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Why You Should Play Final Fantasy XV: Response to Super EyePatch Wolf

Final Fantasy XV isn’t an amazing game. It’s difficult to even say it’s a great game. Yet from this disjointed mess, it is a game that beautifully captures an experience. And that is why you should play it.

INTRO

This is a video game essay project that began in 2019 and has been 2-years long in the works, partially due to a personal writer’s block and partially due to outside circumstances. It’s a piece I’ve been meaning to write for the longest time, but was afraid my words wouldn’t do my thoughts justice. And so it took 2 years, but here we finally are.

Final Fantasy XV official artwork

In 2018, YouTube content creator, John “Super Eyepatch Wolf” Walsh released a nearly hour-long video essay titled Final Fantasy 15 was a Mediocre Disappointment hammering out how the awkward narrative, poor gameplay, and underdeveloped story of Final Fantasy XV made for an overall disappointing game – one which fails to properly reflect the famed pedigree of its family series.

And he’s not wrong.

Every point he makes about the world-building feeling out of place, background characters being cloned models of one another, the unrewarding hold-one-button-to-win combat system, a no-risk revival mechanic in battle, and minimal interpersonal-relationships development between characters in-game – are all absolutely correct.

And if you know the story behind the game’s creation from its initial announcement in 2006 as Final Fantasy Versus XIII until its release in 2016, it makes sense. The game spent 10 years in development hell, changing hands between multiple teams, and was in a constant state of flux to the point it was almost taboo to even mention its name. There were even rumors about the lead director being forced off the game (still a hot topic, I know).

Early cinematic screenshots from Final Fantasy Versus XIII

It makes sense that Final Fantasy XV came out as the hobbled mess that it is. To a longtime dedicated fan of the series like Super Eyepatch Wolf, it’s completely understandable how this game is a disappointment. It promised to be new, different, and special while still having that Final Fantasy charm millions across the world have come to love; yet it missed every expectation.

For the full version of his thoughts combined with a superb detailed summary of Final Fantasy XV’s troubled development, I highly recommend giving Super Eyepatch Wolf’s video a watch here. In it he details everything he liked and disliked about the game and weaves a finely crafted argument showing how everything he says does come from the perspective of a loving and loyal fan who unfortunately had been let down.

Final Fantasy XV isn’t a great game.

But for me, it’s a special one. It’s a game that, at its core, captures the essence of a friendship and brotherhood between young men who grew up together going on a final journey, in an exceptionally masterful manner.  And for that reason it is worth experiencing, and is why you should play it.

And so I write this piece not as a refusal to Super Eyepatch Wolf’s claims, but more an addendum – the tangent route. I write this in hopes it will reach those who might desire to appreciate not only what the game is, but seek for what makes it special. Because what makes the game special, it owns beautifully. It is these magical themes within the game that struck a chord with me, and I hope it will with you.

STORY

– Spoilers for Final Fantasy XV follow: –

Left: Gladiolus, Middle: Ignis, Right: Prompto

Final Fantasy XV follows the story of Noctis Lucis Caelum, prince of the Kingdom of Lucis, and his three friends as they embark on a road trip to a rival nation for his arranged wedding with his fiance, Lunafreya, in hopes that the political marriage could bring peace to the nations. The three friends accompanying Noctis’s journey being:

  • Ignis Scientia – Noctis’ royal advisor, tactician, childhood friend, and skilled cook. 
  • Gladiolus Amicitia – Noctis’ personal bodyguard, trainer, and longtime friend. 
  • Prompto Argentum – Noctis’ best friend from high school who came from common birth.
Noctis, Ignis, Gladio, & Prompto begin their journey

With Ignis serving as the group’s primary driver and cook, Gladiolus as the muscle, and Prompto as the photographer, the group of four drive across the Kingdom of Lucis. Arriving at the ferry station, they learn that in their absence, the militant faction of the rival nation, Niflheim, launched a preemptive attack on Lucis’ crown city, resulting in the king’s – Noctis’ father’s – death.

