Last night, after just over a week of daily playing, I finished Final Fantasy XV. And I realise now why I stopped so near the end during my first run some five years ago. It was a defence mechanism, my body’s way of protecting itself from the emotions that are going to utterly ravage me from now until whenever we are blessed with Final Fantasy XVI — and likely beyond.
Don’t ask me to explain the overall story (although I could), as I don’t care about it. Strangely, the plot’s never mattered to me, a person who regularly gets lost in wiki lore pages of video games she’s never played for shits and giggles. No, all I’ve cared about in Final Fantasy XV has been the relationships between its main characters: Noctis, Ignis, Gladiolus, and Prompto. The ending of this game is a beautiful, well-executed culmination of that relationship in both gameplay and storytelling — such that, for me, it will now become the standard to which I will judge every Final Fantasy from here on out.
Erring on the side of caution, I planned to be finished with at least the base game by 11:59 p.m. Thursday night. If Xbox Game Pass did indeed lock away the game at midnight, I figured I’d simply purchase the remaining Episodes Ignis and Ardyn to complete the full single-player story. (Sorry Comrades multiplayer, I just haven’t the inclination.) I got started late, sometime around 9 p.m., leaving me just three hours to sprint from the middle of Chapter 13 to the end.
I was reckless and underleveled. Pushing to the end of Chapter 13 was simple enough, but the Chapter 14 boss rush and climactic, end-game fight was a struggle. I drained all my elixirs and hi-potions and lamented that the rest dormitories peppered throughout the final area do not allow Ignis to cook his stat-boosting meals. Had I the time, I would have called Umbra and gone back to the Good Times to clear some more hunts, beef up my gear, and collect the remaining Royal Arms. Then I could have returned with enough power to make short work of the final handful of fights.
But I was on the clock, so I changed the difficulty to easy.
A part of me bristles at the idea of playing a game on easy. The stigma attached to playing on “easy mode” is bullshit and gatekeep-y and anyone who makes fun of anyone else for doing so can go kick rocks barefoot. But I still couldn’t help but feel lesser for making the change, even though difficulty level shouldn’t matter at all in a game I’m largely playing for the character interactions. Easy mode didn’t seem to help me too much, it just meant that when I died, an unseen, mysterious benefactor would cast Ruby Light, reviving me to full health and saving me a phoenix down. Turns out, switching to easy mode was more of a way for me to preserve curatives than to have an easier time with the bosses.
The final confrontation of the game is a boss rush in which Nocits fights a King (or Queen) of Yore. Noctis’ powerful, magical forebears, who once granted him one of the Royal Arms, are now mind-controlled by the evil Ardyn. I got my shit wrecked by those fights, with one-hit KOs everywhere. Since I knew of no way to restock between each fight after the first, I was cleared out of all of my most-used potions. I started purposefully letting myself die and get revived to full health rather than expend one of my last phoenix downs, just in case the final fight with Ardyn ended up being one of those scripted events in which typical abilities, like Ruby Light, were disallowed.
For all my frustration in the Kings of Yore fights, I really liked how the game forces you to fight as another party member. If you played each of the three main episodes, suddenly taking over as a new character is no sweat because you’ll have the same abilities you did in each DLC. Prompto fires his guns, Gladio swings his big, dumb sword, and Ignis slices and dices with elementally powered spellblades.
One of my favourite things in video games is when a gameplay element reinforces the storytelling. After playing as one character for all of the game, switching to one of your friends in the 11th hour during tough-as-shit boss fights beautifully nails the point that Noctis, even with all his power, still needs his friends to give him that final push over the finish line. It’s a detail I absolutely adored.
Main game vanquished, I still had two DLC episodes to tackle.
Had I my way (and judging from the rumours I’m reading, if Square Enix had had its way too) the character episodes would have just been interleaved within the game itself instead of being accessed separately outside of it.
Case in point, I enjoyed Episode Ardyn mostly for its lore. More than delivering a beatdown on Noctis’ daddy, I got the most enjoyment from my time running around a laboratory reading archive entries about the world of Eos and its Hexatheon — FF15’s fancy way of saying “pantheon” but with six gods instead of a pan number of gods. This was another one of those “God, I wish this was in the base game” moments, as if the game filled you in about the Hexatheon and the war between them, Shiva’s revelation in Chapter 12 might not have felt so odd and info dumpy.
