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Friday, December 30, 2016

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Journey from Versus to XV: A Tale of Leaks and Legends


SPOILERS FOR FINAL FANTASY XV FOLLOW.

As mostly everyone who's been following Final Fantasy XV's development at all knows, Final Fantasy Versus XIII was a project that was stuck in development hell for such a long time that it may as well have never existed outside of a few conceptual trailers. Previous project director Tetsuya Nomura admits that the game had hardly entered development at all before its rebranding into Final Fantasy XV. Then, about a year later, Nomura is removed from the new XV project and replaced with Hajime Tabata. When the final project finally released, it was no surprise that many scenes and characters from Versus XIII had either been removed, greatly altered, or repurposed to fit the new plot of Final Fantasy XV.

The first thing to keep in mind is that Versus XIII and XV are simultaneously very different things, and also the same thing. Versus XIII was a part of Square's Fabula Nova Crystalis multimedia project, and shared a mythos with the other XIII games - XIII and its sequels, and Type-0 (originally branded as Agito XIII). Therefore, any elements from the overarching FNC mythos were cut or changed to fit the new story. An obvious example of this would be "daemons," who are humans that have been transformed into monsters. They are, for all intents and purposes, the same as "cie'th" from the original FNC mythos; which were, you guessed it, humans transformed into monsters. Perhaps the most glaring example of this is in Ravus, who is transformed into a sort of half-daemon towards the end of the game.


This looks startlingly similar to another boss in Final Fantasy XIII, Cid Raines, who also turns into a dae- er, I mean, a cie'th.


An alleged member of Final Fantasy XV's staff has come forward on Reddit, claiming that he was privy to insider info about the development of the game's story and its transition from Versus XIII to XV. Ordinarily, this would be taken with a grain of salt - any old joe schmoe can waltz in and claim the same thing (just read this article about The Street Sharks to learn about internet lies). However, there is a catch to his supposed leaks: Roberto Ferrari, character designer for Ardyn, Cindy, Aranea, and several other characters, has recently spoken out about concepts of his that were unable to be used in-game. One such concept overlaps with one the leaker's leaks: that Umbra, Luna's dog, was meant to be a ninja that could transform into a dog.

Someone posted an image of a character on Ferrari's site, and asked him if this was Umbra's human form.


Ferrari's response was along the lines of "I would like to know how did you get this art before I answer." The post was deleted today.

This does not in any way confirm the leaks, but it does fuel the fire of suspicion a bit. With that in mind, let's take a look at what our self-proclaimed leaker had to say about the story, and entertain his claims as if they were real.

Original Leviathan fight details:

There were indoors and outdoors sections, Noctis warped around floating houses around Leviathan and inside he had to fight soldiers. Leviathan had to destroy all the houses and then Noctis proceeded to battle the Leviathan.
Seems legit. There's a section of the TGS 2013 trailer that basically shows what he's describing here.

On summons:

No summons were cut.
Cool. There's really no way to prove or disprove this, but don't forget that there were some other summons on Amano's "Big Bang" painting that didn't make it in.

Click for full size. Is that Doomtrain I see?
Either way, it seems like the six were always the six, at least insofar as existing in any form beyond conceptual ideas.

On Gentiana:

Gentiana existed before I entered the team and she was present in the old game, she had medium powers like Noctis and could speak with the female protagonist too. In one of the concepts she had to hurt herself or deprive herself from senses in order to gain powers. I don't know if this was developed. No mention as to if she was still Shiva in the old game but I don't think so since her role does not match.
Gentiana being Shiva did seem to come out of left field, so this is plausible, at least. It's also worth noting that we know of two different forms of Shiva in the finished game: her giantess form, which is the corpse we see on the side of the train tracks, and her summon form, which is a human sized blue lady. Or, well, a bunch of human sized blue ladies. This would explain the bizarre discrepancy between Shiva's summon form and the other Astral's summon forms, which are exactly the same as the huge forms we encounter in game.

Ignis was always going to get blinded:

Ignis story was written like this before the re-structure for the download content happened.
Fair enough. Seems like a story beat that could exist independently of any major changes elsewhere.

End Game details:

The ending section was decided when I joined the team. It was planned for Noctis to wake up and encounter every character once at a time. The open world was not explorable; there were quests that limited your movement in the map. The Lestallum map in which Noctis was supposed to meet Iris and his other friend was complete, but it was not the full city. The idea was to turn the open world in a dungeon in which the player had to skip from one place to another and piece what was happening as Noctis met the other characters.
This would have made Chapter 14's World of Ruin segment feel much more natural, rather than dumping Noct at Hammerhead where he met all of his friends at once.

On Cindy & Iris' end game look:

Cidney wears like motorcycle suit. It reminded me of Kill Bill. Her face didn't change that much. Iris was taller and had a king guard suit.

Man, I would have liked to see this, especially since Cindy's default outfit is complete garbage.

Maybe Cindy's new outfit would have looked like this official art?

Ending to Versus details:

I remember that and one point, a big ray of light was supposed to appear in the sky, which was the door to the other dimension, the afterlife (which was called versus and that was the meaning of the game title). A bad character (I think it was Ardyn) caused the gate to this dimension to open. The focus of the villains was to kill an angel who lived in the afterlife and took care of the ghosts. The female protagonist could talk to every character in this dimension. In the end the angel helped the characters to return to their world but Noctis was too damaged and he ended sleeping with the ghosts and the female protagonist.
If this is all legit, then I think the team repurposed this original ending into the new story really well. It still carries the same weight to it despite the circumstances being different. Noctis still ends up travelling to another dimension of sorts (inside the crystal) to defeat Ardyn, where he indeed ends up "too damaged" and loses his life in the process. He and Luna then reconcile in the afterlife, with the logo even changing to a picture of them sleeping after you've beaten the game. The "angel" mentioned here seems to fall in line with the FNC's general depiction of the goddess Etro.

The only things that really seem to have been lost in transition are the dimension to the afterlife playing a more direct role in events at the end, and Ardyn wanting to kill Etro. Now he just wants to mess with everyone.

Nifleheim was never going to be a city in game:

We used the same concept artworks for Gralea from the old game, it was always planned to be filled with demons as far as I know. There were concepts of how the city would have looked like before the demons but there wasn't plans of showing it.
Again, sounds plausible enough.

