Final Fantasy XV
Thoughts, Surprises, and Disappointments
Trevor | September 8, 2017
Final Fantasy XV is a remarkable improvement over the last single player Final Fantasy experience, but I hesitate to say the series is back on track. This train is running sideways and needs a little shove to right itself. What follows is a list of what inspired and infuriated. Enter only if you’ve completed the game, or do not care about spoilers.
(Editor's note -- This article was written soon after the release of Final Fantasy XV, where it sat in our drafts folder until today. Notes about new additions or changes since will appear in italics.)
I consider Final Fantasy to be one of the most formative series to my gaming palette, but I must confess since Final Fantasy XIII, I have dreaded whatever the next single player Final Fantasy experience would be.
So when I say I spent eighty hours playing Final Fantasy XV and I regret none of them, I want to underscore just how much work Final Fantasy XV had to do to impress me at all.
Compared to my last article about a Final Fantasy game, this is a tremendous improvement. Only the hate-powered reactor in my heart drove me to finish Final Fantasy XIII, an entry I consider to be the series lowest modern point. (If pressed to give an absolute lowest, Final Fantasy II would be my pick for bottom of the Final Fantasy barrel.)
I noticed Final Fantasy XV got overwhelming praise from various outlets during its release, and I don’t think it behooves any of us to pretend this series is entirely restored to its former glory. Like a drowning swimmer rising to the surface, I think Final Fantasy fans were so eager for this particular gasp of air it tastes sweeter. But, upon further evaluation, I think its just been so long we’ve forgotten what air tastes like.
Allow me to be the hand that shoves you back underwater in this increasingly dark analogy. Honestly, it's too dark. Way too dark. Forget all the drowning, let's talk about the game.
A quick clarification -- I’m not here to rip Final Fantasy XV apart. We’ll discuss the positives as well, and there are numerous positives too, but I will not ignore the frustrations, annoyances, and small quibbles I encountered that held back an otherwise great game.
Improvement -- The Combat System is Engaging and Requires You to Make Meaningful Choices
Noctis brings the pain.
The combat system of Final Fantasy XV did not make a good first impression, but I soon realized it’s because I approached it with all the wrong assumptions. It lacks the same tight controls of any typical character action game, so assuming you’re going to get a Platinum Games level of polish here -- like I did -- is a non-starter.
Every attack feels very “floaty”. Noctis performs many dramatic leaps and flourishes with each attack, constantly on the move. When you activate an ally’s technique or a link strike, characters warp into position and do their Cool-Dude thing, and then Noctis follows up with a flying strike of his own. Once I got a feel for the combat system and adapted to its warping, floaty nature, it became my favorite part of Final Fantasy XV. Warp striking, zipping left and right, up and down, felt liberating and powerful without being broken.
Combat in Final Fantasy XV is all about learning when to strike and when to back off, and the game gives you all the tools you need to achieve both right away. The biggest hurdle you’ll come across is realizing Noctis needs to finish his attack animations before you can block or warp. If you’re like me and you enjoy using a Greatsword, it means by the time the “BLOCK” prompt appears on your screen it’s already too late, because Noctis is busy rearing up for a strike he’ll never get to land. However, almost every enemy telegraphs their large, blockable attacks prior to the UI element appearing on screen. Once I understood I needed to be watching out for these tells before being actively warned by the UI, everything clicked.
As long as you aren't in the middle of an action, Final Fantasy XV is very generous about blocking. If you're mid-swing or mid-dodge, however...
...You're gonna have a bad time.
Perhaps my favorite thing about combat is it’s intuitive enough for players to tackle things well outside their current level. I had the most fun in Final Fantasy XV when tackling enemies ten or twenty levels above me, slowly whittling them away with careful strikes. Fighting Iron Giants on the roads at night while rolling with a crew ten levels under them always made for a thrilling engagement.
Noctis took Muhammad Ali’s "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" advice literally.
But eventually, you begin to encounter enemies with insta-kill moves. These moves are often telegraphed and easily avoidable, so the average human will likely get caught only a few times until they learn the tells and act with more caution.
It’d sure be a shame if there were three Non-Human idiots marching around with you, wouldn’t it?
Detriment -- Your A.I. Companions Have No Self-Preservation Instincts
See this? This is a Coeurl. They’ve been around in Final Fantasy games before and they’ve always been nasty foes. In Final Fantasy XV, they like to do this little thing where their whiskers glow blue, and if you perform a melee strike, they insta-kill you. They caught me with this twice before I figured it out.
You know who never figured it out? The rest of the party.
Several times, these bumbling buffoons marched right to their deaths, insta-gibbed by Coeurl Whiskers. Once, I watched all three of them do it at the same time, into the same Coeurl, and found myself alone against five Coeurl’s.
Your AI companions don’t always behave like they've failed to develop a single problem solving skill their entire life, but it happens enough that I had at least three stories about The Three Stooges here marching to their deaths and had to decide which one to share.
Reminder -- Prompto, the guy jumping towards this discount mastadon? His primary weapon is a GUN.
While I enjoy you aren’t required to micromanage your party, it'd be nice if your party acted with at least some semblance of self-preservation. I can think of a few solutions to this issue.
- The AI makes better choices naturally.
Why does Prompto charge right up into a monster’s face with a gun? Why won’t the team run away from the Red Giant when it prepares its “I have a gravitational well in my hand” attack? Why is Ignis refusing to revive me while I stand right next to him? Please run from exploding bombs so we don't all die. Please oh please.
These specific examples aren’t an issue early on, but as you encounter enemies that require quicker reactions to avoid death, the AI fails to adapt to these changing circumstances. If they simply did that -- learned to keep their distance from soon-to-be-exploding bombs, backed away from Coeurl's prepping an insta-kill -- I’d be happy.
