Final Fantasy XV came out a month ago today, and I've been playing it a lot. Like, a whole bunch. By which I mean, I've clocked up around 87 hours so far including beating the main story and doing much of the side content including the dungeons - I've got two of the 'sealed door' dungeons left and then I'm mostly done. So, it's fair to say that I like this game a lot. But it really wasn't what I was expecting - hoping - from a Final Fantasy game. I'm a big fan of the series primarily for the narrative so I was hoping a strong narrative from this, particularly after Kingsglaive, the tie-in film that is basically required watching for the game, sets the scene for the game so well.
Final Fantasy XV does a great job of making an enjoyable open-world experience. That's high praise from me - I generally don't enjoy open world games. And the combat, while it does have some flaws, generally feels great. But they could have done so much more with the story.
Warning: Full plot spoilers follow, for both Kingsglaive and Final Fantasy XV itself!
In this game, particularly when looking through the lens of having seen Kingsglaive, there are aspects of the story that I would really like to have seen more of. For instance, I would have loved to have seen a return to Insomnia prior to the end of the game and Libertus being a central character of that area. And given that we didn't get on-screen deaths for Nyx Ulric and General Glauca, I was hoping they'd be around in some form - perhaps an echo of the former relating to the Ring of the Lucii for the former, and a twisted form of the latter as a boss in Insomnia. And I would have loved to have seen more to do with the Ring. In the film, it's shown to be this terrifying object. When Ravus tries to wear the ring in Kingsglaive we're shown our first glimpse at the terrifying power of the ring and how difficult it is to master, which makes Regis look like a total bad-ass when he picks the ring back up off the floor. We see another person burned alive by the Ring, and Nyx bargaining with the Lucian Kings for their power, Kings that don't seem to really care about what's happening in the world otherwise. Lunafreya even says that the Kings only grant their power to those they deem worthy. So why does Noctis get the power automatically when he puts on the ring for the first time? We'd just seen a few chapters where he didn't seem up to the task, it would have clearly marked the turning point away from that if he had to prove himself worthy to the Kings and in doing so cement himself to his cause. Instead he seems to experience a second or two of pain then the full power of the ring is his.
But the main issue with the plot is how much happens away from the camera. Luna's death is set up as a big turning point in the game, but we see her so little (and she has so little personality) that it didn't really affect me much at all. I've been watching Jesse Cox's streams from Chapter 9 onwards so I could get a taste of what he thought and as he put it, "I care more about Ignis losing his sight than I do Lunafreya dying". Hardly surprising since Luna gets less than an hour screentime but Ignis is one of the bros in the broadtrip. Worse, in Chapter 12 (or was it 11?) we find out that while we were taking a sadtimes train journey of emoness, a whole bunch of people have died including Ravus and the Emperor, and that Gralea, the Imperial capital, has been completely overrun by daemons. Sorry, what? That's quite a lot of stuff that happened off camera!
Now, the story is told, they can't make any major changes. I know that they're going to include some extra bits of story in a 'plot patch' but I imagine these will be short (2-4 hour) story arcs to give some context to certain parts. But how would I have done the story differently?
I would have included a separate point of view - running concurrently in a fashion similar to in Final Fantasy VI, or the first disk of Final Fantasy IX - from Ravus's side of things, built as an integral part of the game.
Ravus is clearly meant to be set up as a tragic character. Though he lusts for power, there are strong hints - with more to come ("we’re hoping to delve deeper into the story, adding scenes that will give you new insight into character motivations, such as why Ravus walked the path he did") - that he did what he did because he knew his sister, Lunafreya, was in serious danger and probably going to die and he wanted to stop that. We see this in a cutscene with him and Luna where he says he knows about the Covenant (or something), and how he holds onto Regis's sword, never using it but promising to Luna to deliver it to Noctis but dying before he was able to.
How would this story be told concurrently with the main story? As 0.5-3 hour story sections, with no open world stuff. Leave the open world to Noctis and the Bros (that's clearly what their band name should be). It doesn't solve the fact that Luna is just a plot device which doesn't help for the representation of women in this game, but fixing that would require a lot more editing. Anyway, roughly speaking, here's what I would envision:
- Replace Chapter 0 - our flash-forward to the battle with Ifrit - with either an inner circle talk of Ravus, the Emperor, Ardyn and others as they plan their attack on Insomnia, or as they're preparing to go to the Treaty Signing. While this would 'ruin the surprise' for people who haven't seen Kingsglaive, there's really not much surprise there and the Attack on Insomnia cutscene is so brief that there's barely any context in place there. During this section, Ravus, talking separately with, I dunno, his retinue or henchmen (his party equivalent to Noctis'), maybe with Aranea as one of the party, indicates that he wants the power of the Ring. He's therefore set up as an antagonist. Why replace the existing Chapter 0? I mean, it's kinda cool, but it doesn't really add anything to the story. There's probably space for both the flash-forward and something with Ravus though.
