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 surrounded by darkness.|
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.