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THERE WILL BE OPEN SPOILERS THROUGHOUT THIS THREAD. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. DO NOT READ ANY OF THIS THREAD BEYOND THE IMAGE OF REGIS' GREEN TONGUE IF YOU HAVE NOT COMPLETED THE GAME OR IF YOU CARE ABOUT SPOILERS.
(I use this image because the version of the game that we get is a bit like the green soup on King Regis’ tongue: a small taste of something much larger, and on its own it might not taste very nice. It is also fitting because it is one of many scenes from a trailer which never made it into the finished game).
FFXV: The greatest FF story never told.
I like this game. Honestly, I do. I’ve enjoyed myself a lot playing through it. But there is no denying that as I played through the game disappointment was invading my thoughts and following me everywhere (a bit like dog tag Dave). Something (or more than one thing) was seriously wrong with the game. It’s easy to work out what.
People are criticising the story, but it isn’t that the story itself is bad. Far from it, in my opinion. The problem which hinders FFXV is the execution and delivery of the story. Square Enix simply forgot to tell it.
FFXV’s story is a beautiful tragedy with one of the most satisfying conclusions I’ve ever seen in a Final Fantasy game (albeit not a perfect conclusion). But it plays like an Ancient Greek tragedy in that too much of the story and action happens off stage and is later revealed to the player through dialogue (be it cutscenes, random conversations with NPCs, or even listening to the radio). This works for Greek theatre, but FFXV is a game. Players expect a visual experience, and need to see some of these events occurring. Players also need a gameplay experience and need to play particular moments of the story. Instead, players were denied any sort of access to many of these scenes.
Assuming prior familiarity:
From the very beginning of the game too much of the story is left untold. Players are expected to have watched Brotherhood and Kingsglaive already. If they haven’t then they’ll miss out on some of the particulars of the relationships between Noctis and his friends, and they might not understand the significance of what happened in Insomnia when it fell. You also need to have seen the trailers and played through the Platinum Demo in order to enhance your enjoyment of the main game, because these show scenes developing the relationship between Noctis and King Regis, and of Lunafreya, and the dogs, and… A lot of things, really. I did watch everything before playing the game, and so I felt better equipped to understand the story. I felt that I knew Insomnia and its importance pretty well already, and thank the Six that I did since it wasn’t communicated as well in the game itself as it could have been.
Square Enix attempted to assuage this issue by including flashes of scenes from Kingsglaive at the critical moment early on in the game. But it doesn’t work effectively because what you really need to do in order to receive the emotional impact is see the movie. The brief glimpses into the scenes with no context cheapen the event. Similarly, they use flashes of scenes from the (very excellent and beautifully composed) Omen trailer. The flashes are used as a nightmare of Noctis, but they lose their impact and relevance because the flashes are so fast that player never gets to absorb them, and the music used gives the impression that scene is very hurried. It may have been better if they had actually lifted the footage directly from the trailer, complete with music (or some other fitting music), and put it as a complete nightmare. Instead, they use flashes of it and the whole scene appears rushed.
The stories of characters:
There are some minor characters who we were supposed to care about, but we never really got to know them.
Jared is a most striking example. When Jared was killed (off screen, of course) I couldn’t even clearly remember ever meeting the guy. Thankfully the game had anticipated that players would have forgotten him, and so they flashed an image of his face from the only time the player ever saw him as a helpful aide-memoire... This scene loses its emotional impact because Jared isn’t really established as a character. He says hello, you go away, and then later you find out that he has been murdered. Noctis possibly had more interaction with the postman.
Even the main characters cannot escape this problem. Noctis’ brotherhood are all interesting and well-developed characters, but they too suffer from the storytelling.
Gladio temporarily leaves the party and goes off to… Erm… What does he do? We never find out! He gains a new scar, but we never find out what he was doing. I don’t mind that we didn’t find out what he was doing immediately after his return (a little mystery doesn’t hurt anybody), but they never go back to it and we never find out.
Ignis is injured and goes blind during the events in Altissia with Leviathan. But, of course, Ignis was off screen helping to evacuate the population of Altissia at the time and so we never see exactly what injured Ignis. Noctis is on his own fighting Leviathan (with Luna’s aid) and when he awakes he finds that Ignis is blind. To give the game credit, although they don’t handle the turning blind well, they handle Ignis being blind and dealing with such a traumatic life-altering disability brilliantly. There are some excellent scenes which the player is allowed to see where Ignis is seen to be struggling, but eventually stoically coming to terms with his new condition and making the best of a terrible situation.