They don’t, so I’m not.
- The player has access to short, quick commands that alter AI Behavior.
Even with Wait Mode, the speed at which combat moves in Final Fantasy XV makes issuing specific commands an unrealistic goal, one that would turn Final Fantasy XV into a different game entirely. What would work better is if the player could issue quick commands from the tactical menu -- the same one you choose items or blow a chocobo whistle from.
These commands don’t need to be detailed. Simple things, like “Attack My Target,” “Fall Back,” or “Spread Out” would suffice, and give the player a chance to save their AI companions from themselves when nasty foes show up.
Improvement, with Some Caveats -- Camaraderie and Companionship
When I first saw promotional images for the re-branded Final Fantasy XV, long after I’d given up on whatever XIII Versus would be, I was immediately disappointed. At first sight, this cast of characters looked like a bunch of tools. The kind of people whose conversations I can hardly stand overhearing in a coffee shop, let alone spend sixty hours with.
Sometimes, it’s great to be wrong.
Prompto is a delight, Ignis is a charmer, and Gladiolus is, uh... well. He, uh...
They can’t all be winners. Still, he’s got a certain stalwart, honor-guard charm to him, I guess. If you’re into that.
The fact each pal in this K-Pop band has their own hobbies helps flesh them out as real people, too. At the end of each day, you get to see all the pictures Prompto took and keep the best ones, while the group comments on their favorites. Noctis takes angler breaks on the journey while the gang hardcore backseat fishes. Ignis whips up a new recipe for the gang to eat, sometimes using whatever Noctis caught as an indgredient if you so choose. And Gladiolus, uh--
Well, his hobby is to--
That is, he...
To me, Prompto is the real hero of the group. Noctis, Ignis, and Gladiolus are fine characters, but they play everything straight and serious. Prompto brings the wit, the comedy, and all the jokes. He’s got an optimistic outlook that contrasts well against the cast of straight-faced, humorless soldiers. I find their banter to be at its best when exploring dungeons, as the crew comments on the twisting dead ends, or Prompto freaks about about potential ghost sightings.
I did notice these sequences have some quirks, however. Perhaps most noticeable is the dialogue triggers seem far too abrupt, leading to situations where the crew’s conversation seems to move at an inhuman pace as they talk over one another, or begin to speak immediately before another finishes their thought.
Still, the characters themselves far exceeded my expectations (except Gladio). Even if Gladiolus only likes "Survival" as a hobby, it's still nice they each have a personality outside of the role they play for Noctis. It’d be nice if the goddamn game didn’t goddamn stop everything each time Ignis came up with a new goddamn recipe, but I do love that ignis is always inspired by a new dish at the diner, or a new ingredient yanked out of a monster corpse.
These little scenes of the crew hanging out at night really sell their companionship.
I wish I could say Final Fantasy XV continued to do this cast of characters justice, but I cannot.
As my friend Shane so eloquently said,
Is the character not named Noctis? Then they’re probably criminally underused.
Detriment -- Every Character Except Noctis is Criminally Underdeveloped and Underused
I have so many problems with character motivations in this story it becomes difficult to know where to begin, or who to begin with. It may be best to take this on a Person-by-Person basis. We’ll get into how these relate to larger issues in the story itself later.
One of the things every Final Fantasy game has done extraordinarily well (exempting perhaps the first three entries) is establishing strong motivations for your group of unlikely adventurers to travel together. In Final Fantasy VII, each party member is often introduced via some matter of circumstance. Cid is betrayed by Shinra and allies himself with you. Cloud and company spare Red XIII from his captivity, and he joins you until he finds a way home.
Even Final Fantasy XIII, a series I detest, at least tries to establish these links. Hope wants to prove he’s strong, so he tags along with Lightning because he looks up to her. Vanille and Sazh get separated from the others and are forced together by circumstance. I hate these examples, but they’re at least attempts to explain why this cast of misfits acts together.
Great as your pals in Final Fantasy XV are, Noctis’s relationship with them all goes entirely unexplored. Was Ignis his caretaker? Or did he have a different role in the kingdom, and now just happens to be assigned to the Prince? Did Gladiolus teach Noct how to fight? Did he train with him? Did Cor instruct them? How long has he known each of these people? There’s a few passing references to Prompto being Noctis’s childhood friend, but aside from a single conversation on top of a motel roof, it never comes up again.
I know many of these questions are explained in the Brotherhood series, but when the game puts so much stock into the connection these four have, so much so as to dedicate the last cutscene in the game to how difficult it is for Noctis to say goodbye the night before his sacrificial end, it seems criminal the story didn’t focus on any of their history beyond the chronological events of the game.
Exploring how and why these three companions are fundemental to one another seems like it ought to have been the focus, but instead it's been shunted off into spin-off media instead, and I can't help but consider this a net loss for the plot of Final Fantasy XV.
This is one of the biggest missteps in the game.
The failure to explore the gang's relationship, that is. Not Prompto's picture.
Though that's disturbing too.
Near the end of Final Fantasy XV, there’s a surprise reveal about Prompto's life that accomplishes nothing and goes nowhere.
As you approach the end of Chapter 13, it’s revealed Prompto is a Magitek creation. It’s not entirely clear if this means he’s part robot or was simply made through some sort of experimentation, but two things are clear; He is not entirely human, and somehow this lets him open doors.
So Prompto opens a door with his barcode arm, the crew has a small chat about how it doesn’t really matter, and everyone goes on with their lives.
Do you know what the difference is between Prompto revealing he’s a magical robot entity who can open doors, and Prompto finding a key card on the ground that can open doors?
About one minute and forty-three seconds.