Chapter 13 & Cindy redesign:

The team thought that part was going to be a twist and would surprise players. It was supposed to be tedious but it was thought that players would like it. Ex team mates made these comments about it.  
There was a legitimate concern about feedback on female representation on the game, so Cindy was considered to be problematic. This was supposed to be "fixed" with the dark world design for her and her scenes, but they didn't make the cut.
Maybe the new design would have helped their PR a bit, as Cindy's redesign has been among the most controversial elements of the game.

Or maybe this would be more accurate?

DLC:

However, people who are still working on the team have told me that if the download content is well received, they will think about making something special for other characters. I don't know if they have changed the schedule for the download content since I left.
I am hoping that the three bro DLCs expand on elements of the story that the main game glosses over.

Stella:
The female protagonist was supposed to appear only to Noctis. She was supposed to be a ghost which visited Noctis from the afterlife. The crystal commanded Noctis to kill her when they were children. In other concepts, I recall her simply disappearing and Noctis returning to his home country without knowing if she was ever found again. 

Most of the characters couldn't interact with the female character (which was one of the reasons this character couldn't work with the new narrative for the game and so, it didn't make the cut). Noctis would dream about her and take this hallucinations as reality. She appeared to guide Noctis and lead her to fulfill his duty. She was a special ghost since she died before she could fulfill her mission in life, so the angel helped her come back from the other dimension. The revelation that she had been a ghost for the entire game happened before the gate to the other dimension was opened. This character wasn't in the game when I started my work on it.
It would make sense to cut Stella if her purpose in the story revolved around The Gate of the Dead and Etro, both of which were presumably cut to axe any connections to the FNC mythos. If Stella's character was so intrinsically tied to being a spirit, it wouldn't make sense for her to be in the new, Gate-less world that XV had. It's worth noting that in one of the original trailers for Versus XIII, Stella and Noct discuss near death experiences and The Gate of the Dead near a portrait of Etro. They also, incidentally, discuss what happens when the gate opens: "Those who witness it gain great power." That particular tidbit adds an extra bit of credence to the leaker's previous statement about Ardyn originally wanting to open the gate at the end of the game.

This sounds a bit more compelling than Luna and her role in the story. I imagine it would have played out like The Sixth Sense, where the twist is delivered at the end as a shocking revelation. Luna's character didn't have any twists like that...

The devs have made it clear multiple times that Luna is not a replacement for Stella, but a brand new character. These leaks sure seem to support that idea.
Original Intro:

The first part of the game was originally (this was still in summer last year) going to feature a children Noctis and Cor walking outside the castle to find Regis getting out of the Regalia. Regis would hold Noctis as Bahamut asked him if he was ready for what was to come. This was a very short introduction, but it didn't make the cut since the team thought it didn't make sense. A portion of the last part of the game was made into the beginning very early this year.
This sounds very plausible, considering we hear Bahamut in the Omen trailer and see the Regis and Kid Noctis scene in the Dawn trailer.

Dogs:

Umbra was a party member in the original Versus game, but he no longer was when I joined the team. I don't recall anything about the dogs being human ever again, but there were concepts for dogs of different fur that transformed into different people, one of the dogs was white (like Pryna) and it turned into a woman.
This one gets me the most, because we were robbed of a dog ninja man! Instead we just got a dog! What gives? Anyway, combined with Ferrarri's comments about Umbra, this is possibly the juiciest tidbit the leaker gave, as it has a clear trace back to a confirmed member of the development team.

This was actually the second series of leaks. There was another a week or so ago, which you can read here. (The information for the second batch of reddit leaks can also be found later in this same thread). Much of it seems to be stuff that anyone could presume by playing the game. For example, Tenebrae was meant to be explorable, The World of Ruin was meant to be more expansive, and the segment where you meet Shiva's corpse was meant to have its own area aside from the train tracks. Basically, if a segment seemed rushed, the leaker addresses it as rushed here. The most interesting tidbits from this earlier leak are as follows:

What Izunia? If you mean the Izunia from a thousand years ago, that is Noctis' ancestor.

Oh-ho, this would confirm the Izunia is Noct's ancestor theory. Not that there was much doubt there, but seeing it stated outright is nice.

The team had to keep a lot of things from the past projects because the former director shared details about them. I assume Ravus was one of those things that had to be kept because details about him were previously announced. 
This is intriguing. If true, this means that Ravus was kept in the game only because he was shown in the earlier trailers. Assuming Stella was cut for her role being irreconcilable with the new game's plot, Ravus was likely only in the conceptual stage during his initial reveal, so he was probably much easier to rework into being Luna's brother instead. This might also explain why he feels so out of place in the game's story.
However, I have to say that the story had to be partly rewritten last year (after the movie had entered full production) so that's why that character might have inconsistencies between the game and film.
This would explain the difference between film Ravus and game Ravus. Film Ravus seemed driven by power and revenge, where game Ravus seemed a lot less intense.

The game didn't focus on summons that much (they still existed) and instead there were actual gods which didn't appear physically. One of the gods was the main antagonist of the first FF game. Each nation was inspired by a different capital of the world. The empire was using ghosts as weapons. Ravus wanted to kill Noctis for having killed her sister. The game ended in another dimension which was supposed to be their version of the after-life.
This pretty much falls in line with the more detailed description of the ending above. The takeaways here are that the summons ended up filling the role that was originally intended for the FNC gods, and that the Ifrit we see was originally meant to be Chaos, the villain of the first Final Fantasy game. Based on this art from Amano, it seems easy to draw such a conclusion.

Color him red, add some fire, and... hmm...
Yeah, that sure does look a lot like the Ifrit that we got.

In the end, regardless of whether any of this is true or not, I think Tabata did a very decent patchwork job. If this is indeed true, some of the end results ended up being more interesting than the Versus XIII concepts, such as Ifrit's atypical role as a major villain. Now if only they put that little tidbit in the game, instead of leaving it to the guide!

Speaking of the guide, it does reveal at least two things for certain. The Versus XIII trailers had a long haired man accompanying King Regis that does not appear in Final Fantasy XV.


The guide lists this character as "Crailas Amicitia," confirming that this was an earlier design for Iris and Gladio's father, Clarus.


