Final Fantasy is a name very dear to my heart. I was first intoruced into this massive series of games and their epic stories as a child and I was instantly hooked into it. Ever since then I have played more or less all of the primary entries to the series (roman numeral games).
Final Fantasy XV was a game I was somewhat sceptical about. In development for a decade and numerous changes, I felt the hype and wait could not pay off.
Well… it did. I just finished it and my emotions run wild even now.
In this post I will focus sorely on the story so if you have never played Final Fantasy and are about to… spoilers ahead.
XV starts of hilariously due to the absurdity of it all: you are with four male protagonists and you are pushing a car. Yes. The first few minutes of the game starts of with you pushing your car to get fixed. Once the car has been fixed it is time to begin the actual journey.
You are Noctis Lucis Caelum. Crown prince to the kingdom of Lucis and the heir to a long line of kings sworn to protect the worlds crystal. All is not however peaceful in the realm for Lucis has been for the past few years at war with an empire (it is Final Fantasy tradition that empires are never good and kingdoms are sometimes not so much) of Nilfheim, whose emperor desires Lucis’ crystal and by that means, to rule the world. However, a peace treaty is about to be signed and one of the stipulations of the said treaty is that prince Noctis is to marry princess Lunafreya (an old childhood friend) from a Nilfeim conquered nation, Tenebrae. So Noctis begins a journey to Tenebrae with his companions: Gladiolus who serves as his bodyguard, Prompto his best friend and Ignis, the advisor.
Not soon after Noctis begins his journey, the empire attacks. The king is dead and Noctis is left outside his home city to fend for himself. Since Noctis is now heir to the throne, he sets out to find means to defend his kingdom and reclaim his throne. He travels to the tombs of previous Lucin kings and receives their weapons. He also travels to seek out the power of one of the gods, Titan. During his journey he is aided by a man called Ardyn. A flippant purple haired fellow who seems to have keen interest in Noct and his companions. Eventually it is revealed that Ardyn is in fact Ardyn Izunia, the chancellor to the Nilfeim and by all accounts a sworn enemy of Noctis. Yet the man seems hell bent on ensuring that Noctis survives his ordealds.
At this point in the story my spidey sense and long experience with Final Fantasy games suggested that this was the main villain of the game.
After aquiring Titan, Noctis seeks out the aid of Ramuh, another god of this world. Once Ramuh is satisfied with Noctis’ spirit to be worthy and joins him, Noct travels to Tenebrae for the final piece to the puzzle, Leviathan.
At Tenebrae, tragedy ensues. Ardyn stabs Lunafreya and leaves her to die while she was performing the ritual required to summon Leviathan. Noctis sees this and fails to save his bethorhed but does give Leviathan a piece of his mind (and swords) and the event called a “covenant” is finished with Noctis now having the power to summon these powerful entities. As her final act, Luna passes the Lucii ring that controls the crystal to Noct.
Noctis naturally is livid with the loss of his belowed but continues his journey to reclaim more of his ancestors weaponry. During this journey Ardyn makes himself known again, constantly mocking the young king to be. Events finally lead to Noctis’ best friend being kidnapped and Noct gains more motivation to retrieve not only his friend but also the stolen crystal from the enemy.
Almost literally storming the empire, Noct and crew eventually end up at the heart of Nilfeim and into the facility that manufactures the terrible war creations of the empire. In this maze of corridors Noct hears constantly the mocks of his nemesis Ardyn.
Eventually both Prompto and the crystal is found and this is excatly what Ardyn wanted: for Noct to reach the crystal and more importantly, reach it with the Lucii ring that controls it and only one of worth and do so. It was prophesied that a king would rise to deliver the world from a coming darkness. Noctis is believed to be this king and Ardyn made sure Noct would be ready to claim the power. The truth about this shrewd Nilfeimian is more nefarious than anticipated. Born 2000 years prior as Ardyn Lucis Caelum, Ardyn was the chosen of the crystal who healed people from a sickness that turned them into a Daemon, a monster of darkness. To do this, Ardyn essentially sealed the darkness into himself and in doing so, lost his favor with the world’s gods and they chose a man called Izunia as the progenitor of a line of Lucian kings to protect the crystal. Eventually due to the displeasure of the gods, Ardyn was banished from his people. Ardyn wants vengeance on the gods and the crystal that turned him into the excile he is today. Waiting and planning his vengeance Ardyn eventually brings the knowledge of Magitech and creation of daemons to emperor of Nilfeim, setting the empire on it’s destructive path.
After spending ten years cacooned into the crystal to gain it’s power, Noct wakes up and finds the worlds engulfed in darkness. Heading back to Insomnia, the new king meets up with his old posse and moves to, as the worlds gods put it, “bring back the light” by killing Ardyn once and for all. However to destroy this being requires a sacrifice: Noctis’s life and he does this by summoning all the previous kings and their might upon Ardyn who is then disintegrated. Same happens to Noct and the world is delivered from darkness with the dawn.