In hopes of retaking the city Noctis is tasked with awakening the power of his royal bloodline, done by collecting the weapons of past Lucis kings spread across the kingdom and gaining the blessings of the Astrals, the world’s Gods given physical form. Noctis is also encouraged to continue with his marriage to hopefully secure the allegiance and help of Niflheim’s peace faction. Journeying across the kingdom the group uncover various side-stories, areas, activities, and world lore, that the group records at the end of every night either in a set-up camp or checked in at a motel.

After awakening the first part of Noctis’ powers, the group finally travels to location of the wedding in the Kingdom of Niflheim, where it is revealed that with Lunafreya’s help summoning the final Astral, Noctis would be able to unlock the second part of his bloodline’s powers. She is able to do so, but due to the intervention of Niflheim’s militant faction led by its chancellor, Ardyn. Over the course of events, this results in the Astral laying waste to the city, Lunafreya being killed by Ardyn before Noctis’ eyes, and Ignis losing his sight.

Making matters worse, it’s revealed that Lunafreya’s power had been staving off the Starscourge, a plague that slowly plunges the world into an endless night and transforms humans and animals into daemons. With her death Noctis’ mission evolves to include bringing peace to the kingdoms, and getting revenge for his family and fiance, on top of preventing the Starscourge to save the world.

To unlock the final part of his power, Noctis learns he requires the power of the Crystal, a gift from the gods, that resides in the capital of Niflheim. As his group takes a train to the capital, they are attacked by the Niflheim militant faction resulting in Prompto being separated from the party and kidnapped, during which Prompto learns he was a product of cloning experiments from Niflheim.

Arriving at the capital the crew finds that fortunately Prompto was also being held captive within its central facilities, but also that it had been overrun by daemons in a coup by Ardyn. Battling through the hordes, the party is able to rescue Prompto and reach the Crystal. But upon reaching the Crystal, Noctis is pulled into it, forced to leave his friends behind, and learns that Ardyn is actually Ardyn Lucis Caelum, Noctis’ ancient ancestor from 2000 years ago who had helped found the royal line but did not gain the crown, though he was granted immortality by the Astrals and became the origin of the Starscourge – and who is now on a warpath of vengeance to destroy the Lucian kingdom alongside the world. With the knowledge that the Starscourge could be dispelled with Ardyn’s defeat, Noctis is forced to stay within the Crystal to absorb its power and awaken the final part of his powers, while Ignis, Gladiolus, and Prompto return to Lucis to defend what is left of the kingdom from the monsters and daemons.

10 years go by, and Noctis emerges from the Crystal, finding a world permanently engulfed by night and flooded with daemons. Reconnecting with his friends now a decade older, Noctis, Ignis, Gladiolus, and Prompto meet for a final campsite meal before donning their royal uniforms and confronting Adryn in the ruins of the Lucis crown city. In a climatic series of battles, the group defeats Ardyn’s physical form, and Noctis channels the power of his royal bloodline and the Crystal by giving up his life to destroy Ardyn’s immortal spirit. With the Starscourge disappearing, the sun breaks through the darkness, the daemons disappear, and peace is restored to the world, as Noctis’ friends bid him farewell.

In another "ending"

In the separate “Episode Ignis” scenario… The ending is revised where Ignis pretends to betray the group and helps Ardyn after Lunafreya is killed. In doing so this spares Prompto from being separated from the group but Ignis ends up giving his own life to save Noctis from the Crystal. Noctis uses the Crystal to revive Ignis and still goes into the Crystal, but this time Ignis still has his sight and using the knowledge he gained from being by Ardyn’s side and interacting with the Crystal, devises a “secret plan” over the course of the 10-year gap that allows Noctis to destroy Ardyn’s immortal soul and cure the Starscourge without losing his life.

Additional DLC contents “Episode Gladiolus”, “Episode Prompto”, “Episode Ardyn”, former-DLC-turned-novel “Dawn of the Future” (formerly “Episode Noctis/Lunafreya”), anime “Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV”, and movie “Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV” further expand the story and flesh out the in-game world and character stories.

