It’s Complicated: The Love/Hate Relationship with Final Fantasy XV
The following article may contain spoilers for Final Fantasy XV and its surrounding universe.
So Final Fantasy XV came out last week. Honestly, by now, it should be no mystery that I’m probably one of the least excited people in the world about that. Though I tried to keep my opinions about this game under wraps, a lot of people I know ended up hearing about how displeased I was with it over the course of its 10 year development. This finally came to a head about two months ago, when Sam and Alisha unexpectedly opened the floodgates and I spent about 15 minutes of podcast episode 138 screaming about this damn game .
Apparently my rants are funny.
Regardless, I can see why folks I know, and maybe folks I don’t know, don’t quite understand why I dislike XV so much. At it’s core, it’s just another post-2000 Final Fantasy game, complete with beautiful visuals, complicated but potentially fun mechanics, really good soundtrack, sexualization of (the few) female characters , male leads with over-exaggerated senses of purpose, and an over-complicated and yet somehow underwhelming plot. Top that off with character models that slide quickly into Uncanny Valley territory, and you basically have the package deal.
So, I’m someone who’s played most of the Final Fantasy games that have come out since 2000. I’ve followed Square Enix closely since I began gaming. I’ve been descried as a Final Fantasy nut. And yet, this game in particular bothers me incredibly. But why? Wasn’t I excited for it to come out just a few years ago? I thought that my grievances with XV were obvious, but I realized as a lot of fans may have not actually been waiting for it since it was called Versus XIII. Maybe most folks have forgotten what it was before it became the trainwreck it is today.
My problems with XV have very little to do with the game itself and have everything to do with the development of it. It has to do with the fears that Sarah Nixon wrote about last year when she covered the FFXV demo. It has to do with people, and how they’ve turned against or ignored the grievances myself and others have leveraged against the game. It has to do with Square Enix, saying they’re moving to listening to their fans more, and then ignoring the fact that their fans may not all be men. It has to do with Luna and Cidney and Crowe. It has to do with queerbaiting and sausage fests and over the course of ten years this is what we get.
The TL:DR version of it: It’s complicated.
If we’re going to talk about XV, we have to talk about the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy and Type-0. Because, though it really no longer seems the case, all of these games are related.
Plot-wise, the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, Final Fantasy Type-0, and Final Fantasy XV are all technically a part of that Fabula Nova Chrystallis subseries. Meaning they should, technically, share a common mythos. I’m not quite sure this is still the case. Though all five games are listed within the Fabula Nova, it seems that Type-0 only has a weak connection and I think the jury is out on XV. I don’t know for sure, having only played the XIII trilogy, but I know that from talking to others, it seems that the subseries weakened considerably due to delays and changes in Square Enix leadership, and thus, the games that were ultimately got released.
But it’s important to look at this subseries together. Originally, we had XIII, Versus XIII (now XV), and Agito XIII (now Type-0). For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to refer to them by the titles they actually released as. Of course, things change, especially when they take 10 years to develop. But it’s interesting to note that though Type-0 and XIII stayed along the same vein, XV changed quite drastically. So much so that it’s hard to call it the game that Versus XIII was announced to be. I feel like Noctis is the only thing that remains from Versus XIII. And that may not be a good thing.
You see, back when all of these games were announced, they all seemed in parallel. That means Noctis was a very interesting opposite to Lightning, the main character to Final Fantasy XIII. Right down to character design, station in life, and mood. Well..actually, their forced apathy lined up really well. But even the coloration of Versus XIII seemed mirror-world to XIII’s bright saturation. Without any plot revealed, I (and I suspect others) were really excited in 2006. We had Lighting the Soldier. What would Noctis the Prince bring to the table?
Ultimately, I sometimes wish I knew what Versus XIII would have been. But maybe I put too much optimism into this company, and this is exactly what the game was intended to be. I doubt I’ll ever know.
I guess I need to pause here. Because there are a lot of people who despise the XIII trilogy. I’m not one of them. But I can see why. XIII was downright boring. It was railroaded, the bosses overused the Doom spell, the music left more to be desired, and while the plot had imaginative elements, the strange delivery of lines and outright stupidity of situations made the thing hard to like. I can say this. I’ve played through twice and put way more hours into this terrible game than I should admit. My partner even 100%ed it.
But I feel like the trilogy, as it developed, presents an unique feedback loop where Square Enix made the subsequent two games responding to direct critiques to the predecessor. XIII was too linear, offered little freedom, gameplay was unnecessarily numbers based, and had too many characters to connect to? XIII-2 brings a nonlinear storyline, smaller character base, multiple endings, and updated the combat system and gameplay. Not completely happy with this? Lightning Returns adds more freedom, makes the game mission-based, changes the battle system completely (to something really fun, at least to me), and closes out the series. Sure, it took three games, but Lightning Returns ended up really solid. However, I understand that most people never made it that far.
Sure, the plot never got any less convoluted and XIII-2 and Lightning Returns made me question why anyone would ever play XIII in the first place, but it showed definite, complete, improvement.
After about five years ago, I really stopped expecting XV to jive with XIII’s plot. It wasn’t going to happen. The foil world I’d hoped for was gone. That’s fine. I’ve done my best to let that go.
