The Final Fantasy XV RPG (role-playing game) video game has one of the longest development times in the industry’s history. First, it was part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis subseries of Final Fantasy video games under the name Final Fantasy Versus XIII.
That’s right. The game was announced nearly 10 years ago. 10 years of reworking the game from ground-up. 10 years of artists and graphic designers and programmers working tirelessly to make this game worthy of the name of Final Fantasy.
Was the game that was finally produced meet the expectations of the fans that waited for it? Well, yes and no. It is an excellent game, but there are some things lost in the shuffle. This article is going to focus on the presence of the Nifheim empire acting as the game’s primary antagonists – or rather, the lack of one.
The typical road of a role-playing game is to have a massive empire serving as the symbol of oppression and domination. Star Wars had the Galactic Empire, Lord of the Rings had Mordor, and so on. Yet Final Fantasy XV has taken a different path in regard of the enemy’s portrayal in that it centers on one individual: Ardyn Izunia, Imperial Chancellor of Nifheim.
Ardyn’s role is ambiguous for much of the game. He helps main protagonist Noctis Lucis at crucial moments, often offering help when the characters have found themselves at the mercy of the destruction that they inadvertently cause. Never mind that the Empire is responsible for the destruction of Noctis’ country of Lucis. He’s always there at the nick of time. Without Ardyn, the party would have perished twenty times over.
My point is this: Ardyn is Imperial Chancellor – but where is everyone else? Where is the Emperor? In the whole of the game, the Emperor Iedolas Aldercapt is seen in one cutscene, ranting and raving about the Crystal, a mystical artifact that he believes is his by royal birthright.
Other than an occasional mention in a loading screen (a sort of waiting period for the game to boot up between actual gameplay), the player doesn’t get to know the Emperor at all. He is given an undignified death, having been transformed off-screen into a beast that has no trace of the flesh and blood man he was. Just a sentence of acknowledgment and horror. No pomp, no tense buildup – he is a throwaway character.
So why is the great big enemy empire represented by one person? Well, the answer might be found in the years of the game’s beginnings. Ten years is a long time. Not every idea is used in the final product. The creation of a game is fluid. Characters that are important to the plot are sometimes cast aside when the story organically moves in a different direction.
Back when Fifteen was Final Fantasy Versus XIII, there was the character Stella Nox Fleuret, a woman that shared Noctis’ power to see the dead. Unfortunately, she did not survive the editing process, though portions of her character were remade into Lunafreya Fleuret, an essential (though still supporting) character to Fifteen’s mythos. There’s only so much content a game console can handle, and sometimes things are lost to compensate for a game’s strengths (in this case, epic and beautiful graphics).
Another answer lies in the way the game was perceived. Final Fantasy XV was imagined as a franchise, and the story often gets explained in other forms of media. Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is a movie telling of the off-screen events happening in Noctis’ home country of Lucis while he travels the world of Eos in the main game. Emperor Aldercapt has a bigger role in the movie, feigning an offer of peace to betray Lucis and obtain the Crystal.
Did Final Fantasy XV fire on all cylinders when it was released? Of course not. After all the hype building over 10 years, no one could hope to ascend such exaggerated expectations. Yes, Ardyn is ultimately revealed as the master manipulator, having used the Emperor and his Empire for his own diabolic ends.
But ignoring the other members of the Nifheim Empire dilutes the menace that empires usually exudes in the other epic adventures characteristic to the genre. Is Fifteen a bad game? No. But it would have been nice to have an Emperor that actually rules, not one that amounts to no more than a footnote.
But that’s my opinion. Play the game and decide for yourself.