I like to talk about video games as a writer because they are such an interesting storytelling form. They have their own rules and limitations. They’re also very expensive stories that depend on technology, and the choices made in creating them are often fascinating. And sometimes they can teach writers a thing or two about their own craft. So if you like rambling discussions about digital people and their quests, pull up a chair and enjoy.
A while ago, I wrote about playing Final Fantasy XV. If you’re interested, you can read it here. Reactions to the game have been mixed, more so as DLC and other add-ons continue to be made more than a year after its first release. Since I played the game, there have been multiple updates like new cutscenes, an alternate chapter (which I’ll talk about later on), new models for the Regalia (I promptly jumped the monster truck onto a rooftop and was disappointed to find it teleported to the ground so they could get out), new incidental dialogue (an update that came with disappearing weapons, making it look like they were fighting demons with air guitars), a couple limited-time festival events, and three major DLC episodes for each of the companions. I was charmed by the first of these special events, the Moogle Chocobo Festival. Since I’ve mostly played games years after their release date, it was a treat to be able to join in on the festivities for a game that other people are still playing. The festival itself had the familiar vibe of the Golden Saucer mini-games from FFVII, and it was fun to bop around in the beautiful Venice-like Altissia for a while.
However, soon after this, it became clear that these updates would go on, adding a lot in quantity, if not necessarily quality. Normally, I’d be thrilled that a story I liked would have so much extra content—a movie! An anime series! DLC! But even with all of this extra content, there are still gaps in the story. We now know that Noctis and Prompto are big Assassin’s Creed fans and Noctis apparently keeps his assassin cosplay in the trunk of the Regalia at all times, but that doesn’t add much to the story they’ve been building for a decade now.
FFXV: Episode Ignis is the last main character DLC to be released (though more DLC for other characters have been promised). Before I get into Episode Ignis in detail, I’ll mention up front that I haven’t played Episode Gladiolus or Episode Prompto. The first DLC takes place during a weird interlude in the main game when Gladio suddenly leaves the party for a time without explanation and the other three guys continue without him. (As a sidenote, during my play-through, the daily snapshots from this part of the game were almost exclusively group selfies, like they were trying to prove they could have more fun without Gladio) Even before the particulars of the DLC were announced, I’d already guessed that it would be about what Gladio was up to while he was gone. I wasn’t too interested, though, since it has clearly no bearing on the plot of the main story. Episode Prompto happens when he’s been captured by the villain Ardyn and is on his own for a time. I knew this one also couldn’t have too much of an impact on the main storyline since he still has to be Ardyn’s prisoner at the end of it all in order to fit into the story as we know it.
Episode Ignis, unlike the other installments, promised to answer some big questions from the main game. At a key turning point in the story, Noctis summons Leviathan in Altissia as the Empire is trying to overthrow the city. This proves to be a disaster. The city is nearly destroyed, Noctis is nearly killed, and his betrothed, Luna, is murdered by Ardyn.
Most of what follows is skipped over entirely. Noctis wakes up some time later and discovers that Ignis is blind (this isn’t the last time he will wake up with practically no one caring and not much idea of what’s going on). At some point that we don’t see, he’s told about what happened, as he was unconscious for most of it.
A lot of explanations are missing as the story goes on. We have no idea what happened to Ignis. We have no idea how Noctis is still alive. We have no idea why the Empire hasn’t killed all of them. Noctis is blamed for Ignis’ injuries, but we don’t know how that would be possible, other than generally it’s his quest that puts them all in danger. Much of the drama that unfolds after this hinges on what just happened, but we don’t know what exactly did happen. There was a definite hole in the story, and it seemed obvious that this piece was being held back.
Episode Ignis was promoted with a dramatic picture of Ignis dragging Noctis through a battlefield with Ravus behind him carrying Luna’s body. In one picture, the DLC promised to answer some of these questions that I had. I was pretty excited for the release. It was like an early Christmas present.
Setting the Stage
The DLC begins with a short scene from the past, Ignis meeting the prince for what might be the first time when they’re children. King Regis explains, “A king pushes onward always, accepting the consequences and never looking back. That said, a king can accept nothing without first accepting himself.” He brings a somewhat reluctant Noctis forward and continues, “Should he stand still, I ask that you stand by him and lend him a hand—as his friend, and as his brother. Please, take care of my son.” Ignis extends a hand, which Noctis takes and then gives him a cheery smile.
This scene fades to black, and Ignis says, “I’m afraid I must ask your forgiveness.” From there, I was hooked.
Of course, I am a little biased in my preference for this DLC. Ignis is my favorite of the companions from the main game. But he’s also the most developed and, more than Gladio or Prompto, is present for the important moments of the story. He faces the greatest trials and sacrifices the most in his service to Noctis, and it was nice to see that Episode Ignis was letting some of the story actually be about him.