That is in a nutshell the story of Final Fantasy XV. The tale does reflect slightly on the self-sacrificing hero that we have seen before with Tidus from FFX and Lightning from XIII-3, Noctis’s story feels much more personal due to the excellent delivery and his relationship with his crew, which is potrayed in a very fluid and beleavable manner. The mid-credit scene showing Noct for the last time with his buddies around a campfire potrays how much Noct would want that moment to stretch forever. Noctis’s resolve in the end and acceptance of his fate was heartbreaking and every fiber of my being hoped that he would survive. Alas it seems Noct is better off in the afterlife with his beloved Luna than ruling Lucian. Maybe I too should make peace with that.
The villain, though hell bent on destroying the world, does have some right to his actions and anger for having been used to rid the world of evil and then thrown aside. So his bitterness towards the crystal and it’s protectors does feel more legitimate and makes Ardyn above all, a tragic character. My personal view is that Ardyn just wanted to die and the only way he knew how was to bring about the apocalypse so the world in its desperation would provide someone strong enough to oppose him.
Though I found the story compelling, the pacing was little off. Nocts guest for the crystal sets into full gear around chapter 9 and then the chapters roll by extremely fast sometimes one chapter encompassing a single scene. Many interesting characters were relegated to the side and the focus was kept mostly on Noct, his crew and, to some degree, Ardyn. This hurt the story a little since interestin backstory and context would have given the main story more creedence. The off pace also meant that a lot of information is thrown at you at one point. The fall of the empire with the plaque turning all into Daemons is brushed aside an delivered in quick scientific notes throughout the final dungeon and only emotional impact we receive is when the crew kills now Daemofied emperor who still dreams of glory and conquest even on his last breath. The battle itself would mark the second appearance of Nilfeism emperor on screen which reinforces the notion that they were just tools not just for Ardyn but the game developers as well. The emperor and his lust for power was a convenient excuse to jumpstart the entire story. Some pretty large revelations about one of the protagonists at the end was handled with bromantic hug but raised more question that it answered. The relationship between Noctis and Lunafreya at first appears very Shakespearian since it is established that the two knew each other as children but only met again at the fated day twelve years later. This reinforces the arrangement of the marriage but through the traveling dog carrying a book both write to reveals that the two have indeed kept in touch and seemed to have fallen head over heels in love over time reflecting on the marriage between princess Ashe and lord Rassler in Final Fantasy XII which was based on love despite the fact that it was also a political and military alliance.
One storypoint I found interesting was how Noctis’s weapons were described in-game. At first they appeared to be retelling of their respective owners that Noctis happen to relive but it turns out that the descriptions are about Noct. The descriptions are post-game era legends about the saviour of the world. This changed the perspective I viewed Noctis slightly, leaving me wondering about who wrote the said legends and would be get to see an end credit scene showing how all of the game was someone telling the tale of Noctis and his journey to kinghood? Alas such a scene was not provided but the implications are that the world survives and Noct lives on in history’s pages.
Despite pacing problems and much of the context of the story and it’s elements missing or explained in a hurried manner within the last hour of gameplay I enjoyed it. It is not a very joyous story in the end but bittersweetly reconsiles the death of Noctis and the end credit scene does suggest the young king did find happiness. The death of all the supporting characters to bring Noct to this moment is another question but I reckon it is safe to say they too passed beyond the veil without much of a problem. Yet thereis lies the problem. I want to care about these other characters but the game won’t let me since they are brushed aside almost as fast as they are introduced.
The villain tries to be at the same time personal and universal. Final Fantasy tradition is that there is larger than life evil with a personality of it’s own to contend with and in a few examples (Sephiroth) is the fight extremely personal. Early entries provided us with usually some form of ancient sealed away evil while some recent ones pitted us against the pre facto God of the universe. Then there are entries like IX where the story does a bait and switch trying to bring us both characters bios by revealing a new villain right at the end. The combination of these two character bios into one rarely works out in perfect harmony and in this instance leaves both sides wanting. Yes the game tries it’s best to provide “history” between Noct and Ardyn to force a more personal stakes for Noct but fails to deliver a believable story-arch between the two. The final reveal of Ardyns true name had no substance whatsoever and brought very little emotion into the story. This is more than likely due to pacing issues since neither the player nor Noctis is left to really digest this new reality and the revelation of his family history. Even the final battle tries to hammer in that these two characters recognized each other as the others nemesis. The tidbits of information about how the entire imperial leadership was turned to daemons felt equally uninteresting since it came so late into the game. Ardyns role as the plaque personified felt lackluster since we see very little of his handwork in the game other than the daemons and the darkness at the end. The relasionship between Ardyn and the crystal also deserved more screentime.
Despite aforementioend problems I enjoyed the story of Noctis. Little more backstory and better pacing would have awarded this game with a 10/10 but my final tally falls to a strong 9.