However, and with all the problems of XIII and Type-0, it’s important to look at their casts. Because, more than possibly any Final Fantasy game before them, XIII and Type-0 presented almost balanced casts. They presented diversity.
The XIII trilogy always based around a female main character, either Lighting or Serah. Both XIII and Type-0 had canon lesbian and gay characters. Type-0 had a group that broke the gender binary and was gender neutral. Sure, they were also moogles, but the point stands. XIII had Sazh Kaztroy, the first black character in the main cast to my knowledge since Barret Wallace in Final Fantasy VII.
These games were not without their problems. I’ll be the first to admit it. Sazh was ever the token black man, afro and chocochick included. The vast number of female characters, either playable or not, were sexualized in some way, from outfits to actions. These games were in no way perfect, but they were a conscious step in the right direction.
So how’d we get from there to the all-male cast of Final Fantasy XV?
My excitement for XV died when Stella and the rumored other main-cast female characters vanished.This happened around 2011 with the title change, but was solidified when the inundation of marketing began for XV. Interestingly enough, it seems that Stella and the others were all combined in some way to make Lunafreya. Somehow, she’s still a flat, sexualized showpiece. And I’ve heard from friends playing that she’s incredibly disposable to the plot. She probably could be replaced by a lamp.
And she’s not even playable.
I was also super excited for the announcement of Cid, at first. Cid is a female character in XV! A mechanic to her core, the Cid of her universe. But no, she’s Cideny, she’s dressed in a highly sexualized fashion, bent over cars for boobs and butt shots. She’s the fanboy’s marketing tool, please buy this game to stare at my tits.
In fact, XV kind of seems wrapped around reducing women to nonexistent or sex objects. I was told that in Kingsglaive, Crowe was actually a fantastic female character, but she was quickly written out by death. Dying, in fact, for a man, because of a man, and some time before the halfway mark of the movie.
Also I will never be okay with the names they picked for these characters. You can’t just put Latin words out there or together because you think they sound cool. Gladiolus Amicita? You named someone friend sword for fuck’s sake. I thought naming people after weather was bad enough, but no! We’ve got Friend Sword in the mix now!
(Actually, if we want to do a literal translation, his name means “Short Sword [of] friendship, but you get my point).
They’re all that bad.
So in 10 years we went from a mirror of an almost diverse Final Fantasy game to a homoerotic-subtext-laden, boy-band road trip. If you want a female playable character you have to get the DLC. But it may be only in multiplayer.
On top of all that, and perhaps this is just me, but XV seems inescapable. I feel inundated with marketing for this game. And movie. And anime. And novella? They built this whole universe before the game came out.
Can I complain about that? Really? I’m not sure. I mentioned before being a fan of FFVII, but at least that compilation came out after the game. The world of FFXV is well established, but for what? Could nowhere in this universe we have a compelling female lead? A compelling group of characters? All this work, all this marketing and hype, and yet we’re handed an empty (but developed) universe?
This whole FFXV universe seems so focused on men. Care about this man. Help this man get his throne back. Feel bad about this man. Lust over this man. Etc, etc. In all of those compilation universe documents we don’t have one interesting or strong female character or gender diverse character to be interested in.
And yet it feels like this game is everywhere. Which, I mean, I guess that points to Square Enix pouring so much into the marketing of this game on top of everything else. But it makes me fear for their other products, things I might have been looking forward to (I’m now super nervous about the FFVII remake, honestly).
But this also brings up the idea that marketing, especially a high profile marketing campaign, makes the game good. Even if that may not be the case.
Marketing creates hype, that’s for sure. But marketing can also sell a different game than what was actually released. We saw that with No Man’s Sky.
On top of all that, I’ve hit the dudebros hard. I get a lot of stop being so feminist or who cares about the female characters? I get a lot of but look how pretty the men are and Final Fantasy XV is too feminine already!
I think, ultimately, XV feels like a betrayal. Square Enix said they were going to start listening to their fans, but I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that people like me don’t count. They don’t want to listen to us. They don’t want to make complex female characters anymore. They don’t want to have people who break the heteronormative or hetereosexual mold.
They definitely listen to their male fans. That was so obvious when the complaints went up about Mobius Final Fantasy’s ‘too sexy’ male armor on the main character. So many men complained and Square Enix changed his character design. Despite points made by everyone else saying “yeah but you’ve done this to women for years and never had a problem.” But obviously, that didn’t matter.
I’m not a man, so I’m not their fan.
It’s why I struggle with wanting to play FFXV. Honestly. I do. I’m morbidly curious on how bad the plot is. I want to see the world–it looks amazing! It looks developed! I want to try out the new game mechanics that I’ve been told are solid. I want to launch Noctis straight into a Behemoth.
But I don’t want to support Square Enix for this. I don’t want to be complacent in the overall shaft they’ve given their non-male fans in this game. I’ll play the game, sure. Maybe eventually. When it’s used, and not 60$ and after everyone else stops talking about it. I’ll play it and have another reminder that the game industry forgets about anything that isn’t men.
Ultimately, that’s why I hate FFXV. It could have been something for me, but it never was.