A substantial reveal instead falls flat on its face because, like everyone else, Prompto's history is given no screen time.
A twist like this near the end of the game should re-contextualize previous events. Scenes previously confusing suddenly make perfect sense once we know Prompto’s secret, but that would require at least one scene in the game to be about Prompto, not Noctis, and that’s just not going to happen.
(Editor's Note -- Prompto's DLC is now out, and involves Prompto traveling through a frozen wasteland with Aranea Highwind. It does not fully address my concerns here, but as these DLC packs go, Episode Prompto is the best one yet.)
We’ll go into detail on some of Gladiolus’s other missteps later, as they apply to a larger issue. For now, this section is about how Gladiolus leaves the party to perform some undetermined action with no fanfare at all, then returns to the party with a new facial scar that is never explained or discussed.
The upcoming DLC will likely explain this, but it does not excuse how lazy and disjointed it’s currently handled in the core narrative.
Ignis goes blind and it does not matter.
You never find out what happened to him, and Ignis has no real arc to this life-changing event.
I do enjoy how you feel the impact of Ignis’s blindness within the confines of gameplay. During the last required dungeon, you must move at a snail’s pace while Ignis hobbles along. If you camp out, your only food options are canned goods because Ignis can’t cook. It’s well done, and had Gladiolus’s confrontations been more focused on convincing Noctis to cut Ignis loose, about how he’s become a liability, I would’ve bought his freak-outs much more. More on that later.
A few minutes later you fight a Malboro, Ignis learns to use his other senses, and after one more group argument where you make a choice that ends up being entirely meaningless, the issue is never brought up again. Also Ignis is now immediately able to cook his artisan quality meals.
Stop asking questions, that's how.
In any other game, there would’ve been a series of scenes where Ignis learns to adapt to his new circumstances. Maybe he learns to cook by having someone else lay out the ingredients, and with a little guidance, his muscle memory takes care of the rest. Maybe he learns how to navigate using his other senses better, or finds a spell he can cast that gives him enhanced senses, and the group has to work together to locate it for him. This would even give us a chance to show our group of friends caring for one another, illustrating their bond.
It'd be nice to see the group band together to help someone other than Noctis for once.
Again, maybe this will be explored in the future Ignis DLC planned for this year. But also again, it doesn’t excuse how poorly it’s handled in what exists now.
(Editor's Note -- This DLC is planned for December.)
Iris is a fantastic character you get to spend all of an hour with before she sequesters herself in a lighthouse for the rest of the game. She's Gladiolius's little sister, another person who's grown up alongside Noctis. As you pass the first imperial blockade, she’s introduced for the first time with a phone call to Noctis after she's been evacuated with other residents.
Here’s a few basic questions I have to ask.
When Gladiolus finds out Insomina has been attacked, why doesn’t he call Iris right away to find out if she made it out okay, or find out if she knows what happened to their father? They don’t seem to be estranged in any way, yet he expresses hardly any concern for her well being. It almost feels like the writer's came up with Iris after the end of the prologue, but forgot to think about how her presence would change Gladiolus's priorities prior to her introduction.
Given her presence in the Brotherhood anime, I don't think this was actually the case, but I have not accepted Brotherhood as an acceptable answer for anyone else's lackluster personal stories. I don't care how cool Iris is -- she doesn't get a free Brotherhood pass either.
Another question -- why don’t Gladiolus and Iris react or discuss the fact their father is now Super-Duper, Mega-Ultra dead?
I imagine the answer is the people who wrote the story of Final Fantasy XV didn’t know what was going to happen to Clarus in Kingsglaive, and so they made no mention of him.
I’m willing to buy the idea that Iris is so bubbly and optimistic, she’d try to remain positive even in the face of her world falling apart. However, the way both her and her brother have no reaction to their father’s passing is absurd.
It would’ve been nice to get to know about Iris, even in just passing conversation, before her sudden appearance in the story.
During the plot, Ravus is attempting to accomplish something essential for Noctis. At the request of his Sister, Lady Lunafreya, Ravus works to obtain your Father’s sword. It ends up being the final Holy Arm you require to complete the rite of passage at the conclusion of the game.
Ravus makes exactly four on screen appearances, and he’s already dead in two of those.
There’s a minor confrontation with Ravus upon reclaiming your car from an imperial base, and a flashback scene where you discover Luna has asked him to deliver the sword to Noctis.
Then, in Chapter 13, you stumble across his dead body and loot the Royal Arm from his corpse. He reappears about an hour later as a Daemon.
Then you kill him again. He Double-Dies.
If I may draw a comparison to a similar series of events in a previous Final Fantasy game:
In Final Fantasy Tactics, you have a brother named Zalbag. He’s a tough soldier who appears throughout the game to lend aid to your party. Even when your views don’t align, he’s one of the few siblings you have in the game who isn’t actively trying to screw someone else over in a bid for power. He’s supportive, honest, and straightforward with you at all times. There’s a brief section where Zalbag appears as a guest character to assist you, and you even get a chance to see his power as an Ark Knight in these battles.
Then, later in the game, Zalbag is killed while trying to foil a nefarious assassination plot. He’s brought back from the dead sometime later and forced to fight you against his will as an animated corpse. Zalbag begs you to kill him, and as he dies, expresses remorse he’s caused you further grief.
It’s a powerful moment because you’ve known Zalbag the entire game. He’s been an honorable ally in a Game of Thrones-esque world where no one is ever honest with you.
Final Fantasy XV attempts to do the same thing during the Ravus fight, but it means Chocobo dung-all because you’ve known Ravus for what, five seconds?
Even if the characters weren’t aware of Ravus’s struggle throughout the game, it would’ve helped if the player did. There’s a sorrowful gravitas to his story. Ravus completed his task only to be slain by the very group he sought to help. His sacrifice saves the world, but no one who knows the truth has survived to tell the world what he's done.
