Today is Final Fantasy XV’s one year anniversary, a day I remember well. A day of impatiently waiting by the door for my preorder. A day of disappointment when of course it arrived at 7:30 at night, but, still, a day of joy. I immediately ripped open the plastic, awed at the beautiful disc art, and shoved it into my PlayStation 4. FFXV was one of the main reasons I got the PS4 (KH3 and FFVII included) so I felt like I was finally taking my first step back into the gaming world. When the title screen appeared, I had chills. It was time to enter a new Final Fantasy.
And it was crazy… in a flawed, confusing, and broken kind of way.
Plot wise, it was messy. The bones of a great game were there: strong opening, an exciting turn of events, well-rounded characters, beautiful setting. But so much of it fell flat. Major plot points were muddled and hard to comprehend. And yes— I’m not a noob— deranged plots are expected of Final Fantasy games, but it was overwhelmingly so in this title. A lot of the major plot points happened off screen, the first half and second half of the game felt like two entirely different stories, and what could have been explained in a cohesive flashback was explained way too late through boring exposition.
I wanted to adore this game; I’ve been a fan of the FF franchise since 2003 when I met the cast in Kingdom Hearts. I wanted this game to take over my life and wreck me, I wanted to become so engrossed in it that I couldn’t think of anything else.
And it did. Even with all its negatives and confusion, its messy story-telling and over-the-top tone changes, I became completely enamored by it. And the reason I was able to fall in love with it despite its flaws is simple:
Final Fantasy XV is a masterpiece in character writing.
There were plenty of times when I had no idea what was happening in the plot. Where are the Royal Arms? Why am I collecting summons? Is there a reason I’m in Tenebrae for only .05 seconds? But that stuff didn’t matter to me. I was so engrossed in the cast, in this royal, gothic boy band, that I could care less about the story. The only thing I was concerned about was helping the guys find a place to sleep for the night, giving them a hot meal, and making sure they were okay at the end of the day.
Noctis, Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus all fall into obvious stereotypes, but they never feel stale or overdone. Noct acts like your Sasuke, your typical aloof, too-cool-for-school protagonist. But deep down, he cares so much about everything and everyone around him. Seeing his real personality leak through his cold exterior made him feel like a real person, an actual young man trying to work through his unbelievable circumstances. And our Lucian Prince is only one example. Prompto, Ignis and Gladio are the same, so beautifully written and voiced that they feel like real people in real relationships. I wasn’t playing the game to save Lucis. I was playing to follow the characters on their journey because I cared about them. They made the game redeemable.
There was also a major game mechanic that helped give these guys personality. At first, Prompto’s photography only seemed like a cool way to brag about the games amazing visual prowess. But as time went on, it became a major character-building device (and an emotional peak at the end. Don’t worry I won’t spoil anything). Besides being an impressive feature and the creator of some fun screenshots, the photos made the characters even more life-like. Seeing them taking selfies, eating dinner, singing in the car together; the game sells its cast to you through their interactions. I want to try Ignis’ Ebony, I want to play King’s Knight with everyone at the RV.
The horrible story didn’t matter. The characters did.
Final Fantasy XV is incomplete; a year later and SquareEnix is still creating patches, story quests, and DLC. They should’ve waited to release this game, but I still loved it; I cherish the 32-hours it took me to complete the story (and the 40+ hours doing others things). I loved it so much, I cried at the end. JUST ONE QUICK TEAR. But a video game has never emotionally drained me so much. To me, Noct, Prompto, Ignis and Gladio are one of the most memorable casts in video games. I’m really excited to play it again, to reunite with my bros, jump in the Regalia and reclaim my throne…all while pulling over for hijinks along the way.