Ignis is separated early on from Gladio and Prompto as they work to evacuate Altissia. Alone, he battles through Empire forces towards the harbor where Leviathan’s altar is. From a viewpoint on the rooftops (thanks to the new grappling hook feature), you can see the Empire airships closing in on Titan, another Astral. From the main storyline, we know that Luna summoned Titan to protect Noctis after he fought Leviathan. This is the part of the story when things are sliding out of control. The massive stone giant smashes ships out of the air, but it won’t save them. Ignis immediately knows that he needs to get there.
Naturally, this DLC isn’t straight story. There are a lot of enemies for the player to get used to the new battle system with Ignis’ elemental spell daggers, which were quite great. Ignis, the mage of the group, has a fighting style that is elegant and powerful, and the controls were easy to learn. Later, he’s joined by Ravus, who has defected from the Empire to find his sister Luna in the rapidly deteriorating situation.
Exploring Some New Territory
There was an interesting moment where the two stop to have a conversation, which highlights how little the other characters interact in the story. These two know each other, but they’ve never really talked before. Ravus is almost an afterthought in the main game. In the Kingsglaive movie, he tried to claim Noctis’ throne by putting on the Ring of the Lucii, but because he was not worthy, the Ring burned off his arm. He has never thought of Noctis as the real king and resents Luna’s devotion to him, in her duty as the Oracle and in love. The conversation that he and Ignis have about Noctis isn’t earth-shaking, but it’s a nice moment when two players in this story have a little time to work out their place in it. Ignis is just one of Noctis’ retainers, but right then, it’s more than that. They’re brothers. Ravus is just a pawn of the Empire, but right then, he’s a brother wanting to protect his sister regardless of the consequences. The temporary alliance feels natural for the gameplay, though it is clear that it won’t last.
Intriguingly, there are a handful of moments when a voice breaks into the story to speak to Ignis. It’s not exactly clear what this voice is, but it seems to be from the Crystal that gives the Lucis kings, like Noctis, their power. At one point, he’s given a vision of the future, a glimpse into Noctis’ fate. If you’ve played the main game, this is the climax. Noctis gives up his life to defeat Ardyn. I was fascinated by this storytelling choice. The game never addresses whether or not the guys know Noctis’ destiny, and really, this is a hugely important element. Noctis doesn’t know that he is destined to die. If his closest friends do, then their quest becomes totally different. In the anime mini-series, Gladio’s episode hints that he initially thought that being Noctis’ bodyguard was a waste of time. This dialogue is cut off and never brought up again, but it makes me wonder if one version of FFXV’s decade-long development included the guys keeping this secret from Noctis as they grew up together. Other than this small mention, none of them act like they know how this story will end.
But Episode Ignis tells us that he’s been given a glimpse into the future, and it’s a future that contradicts his life’s work. He’s one of Noctis’ bodyguards who’s sworn to keep him safe…so that one day he can die. This is a great story moment, and it builds some tension—what will he do with this knowledge? Will he tell the others? More importantly, will he tell Noctis?
How Does This Story End?
Ignis and Ravus finally make it to the altar, but they are too late. Enraged at finding his sister’s body, Ravus lashes out at Ignis.
He blames Noctis for failing to protect her. While they fight, Ignis tries to get him to see that Noctis understands the loss that Ravus feels, as he has lost all of his family in the Empire’s coup, and that it was Luna’s choice to stand with him. After Ignis defeats Ravus, Gladio appears. But it’s evident by his total lack of concern that this is Ardyn in disguise. Ignis is subdued by Empire soldiers and forced to watch as Ardyn threatens Noctis. As Ardyn picks up his body, Noctis drops the Ring of the Lucii.
Ardyn offers Ignis the opportunity to side with him. At this point, the game gives you a choice—a promised “alternate ending.” For the first run-through, however, you must choose the canon ending. Ignis grabs the ring and puts it on, knowing it will probably kill him. The power of the ring allows him to satisfactorily trounce Ardyn, but it destroys his body.
As he stumbles back to the prince, his vision burns out. Noctis is the last thing he ever sees. The scene ends with Ignis asking for forgiveness, perhaps from King Regis.
The Theme of Brotherhood
One of my greatest difficulties with FFXV was the dropped theme of brotherhood. Noctis leaves for ten years, and when he awakens again, he’s alone. The guys have been preparing for him to come back, but they’re not there to greet him. Their reunion is quiet and almost awkward. He ultimately faces Ardyn alone as well. Episode Ignis picks the theme up again with the emotional opening between Noctis and Ignis and carries it through by having him wrestle with his own feelings and Noctis’ fate.