An older design for Ravus was used in the guide, as well. I suppose this was Stella's brother, rather than the brother of Luna we came to know in the finished game.

I'll reiterate that there is no way to say with absolute certainty that all, or even some, of this is true. However, the puzzle pieces do at least seem to fit together, and it's interesting to think about what might have changed from the game's beginning as a totally different title, with a totally different director, under a totally different name. Despite the changes, I don't think the finished XV we ended up with is as conceptually different from Versus XIII as some might be led to believe, and many of the areas and characters that ended up being cut from XV would have likely suffered a similar fate had the project remained under its old identity as Versus XIII.

Friday, December 23, 2016

VA-11 Hall-A: A Great Example of Alternative Storytelling


This game has blown me away. What was presented to me by my friends as a bartending game about near-future anime characters has actually managed to tell a gripping narrative, with poignant social commentary sprinkled throughout.

VA-11 Hall-A is, at its core, a game that wants to tell you a story about a bleak future. The intro cutscene is right out of an 80's cyberpunk game. The music consists of your typical retro tunes that you'd associate with a sprite-based indie game. Before you actually start playing the game, if you were going in completely blind, you'd likely think it was going to be a side scrolling shooter or an indie RPG. But right after introducing you to its bleak, dystopian future, it brings you down to earth and places you as a regular bartender.


That's where this game shines. Everything in this game is painted to seem "normal." You're a normal citizen with a normal job, you have co-workers you like and co-workers you deal with, and you have an apartment and a phone that you can use to browse blogs or this universe's version of reddit. The story is told almost entirely through conversations that you have with your customers, which range from the lead editor of a newspaper to pop stars to the girl complaining about dumping her latest boyfriend of two weeks. Oh, and some of them are robots.


It's because the story is framed in such a down to earth way that the creeping darkness of this world is made even more sinister. Your clientele will frequently discuss things such as rumors surrounding mob bosses in the oppressive government, sex robots, riots in Hong Kong, you name it - it's all typical dystopian literature stuff. But it isn't thrown in your face as dystopian. Instead, you experience it as a person born into that kind of society would experience it, and mostly from a distance. You only hear about things that have happened or are happening.

The setting is very believable, mostly because of the way the customer's dialogue is written. Some of the customers you'll find yourself serving end up sounding like the kinds of people you'd meet in a bar in real life. My personal favorite is Donovan Dawson - your first client, who ends up returning often - who complains about his life as an editor. He often makes comments about how he doesn't respect his interns, how this is "the PR era" and everything has to be dressed up to look good, how he's full of cynicism towards celebrity culture because of the nature of tabloids and people wanting to see them fall, how he feels that people are so easily offended these days that people lose their jobs over interpreted sleights, and so on. It all feels very "real" despite being a cyberpunk world with robots and cyborgs.


One of your clients is even a professional assassin, and he doesn't feel much different from the rest, because you don't see the assassin - you see the man off the job. Despite the feeling of distance from the actual dystopian aspect of this world, the story goes to some very dark, and even disturbing, places. It's made even more so by the fact that the characters in the game treat these dark aspects of their world as if they were normal.

Learning about the world through the eyes of your clients is incredibly appealing, especially since sometimes you have to consider the old "unreliable narrator" trope; some of the people you'll end up serving have an obvious agenda or bias towards certain things. Jill, the bartender you play as, has a distinct personality, but doesn't seem to care enough about the world to form her own opinion of it. That's up to you, the player, to piece together, based on the stories you hear from her clients. A huge part of the appeal is in the colorful cast. Each client has a very distinct personality.

The game isn't without its problems. I find the dialogue to be overly hammy or cheesy at times, and some of the characters can come off as a bit grating. For the most part, however, I feel like this game is worth checking out for its uniqueness alone. Don't let the "anime" feel turn you off if that isn't your thing - this is a true cyberpunk game at its core. At the same time, don't expect the game to totally subvert its anime aesthetic. Your boss is a former pro wrestler with a cybernetic arm, for example, and some of the humor ends up being like this:


Overall, though, I think it's worth a shot, even if you don't typically like anime stuff. The more grounded social commentary is where the game really shines, and where it focuses at least 80% of its attention. As of the time this post was written, it's on sale on Steam! Besides, where else are you going to get to play as a cyberpunk bartender?

If you're still not convinced, there is a demo for the game here. The demo features additional story content not included in the full game, so it might be worth playing through even if you do decide to buy it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In Defense of the Zelda Timeline

The Legend of Zelda is a series that has sparked controversy surrounding its story for ages. There are as many people who say it doesn't matter as there are who picked up the Hyrule Historia on day one just to see Nintendo's official statement on the series timeline. The importance of story - and particularly the multiple timelines the story takes place in - has been a divisive subject of discussion among Zelda fans for quite some time.

First, let's look at the elephant in the room: the timeline included in Hyrule Historia. For years before this databook was released, fans had been speculating as to what Zelda game took place where. In an old interview with former series director Shigeru Miyamoto, and present series director Eiji Aonuma, it was clarified that Wind Waker took place in the "adult timeline."

Seeing as how he no longer existed in this timeline, he could not.

From the Summer 2002 Gamepro interview:

Q: Where does The Wind Waker fit into the overall Zelda series timeline?
Aonuma: You can think of this game as taking place over a hundred years after Ocarina of Time. You can tell this from the opening story, and there are references to things from Ocarina located throughout the game as well.
Miyamoto: Well, wait, which point does the hundred years start from?
Aonuma: From the end.
Miyamoto: No, I mean, as a child or as a...
Aonuma: Oh, right, let me elaborate on that. Ocarina of Time basically has two endings of sorts; one has Link as a child and the other has him as an adult. This game, The Wind Waker, takes place a hundred years after the adult Link defeats Ganon at the end of Ocarina.
Miyamoto: This is pretty confusing for us, too. (laughs) So be careful.

This was the first time the series had been explicitly stated to have at least two timelines, both of which were created at the end of Ocarina of Time. It's not a stretch to accept that the ending of OoT created two timelines, as the adult Link was sent back to his own age and left Hyrule without The Hero of Time or his descendants to save it. This would make one timeline where the events of OoT had taken place and Link had defeated Ganon, and another where Ganon was stopped by Link and Zelda as children. This had been speculated since the earliest days of Zelda story discussion.

