This piece contains spoilers for Final Fantasy VII and XV.
On the 31st of January 1997, then Squaresoft released what would go on to become one of the most ground-breaking games of all time, Final Fantasy VII.
It involved the exploits of a Blonde Spiky Haired Genetically Enhanced Amnesiac and his merry troupe of Only Black Man In Game World, Girl With Back Ache and Talking Red Dog to name a few, all on the quest to defeat the L’Oréal man in a giant hole in the ground.
Now, well-crafted tales such as those don’t come around very often, but despite its flaws and a man or two who are sick, it was a fantastic adventure. There’s an argument to be made for the rosy haze of nostalgia colouring one’s opinion, but the heart of that story feels like it could not be bettered by Square…until Final Fantasy XV that is.
XV’s story was better, and one of the most well executed in the series. Oh I know what you’re thinking, that the story of XV was one of the weaker points, especially towards the corridor encrusted end. But I regard XV’s storytelling as a maverick of the art form that managed to deal with many of the problems I had with VII.
One of the key components in Final Fantasy XV’s modus operandi is the following narrative device:
Oh Look There’s A New Character Oh Wait They’re Gone / Dead.
Apropos Aerith (or Aeris for the layman), our wonderful flower lady whose tragic demise broke our pubescent hearts. Aerith’s death was like the first ten minutes of Up only Carl’s wife was Mufasa. Many a false theory existed on how you could resurrect her from her watery grave, and the weeks you spent mastering 5 Revive Materia to throw into the lake could have been spent working a child laborious part-time job to save up for FF VIII.
Recognizing the Fake News problem before it was in, Square sought to avoid this problem with Luna in XV by making you completely and utterly not give an astral shit about her. The Oracle with No Airtime, Luna communicates to you in Dog, Book, and Flashback entirely, until you finally meet her and she dies while you fight the now freed Willy. Did the beautifully rendered scene of Noctis watching his love fade away into the luminous ether of death completely fall flat because you hardly spent any time with her? Yes, but you didn’t waste hours running around the world collecting 99 Mega Phoenix to throw off the gondola to Totomostro at exactly Midnight to revive your beloved Luna either (seriously it works though).`
Keeping it in the family, Ravus was an incredible character for that one scene when he attempts to attack you until you (SPOILER) find him dead later. Part of me saw great potential in him, an anti-hero of sorts, the Vegeta to my Goku, the Coco to my Pop, but did the game really need another villain? VII has many antagonistic forces: Shinra, Rufus, The Turks, Hojo, The Weapons, Sephiroth, Jenova, Joke List Entry, too many one could argue. I mean ultimately giving actual screen time to Ravus, a well-constructed and conflicted man forced to watch his beloved sister die fulfilling her destiny, just cluttered up the story. XV literally replaces all of that character building with letters scattered around his corpse in what can only be described as “brave” and “bold” storytelling.
And finally Ardyn aka Sexy Hobo. A genuinely tragic villain, he was an old king who took it upon himself to rid the world of a daemonic disease only to become corrupted and rejected by the people he saved, the Gods, and a shiny rock. Sure he may have turned into a mentally unstable immortal after the rejection like a 13 year old scorned lover…but he was a sensitive soul. So sensitive in fact the game explains almost none of that until the whole 40 hour Sad Boy jaunt is practically over. XV knows oversharing can be embarrassing, I mean look at Sephiroth with his Jerry Springer Alien Mommy Issues splattered out for everyone to see. But Ardyn played it cool. You can’t mock a villain for his motivations if they are never clearly explained to the player, so good job Square.
The upcoming DLC to patch and expand the story dismays me, as I think XV is great as is. I mean if you really want to tell a more coherent story it’s almost as if the game should have been completed entirely before it was rushed to release…but its 2017 guys. Who wants that? Final Fantasy XV is the world’s most expensive Tamagotchi, and while it surely will grow into the game it was meant to be over the coming year as it is loved and nurtured, I’m afraid the game we got will always be cemented as the first impression of a sad What Could Have Been.