As it stands now, Ravus is some loon who yells at you once, smacks Gladiolus into car, then shows up as a corpse and you slap the corpse around like four cats fighting over one yarn ball.
Nope. Nope nope nope.
There is not enough space on the internet to describe all the ways Lunafreya is misused and mistreated. I'll address some of these issues in a later section.
Moving on for now.
This a quote from Cor Leonis’s official description on Final Fantasy XV’s website.
“A valiant protector who stood beside Regis during the king’s journey thirty years prior, and continues to serve his liege marshalling the Lucian Crownsguard. Cor the Immortal’s heroic feats in battle make him the stuff of legend for Noct and his closest friends an invaluable ally in the field.”
So, what does this legendary warrior, “The Stuff of Legend,” Cor The Immortal do for Noct and friends in game?
Escorts you to a tomb.
He doesn’t even enter it with you. He tags along until you find the entrance and says "good luck."
I’ll give the game some credit -- he does at least join your party as a guest twice, giving you a chance to see his power in action. Once on the way to this tomb he doesn’t join you for, and again to remove an imperial blockade.
However, it’s a little hard for me to stomach that when facing the literal end of the world, the world’s most powerful warrior chills at a lighthouse for ten years and only steps in once everything's gone to hell.
Thanks a lot, Cor the Immortal.
THE WORLD OF RUIN
Okay, this isn't exactly a character, but it still goes criminally underused. The concept of a “World of Ruin” was first used in Final Fantasy VI when Kefka becomes a God, and it makes a return here in Final Fantasy XV.
After ten years, Noctis returns to find his world has gone permanently dark. Daemons roam the world in droves, and since there is no daylight to drive them away, humans are confined to small safe hovels where energy and artificial light is still abundant.
This is perhaps the most compelling idea the game presents, and just like its rich cast of characters who aren't Noctis, it goes horribly underused.
Through a conversation with Talcott, you find out just how much has changed. Iris and Cor are Daemon hunters, who work to keep people safe from harm. Cindy and Cid still operate the garage at Hammerhead, much to the amazement of the rest of the world. The majority of survivors all moved to Lestallum, the biggest safe haven because of its power plant and excessive lighting.
You know what’s a lot of work? Redesigning all those art assets to match Talcott’s words. And after ten years of development, I bet Square-Enix was, you know, pretty tired. And that sure sounds like a lot of work.
Lestallum, the last bastion of the world. Cor the Daemon Hunter. Iris, the bubbly little girl who grew into a badass, stone cold demon killer. Cid, the old curmudgeon who refuses to let the darkness change his life.
All of these things and more make no appearance in the World of Ruin.
It may seem like I’m harping on this game a lot.
That’s because I am.
Detriment -- Final Fantasy XV Does Not Know What Point of View Is
When some of these questions began to arise, I excused many with this line of thinking:
“This game is only being told from Noctis’s perspective. That way, what surprises him also surprises us. Thus, it’s going to be up to me to pay attention and fill in the blanks. I’ll have to actively intuit Noctis’s relationships, and draw my own conclusions based on the sparse evidence presented.”
Here’s where it went.
Final Fantasy XV has no problem cutting to flashback scenes. Many of these are flashbacks to Lady Lunafreya and Noctis’s childhood, flashbacks prompted by Noctis receiving perodic notes from her via Messenger Dog.
These flashback scenes are well done, but I wish there'd been more focus on their relationship as they grew up, too.
Technically, these sequences still follow Noctis’s point-of-view. These are his memories we’re seeing, after all, and they're often prompted by something in the world that jogs Noctis's memory.
This quickly falls apart as the game goes on, however. Eventually, we see conversations and events Noctis wasn’t present for at all, and has no way of knowing. There’s even a few cutaways to show the player what’s going on in the Empire’s Throne Room, information Noctis and his crew especially don’t have access to.
I couldn’t help but wonder as the game went on why Square-Enix chose to show us what business the Empire is getting up to -- information that is largely irrelevant to the player at that given time -- instead of using these scenes to take us somewhere far more meaningful.
Remember Ravus? What if we had several opportunities to see his personal struggle? What if we saw his change of heart as he goes from thinking of you as an enemy, to acquiescing to a request from his sister to help you? Then he has to reconcile his hatred for you with how much he cares for his sister. What if we even got to see what happened to him? Perhaps he sacrificed himself because he refused to hand over the weapon, knowing full well how important it was you reclaim your Father’s sword.
Or, what if we got to see a few flashbacks of Iris and Noctis as well? Maybe Gladiolus and Cor are rough on him during training, and Ignis is unsympathetic to his plight, but Iris is the one who’s around to lift his spirits.
In fact, there’s a barely-veiled suggestion Iris has romantic feelings towards Noctis. That’s another fascinating angle that goes entirely unexplored. Iris grew up her whole life loving someone she knew she could never be with. We could’ve seen her struggles growing up. Did Noctis know? Was he -- like most Final Fantasy protagonists -- totally oblivious? Did he do anything specific that lit Iris’s heart aflame? It’s not the most original love story -- Les Miserables did it one hundred and fifty years ago -- but it’s better than, again, the current nothing she gets.
The haphazard use of Point-of-View in Final Fantasy XV makes it a weaker, inconsistent game, and I think it would’ve benefited from sticking to one approach or the other.
Improvement -- The Antagonist, Ardyn Izunia
Ardyn Izunia is a perfect antagonist. His actions keep you guessing the whole game as to whether he's friend or foe, and the way he happily subverts and undermines his own Empire suggests early on he has his own motivations.
