There are a lot of things I love about Final Fantasy XV. Its tale of brotherhood is bar none and representative of some of the best “it’s the little things” storytelling I’ve ever experienced in a video game. But there are, of course, elements I don’t like. In particular, the game’s villain.
Final Fantasy XV’s main villain is Ardyn Izunia (née. Lucis Caelum), a frolicking, one-note bad guy with this “evil guy you’re supposed to somewhat like because he’s kinda funny” attitude that never quite works. The base game never fully reveals his motivation for wanting to end the world. In his character-centric DLC Episode: Ardyn, his motivations still don’t go beyond a trite “cursed man wants his revenge” story. His presence as the main antagonist is a weak point in the game, which is a real shame because a far better, more compelling villain was standing next to him the entire time: the older brother of Lunafreya and supreme commander of the Niflheim Army, Ravus Nox Fleuret.
You’re first introduced to Ravus in the opening moments of Kingsglaive, the Final Fantasy XV prequel movie from 2016. In it, you see Ravus’ home of Tenebrae suddenly and viciously attacked by the Niflheim army while the king of Lucis, Regis Lucis Caelum, is visiting with his son Noctis, the main character of FF15. In the attack, Ravus and Lunafreya’s mother is murdered while Regis picks up his son and promptly gets the fuck out. As Ravus screams for help over the body of his mother, he sees the king run right past, never looking back. That moment stays with Ravus for his entire life, engendering in him an abiding and extremely personal hatred for King Regis and his son.
Ardyn’s story is much more complex, involving healing powers, monster-ification powers, a crystal, the god Ifrit, a dead girlfriend, a jealous brother, and over 2000 years locked away. I won’t bore you with the details — I’ll leave Episode: Ardyn and his prequel anime short for that — but suffice it to say Ardyn is immortal, can turn people into demons, and is really mad at his long-dead brother for killing his fiance and stealing the throne. Ardyn, after being rescued from a 2000-year prison sentence by a Niflheim researcher, basically chooses violence and exacts revenge against the Kingdom of Lucis founded by his hated brother.
So we have two men, Ravus and Ardyn. Both are FF15’s antagonists, but Ardyn gets top billing. Still, there’s something far more compelling and interesting about a villain with a personal motivation — something Ravus has that Ardyn does not.
Ardyn has a valid grudge against a man who’s been dead forever but decides to enact his revenge on people who were not alive to wrong him. On the other hand, Ravus’ grudge is so much more intimate. In his eyes, King Regis let his mother die, running past her bleeding body, when it would have been nothing for him to snap his fingers and call up the power of his magical swords to do something to help. In games with big stakes, I want a villain I can root for, one I can look at and say “you know what, maybe the world should go because homey’s got a point.”
Furthermore, Ravus’ injury is compounded by insult when it’s decided that his sister Lunafreya is to be married to Regis’ son Noctis. He looks down on Noctis, thinking him a spoiled prince coming from cowardly stock and therefore unfit to marry his sister. Ravus feels that since Lunafreya is bound to this unworthy man because of her duty as the Oracle, she will inevitably die, life unfulfilled and wasted. And he’s right: Lunafreya dies helping Noctis. He’s justified in his fury and hatred. He’s had to watch his entire family die and his own kingdom burn because of a Lucian king’s weakness. FF15’s villain spends three quarters of his time tormenting Noctis — why shouldn’t that tormentor be someone with a legitimate grudge against Noctis instead of the Kefka-esque old guy type who’s just mad at his long-gone brother?
There’s a “rule of cool” involved in having a final boss fight in which the two combatants’ powers mirror one another. Since Ardyn is of Lucian royal blood, he can command the same magic swords Noctis and Regis can. But even better is a fight in which the two combatants, more than mirrored power, are mirrored images of each other.
The only connections between Ardyn and Noctis, aside from the royal blood they share, are extremely superficial. The game and its ancillary materials make it a point to note that Ardyn loves to torment Noctis only because Noctis strongly resembles the brother who betrayed him. Imagine expending all that energy and hate just because a guy has the same stupid haircut as the brother you hate? Couldn’t be me.
Meanwhile, Ravus is Noctis’ foil in every way. A true nemesis is supposed to embody the hero’s insecurities and make them examine their own flaws. Where Noctis’ powers come by birthright and prophecy, Ravus had to work to get to his position as the supreme commander of the Niflheim Imperial army. Ravus intimately understands loss and sacrifice. Noctis has to learn it — and only does so pretty late.
Ravus is a pretty tragic character, and given Final Fantasy XV’s torturous, fragmented development cycle, we’ll never know if Square Enix had more planned for him. I enjoyed seeing him team up with Ignis in Episode: Ignis (now there’s a good ‘ship!) And though he rightfully hated Noctis, it would have been nice to have him get a final redemptive moment instead of the undeserved fate he got — friendless and alone, transformed into a monster begging for death.