Stop the Regalia, I want to get out. In my quest to finish Final Fantasy XV before this Friday, when it disappears from both Xbox Game Pass and my Series S, I’ve reached the point in the game I’ve been dreading. It’s the moment when the story takes a 180-degree turn from lighthearted road-trip romp into a barely recognizable grimdark treatise on war and sacrifice. Oh my Shiva, I hate it.
A lot happened over the weekend to get me to this point—the boys did some light guerrilla warfare, we climbed a volcano twice, ate our way through the continent, got our ass kicked by a gorgeous dragoon, and made nearly 90,000 gil taking photos.
In doing all that I amassed a whopping 19 hours of playtime, bringing me to 26 hours total. Of those 19 hours, I’d estimate only five of them were spent doing story events. I just couldn’t rush this game and now—as I stare down the prospect of being railroaded straight into the depressing endgame—I’m so glad I didn’t. I’m pretty sure my reticence to just do the story came from the fact that I was finding, doing, and seeing a lot of stuff I missed during my first playthrough.
For example: I had no idea that you could have little one-off side-quests with the boys. After finishing a hunt in the Galdin Quay area I rested at a nearby campsite. In the morning, Gladio pulled me aside and asked if I’d go on a run with him in the morning. Naturally I said yes, and the next day he and I had a race on the beach. Noctis bitched and moaned the entire time because he’s not a morning person, but at the end of the race he said something like “You know, it’s kinda nice at this hour,” and the camera panned up to get this (and I cannot stress this enough) beautiful wide shot of the entire beach soaked in sunrise while Gladio said “If that’s all you take from this, that’s good enough for me.” Cue my heart melting. It’s like the game was telling me, “Yes, Ash, you just wasted another five minutes doing something unrelated to your ultimate goal, but hey, you did get to see an otherwise unseeable shot of your favorite location. So if that’s all you get from this, then it was worth it.”
I spent all of Saturday finding the camps that allowed me to see those little vignettes and learned some interesting Final Fantasy lore for my troubles. In one of the Prompto adventures, he asked me to help him get a picture of a catoblepas. Now the catoblepas is a bull-like monster of Greek origin that appears in many games, not just the Final Fantasy series, and for the longest time I thought it was pronounced “kah-toe-BLEE-pis.” Turns out, I’m wrong—it’s pronounced “kah-TOE-ble-pas” (which rhymes with how Strongbad says “fhqwhgads.”) [Hums] “Come on catoblepas, I said come on catoblepas.”
Special shout out to the reader who, in response to my money troubles, suggested I seek out Vyv in Lestallum. I completed every quest he had, and the resulting cash has me up to my eyeballs in curatives. It’s also why I ended up climbing a volcano twice—once to get a picture for him and twice because once I got down from the volcano I got a notification for another quest. Since I was already there, I decided to go back up the mountain, burning the rubber off my shoes (and the HP from the chocobros’ health bars) all to find one of the hidden Royal Arms. I didn’t do much with the Royal Arms in my first playthrough, put off by their HP-draining properties, but finding a hidden one by chance has me obsessed with finding the rest. I already obtained another optional Royal Arm which, when combined with the ones I’ve obtained through the main quest, put me at eight of 13. Still don’t use them that much though, as my Ragnarok is still getting shit done pretty easily.
My quest to finish FF15 before time’s up meant that I would finally need to get back to the story, bringing my good times to a bitter end. I hit the part that I won’t spoil that I’m going to call The Sad Moment. There have been a lot of Final Fantasy Sad Moments that really didn’t feel sad to me, and moments that aren’t supposed to be sad but are utterly gutting. I felt nothing about FF7’s big surprise (if you know, you know). But I bawled like a newborn child when, in Final Fantasy XIII, Sazh Katzroy’s son Dahj was restored and Sazh—the jokey everyman who happens to be one of the best goddamn characters in all of Final Fantasy canon—falls to his knees, embraces his son, and wails. I wanted to feel something for FF15’s Sad Moment and I think I did, but more from the voice acting and visuals of the scene than from any attachment I had to the characters involved.
What made me feel sadder was that after that Moment, the game fundamentally changed. No more fun rides in the car (except through a deus ex canine-ica that will allow me to travel back in time to before the point of no return). The game is all sad-boy hours now, which fucking sucks.
I gotta say though, I love the way FF15 emphasises how much things are Different now through changing up the way you’re used to playing. That stat-boosting food you’re used to eating? That’s gone—replaced with Cup Noodles or, if you didn’t buy any like me, a cold can of questionable food. When you make camp, instead of everyone sitting congenially around a campfire, the game makes a point of showing Gladio getting up and walking away in disgust to sit by himself. Even the pictures have changed. Instead of being fun selfies or candid shots of the boys smiling, all Prompto catches with his camera is shots of the back of everyone’s heads and Noctis hanging his in grief.
I’m in Chapter 11 of 15 now. Where before I agonized over whether I would finish in time, I feel pretty good about my chances. So good that I’m going to potentially sabotage myself with a few new goals. I intend to find all the Royal Arms, including the one hidden in the optional mega-dungeon Costlemark Tower. (I’ve also got a quest for Dino the New Jerseyan Jeweler there I’m looking to complete.) Most importantly, I’m going to complete all the character episodes.
I’m pretty sure giving myself all this main-quest-distracting busywork is a way for me to stave off the inevitable. I don’t want this game to end, especially because I am cursed with the foreknowledge that its end is so different and supremely unsatisfying from its beginning. If Final Fantasy XV was just a collection of disparate adventures glued together by a story about the bonds of friendship it would go down as an all-time great. But it’s not, and were it not for the blessed ability to go back to the past and continue to wander, I’d consider quitting right now. Since I didn’t finish the game when it came out, and my memory of the endgame is so dim, I’m hoping there’s something I missed that redeems the story. Maybe the character episodes—which I also have yet to experience—help there too. Whatever the case, I’m in the home stretch with five days left. See you all tomorrow.