It includes two other scenes that were needed and missing from the main storyline. One is a scene of Ignis asking Noctis if he wants to give up after all that’s happened. Noctis loudly protests, saying that if he did, everyone’s sacrifices would be in vain. He’s aware of the cost, but he knows what he has to do. This is the first time he makes a kingly decision, and it didn’t make it into the main story. The second is a scene from the ten-year reunion. Noctis and Ignis have good discussion of what they’ve been through together, and Noctis thanks him for everything. Ignis puts out his hand, thinking of that first meeting, and Noctis takes it with a smile. Tears run down Ignis’ face. No doubt he’s thinking of his friend’s future. He already knows how this will all end. These were precise, short scenes, but they filled in some of what many felt was missing as they played the main game.
Overall, I thought Episode Ignis was very well done. It still has some problems, and still leaves some things unexplained. For starters, the promotional image never happens in the game. Ignis doesn’t take Noctis anywhere, much less touch him at all, and I can only guess that Ravus takes Luna away. We don’t know why the guys are able to take Noctis and leave in peace from Altissia when the Empire clearly took over. We still don’t know why Ravus’ body ends up at the bottom of an elevator shaft with a journal entry about his change of heart, or why he later appears as a demon in a boss fight that was harder than Ardyn. We don’t know why Ardyn didn’t kill Noctis too when he killed Luna, or why he was acting like he was going to kill him in front of Ignis when the main storyline makes it clear that Ardyn is trying to help Noctis reach his full powers (Ardyn’s villain plan is Eccentric and perhaps Daft, but that’s another story).
The alternate ending has a host of other problems and reads more like a fanfiction mash-up than a real alternative conclusion. When given the choice the second time, Ignis can choose to play along with Ardyn. At that point, he is somehow transported to where the Crystal is being kept. The game forces you to walk at a snail’s pace through the relatively empty storage spaces as the voice tells Ignis all about Noctis’ fate. Once Ignis reaches the Crystal, Ardyn appears and tells him exactly what his plan is. He hopes to use Ignis as bait to get Noctis to the Crystal so that he can reach his full powers, and Ignis decides to the use the ring to stop him so that Noctis doesn’t have to fight him.
The powers of the ring help him defeat Ardyn and forces him to retreat. Noctis and the others arrive shortly afterward and find Ignis dying. Noctis has what could have been a good moment when he struggles with his role as some kind of savior and being unable to save the ones he loves. Even Gladio seems upset. There’s a turning point when Noctis takes the ring from Ignis and puts it on, signifying his acceptance as king. He asks the Crystal for strength, and with its power, he’s able to heal Ignis. Then, leaving his friends, he goes to the Crystal and disappears after a significant head-nod to Ignis.
This ending has two things going for it. It has more emotional punch than the canon ending (at least the guys seem sad at the thought of Iggy dying, if not Noct possibly being dead in Altissia), and it lets Noctis step up to accept his role as king. In the main game, he is more or less tricked into getting absorbed into the Crystal against his will and kept there for ten years. In this version, it is his choice and accepted sacrifice.
The Canon is Still Better
In my discussion of the main game, I talked about how I thought Ignis receiving back his sight would have been a nice part of the ending. This alternate ending has Noctis doing that very thing, but it’s a bit too easy in this plotline. While it was confusing because of missing information, the part of the game dealing with all of the fallout after Altissia was well done, especially Ignis’ decision to keep going with them even though he’s realized that he’ll never see again. I’ll never forget stopping at one of the campsites to rest the party. It was raining, and the only food they could eat was a cold can of beans because Ignis couldn’t cook. No one talked to anyone. It was the most miserable I’ve ever felt playing a video game. Bravo.
Also, in the main game, I thought the moment when Noctis chose to accept his role was pretty powerful. It takes place in the notorious Chapter 13, which so many people hated that they made an alternate chapter about what Ignis and Gladio were doing in the meantime. It’s hard, because Noctis is cut off from his magic and his friends for the first time. This means he has no weapons and no backup. The player, like Noctis, has never been in this situation before and has to struggle to survive. There’s zombie-like robots strewn about the floor in some places that will sometimes reach out and grab you as you walk by, their red eyes glowing maniacally. You spend a lot of time avoiding patrols by hiding in cracks in the wall because you know you can’t fight off anything. It was a freaky level. By the time Noctis decides that he has to step up and get through this, I was right there with him. He chooses to put on the ring, which drains his life force to give the country magic. This is the moment when he becomes king—alone and frankly terrified, but determined.
I’m glad that this alternate ending (or the bad ending) wasn’t actually the canon choice, but it makes me wonder why they included it in the DLC. It doesn’t match the rest of the story, and it couldn’t have worked with the main game as it is. It has some elements that could have been good elsewhere, like showing some feeling between the guys, but overall, it seemed to be trying to give fans a happier ending (Ignis isn’t blind, Ravus lives, etc.) that clashes with the game itself.
I admit that while I am still not a fan of DLC for storytelling reasons, I am branching out for some of the stories that I enjoy. In Episode Ignis’ case, I’m happy that there is a way to put in more story where it was lacking before. I’m not sure they’ll ever straighten out FFXV into a complete, coherent story even with all of this extra content, but I’ve enjoyed this installment despite its issues.