Disclaimer: My retelling of the story is extremely trimmed and simplified. For the most comprehensive version please refer to the Final Fantasy XV Wiki here.

GAME

Aside from the points brought up by Super Eyepatch Wolf, Final Fantasy XV is not without its good points. From a first-glance these include:

  • A stellar background, in-battle, and cinematic soundtrack that includes longtime faithful favorites from the family series as well as stunning orchestral originals, designed perfectly for every game beat.
  • Mouth-watering, amazing-looking food. Probably the best-looking food ever rendered in a video game. Seriously, the way food is presented in this game is no joke, every dish Ignis makes for the group looks like something from a Michelin star restaurant. There’s even a separate real-life Final Fantasy XV cookbook available for sale with recipes for the game’s dishes!
  • Visually incredible graphic fidelity and art style that draws out the in-game world’s gorgeous scenery and makes the bombastic, over-the-top-stylish-heavy combat delicious to watch.

From a holistic standpoint these are indeed nice parts to the RPG that help make the game enjoyably satisfying despite the slew of glaring issues pointed out by Super Eyepatch Wolf. Yet what makes the game truly special is something even more.

HOW FINAL FANTASY XV IS SPECIAL

What made Final Fantasy XV special were the little things it did – from the way certain elements were captured to the way specific gameplay was designed.

Long and sublime scenic drives

First of the little things comes from the portrayal of in-game travel, by which Noctis and his friends drive a car across the kingdom. It’s a small detail, but essentially during these frequently long car rides, it is a silent ride – none of the friends say anything, but just enjoy one another’s company while enjoying the scenery and time they have with one another. There is an occasional piece of small talk met by agreement when a new landscape is seen, but otherwise most of the car rides tend to be silent, implicating the level of familiarity the group has – wherein chatter is not necessary and that just being in close proximity to one another is enough for an enjoyable time. In other similar RPGs party members tend to have filler dialogue during travel that fills the player in on who the characters are to help introduce them, but such things are pruned here – and though it is not beneficial to the player in the long-run, it captures the atmospheric moment perfectly for the longtime friends.

Enjoying chat around the campfire

The pseudo cinematic end of each in-game day further adds to capturing this atmosphere. Whereby the friends are shown sitting together and chatting around a campfire or enjoying a game of darts in a motel, the ambiance presented by the game really reaches out and bathes you in the comforting friendship the 4 young men share. The game essentially uses these atmospheric elements to paint this vibrant picture of the time the friends enjoy together in a way that lets you tangibly share in their experience while still onlooking from the outside.

Party is limited to these 4

Another small detail that makes the game special is admittedly a detriment to the overall gaming experience, but its presence adds to the core experience. This being its team battle mechanics and how the party is always limited to the four main characters (with limited additions of other characters on a narrative basis). On one hand in the modern age of gaming, while restricting player agency from having control over party member composition could be seen as rigid, in this case adds to the emotional connection the player develops with said members. In not being able to switch out characters the player is forced to play with and alongside the 4 main characters and in doing so develops a bond either intentionally or unintentionally with them.

I mean in my playthrough, Prompto was my weakest link and I never worked on leveling or gearing him out, yet as the game progressed, it became more and more comforting to see him running around with the party and I lost my sh*t when he fell off the train!

Team attack by Noctis and Ignis

The other battle mechanic that builds on the game’s atmosphere is yet also a point of contention: the pseudo-random team “link attacks” in battle. During battle, Noctis and one of his friends may sometimes have a prompt allowing them to perform a team attack on an enemy, and it often pops up out of nowhere and under no particular condition (that I could tell at least). Despite also failing to respect player agency, I felt these moments were magical in that it happened whenever Noctis and his friends just vibed together. From twirling with dual blades with Ignis, to shooting sparks with Prompto, to whirling with a greatsword with Gladio, these team attacks featured cinematic moves occurring randomly wherein it looked like Noctis and his friends were just having fun in the midst of their battle.