- The attack on Insomnia occurs. A similar cutscene shows, except it actually shows enough for people to get an idea of what the hell happens if they haven't seen Kingsglaive, and it includes a bit more of Ravus to show he gets badly wounded. It gives us an impression that this Ring of the Lucii is scary shit. Which, y'know, it is but that is never shown in the game.
- The "Suspicious Stranger" - Ardyn - is replaced by someone other than Ardyn. Ardyn being the Suspicious Stranger just feels weird for me, having seen Kingsglaive and therefore knowing that he's a high-ranking bad guy the whole time. I know what his motivation is - he's guiding Noctis towards the end that he has him set up for. So, either have this be an additional antagonist who reports to Ardyn, or someone who reports to Ravus. The former option opens us up to an additional antagonist to help misdirect us away from Ardyn being the Big Bad Evil Guy, the latter opens us up to plots based around Ravus trying to tear down the Empire without risking Luna's life - or, Ravus being manipulated by Ardyn into thinking that that's what he's doing.
- After we see Noctis cope with this and get his first Royal Arms weapon, we see Ravus badly torn up by the Ring's magic, his arm (and leg?) incinerated. He says something cryptic about how he cannot afford to lose in his goal (which, we know, is to protect Luna) and accepts Magitek limbs. We see some flashback conflict between him and Luna. Luna is terrified for what's happening to Ravus, but Ravus says something about how he won't be stopped and she knows why. Ravus, remembering this conversation, indicates that he believes his path is true.
- The new Suspicious Stranger helps Noctis gain access to Titan and Chapter 3 ends.
- Ravus is on the search for Luna, either still in Lucis or in Altissia, and finds her. She says she'll be safest in Altissia. They talk about Titan. Luna convinces him to not fully commit to the battle so that Noctis can get his blessing, rather than the Empire killing Titan instead. Ravus helps Luna go to Altissia, then leaves to oversee the battle with Titan.
- Noctis defeats Titan with the help of the Empire, just as before.
- Ravus talks with Luna, now in Altissia, about his mis-givings, and is worried about the absence of Umbra (who is passing on the book to Noctis that promises her support) and Gentiana. Ravus realises that Luna going through with the plan to hook Noctis up with the Astrals, and is terrified for what this means. It's our first real glimpse at why Ravus is doing what he's doing - he wants power so that he can protect Luna from her fate.
- The Ramuh trial goes on as before.
- From Noctis' point of view: Ravus, seeking to stop Noctis so that he doesn't get any more Astrals and Luna isn't at risk, clashes with Noctis at the Imperial base as before. Ardyn stops him. We're left wondering why Ardyn would do that - we've not seen any indication of him guiding Noctis towards his end.
- Lestallum is attacked by Niflheim troops, led by the Suspicious Stranger (who in this version of the story isn't Ardyn) and Jared is killed. Suspicious Stranger gets away but we see Jared protecting Talcott.
- Before Chapter 5 ends, we have a section where Ravus is congratulated by the Emperor for his attack on Lestallum, and sends him off to Insomnia to quell the population there and promoting him to the high commander, with Aranea being given separate orders. Ravus confides in Aranea that he didn't order the attack Lestallum at all - it's the beginning of Ravus's mistrust of the Empire. It's also a beginning of a fragment between Ravus and Aranea on one side (the 'goodies' in the Empire), and the Suspicious Stranger as a proper antagonist with a separate agenda (we don't know it yet, but they're a pawn of Ardyn's).
- Chapters 6-8 for Noctis go as before, including with Ardyn helping the group (minus Gladio) get into Steyliff with Aranea as their guide.
- During this, we see Ravus go to Insomnia. During this, Ravus begins to experience regret for what he did, realising that Luna was right - it was the Empire that killed their mother, not Regis. He comes into conflict with Libertus (from the movie) but Libertus manages to help Ravus realise what he's doing is wrong (remember, Libertus was manipulated by agents of the Empire too, so they have that in common). With the Crystal gone, daemons have been coming to Insomnia. Ravus and his party, joined by Libertus (who fills the gap left by Aranea), work on pushing back the daemons. The final boss of this story arc is General Glauca. His Magitek armour has twisted him into something monstrous, but both Libertus and Ravus recognise who he was. After the fight, Ravus looks at his arm - "am I going to turn out the same way? Do the ends justify the means?"