Later, in 2007, an interview with Aonuma that was published on nindori.com concerning Twilight Princess' placement on the timeline added fuel to the fire:

–When does Twilight Princess take place?
Aonuma: In the world of Ocarina of Time, a hundred and something years later.
–And the Wind Waker?
Aonuma: The Wind Waker is parallel. In Ocarina of Time, Link flew seven years in time, he beat Ganon and went back to being a kid, remember? Twilight Princess takes place in the world of Ocarina of Time, a hundred and something years after the peace returned to kid Link’s time. In the last scene of Ocarina of Time, kids Link and Zelda have a little talk, and as a consequence of that talk, their relationship with Ganon takes a whole new direction. In the middle of this game [Twilight Princess], there's a scene showing Ganon's execution. It was decided that Ganon be executed because he'd do something outrageous if they left him be. That scene takes place several years after Ocarina of Time. Ganon was sent to another world and now he wants to obtain the power...
After Adult Link is sent back to his child body, Ganondorf is stopped before he can carry out his plans.
By this point, it was clear as day that the franchise had multiple timelines, and that the games had been designed around this concept.

It was not until the 2011 release of the Hyrule Historia databook that each game in the series was given a specific place on the timeline. However, there was one major, controversial caveat added that nobody saw coming: a third timeline split from the end of Ocarina of Time, where Link fails to defeat Ganondorf. Ganondorf then takes over the Sacred Realm, and leads to the events of The Imprisoning War mentioned in A Link to the Past. This bold move on Nintendo's part was an attempt to reconcile the earlier Zelda games with the post-Ocarina games of the more modern era. As the "Link fails" event was never seen or hinted at before outside of a typical game over screen, the hypothetical nature of this timeline split upset quite a few people.

The timeline from Hyrule Historia.
There is currently a discussion on the NeoGAF forums about the supposed ridiculousness of the timeline. Several paraphrased quotes from disillusioned players amount to "the timeline is ridiculous," "it should be ignored," "it's only the hardcore nerds who wanted this, and the story has never mattered," and, most prevalent of all, "the timeline was only retroactively made after fan request, and should not be taken seriously." There is more in the thread, and some of the hate for the timeline is quite vocal. This is nothing new: people have been voicing their problems with the timeline since long before Nintendo released an official version.

However, I believe that the timeline has a solid place in the series and its lore, and is not quite as contrived as people often make it out to be.

Continuity and story has never been the number one priority in a Zelda game. This is something we can all agree on. Zelda is, first and foremost, an adventure/exploration game, one that garners most of its appeal through solving creative puzzles and fighting monsters in dungeons. But this isn't the entire picture: Hyrule and its offshoots are fascinating settings even if the story isn't the main appeal. Majora's Mask had the least amount of story in a 3D Zelda game, and still managed to be appealing based on its atmosphere alone. Zelda Universe has an enlightening article on why the game's location of Termina is a great setting that thrives on organic storytelling, along with a quote from Miyamoto himself on what he wanted the player to experience while playing the game:

Shigeru Miyamoto once stated in a Nintendo Power interview that the Zelda team’s primary goal for Majora’s Mask was to “present something which is very mysterious”. The game invites the player to act as a detective, to investigate the secrets and troubles of the people of Termina, and of Termina itself, and to heal them in the end. Though the central story of a troubled imp using a cursed mask to try to cause the moon to crash into Termina may seem fairly straightforward, many subtle details in the game add layers of darkness and complexity to this tale.

Lore goes beyond simple storytelling, and Zelda games do a pretty good job at creating a universe with a fairly entertaining history. Many times the appeal of this universe isn't from the sparsely told story segments scattered throughout the games, but rather in the natural immersion felt by exploring its world and the various towns and ruins within it.

It's true that it seems like, at one point, most games were relatively self contained, but one must remember that the design ethos has been constantly changing since the series first came into being. Zelda II is a straight sequel to Zelda I, and Link to the Past is a straight prequel to Zelda I. Link's Awakening is the same Link as the Link to the Past Link. The games share explicit connections with each other, such as Kakariko Village in Link to the Past being located in the same spot as the mass graveyard in the original Legend of Zelda, and the lush version of The Lost Woods in A Link to the Past sharing a general location with the burnt up old trees in The Legend of Zelda. Ocarina of Time was originally intended as the origin story of The Imprisoning War mentioned in Link to the Past.

It's the little details like this that add an enjoyable flavor to the experience, and prove that the series has held continuity as something to be worth implementing from the series' earliest days, even if some compromises have had to be made to keep this continuity.

It wasn't until after Ocarina that its sequels seemed to abandon their sense of a concrete continuity and go for a more self contained approach, even if they did use Ocarina's history as a backdrop. Eventually, the fans spoke out, Nintendo released a timeline, and Skyward Sword seems to again have a definitive place in series lore, often going out of its way to set up future events.

I would say the only truly self contained entries are the Oracle games, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, and The Minish Cap. Even then, Minish Cap uses its premise to tell an origin story for Four Swords, of all things.

Gaffer Spyder_Monkey makes the claim that:

Sure, some Zelda games might have fascinating settings and plots, but it's all a wrapper for the exploration and dungeons which have been the core of the series since game one. Stories are basically an excuse to introduce the concepts of the series.

Spyder_Monkey isn't wrong. However, I don't believe he's viewing the entire picture. This truth doesn't devalue the story at all. It's not priority number one, but it's still important to an extent.

I think of it like this: the story of a Zelda game is like the color of a drawing or a painting. You can still tell what this is:


And, ultimately, it's the design itself that matters the most. What does Link look like? What shape are his eyes? What kind of clothes is he wearing?

Then the story is like adding the color to the design.


It's "just a wrapping" around the basic outline to make it prettier, but it still matters. It's not even technically needed, but it sure is nice to have, and adds a sense of completeness to the experience.

In the original backstory for LttP, Ganon is imprisoned in the Sacred Realm in his pig form after a long battle with the Knights of Hyrule.
The Zelda Timeline is a nice treat for fans of the series' lore, and the "Hero Falls" timeline is a creative way to reconcile the developer's original idea of using Ocarina as an origin for The Imprisoning War. A Link to the Past mentions that Ganon obtained the entire Triforce and took over The Sacred Realm, which is indeed what he was trying to do in Ocarina of Time; had Link failed, it is not too far-fetched to assume that the events that followed would lead directly into the history depicted in A Link to the Past.