But of all the character episodes, Ignis’ is the best. His combat’s the coolest, with the smoothest feel. He can imbue his daggers with the power of fire, ice, or lightning, and each element gives him a different property in battle. Fire focuses on heavy single-target damage, lighting allows him to cover great distances between enemies, and ice does massive area damage to clumped-up groups of enemies. I loved zipping into a group of enemies with lighting daggers then seamlessly switching to ice to devastate them all in a few hits. Prompto may be the smartest Chocobro, but Ignis is by far the most fun to play.
Ignis is my most favourite of the bros because sworn-knight character-types are my shit. I love them so much partly because I identify so strongly with them. I don’t have the manic pixie (but secretly depressed) dream boy energy of Prompto. I don’t have the grump with a heart of gold personality of Gladio, and I really don’t have the blasé, emo, main-character vibe of Noctis. But the fiercely intelligent and loyal control freak, who just wants to make sure you’ve eaten, has a borderline stoic exterior, but will absolutely go apeshit on any threat to the group? That’s me.
That’s also Ignis. I shattered into a million pieces when I found out how Ignis lost his sight. That do whatever it takes, damn the consequences attitude of his utterly destroyed me. I just love him. He’s my second-favourite Final Fantasy character ever, and the one I’m hitting “marry” on in the Final Fantasy version of “Marry, Fuck, Kill.” Ahem.
I’m old enough to remember when the game that became Final Fantasy XV was still Final Fantasy Versus XIII. For some reason my brain latched onto that early trailer of the man walking down those steps deflecting bullets with his phantom weapons, and never let go.
I also remember loving the trailer’s song, with a lone woman singing mournfully in Latin. Aural memories are more powerful to me than those centered on sight or smell. The memories of the way my Granny sounded when she cursed or laughed are more precious to me than how she looked while doing so. For that reason, music, more than anything else, evokes the strongest emotions in me.
So when that song “Somnus” started up when Noctis and his Kingsglaive bodyguard entered the city of Insomnia to slay Ardyn and return light to the world, I started to cry. It felt like I had been transported back to when that trailer was released in 2006. I had come back to that moment when I was an obsessed 19-year-old like “Ah, I shall now conclude this game that has, though it’s somewhat different now, stuck with me for 14 years.”
More than that, I finally reached the point of the game when everything was finally new. After an abandoned save and five years, I had come back to correct a glaring error in my Final Fantasy history. Suffice it to say, I got emotional.
That emotion overflowed when I reached the end — I don’t mean the final campfire, or Noctis choosing which of the 112 pictures Prompto took to take with him to the end of his life. I mean the end after the credits and the final cutscene, when the menu screen — that had heretofore been splashed over a night sky — turned to dawn.
I understand why people don’t like this game. The combat never quite gelled, always weirdly paced and clunky. The game’s latter half is an unenjoyable mess, and without the DLC episodes, the story feels largely incoherent. I get their frustration over knowing what the game could have been, and how that possibility was shunted into cancelled DLCs and finally a last-ditch book.
But I’m able to forgive its numerous sins because the level of detail this game took with its storytelling is unsurpassed. Prompto’s humming of the classic victory fanfare, the banter between the boys as they drive, the devastating tenderness with which Ignis tells a chocobo “We’ll meet again” when he’s done riding — it has always been the smallest things that make this game the (somewhat flawed) masterpiece I believe it is. That little transformation of the menu screen from night to dawn — an enduring representation to the player of Noctis’ sacrifice — was what ultimately did me in.
When the credits rolled, I took a second to blot some tears, put down the controller, and checked the time: It was 11:59 p.m. Seriously. I’ve now completed Final Fantasy XV and all of its side-story DLCs in nine days. My final savefile time was 35:58:53, which combined with the character episodes averaging at an hour a piece, means I spent 40 hours on this project all told.
To close out my FF15 blitz, I’m going to watch the Kingsglaive movie. And if the book, Final Fantasy XV: The Dawn of the Future has an audio version available, I’m gonna snap that up too. When I first played this game I, rightly, didn’t want it to end, so I stopped playing. Now that it has ended for me, it’s rocketed to the top of my list of Final Fantasy favourites. It doesn’t beat FF12 or FF8, but it’s easily in the top three.
This video game road trip was fun, made more so by all the lovely tips, comments, and words of encouragement. Thanks. I could have done this without all that, but I’m glad I didn’t have to.