- Once this is done, Ravus is recalled to talk to the Emperor. The Emperor says that they have located Luna, and in fact has known where she was all along - he is disappointed in Ravus for sending her to Altissia. Their spies have heard that Luna is wanting to forge a Covenant with Leviathan, and the Emperor wants this to go ahead. Ravus objects strongly. The Emperor says something about how Ravus wants to keep Luna safe, which means he's the best person to go to Altissia to keep her safe and to help kill Leviathan, just as he killed Shiva. I don't know exactly when in the timeline Shiva gets killed by the Imperials, but if this is adjustable then a campaign to kill Shiva led by Ravus could take place after his visit to Insomnia, with Ravus continuing to question not just the Empire's methods but their goals. It's hard for him to break away from this though because he's spent the last 12 years as one of the Empire himself and hating the Lucian royal family.
- Chapter 9 happens as it already does - including Ardyn stabbing Luna. It's a turning point - our first look at Ardyn being a very important villain, now for Ravus as well as Noctis.
- Chapter 10 starts with Ravus being furious at Ardyn for what he has done, and beginning a civil war. During Chapters 10 and 11 we see Gralea collapse at the hands of Ardyn's daemons as the fracturing Empire begins to lose control of many of them. In retaliation for Ravus's treachery, the Emperor sends those giant daemons we see in Kingsglaive to go and destroy Tenebrae. Ravus rushes to Tenebrae's aid. This story arc ends with Ravus preparing for battle in Tenebrae with the huge daemons approaching.
- Noctis's party gets to Tenebrae, and Aranea fills him in on what's been happening. The attack is over though - Tenebrae is in the same state as it is in the game. However, Ravus has gone to Gralea to get revenge, so the party has missed him. Aranea goes with them.
- Chapter 13: Noctis's party arrives at Gralea, Ardyn taunting him. It's clear that what's left of the Imperial army is losing control to the daemons, and Ardyn is okay with this. The party loses the ability to summon their weapons again. The party works their way through the city and finds some of Ravus's troops - with Aranea with them, they don't attack. Ravus is mortally wounded and dying. He fulfils his pledge to give Noctis his father's sword, and we have a touching scene about the differing nature of the love that each of these men shared for Luna - one for the lover that was absent from his life, one from the brother who failed her. Ravus talks about Luna, Noctis listens and mourns that he never fully knew her. Ravus gives Noctis his father's sword. Noctis vows to defeat Ardyn, and Ravus dies.
- Aranea leaves the party but leads the remaining Imperial soldiers to try and rescue as many civilians as they can. Noctis, Gladio and Ignis head towards Zegnautus Keep. It's utter chaos, and as they get closer they lose their ability to summon their weapons, with the exception of his father's sword. Noctis gets separated from Gladio and Ignis, and we have a section where he is overwhelmed by daemons. We have a cutscene where he's forced to put on the ring, being swarmed by enemies, and bargain with the Kings of Old to gain their power. Having got the Ring on his side, he makes his way through Zegnautus and is reunited with Gladio and Ignis, and later Prompto. They make their way to the Emperor, in time to see him transformed into a daemon by Ardyn. They fight this daemon, but not the Ravus abomination. The bit with the Crystal happens.
- Chapter 14: Much the same as before (except, y'know, we get an open world World of Ruin experience, and we actually see characters we care about at Hammerhead). However, Ifrit isn't the only boss we face. The Suspicious Stranger is one boss, and the Ravus abomination is another one. Then, Ardyn is all "so you can beat them, but can you beat a god?" and summons Ifrit. Rest happens as before.
Essentially - without many changes to the existing storyline, very few changes from Noct's point of view, much of the same existing locations (with the exception of the addition of Insomnia pre-World of Ruin but that could potentially be the same map as WoR Insomnia with more light) but adding Ravus's story that goes through the whole of the game, it would tie together the plot of this game into something so much better than what we have already. I'm not saying that what I've written above is the perfect version of this plot by any means. But, Ravus is a character who is important to the existing plot, a good mirror for Noctis, strongly tied to Luna in a different way from Noctis, and sees (or has the potential to see) a lot of the content that the game is missing: Luna's character development so we actually give a shit about her death, more of the Empire so that we see the Emperor as a true antagonist instead of a single-scene character, and the fall of the Empire following the events of Chapter 9. This level of attention to the game isn't something we're going to get in upcoming story DLC, but it's nice to think about what could have been.