Final Fantasy XV is character-driven story-telling at its finest

Final Fantasy XV

I have been playing Final Fantasy since the very first one on NES. Yes, I know that gives my age away, but I really don’t care. My mom laughs at me when I talk about Final Fantasy, with each numbered installment serving as a reminder of how much time has passed. I remember making the jump to PlayStation, when playing Final Fantasy required a memory card. Dean and I met while I was busy playing Final Fantasy XII, and we bought a PS3  when we realized that the new Final Fantasy would be coming and we might as well bite the bullet and get the new console. Each time, the game has pushed the limits for graphics, RPG elements and story-telling, but Final Fantasy XV took things to a whole new level.

I wrote a review of the game for my day job, and it’s filled with all the nitty gritty details that I suppose should go into a review. It also doesn’t have any spoilers because I hate to give anything away to people who haven’t played it. If you fall into that category of people, please feel free to go read that review instead and click away from this post now. If, however, you aren’t worried about spoilers, or you don’t intend to play the game at all, feel free to read on to understand all the reasons I’m so intrigued by this title and even got my first ever platinum trophy for it.

No really, I will be giving away major plot points, so I’m letting you scroll past this awesome picture before giving anything away.

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Okay, so Final Fantasy XV is essentially a road trip experience. You play as Noctis, a young prince, who is on the road with three of his good friends who are also his guards. The relationship isn’t really ever explained, but there’s the usual bunch you might expect if you ever watched any 80s TV show with group dynamics. There’s the tough one, the smart one and the funny one, and then Noctis. They are on a road trip before Noctis is meant to marry Luna when their car breaks down. They end up doing odd jobs (also known as hunts and side quests) in order to make enough money to repair their car and get to the next story point. When catastrophe inevitably occurs, the team end up traveling around to get stronger before venturing to key points in order to reclaim Noctis’ rightful place.

However, Final Fantasy XV is really more about the journey. Yes, the story is compelling, but it really only picks up steam in the last, more linear, chapters. For much of the game, you are wandering around an incredibly interesting open world with some fun friends, learning more about them and sharing all kinds of jokes and experiences. Stop to make camp and Ignis will cook for you while Prompto shows off all the pictures he took that day. Drive past an interesting landmark and Prompto might even, um, prompt you to pull the car over to take a group picture. It feels lighthearted and fun as we learn that Prompto is claustrophobic as we explore a dungeon, or that Ignis doesn’t really even need his glasses – he wears them because he is so pedantic about seeing everything perfectly.

And it’s these details that make the story so very compelling. When Noctis goes to see Luna, a major battle ensues wherein Luna is killed. It’s meant to be a dramatic moment, much like the times when major characters in other Final Fantasy games were killed. However, I honestly didn’t care. I mean, sure, it was a bit sad, but I hadn’t connected with her and besides, it seemed rather predictable. Less predictable was that Ignis was blinded while trying to defend Noctis. The player wakes up from being unconscious to find Ignis having sat next to his bed while he recovered, his face covered in scars as he is now blind.

I got a bit tearful at that point. Ignis, always so reserved, so composed, was now blind. It was a big deal, and the following mission had him tripping all over the place, struggling to keep up, and the other characters getting upset with Noctis for seeming not to care. It’s all so upsetting, so raw, so emotional – it feels so real.

At the end of the game, after disappearing for years, finally getting reunited with his friends and going on to fight some major boss battles, Noctis needs to prepare for the final confrontation. He asks Prompto for a picture from their travels, at which point the player can select a picture saved to Prompto’s album. I picked a great group picture of the four friends together – honestly, how could I choose anything else? When the battle is over, it’s clear that all of them have died, sacrificing themselves to return light to the land, and all that remains is that picture. In fact, the rest of the pictures from Prompto’s album are displayed as this brilliant rendition of a classic song plays and the credits roll:

I cried. In the 50 hours that I played, I connected to the main characters, I cared deeply about them and their story, but mainly it was their friendship, the journey that they had been on together that struck a chord with me. It was a powerful enough experience that I didn’t care anymore about how irritated I was earlier on that they never wore seat belts in their fancy car, or that the mechanic was a strange hyper-sexualized character for no reason. The frustrations I had with some design choices in Final Fantasy XV were completely forgotten when it came to that compelling culmination of the story. Nothing else mattered – it was a story about friendship, about sacrifice, and about the things we do for the people we love.

I know sometimes people question the idea that I want to share gaming with Harley. I mean, sure there are some benefits with mapping, decision making or whatever else, but I know there are those who wonder how much value gaming can really add. Why play games when there are amazing books to read, places to visit, or other media to consume? But gaming is unique in that it can tell a story that is interactive and meaningful in a way that other, passive media can not. It can make us feel what it must be like to have a friend be injured or killed because of our decision, but also the love and meaning that can be drawn from a relationship that is strong enough. We learn that friendships are built over time, in various ways, that romance can come from unlikely sources, that saving the world is a worthy pursuit and that if we encounter enemies it probably means we are going in the right direction. Gaming is flawed, like anything in this world, but its potential to tell deep and meaningful stories is what keeps me coming back.

That, and it’s incredibly entertaining, too.

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  • TriangularRoom

    [Many spoilers to follow] Lovely post! I too hated the lack of seatbelts and how Cindy was so over the top and didn’t fit in with the rest of the world. I honestly sobbed for ages after Luna’s death – you definitely connect with her a lot more in Kingsglaive and Brotherhood – though I think a lot of my sadness was for Noct and the fact that he never even got to speak to her. It didn’t actually occur to me that the rest of the boy band died in that final battle (I even Googled to see if I’d missed that and it seems like that is the prevailing assumption) – I think I was overwhelmed by everything else going on, and pondering Ardyn’s lies (esp. re Prompto!), and things like, who were the bodies in the throne room and such – so now I’m extra sad!