It's an unconventional way of allowing the earlier games to find a place in series canon, but it manages to patch up a few holes in the overarching lore, while also reconciling the series' early ideas for its story with the different direction it's taken since.

In short: The Zelda Timeline is a nice piece of work that helps to officially clarify things for fans of series lore.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Return of Rebecca Chambers

The official website of the upcoming Resident Evil movie has shown off a closer look at the characters set to star in the CG film taking place after the events of Resident Evil 6. The cast includes long-time fan-favorites Chris Redfield and Leon Scott Kennedy, as well as a returning cast member from the earliest titles in the series' chronology, Rebecca Chambers.


Yep, that's Leon. Looks like he shaved the stubble he had going for Resident Evil 6. Still has the same hair he had when he was 21. He also seems to be keeping up the tradition of getting a new leather jacket with each appearance.


Rebecca returns for the first time since Resident Evil 0! Or, well, since REmake, chronologically. She looks great. I'm actually surprised it took this long for her to show up again.


Who the... is that... Chris Redfield...?

Looks like all the hard drinking he did in RE6 took its toll. Why can't Capcom decide what they want this guy to look like? Every three or four years he morphs into a completely different person.


I'm convinced that "Chris Redfield" might actually be its own organization of people operating under a single name. Anyway, moving on...


And here we have totally-not-Albert Wesker, who may or may not be involved with creating B.O.W.s of some sort or another.

I have a mixed reception of the CG films. The "feel" of the Resident Evil series works best within the framework of a game, and is given an opportunity to shine through player agency. The earlier titles use a claustrophobic feeling of horror and relative helplessness to sell the atmosphere, whereas the more action oriented titles use a sense of immediate danger and reliance on reflexes to create a similarly thrilling tone.

The CG movies don't have any of this going for them - there are no enemy encounters, puzzles, or even interactive cutscenes to break up the campy horror story that this universe is known to tell. As such, they suffer a bit as a result. A large part of why this is, I think, is that the series is at its best when it tells its story through the files scattered across each game. There are no files in these films - only words and actions. That said, I don't find the movies particularly terrible; they're just not particularly great, either.

It is cool that they are canon to the game's stories, however. Tricell showed up in Degeneration before it showed up in Resident Evil 5, so it's entirely possible that this game may end up linking to the upcoming Resident Evil 7 in some way. We'll see.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Tragedy of Ardyn Izunia


In the weeks since Final Fantasy XV's launch, I've seen a lot of discussion over the game's plot. While many of its characters were shafted, and its story was haphazardly told, one aspect that many people seem to agree on is that the main cast was very enjoyable, believable, and well written. The main cast, in this case, would consist of five people - the "bros" that you play as, and the main villain, Ardyn Izunia.

Ardyn, like Luna, has the added bonus of a fairly large role in the game's prequel movie, Kingsglaive. Going in, you already know who he is and have a general picture of what his personality is like, letting the game hit the ground running with this particular character. Unlike Luna, however, Ardyn gets a fair amount of screen time and character development in the game proper. Ardyn is around for a startlingly large percentage of the story, starting all the way towards the beginning of the game. His character arc happens concurrently with the bros, and while his status as "creepy bad guy" is established early on, I don't think anyone could guess just what trajectory this guy was going to take.

SPOILERS START HERE.


I have to admit, I had pretty much no expectations regarding Ardyn as I went into the game, even after watching the movie. I thought he had cool hair and a good voice actor, but that was about the extent of my opinion. And, to be honest, he didn't do much for me in the early chapters of the game, either. I found it oddly menacing how close he was willing to get to the main party, going so far as offering for them to keep the paparazzi pictures that Prompto took of him or helping the party infiltrate imperial bases, but I wasn't sold on him as a stand-out character or anything. I wouldn't say I expected him to snowball into the game's main antagonist, although, in retrospect, it is fairly easy to come to that conclusion, especially considering the lack of screen time the supposed main villain is a victim of. (I'm referring to the emperor, of course - I don't blame you if you forgot.)

But it is in retrospect that this character shines. As we progress throughout the story, we learn that there is much more to Ardyn than meets the eye. He slowly reveals himself to be someone that we didn't expect him to be. At first, it's with his lack of allegiance to the empire. He makes it clear that he has ulterior motives, and that his role as chancellor isn't as important as seeing these motives fulfilled. The next hint is a bit more in-your-face; this guy has magical powers. Both the movie and the game regularly go out of their way to establish that only King Regis, Noctis, and those associated with them are able to use magic. And when Ardyn lets it slip that he can use it, too, he doesn't hold back. He lets loose with stopping time and creating illusions to mess with Noct.

Ardyn's demonic form.
Ardyn spends the entirety of Chapter 13 letting Noctis know that he's out for him in particular, using his newly revealed sorcery to constantly berate, taunt, and instigate the poor prince. He plays with his mind by continuing to offer aid on occasion, such as by transporting his friends to the citadel to save him at the last minute. Even during these supposedly helpful moments, however, he makes one thing very, very clear: he is no friend of Noctis. He wants to see him suffer. He wants him to question his purpose and capabilities. That's why he separated him from his friends in the first place; it was to show him that he's useless on his own, something he outright states to him many times during this chapter. Ardyn is very reminiscent of Batman's The Joker, or Final Fantasy's own Kefka. He plays games with his enemies and has a devil may care attitude about his heinous actions. The difference between Ardyn and other similar, clownish villains is that Ardyn has a very lucid ethos behind his apparently whimsically evil actions.


Ardyn's backstory is revealed to us in a single cutscene, but it's enough to leave an impact. We learn that Ardyn was originally named Ardyn Lucis Caelum, and that he was a hero and a savior to the people of Eos. He absorbed the darkness and daemons threatening the world at the time, ending the calamity of his era. However, the gods - that is, the summons that we see throughout the game - had a major problem with this. Considering him corrupted by the darkness, he is denied ascension to the afterlife and robbed of his Lucis Caelum name. A jealous man usurps Ardyn's Lucis Caelum name, and, to add insult to injury, goes out of his way to demonize and ostracize Ardyn from society. Ardyn is betrayed by the people he saved and the gods he served, and is cursed to live with his new and miserable existence for an eternity. He is, reasonably so, a little bit angry at this.