These motives are obscured from the player for the right reasons, because in order for Ardyn’s plan to work, he has to obscure them from everyone, as he goes about plotting his revenge on a world that spurned him. Like with everyone else, I wish Final Fantasy XV went into more specific detail on his cataclysmic history. (As we'lll see with Lunafreya later, Final Fantasy XV often undermines itself by assuming the player has somehow absorbed all outside refrence material already.)
A quick recap of Ardyn's unfortunate life for those who do not know, or couldn't make sense of his obscure dialogue -- Ardyn Izunia was once an Oracle like Lunafreya. He absorbed tons of scourge into his own body to protect the world, but when the time came for him to die, the Gods rejected him. Rather than accept his cursed soul, the Gods gave him an eternal life as a vessel for Scourge.
Once you know his backstory, a lot of Ardyn's lines throughout the game make perfect sense.
As vengance against the Gods, Arydn plots the demise of both Royal King and Oracle bloodlines, effectively severing all supernatural ties humanity has and dooming the world to eternal darkness.
He’s perhaps the only character whose motivations I find completely believable from beginning to end.
In fact, he’s got a better arc than the protagonist.
Detriment -- A Tales of Two Notcis's
Here’s what the game would like me to believe is Noctis’s journey as a character.
Noctis is thrust into the role of leader long before he’s ready, and is hesitant to fulfill his duty.
His friends and allies support him, but grow frustrated with his reluctance to lead like a King should.
Noctis ultimately embraces his destiny and gives his life to save the world.
From my perspective, here’s what his journey actually looked like.
Noctis is distraught over his father’s death, but is prepared to do whatever is required to save the world.
Gladiolus yells at him for no reason.
His fiance’ dies, but Noctis powers on, even while distraught.
Galdiolus yells at a grief-stricken Noctis for no reason.
Noctis gives his life for everyone like he was always prepared to do, and I hope Gladiolus looks back on his choices and feels like an asshole.
There are numerous scenes in Final Fantasy XV where if feels like the first scenario is what you’re supposed to be seeing. There are at least two major scenes where Gladiolus scolds Noctis; once on the way to Titan, and again after Lunafreya dies. The first scene comes out of nowhere as you make your way towards Titan, and it had me completely baffled. In the middle of a chaotic escape, Gladiolus decides to shove Noctis around and complain he's not tough enough.
Until this moment, I just thought Gladiolus was boring. After this, I thought he was a jerk.
The second takes place right after Noctis's fiance’ dies, so I think Noctis has a right to be a little down. Also, it isn’t like Noctis has fallen into a deep depression, hiding away in some dark room trying to forget the world exists. He’s on a train already bound for the next Royal Arm, just like he should be, soldiering on despite his grief.
Okay, so before this scene, I thought Gladiolus was a jerk. After this, I thought he was the biggest asshole in all of Eos. Remember -- this is literally the day after Noctis's Fiance’ died.
For an explanation of why I think Noctis is prepared to do his Kingly Duty from the start, here’s a clip of Noctis’s first conversation with Cor after his father’s death:
The implication here seems very clear to me -- “My Father should not have chosen me over our people.” It seem to me Noctis has already acknowledged he is prepared to give his life for a greater good right here, and his emotional journey -- at least in coming to terms with his eventual sacrifice -- is already complete.
In order to sell me on the idea Noctis is unfit or unprepared to do his duty here, he needed to be much more of a whiny brat or lazy layabout with conflict avoidance issues. But, if we’re being honest, I’m glad he wasn’t either of these things. We’ve had our share of whiny Final Fantasy protagonists.
Still, the story presents two incongruous versions of Noctis -- the one the player sees, and the one his allies see. If this was handled with more tact, it could be a clever angle to explore -- that Noctis hides his true self from his friends because he’s already prepared to die, but they consistently misinterpret his stoic silence as a lack of confidence.
But it’s not presented that way, so I think it’s just a mistake.
If I knew Japanese, maybe I'd discover much of this was lost in translation, but I somehow doubt this would explain away all of Final Fantasy XV's flaws.
Detriment -- Inconsistent Aesthetics and Questionable Wardrobes
I’m not here to make a judgement call on Tetsuya Nomura's character designs -- opinions on his idea of what makes a “cool” wardrobe are highly divisive, and I think there’s merit to all sides of those arguments.
What I am here to do, however, is to point out how inconsistent clothing is throughout all of Final Fantasy XV.
With the exception of Prompto, our main cast is associated with (or is) royalty, yet they dress like they’re about to go rob the vault of the MGM Grand.
(Note -- I’ve since learned in the original script Noctis was part of an underground crime syndicate, not royalty. While this explains the costumes then, it does not explain why they remain unchanged in the final product.)
Meanwhile, every other resident of Insomnia we see, however briefly, is dressed in flamboyantly regal attire, with all sorts of adornments and accolades displayed.
Now, here’s a counter-argument I think has merit to it -- Noctis and friends are off on a friendly road trip that's going to take days, so of course they’re going to travel in plain clothes, not regal attire. As for their all-black ensemble, it’s just what happens to be fashionable.
That’s a reasonable explanation, but why does everyone else in the world dress like they walked out of a GAP catalog?
This is a futuristic world where magic and technology exist in concert, but the attire does not reflect any advancements at all. Now I don’t expect NPC’s to have the same level of dedication and care put into their appearance as the main cast, but I would like to see some consistency across the world. For example, why do Cindy and Cid dress like this:
But the handful of people in Hammerhead dress like this:
When compared to everyone else who lives near their shop, Cindy and Cid look like time travelers.
This issue applies to every game, to some extent. The important characters are always going to stand out when compared to the crowd of nameless wanderers, but they shouldn’t stand out to the extent they look like wandered in from a different world (unless of course, they actually did). Each city or region should have it’s own consistent aesthetics, instead of the current slap-dash smattering of NPC attire.