One of the many photo opportunities in-game

The final aspect of the game that assists in presenting its brotherly experience comes in its photography gameplay. With Prompto as the photographer, he takes various snapshots of the group throughout the day and the player is also able to direct him to take photos at their own agency. And at the end of each in-game day the summary screen presents all the photos taken within the day for review by the player. It’s an extraneous and superfluous mechanic to be sure, but it really hammers home the kind of relationship the party shares with the various shots of battle, scenery, or events presented within the photos. This particular mechanic especially comes to the forefront at the end of the game, as right before Noctis ascends the throne to sacrifice his life for the world, he requests to review Prompto’s album and take one photo with him “for the road.” It’s an incredibly touching moment that lets players reminisce on the short journey they had with the group, but it also really lays deep the sentiments behind the bonds of the 4 friends and the final journey they shared.

All these aspects of design and gameplay makes for what I consider the core point of what makes Final Fantasy XV so special to me: the game is a solid interactive experience that beautifully captures the lasting brotherly bond born and shared within in a group of childhood friends that lasts through young adulthood, and presents the dynamics of this bond as they deal with what the world throws at them while transitioning into the later stages of life.

At least, that is how Final Fantasy XV became special to me, as someone who also grew up in a group of four best friends and only recently went on a long trip with them.

HOW FINAL FANTASY XV WAS PERSONALLY SPECIAL TO ME

For me this game nudged me to think more about the relationship I shared with these 3 young men whom I fondly refer to as ‘my brothers’ – closer than any real blood-related sibling I could have – and how the reality of the world is that people grow, things change, nothing lasts forever and at some point you kind of just have to face it all head on.

4 friends sitting around one last campfire

For me the most striking moment in the game came after the game ends before the credits roll, in which you’re treated to the scene of an aged Noctis, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus enjoying their final campfire together before their upcoming final battle. In this cinematic, Noctis hesitates before admitting:

“I just… Dammit. The hell is this so hard? So, I… I’ve made my peace. Still… Knowing this is it, and seeing you here, now… it’s… more than I can take.”

With his feelings and appreciation for the brotherly bond he and his friends share laid bare, Prompto responds with “Yeah. You’re damn right it is.” Gladiolus with “You spit it out.” And Ignis with “It’s good to hear.” The scene ends as the camera pans towards the starry night sky and Noctis ends with,

“Well, what can I say? You guys… are the best.”

When all is finally said and done

It is an absolutely beautiful scene that, on a personal level, wonderfully encompasses what it is like to grow up with and share a tight bond with 3 other young men: often-times you don’t get emotional with one another, more so you don’t even express appreciation for one another properly when it gets drowned out in your revelry and rapport with one another. This scene, I feel, really captures what it’s like trying to voice a proper message, made heavier in it being the final one, to a group of close young men who considered “emotional-talk” to be sappy, yet it being what they innately desired. From Noctis’ hesitation at trying to find the right words, to the relieved body language of the group when he finally conveyed his genuine appreciation for their bond, the entirety of this scene really struck a chord with me. It drove home how despite you might wish for happy times to last, everything does have to come to an end – and how it is so important that things that need to be said, are said, no matter how difficult, scary, or awkward it may be.

4 empty seats around a snuffed campfire

So why does Final Fantasy XV feel so special to me?

Probably because I empathize with its narrative and how a part of it resonates with my upbringing – and maybe because I similarly just had a trip like the game’s but without me expressing anything at the end. It’s not that there’s nothing to say – it’s just excruciatingly difficult.

Personally, I haven’t had the best experiences properly expressing my appreciation, much less receiving appreciation – it’s a stigma I’ve personally dealt with growing up as a guy in the late 90s and early 2000s. Because of my failed experiences, these attempts at showing appreciation now become more trying as I hope to find the right ways to making things work. And the way Noctis struggles to find the right words for his friends accurately portrays this sentiment. In the end it is a beautiful yet sad scene, realizing that saying your thanks is like accepting that things are at an end (quite literally in Noctis’ case), and you want to do it right. It’s scary admitting when good things come to an end, and similarly scary doing something without knowing how the result will be. And yet it’s understandably a part of life.