Ardyn surrounded by darkness.
That's what the game tells us directly, but it seems like pieces are missing from the puzzle. Who was Izunia, the man whose name Ardyn stole? Was Ardyn a former king of Lucis? Why does Ardyn hate Noctis in particular - why wait for him instead of killing Regis or any of the other former kings? Why go to so much effort to help Noctis gain the power of the crystal?

All of this, I think, can be answered relatively easily by connecting the dots with the info presented to us in the game. Ardyn was indeed a king, as he wields the same royal arms that Noctis does. The group remarks upon storming Insomnia at the end of the game that Ardyn's name should appear in history, and that he should be among the kings presented in the mural in the Insomnian castle. Izunia's role is never stated outright, but judging by Ardyn's hatred of Noctis, Izunia was presumably a man who usurped Ardyn's role as king, as well as the Lucis Caelum name, which seems to double as a title given to the god's chosen as well as a royal surname. Whether Izunia was related to Ardyn or not is up in the air - I prefer the story of a completely foreign man usurping the throne, but there's nothing saying that Izunia wasn't a brother, cousin, or similarly related person. Either way, one thing is clear. Izunia stole everything from Ardyn, and it's from Izunia that Noctis' line originates. In Ardyn's eyes, this new line of kings would be usurpers to the throne, and the ultimate embodiment of everything that was stolen from him. Fun fact; Izunia means "weasel."

So then, why wait for Noctis? Simple: the game references a prophecy multiple times. Noctis is "the one true king" of this prophecy, the one destined to gain the power of the crystal and end "The Accursed." Bahamut tells us outright that The Accursed is, in fact, Ardyn. Based on this information, we can assume that the prophecy was laid in place by the gods after Izunia took the Lucis Caelum name. Ardyn knew of this prophecy, and he knew the gods considered him The Accursed. As he states to Noctis in the imperial capital: "Killing you as you are now would bring me scant satisfaction." He wants the gods to empower their one true king. And he wants to kill this king. It's not just the Lucis Caelum line he wants revenge against. It's also a personal vendetta against the gods, their prophecy, and the label they gave to him. Otherwise, killing any old Lucian king would have done. But no - Ardyn wants to kill the Lucian king, the one the gods specifically set aside to get rid of him for good.


But Ardyn's goal is twofold. We must remember that Ardyn was also denied a proper death. If Noctis kills him, he is released from his centuries of suffering. And then, even if Ardyn fails at killing Noctis, he's almost guaranteed to get his revenge regardless, as Noctis, according to prophecy, has to give up his own life to destroy him. As we have it, Ardyn does indeed succeed at his goal. He teams up with Ifrit, the source of The Starscourge, and sends the world to ruin while Noctis is asleep. He turns on the world that turned on him, takes back his throne, and waits for Noctis to come to him. When the two finally meet, Noctis defeats him, but not without giving up his own life. The god's prophecy comes to pass, but Ardyn nonetheless succeeds in what he set out to do. He manages to cause an immense amount of grief and suffering for Noctis and those close to him, lashes back at humanity by teaming up with the god that wants to destroy them, and releases himself from eternal torment by suffering defeat at Noctis' hands. In the end, Ardyn won on almost every level.

Despite Ardyn's detestable actions, it's hard not to empathize with his backstory. He had everything stolen from him, was betrayed by gods and men, and even denied life after death. This is part of what makes Ardyn so appealing to so many, I think - there's a human reason behind all of the terrible things he does. In retrospect, his Joker-like, devil may care persona can be seen as a result of his resignation towards his immortality, and is equally as tragic as it is sinister. In Kingsglaive, he mentions that it's a shame that the empire had to destroy Insomnia to get to the crystal. When I first watched the movie, I took this as part of his sarcastic persona. Upon reflection, it may have also been a bit of genuine lament at seeing his former kingdom destroyed. Ardyn is a man who seems conflicted, and who still retains traces of his humanity beneath his callous exterior. This is what sets him apart from others of his archetype, and why he is one of the few things Final Fantasy XV did relatively well from a storytelling standpoint.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Resident Evil 7: A Bold New Frontier


It's right around the corner, now. Capcom seems to have taken criticism of Resident Evil 6 to heart and gone back to a focus on horror and exploration. The caveat, however, is that they've essentially rebooted the series' gameplay and presentation. The tonal shift back to horror was expected - they'd been hinting at it for some time - but I don't think anyone expected the first person perspective, more down to earth character designs, or general disconnect from previous entry staples (characters, institutions, enemies). The game no doubt takes influence from the massively well received P.T. teaser for Silent Hills, perhaps capitalizing on the outrage felt from its cancellation. It also, from what I've gathered, uses VR as a selling point.

I see a lot of hype for this game. People are excited. It's "the next best thing" after Silent Hills was cancelled.

I'm not really excited.

For me, Resident Evil was about the B-movie camp, the recurring characters, and the third person gameplay. Revelations 2 is everything I ever wanted from the series. I never cared much about the shift from horror-survival to horror-action, but that title seemed to reach a nice balance between the two. When I heard RE7 was going even further back to survival roots, I thought "hey, cool - it'll be like the first few games again." What we're getting isn't Resident Evil - it's a re-imagining of the series most basic concepts into something entirely different. It's as if they took Resident Evil's - the first game, not the series - design philosophy, boiled it down to its most basic concepts of horror, survival, and exploration, and rebuilt it from the ground up. A lot of people dig that, and that's cool. I feel a bit let down by what we've seen.

Having said that, I'm not angry at all that Capcom has decided to do what they've done. P.T. obviously had its fans, the RE7 demo has its fans, and they did need to take a new direction after the critical reception of RE6. I'm not going to be out there saying Capcom shot themselves in the foot or boycotting their game because it's not what I wanted. I still plan to give it a shot. I am, however, a little disappointed. I'm looking forward to the RE2 remake much more than I am RE7.

The presence of iconic, stylized characters that the franchise is known for is sorely missing from Capcom's latest entry.
I took this subject to the NeoGAF forums. What are other people's opinions on the game, now that we are approximately one month out from release?

Spinky: I have no idea what to think.