Now there are few positive examples I can cite, the first being Golden Quay. As a resort town, I appreciate the town’s waiter is dressed like this:
And the concierge’s are also dressed appropriately ritzy.
There’s also this wonderful man named Dino, who’s dressed exactly like I’d expect a reporter obsessed with rare gems to be dressed. It’s weird he isn’t wearing any jewelry himself despite the fact he brags the whole game about making it, but he’s got a fashionable charm I appreciate. He’s also perfectly positioned in Golden Quay, a place where you’d expect to find a high-fashion charmer.
The town of Lestallum is also curiously better about this than most cities. I'm not sure what's going on with the townsfolk and their wierd, puffy arm life preservers that seem in fashion there, but at least there is a fashion present.
(Editor's Note -- I've since gone back to Lestallum to discover it's not quite as consistent as I've let on. The same polo-wearing randos appear all over the place. Still, at least Lestallum has a few styles unique to its populace.)
Everywhere else I went, it stood out to me how under-designed the average townspeople were. Again, it’s not a matter of attire, but one of consistency. The townspeople of Altissa, the ritzy venetian destination getaway of this world, should not wear anything from a Sear’s clearance shelf, and yet they do.
The aesthetic inconsistency doesn’t only apply to clothing, but to the small pit-stops filling out this world as well.
Detriment, but with Positive Caveats -- Pit Stop Towns
I need to take a minute to make something clear here again -- I actually love these little stops. I find the best fiction is grounded in something relatable, and as someone who has often had to drive long distances, stopping at these tiny hovels reminds me of all the small towns lining freeways, made up of several streets and a gas station. It’s a strange choice for a world of magic and technology, but it’s one I appreciate all the same -- like these little roadhouses are a universal constant in any world.
Now mind you, the following gripe is a small thing, but once I noticed it I could not unsee it, and it bothered me at every stop.
Where do these people sleep?
This Pit Stop is a Gas Station, Diner, Caravan, and Shed. There are no homes anywhere nearby.
This doesn’t apply to every pit-stop, but it applies to easily more than half. A few have a small flat of homes nearby, and Old Lestallum has this neat little housing row.
But, the vast majority of these stops are typically a gas station, diner, and either a motel or rental caravan.
Am I to believe these people stay in motels every night, or pile into the caravan? What about on nights when I rent the caravan? Do they just sleep on the floor of the shop? Or do they commute home at night across monster-infested roads? Again, this is a very small thing -- it’s not like I went into a flying rage each time I found a town with no housing at all. But, this changes a small implicit message sent to my brain each time I arrive at a stop.
What should be:
“Here’s a small town in the middle of nowhere.”
“Here’s the requisite gas station and shop positioned on the map for me to restock.”
It shatters the illusion that I’m in a living, breathing world, and instead reminds me I’m in a game and running low on resources.
In many other games, this wouldn’t bother me -- but this is Final Fantasy, a series known for creating massive, fantastical worlds.
There’s only one more topic to discuss, and you probably know who it is.
Detriment -- Lunafreya Nox Fleuret
Luna’s role in the story is so badly handled that if there was a statute that allowed fictional characters to sue, Luna would have a slam dunk of a case.
For the most part, the flaws I’ve presented in this article merely stoked a feeling of disappointment in me, but the criminal mishandling of Luna practically brings me to rage.
I’m not sure where to start, so let’s begin with her official description from the website.
“Luna made many fond memories with Noct in their childhood, but their days of innocence ended abruptly when the empire overtook her home of Tenebrae. Through adversity, she became the youngest Oracle in history. Adored and respected the world over, she now travels in search of communion with the gods to aid Noctis on his journey.”
I think it’s telling that Luna’s official description lacks much description of Luna herself. We learn more about her relationship to Noctis and the world at large than we learn about her. And on the line about “adversity,” I have to ask -- what adversity? If she faced any opposition on her rise to Oracle, it’s never mentioned or brought to light in the course of the game. If anything, she’s facing all her opposition right now, in the events you witness.
It's entirely possible this is a refrence to more outside media, but my tired refrain continues -- if it's important to the plot of the game, maybe it should be in the actual game.
So, now that I've played the game and done some further research, let me take a crack at a description of what Lunafreya’s role in the world of Eos is myself.
Lunafreya is the Oracle, a figure who wields a cleansing power, inherited by bloodlines. The Oracle is the only person on the planet able to commune with the Gods. The world of Eros is plagued by something known as The Starscourge, a condition that lengthens night and strengthens Daemons. Only the Oracle has the power to halt the Starscourge. Without the Oracle, the world will plunged into eternal night, and be left to the mercy of the denizens of the dark.
Now, if you played Final Fantasy XV and you are currently saying to yourself, “Wow, I didn’t know any of that, but suddenly the last half of the game makes way more sense,” allow me to echo Robbin Williams from Good Will Hunting.
It's not your fault.
This was all news to me as well, again brought to my attention by the same Shane who inadvertently titled my third category. I proceeded to dig into it myself, and I now feel confident making the following claim.
The Biggest Failure of Final Fantasy XV is Failing to Adequately Explain Lunafreya’s Role in the World
This would be like if Final Fantasy VII failed to explain what the black materia does. This would be like if Final Fantasy VI failed to explain what espers were until Kefka absorbed them all. This would be like if Final Fantasy VIII, which has arguably the craziest, most convoluted plot of the entire series, failed to detail where Edea’s powers come from.
For the non-Final Fantasy playing crowd, allow me to make some other pop culture comparisons. This would be like if Sixth Sense ended with Bruce Willis never realizing he was dead the whole time. It would be like if Psycho ended after the first murder. This would be like if Titanic never showed the iceberg hit the ship and, from your perspective, it just started to sink for no reason.