Prompto’s story suffers too. After Prompto is rescued in the Niflheim capital, we learn out of the blue that Prompto is an MT, and that he was ‘created’ or something. It’s not even clear what they were trying to tell us what he was. I thought that the MTs were Magiteks – robots or automatons. It turns out that there was more to them, and according the FF wikia Prompto was supposed to be the biological son of the scientist Verstael Besithia (this is the menacing old man who appears in one brief scene in FFXV, but is otherwise absent from the finished game). I don’t remember ever learning about the connection to Verstael during the game, unless I missed a note or an optional conversation somewhere – I’ll have to replay that segment. The player could have benefited from learning more about Prompto’s origins, so that it would appear less random. Instead I was left adapting that famous line from Alien in my head: “Prompto is a goddamn robot!” I don’t know if the creepy dark corridors and being chased by a hideous creature only moments earlier was deliberately intending our minds to go that way or not. Prompto can’t be a robot anyway since he is obese as a kid in Brotherhood…
Almost all of Luna and Ravus’ stories happen off screen too. You see snippets of their lives (mostly post-mortem). They’re actually good stories, in my opinion, but the player never really accesses them. I think that Lunafreya could have been a strong character like Yuna and Aerith (her story and role is similar), but since we never meet her as a character we never get to know her as a person. We see her public persona as the Oracle (delivering speeches, healing the sick, performing sacred rites), and then we get a few personal scenes with her brother Ravus, and as a child with Noctis. I think we really needed more scenes with her to fully appreciate her. Her peculiar pen-pal relationship with Noctis, and her eventual death could have made a compelling and tragic story (her death scene and Noctis’ emotional reaction to it were phenomenal scenes). If you do mental gymnastics to fit Luna’s story into context then it still is a great story but, again, it is one that we don’t see delivered in an effective way all the way through.
The linear half of the game:
Later on in the story even the gameplay itself suffers. You lose access to the open world (unless you utilise the most bizarre method of time travel since the TARDIS: your dog). You end up on a train. The train stops. You get out and fight some monsters next to an already deceased Shiva. You board the train again and you continue. Why could we not have explored that area? Similarly, why could we not access Tenebrae a while earlier, the home of Lunafreya? We could have learned so much more about Luna there that could have gone a long way towards convincing people that she’s a good character. Instead we get to explore the train station at night.
Most of the critical moments of the story seem to happen in this second half (or less) of the game. That should be good, right? The downside is that it is far too rushed. The open world section can easily absorb about 40 hours or more before you enter the (literally) on-the-rails section of the game. Once you reach Altissia you are left hurtling towards the end.
We are rushed through the World of Ruin far too quickly. Unlike FFVI (which it is clearly drawing inspiration from by calling it ‘World of Ruin’) we do not get to explore much of the post-apocalyptic world. Noctis just about manages to leave Galdin Quay before he is rudely interrupted by a vehicle driven by an adult Talbot. The drive to Hammerhead is quite effective (seeing the monsters tear each other apart, etc). Seeing Hammerhead itself set out as a fortress for fighting off daemons is also quite interesting. But this is all we get to see.
Why can’t we see Iris the Vampire Slayer? Why can’t we see Lestallum used as the last safe(ish) haven for mankind? We hear about them, but we aren’t allowed to see them. Again!
If Square Enix had expanded these moments and given us more areas to explore then that could have greatly increased the quality of the finished game.
A good plot twist:
Now… There is one moment which happens off screen that I think really, really works. I’ve thought about this and I actually am satisfied with the way that it plays out. I’m referring to the big plot twist that the capital of the Niflheim Empire, Gralea, is now literally a ghost town. Ardyn had been manipulating the empire into experimenting with Magitek and daemons, and the end result was a capital engulfed in darkness where all of its inhabitants have vanished or transformed into daemons. It’s effectively creepy walking through the streets and corridors and seeing clothes strewn everywhere on the floor, and then eventually connecting the dots and realising that nobody is here anymore for a reason…
The Empire that the players believed were the antagonists and were stalking the player turns out to have been wiped out already, secretly. Even the Emperor himself (or rather, his clothes) can be found in the throne room. Nobody has survived. It was very Bioshock in that you learn about what happened by reading notes and hearing recordings and working out the mystery for yourself. For once in this game this style of storytelling works well and adds to the haunting atmosphere of the scenes. Yes, the gameplay in this section was a little irritating at times, but I really appreciated the story of this part of the game.
I actually quite like that twist. It’s very dark for a Final Fantasy game. Yes, you would have expected to have to fight Emperor Iedolas Aldercapt and Verstael Besithia at some point in the game, but what we trade that for is quite phenomenal. Up until that point in the game I wasn’t sure about Ardyn. I didn’t understand his motivations. My eyes were opened by the scenes in Gralea and I truly began to appreciate him as a villain.
So… I believe that the story of FFXV is actually very good. It’s a tragic tale about a young Prince (soon King) who is a lazy, reluctant hero. The safety of the entire world rests on his shoulders, for he is the Chosen One of the prophecy who can restore light to Eos. Noctis is the unfortunate victim of prophecy, as is Luna. Countless other people give their lives so that the Chosen One can fulfill a task which is far beyond any single person in its importance, and in the end Noctis himself sacrifices his own life. He has to - it's not at all about Noctis as an individual, but is instead about the bloodline that he represents. In a heart-breaking moment the spirit of his own father, King Regis, has to deliver the final blow to Noctis in order to grant him the full power of the Lucii within the afterlife/spirit plane in order to banish Ardyn for good and rid the world of darkness. Regis pauses and is reluctant to do it, but he has to. Nobody has a choice. It is tragic.
The story is good, but the emotional payoff would have been better if they had told more of the story within the game itself. Somewhere in production they forgot to do that, and that is itself a real tragedy. As it stands Final Fantasy XV is a good and enjoyable game… But it could have been among the best Final Fantasy games of all time if the plot had been executed differently.
So what do you think? Were you satisfied with the plot of FFXV? If not, do you think that it is the execution which lets it down, or is there something wrong with the plot itself? If you are completely satisfied with the plot and its execution then you can let your opinions be heard too!