It feels like Resident Evil, but at the same time it totally doesn't. The Bakers don't scare me, or Jack doesn't at least. The atmosphere (or lack of) doesn't do much for me, either.

I also have a hard time looking past the first-person perspective because I've never really been a big fan of it.

The full game has the potential to be quite a bit better, and I'll buy it day one, but right now I just don't know.

DarkChronic: Great. I haven't played any of the demos, because I want to go in dark, but I'm getting the vibe it will be a "poor man's" P.T. I don't mean that as a bad thing, necessarily. I'm really excited for this and hope it turns out terrific.

shorty_symd: I think it's a good move that they went into a different direction after Resident Evil 6's disappointment. It happened before when Resident Evil 4 came out and - I believe - the reason we got the version of Resident Evil 4 that we all know was because the Resident Evil REmake on Gamecube didn't do financially well which resulted in the change of direction.

My main concern with Resident Evil 7 is whether they get the VR right becuase the demo I tried in E3 this year was very very unpolished. It was quite unfinished. Please tell me that you've worked hard on it, Capcom! Really wanna play it on VR.

Senoculum: Hyped beyond belief. It's gonna be so good. And the new direction is not only refreshing, but totally welcomed in my camp. And I brought it up before in another thread, but it seems like it's structured similarly to Capcom's Haunting Ground. You're stuck in a house/castle with an assortment of twisted members of some family. At every main stage you're being hunted by one of the members (and they were delightfully frightening).

I do wish there was a multiplayer component. Imagine a First Person Outbreak File 3? Damn.

Mupod: Zero interest, as someone who likes both old and new RE. Absolutely nothing they've shown so far looks like a game I want to play. Maybe RE6 wasn't the right direction, but neither is just pandering to modern horror game trends and making first person, run-from-everything youtuber bait. If this isn't how the game actually is, as people keep claiming, then it's their fault for misrepresenting it. And they're still doing so this close to release. So for now, I will wait and see.

Revelations 2 was closer to what I want in spirit, but wasn't there in practice. In particular, I was really happy that they took away enemy item drops, forcing you to explore the environment...and not only that, you had to consider leaving stuff behind for the other playable characters. Having seen the direction they took, I'd rather they have put more budget into that series than make whatever this is.

miladesn: I can't say I have a modicum of interest in this direction, but even if I did, it doesn't look like a particularly good or fun game. I can't see it selling very well either, looking quite niche at best. The game is coming in a month, and it sure doesn't feel that RE7 is coming. That's my impression. They needed to do something new, it's true. But I don't believe this is even close to what they had to do.

Zero-ELEC, on the franchise's penchant for constant change: Y'all wanna know the history of RE3 and 4?

Credit to ParallelTraveler, over at the RE Wiki.
Shit went through some phases.

The decision to go first person has resulted in many mixed impressions from fans of the series.
Overall, impressions seem to be very mixed, ranging from "Super excited" to "I'll give it a chance" to "I HATE IT!" Amidst the gambit of varying opinions, resident self proclaimed horror enthusiast Dusk Golem had perhaps the most insightful commentary on what to expect from the game.

Dusk Golem: I think a lot of people get so caught up in superficial things about the game that they can't see the bigger picture. At this point, I doubt they will until the full game is out.

Some get caught-up in the fact it's in first-person, some get caught up about the Bakers being stalkers, and others get caught up on little things like the demo's cryptic puzzle, or comparisons to other games on a superficial level, etc.

I've said this for months, and it's only solidified with time: I think this game will surprise a lot of people with what it actually is, so many people see a part of it and think the whole is like that part they're focused on. As a result, they miss the bigger picture of what RE7 actually has going for it. We won't know fully until we know, but I think too many people have too many pre-judgments at play here, either to the series itself, to first-person horror, to stalker gameplay (which, by the way, RE7 is not a hide'n'sneak game), or some other element.

I think RE7 will turn out to be something truly special, and very unlike many think it'll be. I think it'll feel more like RE than many think it will. I've said this for a while, but if you just think about how what's shown plays a bit more in-depth, I think it's pretty easy to see. It's very different than most other first-person horrors, those get grouped a lot as all the same but there is a lot more going on in that scene than many think (saying this as someone who plays a lot of newer and older horror games), and I think RE7 will stand as fairly unique among them.

I think it will review quite well, and people who play it may be very surprised, but part of me thinks the impact may be greater because of how people treat it before release. I hope it sells well since it's a big risk on Capcom's part, and I hope the risk turns out well for them.

I almost want to say the general public are very bad at judging horror games before they play them. There's so many examples I could pull out of games people have all these misconceptions for that end up being surprise hits. I think it's because too many people have loaded emotions about the genre they let color their take on things which means they only see aspects of the games through a narrow lens and sort of tune out everything else going on about it until they play it themselves.

The Bakers are a family of antagonists that take center stage in Resident Evil 7. Varying members of the family will supposedly take center stage in the game's multiple environments, with a different member repeatedly hunting you down in each area.

In the end, even after Dusk Golem's enthusiastic defense of the game, I still can't help but feel like it doesn't seem like Resident Evil. I'm not really a horror fan - I've always liked the Resident Evil series by proxy, so the loss of comic book camp and recognizable characters is a huge negative for me. Time will tell if this is truly the case as reviews and user impressions begin to trickle out, but as of right now, I can sum up my feelings towards this game in one word: Disinterest. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Mountain of Woe


Vyv: "Take a picture of this mountain"


Ok


*Leaves mountain, looks at quest log*


Wait, there was a quest to explore it, shit!!

*Goes back, climbs allll the way back up, and then even further*


Wow, that was annoying

Let me do this ramen quest finally



Sunday, December 4, 2016

Final Fantasy XV: In Honor of the Unseen


Final Fantasy XV is a beautiful mess of a game. Its troubled development shows in the way its story is told, with characters disappearing abruptly and many important events seemingly happening 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 (Versus XIII) and merge it with a new project (XV). To top it off, Versus XIII was meant to be an "epic," or a series of games, and its condensed nature also shows in the sudden loss of an open world in the latter chapters. The story is rushed and, while not necessarily poorly told, is simply outright missing many elements.