Lunafreya is literally the glue holding the world together. Her death percipitates the apocalypse -- and the player is never informed of this. In fact, it feels like every citizen of Eos is completely unaware of what her death portends.
The whole game, everywhere you go, people are obsessed with the future wedding that never comes to pass. The crew asks Noctis how he feels about it constantly. Lots of NPC chatter, especially in Altissa, is all about how everyone feels about the wedding, and how they should just go ahead and do it anyway.
Remember how the Oracle’s abilities are passed down through bloodline? No wonder the whole world is obsessed with this wedding -- if Luna dies with no heir, Eos is forever without hope.
Now that we know that, let us examine the moment Luna dies and all the ways I’m willing to claim it fails.
Luna’s Death Itself Means Nothing to The Player
It’s hard to even begin to suggest how to fix this, because the answer to what needs to be fixed is everything.
The most obvious issue is Luna’s absence from the story at large. Characters talk about her often -- they wonder what she might be up to, she sends small notes to Noctis via messenger dog, radio broadcasts discuss where the Oracle was last sighted -- but you as a player never truly meet her. There’s a few flashback sequences which serve to establish her relationship with Noctis, but the two of them hanging out as kids is so far removed from their current relationship that it hardly matters in the present day.
The notes Noctis and Luna pass to one another via messenger-dog are largely devoid of any meaningful content, too. It’s mostly “I’m waiting here" and “I hope to see you soon," and then the player gets to either respond dismissively or eagerly to her notes.
This notebook basically amounts to Facebook status updates.
Being told what a character is up to is hardly a relevant substitute for actually getting a chance to meet them. It’s no wonder so many players hardly care when she died -- they didn’t know a damn thing about her, except that she’d been talking to some Gods for you.
This is supposed to be one of the most traumatic experiences of Noctis’s life, and yet he speaks maybe two lines to her the entire game. Five, I guess, if we count their back-and-forth communication in the dog journal.
And by the way, the game does its audience zero favors by allowing the player to choose dismissive, callous responses to Luna’s inquiries. For a player who’s chosen the crappiest response all game, Noctis’s breakdown probably rings even more hollow than the rest.
A dismissive Noctis should probably wake up from his injury, find out Luna’s dead, and go, “Woo! Dodged that bullet.”
Luna’s Importance to Eos at Large is Never Fully Communicated
There’s a scene where we get a chance to see Luna do her healing thing, which serves to at least show us her role in Eos and how her cleansing powers operate, but this scene fails to demonstrate the scope of her importance. This cutscene in particular would've been a great opportunity to reveal The Scourge and how Luna keeps it at bay, but it does not.
This short cutscene is essential to understanding why Luna's safety is the world's primary concern, and yet it still fails to inform the audience of the full extent of her powers.
I would argue that in storytelling, there are few things more important than knowing what is at stake in the event of failure.
Imagine, if you will, a scenario where the player and characters are aware Luna’s life is literally keeping the darkness at bay, and you've had the chance to travel with her. The possibilities going into the Leviathan scene become endless. Noctis could express concern about Luna staring down Leviathan alone. When Luna protests, Ignis, ever the logical one, could stress her safety over everything else. Maybe Noctis has to make his way to Leviathan alone because the others have agreed for this particular instance, Luna’s life is more important and at greater risk, so they guard Luna instead.
Now when Luna gets stabbed, we know what's at stake if she dies. Even if the game has still failed to adequately build Luna and Noctis’s relationship, at least we’re aware that if she goes, Eos goes with her.
This could’ve been shown in a great many ways. One really terrible way to accomplish this is for Noctis to get knocked unconscious, have a nightmare about Luna being swallowed by an artistic ocean, then wake up and find out she succumbed to her wounds from someone else.
Guess which one they went with.
The worst possible option.
Bullet Point Thoughts
The following is a series of shorter ideas that did not merit their own category. Some are positive, some are negative, and some are merely observations.
- Encouraging the player to stay at Inns, Campsites, and Motels creates a fantastic gameplay loop. Adventure in the daytime, then stop for the evening to relax and reflect. The player gets rewarded for their accumulated XP all at once, skills level up, and you get to check out memories of the day’s adventure on Prompto’s camera.
Or you can be like me and not let the characters sleep for a week, then stay at the Golden Quay to double your XP and gain thirty levels in one night.
As a continuation of the last point, Final Fantasy XV finally restores choice to a Final Fantasy game. Final Fantasy XIII went to great lengths to limit your options, even going as far as to cap the maximum achievable level on your progression trees depending on your current chapter. In Final Fantasy XV, you are free to do as many or as few side-quests as you desire.
Justice Monsters Five is okay, I guess? I probably would've played it more if I hadn't dug deep into the mobile game first.
I can’t help but feel like there should be more post-game content, especially areas only accessible by Flying Regalia. All that effort for one dungeon with no monsters and jumping puzzles?
Speaking of the Flying Regalia, it sucks. Real bad. In other Final Fantasy games, getting the “airship” feels liberating and exciting. It takes to the skies, the music changes, and you feel an exhilirating sense of wonder. In Final Fantasy XV, It feels like a burden, because the slightest mistake causes the Regalia to burst into flames.
- The entire Power Plant event with Gladiolus seems completely pointless, and if you were to cut it from the game, nothing would change. I have a feeling there was more planned around this sequence and it was cut in the interest of time. I think Final Fantasy XV would've been better off if this entire sequence was cut all together, rather than the embarassingly bad attempt at deception we have now.
(Editor's Note -- I wondered at the time if Gladiolus's strange appearance here would be addressed in his DLC episode. It was not.)