It's a long ride, so get comfortable

In writing this piece, I’ve been taking a lot of time trying to come to terms with a way to express my own appreciation to my group of longtime childhood friends though it’s been, honestly, nerve-wracking trying to process what it would be like if my guys didn’t think of our time together the way I do. It’s understandable that individuals experience vastly different things, but it’s still hard to think about how to process accepting that when you’ve grown up with them all your life.

Initially I actually wanted to write this piece purely as a response to Super Eyepatch Wolf as a way to say that despite its fallacies, the game is still worth a play for what experience it does offer. Yet over the course of my 2-year process, writing this has made me come to question my own relationship with the men I call my “brothers”. It’s made me come face to face with my beliefs and worries – making me accept some harsh things that shook me to my core.

I admittedly haven’t been the best of friends. I never really took the chance to be there for them when they might have needed it most or even at all, much less even know about it. I took them for granted and placed my unrealistic expectations on them, becoming upset whenever they weren’t met. Yet when I had troubles, they would always be there for me at a moment’s notice, despite how spoiled and selfish I was all the while growing up. It took me becoming too much older to realize that through all the years of our lives together, I had never really done anything for them. I never listened to their troubles; I never consoled them when times were hard; I never learned their worries or their aspirations; I never tried to really understand who they were becoming as individuals. They were just stand-in siblings for an only child like me, who went out of their way to keep me happy.

Only now when I’ve lost that privilege to be relied upon, do I regret everything I’ve done.

And unfortunate as it is – there really is no proper answer to this. I’ve realized I can’t just write a long-winded video game essay disguising my own insecurities hoping it could change how my best friends think about me. I mean – one of my brothers is finally getting married, and though I am so incredibly proud and happy for him, I really have no idea how to properly express this to him. The most, and the best I’ve realized, I can do is to just keep treating them like the siblings I feel they are and to keep using the time I do have left with them to properly build that brotherly bond I yearn and hope for. And this essay would at least be a step in that direction, saying the things I feel need to be said.

Say what needs to be said

And so – to any young adult whose best friends are still the childhood friends they grew up with: … listen to your friends. Like really, listen. Don’t just listen and chat away or immediately offer advice, but shut up and listen. Don’t take them for granted just because you knew them all your life. Take that time to really understand them not from your point of view, but from their own. Don’t force them to talk either. Just let them know that you’re there for them, wherever and whenever, regardless of any story they may or may not want to share. And when they do need you – don’t ever let anything stop you.

Because you only have one chance at growing up with a group of childhood friends.

To my best friends, my siblings unrelated by blood, the once-boys-now-men I refer to as “my brothers” – wherever or whenever you are, if you ever get the chance to read this – I know I may not say it, but I want you guys to know that you really do mean the world to me. That no matter how much time passes or whatever happens you can always rely on me. You’re my family. And that to me you guys have been, and always will be, “the Best.”

CONCLUSION

Every long journey begins somewhere

So why should you play Final Fantasy XV?

Because it is an amazing interactive experience that beautifully encapsulates the dynamic bonds of longtime friends and presents them in a way that immerses players like no other, accentuated even more so for the many of those who might share a similar a familiar background to the dynamic brotherly bond shared by Noctis, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus. It’s a mess of a ride, to be sure – but it’s completely worth it.

This piece was written in no small part thanks to Salvatore Pane’s reflection on Final Fantasy XV You Guys Are the Best: Friendship and Grieving whose work was a huge inspiration in helping me sort out my thoughts. I highly recommend giving his piece a read here.

Enjoy the read? Check out our other pieces on video game news, reviews, and more at Checkpoint MediaWorks. Also be sure to follow us on social media @CheckpointMW & @checkpoint.mw!

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