Before I continue, let me say that, as a whole, I adored the story in the game. The ending and the villain in particular were fantastic, and the entire affair was far darker and more depressing than any narrative told in other Final Fantasy games. After beating it, I was having a conversation with my brother about how much I loved its concept, even if its execution was severely lacking in places. My brother - a metal head, bassist, and music afficionado - responded with "sounds like when I can appreciate what a band is going for, even if I don't like their music." Yeah. Yeah, actually, it is sort of like that.

SPOILERS START HERE.

To elaborate on what I think of the game's narrative, the idea of the empire killing gods and slowly destroying the entire world in the process, only to destroy themselves 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. Pun intended. Here is a deity, a protector of the world, and its massive, lifeless face stares vacantly back at you as you exit the train. The repercussions of its death are immediately apparent. The desert you're travelling 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 unexpectedly very 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' more aggressive voice acting during this chapter - it all comes together in a way that makes you feel for the characters and their loss.

Noct's entire story arc is about coming to terms with his destiny, and he not only fails to save Luna, but never manages to come to terms with it. 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 goes blind. The bad guy accomplishes what he set out to do, and the world falls to ruin for ten years. Noctis awakes after losing ten years of his life to a long sleep, only to sacrifice himself in the end.

Another chilling scene was when Noctis enters the Insomnian throne room, only for Ardyn to taunt him by dangling the dead corpses of those who sacrificed their lives for him from chains in order to taunt him. This is shockingly explicit for a Final Fantasy game.


The after 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 depressed, and that doesn't change until his death. The game avoids going into overly edgy territory by placing an emphasis on Noct's bonds with his friends and fiance. 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 a Final Fantasy game, 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 of 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 evil bad guy is tragic. He got screwed over in the past so badly that you can't really 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. I've decided to list the shafted characters in order of least shafted to most shafted, while attempting to give more insight as to why these characters were so important despite their criminally small amount of screen time.

Starting up, we have... RAVUS NOX FLEURET!


Luna's brother, Ravus is actually fairly omnipresent both in Kingsglaive and in the game proper. The only problem is that his motivations are never made clear (it made more sense when he was a straight up bad guy) and he, like the others, 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, and he gets multiple cutscenes with him as the focus. He's also the subject of a fair amount of radio banter and newspaper clippings found throughout the world. On top of that, he gets his own boss fight and posthumously hands off Regis' sword to Noct. 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 better than everyone else on this list.

Next up is... COR LEONIS!


He joins the party in the beginning of the game and then vanishes. Where did he go? What is he doing? You hear about "the marshal" throughout the rest of the game, but his absence is striking. He gets bonus points for joining the party at one point and maintaining a ghostly presence throughout the game via mentions from other characters. He apparently survived through the World of Ruin, as well.

And next on the list is... LOQI!

Forgive the gigantic text. He is a boss fight, in case the text did not alert you to that fact. This was the best image I could find of him, and I did not take any of my own.

A high ranking soldier of the empire, he's the first true boss in the game. You blow up his magitek armor, but he returns in a sidequest later on. He has multiple speaking lines, a bombastic introduction, and a second appearance - not bad for a game where some people only show up in one cutscene.

Next up is... DINO!

Fetch me fifty million gemstones. For reasons. Capische?

Just kidding. Even seeing the face of this wannabe Italian gangster guy makes me sigh in exasperation. 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 overexposure, 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 be mostly accurate with how often these guys show up.

Jared, on the other hand, is woefully mourned - repeatedly, more so than even King Regis or Gladio's dad - without earning the player's adoration, or even recognition. Jared is a subject of both overexposure and underexposure at the same time. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Jared represents the problems with the secondary characters in this game all on his own. He's Gladio and Iris' family butler, by the way.

R.I.P. Jared. We hardly knew ye. Literally.
The real next character is the emperor himself, IEDOLAS ALDERCAPT!


The main antagonist of Kingsglaive, the leader of the empire, and the supposed big bad of FFXV 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, and only reappears after his tragic transformation into Diablo. A very conceptually interesting character with an equally interesting fate who was relegated to the background, and quite unfairly so. Nevertheless, he shined in Kingsglaive, unlike...

PRYNA! Umbra's white counterpart died off screen. Poor doggo.


And last, and certainly least, is VERSTAEL!


"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 say. "The game didn't even HINT at any of that?" No. No, it did not. R.I.P. important non-important old guy whose name most people won't ever know.

The fact that he's Prompto's father is revealed in the official guide.
DING DING DING

WAIT, WHAT'S THIS? A BONUS CONTESTANT APPEARS! IIIIIIT'S.... IFRIT!


Guess what? This guy isn't 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 rest of the six. Where do you learn this? In the official guide, suckers!

That's my list. Some runners-up were Aranea, other empire guy that's not Loqi, and Ardyn himself (for his unimplemented backstory as a previous generation's savior). In the end, though, those three got sufficient screen time and did not feel incomplete. May the DLC breathe life into some of you.

As an aside, here's some Ardyn art from the official art book. It seems to be depicting his time as a hero, healer, and savior. The game glosses over this aspect of the story, but the art shows that the development team had a somewhat detailed idea of what kind of hero Ardyn was. Ardyn wasn't "shafted," really, but his story, like many other aspects of the game, deserved to told more clearly.

Ardyn Lucis Caelum, the god's original chosen, was a great healer and saved the world from darkness thousands of years ago.

The savior is demonized and made into a villain by Noctis' ancestor, Izunia. Izunia then took the name Lucis Caelum, and Ardyn in turn took the name Izunia, in the hopes that his now terrible acts would dirty the name. Ardyn was also denied ascension into the afterlife by the gods, now considered tainted for absorbing the darkness and daemons inside of himself in an attempt to save the world. The despair he must have felt at being cast out by both those he saved and those he served is captured very well in this image. The "former Jesus" allegory is fairly heavy handed here.

While it's never explicitly stated who Izunia was, the above is the most obvious conclusion to come to by connecting the dots. Otherwise, there's not as much reason for Ardyn to hate Noctis. Admittedly, however, this particular piece of the puzzle is a little more speculative on my part. Regardless of who Izunia was, Noct's ancestor was the one who demonized Ardyn and took his name.

I have the highest hopes for Prompto's DLC. The Verstael connection is begging to be explained. Maybe we'll get to see the empire fall?

I hope this post was as enlightening as it was entertaining. 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.