "Sounds like when I can appreciate what a band is going for, even if I don't like their music." Yeah, actually, it is sort of like that.
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A Pride That Spits on Divinity
To elaborate on what I think of the game's narrative, the idea of the empire killing gods and messing up the entire world, only to then screw themselves over by essentially zombifying their own people, is one of the boldest stories ever told in a Final Fantasy game. When you hear on the radio that the empire has killed Shiva off screen, and you later come upon her broken corpse beside the train tracks, it's utterly chilling. Here is a deity, a protector of the world, her massive, lifeless face staring vacantly back at you as you exit the train. The repercussions of her death are immediately felt. The desert you're traveling through has begun to freeze over. The nights are getting longer. The entire world is going to hell, and this is the moment it hits you.
The main cast has it rough, too. Ignis going blind was unexpected and tragic, more so than you'd expect if you had read that bullet point in a spoiler, and the tragedy is sold by the group's soured interactions with each other in Chapter 10. Watching Ignis struggle to fight without his eyesight only to fall into a puddle, #Prompto's failed attempts to cheer up the group, Noctis's aggressive voicing during this chapter — it all comes together in a way that makes you feel for the characters and their loss.
Arc Of Triumph
Noctis's entire story arc is about accepting his destiny. He not only fails to save Luna, but never manages to come to terms with her loss. The night before the final battle is essentially him being really broken about the whole affair and not wanting to go through with it. Then he dies. It's a constant downward spiral after Chapter 9, and while the good guys do succeed in their mission, it's not a clean victory. Luna dies. #Ravus dies. Ignis loses his eyesight. The bad guy completes what he set out to do, and the world falls to ruin for 10 years. Noctis awakes after losing a decade of his life to a long sleep, only to sacrifice himself in the end.
Another chilling scene was when #Noctis enters the Insomnia throne room, only for Ardyn to taunt him by dangling from chains the corpses of those who sacrificed their lives for him. This is shockingly explicit for a Final Fantasy game.
The post-credits campfire scene that takes place before the final battle is what wholly subverts typical expectations for a fantasy narrative: Noctis has not accepted his destiny, he does not want to die, and he does not want to leave his friends behind. He is broken, and that doesn't change until his death. The game avoids going into overly edgy territory by placing an emphasis on Noctis's bonds with his friends and fiancée. Even at the very end, when everything is literally and figuratively as dark as it can be, he never stops cherishing his loved ones.
It's a new and daring direction for Final Fantasy, and it manages to tug at the heartstrings in a bittersweet way. And I love it.
I had an inkling the story would be dark in chapters 1–9, but it was more a creeping feeling than anything else, like a bad premonition. I certainly didn't expect it to be so consistently devastating from chapters 9–15. Even the Big Bad is tragic. He got screwed over in the past so badly that you can't ever fully hate him.
But the game isn't without its flaws. It has gaping holes in its story, and many of these holes are related to how it treats its side characters. Here's a list of important side characters in order of least shafted to most, and why.
1. Ravus Nox Fleuret
Luna's brother Ravus is fairly omnipresent both in #Kingsglaive and in the game proper, yet his motivations are never made clear — it made more sense when he was a straight-up bad guy — and he doesn't get screen time when he needs it. However, he is one of the few characters to make an appearance in the movie and the game, with multiple cutscenes focusing on him.
He's also the subject of a fair amount of radio chatter and newspaper clippings throughout the world. On top of that, he gets his own boss fight and posthumously hands off Regis's sword to Noctis. Ravus feels like a secondary antagonist — much like Final Fantasy VII's Rufus Shinra — who never truly got to fulfill his purpose. Despite this, he got treated far better than everyone else on this list.
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2. Cor Leonis
He joins the party in the beginning of the game, then vanishes. Where did he go? What is he doing? You hear about the marshal throughout the rest of the game, but Cor Leonis's absence is striking. He gets bonus points for joining the party at one juncture and maintaining a ghostly presence throughout the game via mentions of his name from other characters. He apparently survived through the World of Ruin as well.
A high-ranking soldier of the empire, he's the first true boss in the game. You blow up his #magitek armor, but he later returns in a side quest. He has multiple speaking lines, a bombastic introduction, a second appearance — not bad for a game where some people only show up in one cutscene.
Just kidding, screw this wannabe Italian gangster guy. However, he is a part of the problem. He's right up there with Dave and Jared as one of the characters who got an obscene amount of exposure, often at the expense of other, far more important characters. The game could very well be called Dave and Dino's Tag and Gem Collection and it would be accurate, considering how often these guys show up.
5. Iedolas Aldercapt
The main antagonist of Kingsglaive, the leader of the empire, and the supposed Big Bad of #FF15 proper — until you learn that it's Ardyn manipulating him behind the scenes. Why is he more shafted than Loqi if he got a movie to himself, as well as multiple chase sequences and a boss fight involving his daemon form? Easy — he deserved a lot more for who he was and what he represented. He is absent for most of the game, only reappearing after his tragic transformation into Diablo. A very conceptually interesting character with an equally interesting fate who was unfairly relegated to the background. Nonetheless, he shined in Kingsglaive.
Umbra's white canine counterpart died off screen. Poor puppy, we miss you so. But last, yet certainly least, we have...
"Who?" you might ask. Who indeed. This is the man responsible for daemon research, the MT troops, and the empire's head scientist. He's also Prompto's father. "What!?" You exclaim. "The game didn't even hint at any of that!" Why no, no, it did not. R.I.P., important non-important old guy whose name most people won't ever know.
Bonus Side Character — It's Ifrit!
Guess what? This guy isn't just #Ardyn's lapdog. It's the other way around. Ifrit is a traitor to the six, and the one responsible for the Starscourge. That's right, he is the one who released the parasitic, light-drinking clouds into the air. Seems like an awfully important piece of info to leave out of the game, doesn't it? Ardyn agrees to help him because he also wants to screw things up as much as possible. It's likely why he was given focus in the cold open of the game, and likely why he was treated much more like an antagonist than the other six. Where do you learn this? In the official guide, suckers!
That's the list. I have the highest of hopes for Prompto's DLC; the Verstael connection is begging to be explained. Maybe we'll get to see the empire fall.
In the end, I stand by my original statement: Final Fantasy XV is a beautiful mess, a mishmash of fantastic concepts, many of which do not get the chance to shine as brightly as they could have.
What's your opinion on the story behind Final Fantasy XV? Answer in the comments below.