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 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.|
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.|
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.