- Imperials descending on you while you explore is really cool. I think it happens with maybe too much frequency, enough that it quickly becomes unremarkable, but It’s a cool inclusion nonetheless. It really sells the idea your crew is being hunted at every turn.
The way you interact (or don’t interact) with summons is somehow equal parts neat and awful. It really does feel like divine intervention, since you have no idea when or if they’ll show up. The downside is also just that -- you have no idea how to get them to show up without a google search, and even then it requires something akin to divination and hope.
Being able to listen to old Final Fantasy music while driving around is a great feature, and the addition of the MP3 player, which lets you do the same thing on foot, was a smart update as well. I can’t help but feel there should be a better way to navigate your available tracks or make custom playlists, but the current system works well enough.
The Leviathan fight is awesome, both in setting and scope.
This is the most awe-inspiring moment in Final Fantasy XV.
- Aranea Highwind is a fantastic character I wish Square-Enix had done more with. She shows up several times throughout the story, does her "I'm a badass" thing, and then heads off again. As the game approaches its conclusion, though, she doesn't get to do much except stand around a train yard and point out how screwed we all are. As one of Eos's best Mercenaries, it would've been nice to see how she's doing after the ten year gap.
(Editor's Note -- Aranea plays a large role in Prompto's DLC. While it does not cover her time post-scourge, it does help provide a larger role to an awesome character.)
- I can’t help but feel underwhelmed by the final battle. It’s hard to pin down exactly what I would’ve liked at the conclusion -- either something more to the fight against Ardyn himself, or perhaps a showdown with your Royal Arms as they consume you. In its current state, Ardyn feels like a pushover who did not merit ten years of preparation to beat.
I checked the recording -- This fight against Ardyn took me 3 minutes and 20 seconds. That seems outrageously short for a final boss, especially when there's so many fascinating things happening under the surface between these two that -- as usual -- go almost entirely unexplored.
To harp on this fight even more -- I wish we'd been given more time with Ardyn in his final moments. In many ways, he's finally getting what he always needed, a chance to move on. The game touches upon this when Noctis tells him to rest, but we breeze straight from that to Noctis's sacrifice. An opportunity to hear Ardyn's final thoughts as Noctis stays with him at the end of a life once thought eternal goes zipping by.
Likewise, I would’ve liked to see more after Noctis’s sacrifice as well. Many of the final scenes echo back to past events; a final goodbye to the crew around a campfire, audio from the opening of the game playing over the credits. You do get to see the sun rise, but you are still denied any sight of the people you’ve met along the way and how they react to finally seeing a sunrise after ten years of eternal darkness.
Going on one last adventure with your pals ten years later is great, but it would've been nice to see where they ended up afterwards too.
- One huge missed opportunity -- The nights getting longer after Luna dies is barely experienced by the player. Once this occurs you are never (narratively speaking, anyway) returned to the open world. The party does experience less daylight hours starting in Chapter 8, but this is the only time a change is felt.
- I remember much disappointment expressed over how the back half of Final Fantasy XV becomes more linear, but I enjoyed that aspect of Final Fantasy XV's conclusion. It solves the usual open world issue where all sense of urgency gets lost if the player decides to take their time and mosey about. And, if the player really wants to do so, boom. Magic dog.
While I enjoyed the actual act of playing Final Fantasy XV (with the exception of Chapter 13), I found myself increasingly underwhelmed by the story the further it progressed. A younger me would’ve written something like, “it’s insane after ten years of development, Final Fantasy XV feels rushed!”
However, older me has a better understanding of how game development works. I feel comfortable proposing the story we received in the end is a result of countless rewrites, rewrites only further complicated by a constantly shifting staff and changes in direction in a desperate effort to finally get something out the door.
The truth is I hold Final Fantasy games to a different standard than others . If this were titled “Lunaocalypse” and it was made by some other developer, and there were no Chocobos, Potions, Cactuars, and Malboros, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to write a thing about it. I would’ve enjoyed it, discussed some details in casual conversation among friends, and moved on.
But this is Final Fantasy. It’s a series I’ve held in high reverence since the SNES days. This is a series that dared to make storytelling core to its design, while other games focused their attention elsewhere. It concerns me somewhat when I see so many outlets singing the game’s praises -- praises it does deserve, mostly -- but still fail to draw a critical eye towards the narrative itself.
By no means is Final Fantasy XV a bad game. If it were, I wouldn't have gone out of my way to highlight the things I enjoyed. This article would've been straight dunkin', all the time, like a different article I wrote about another Final Fantasy game.
But, when I look at Final Fantasy XV from a narrative perspective, I see a glued-together Jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces are there to make something great, but instead they’re jumbled around, shoved together in all the wrong spots, glued and duct-taped along edges where they weren’t meant to fit.
What we have is something that looks great from a distance, but up close you notice all that glue. The duct-tape. The corner pieces in the dead-center of the puzzle. Some areas are actually painful to observe, and others baffle the mind.
With a little more care and focus, I think we could’ve had something great. But, considering this is a puzzle that took ten years to put together, maybe it’s a miracle we got anything at all.
"I swear babe, it was the ULTIMATE Flavor Experience."
Since this article was written, Square-Enix has since announced plans to address many issues, some of which have already been implimented.
Chapter 13 has been reworked. It is now marginally less terrible. There are plenty of hot takes on the internet already about how bad Chapter 13 was at launch, many better than I could manage to write, so I did not discuss it here.
New cutscenes are planned for the supporting cast, including Ravus and Luna.
The Gladiolus and Prompto DLC campaigns are now out. Ignis's is due in December.
Oh, and there's been a number of seasonal events. How were they, you might ask?
- I wasn't impressed.