This post is part of a year long effort of monthly themes – a focus to point my attention at each month that revolves around either a culture I’d like to learn more about or a piece of popular culture that I’m in the mood for or simply love. This idea stemmed from the popular practice of Norsevember, which I participated in whole-heartedly in 2020.
A Month of Final Fantasy
Choosing Final Fantasy as my first theme of the year was part laziness and part mood. I am generally always a few steps away from playing a Final Fantasy game – whether its replaying an old one or simply diving back into Final Fantasy XIV. I’ve been invested again in the MMO for a few months now, having finally found a static to do end-game raids with, and so the transition was simple. There were other factors that seemed to align, which I will detail below.
Most of this month revolved around one particular game, and that was Final Fantasy XV.
Final Fantasy XV
I played my first Final Fantasy game somewhere around the year 1995. I used to borrow Super Nintendo games from a friend when I was sick of replaying Super Mario World and Breath of Fire over and over. He had a copy of Final Fantasy VI, at the time called Final Fantasy III in the U.S. due to several games in the series never making the trip over from Japan. It would quickly become my favorite game and would continue to be to this day. It has cemented itself nostalgically in my mind in such a way that the rose-colored glasses simply don’t come off. I would go on to play nearly every other Final Fantasy game after that, outside of a few spin-offs, and this series has become important to my life in a way that’s more meaningful than most of the family I’ve drifted away from. Blood is thin, but materia is forever.
When FFXV came out in 2016, I bought a copy for the PlayStation 4, played about two hours, and then stopped playing it for two years. I do not remember what caused me to stow it because I really enjoyed the beginning, and it was one of the best looking games I’d ever seen (still is). Regardless, I never played that PS4 copy again, and it languishes forlornly in its case on a shelf never to be touched. When I finally did pick up the game once more, it was only because it had come out on Xbox Game Pass for PC in 2020, and I was curious to test my laptop’s mettle against such a beauty. I’m not sure I intended to play the whole thing this way, but I ended up pouring about 35 hours into that initial foray and found that I quite loved this misfit game. I set it down again for a while, but picked it back up when I bought an Xbox Series X, where it was not only on the Game Pass service, but astonishingly pretty on my HDTV at 60 FPS – something my PC could not have pulled off. This entire month I have been playing through the game, not only finishing its main story, but diving into all the ridiculous nonsense that Final Fantasy games are known for.
As it turns out, this is one of my favorite Final Fantasy games. I could be suffering from proximity affection, and perhaps in a year I won’t remember why I loved it so. The combat system is a real mixed bag – a sort of predecessor to the Final Fantasy VII Remake combat that is very popular. The story is a real mess, not because it isn’t a good story because it’s quite good, but rather its execution is simply a tangle of different releases and patches and had I not played it now, when everything that will be released is released, I might have been very frustrating.
Just last night I finished up what I wanted to finish with FFXV. I did nearly everything one could do in the game, and I might have kept playing it to finish some of the more severe portions if it hadn’t left Game Pass at around 12am last night. The only things I really left hanging were not defeating Omega Weapon and not finishing the final Menace Dungeon in Castlemark. These are two challenges that would have taken lots of preparation and likely dozens of hours to do on their own, and I just felt like being done and satisfied with what I’d accomplished to that point. I will likely go back to this game and maybe even replay it on the PS5 next year.
You will find lists on the internet of the proper order to play and watch everything involving Final Fantasy XV’s story – from DLC to YouTube anime spin-offs. First on this list is the CGI-movie Kingsglaive, released prior to FFXV back in 2016 and almost integral to understanding the plot of the game. The movie revolves around the father of Noctis, Noctis being the main protagonist of FFXV, and a troupe of warriors called the Kingsglaive. The Kingsglaive guard the King, in this case Regis Lucis Caelum, ruler of the kingdom of Insomnia and a very powerful warrior-mage. Nyx is one of the Kingsglaive and the story revolves mostly around him, with also a decent chunk centering on Lunafreya – Noctis’ bride to be and the messenger to the gods.
Many of us remember 2001’s ill-fated Spirits Within – a movie that promised a revolution of CGI-based cinema and only succeeding in almost bankrupting one of the most beloved game developers in the world. Now, I actually liked Spirits Within – not enough to watch it more than once, but I remember enjoying it. I was one of very few because that movie tanked hard. Despite many years in between the two, people might have expected Kingsglaive to do the same. It didn’t get the big blockbuster cinema release that Spirits Within did, but it had star power, with the likes of Sean Bean, Lena Headey, and Aaron Paul attached. I watched Kingsglaive somewhere around the halfway point of the game’s narrative, which is well after the point in-game where the events of Kingsglaive occur. I was surprised by how much I liked it. The movie is good, as far as fantasy-action movies go, and it has probably the best visuals of anything made with CGI that I’ve ever seen. It surpasses the uncanny valley at times, and the only hiccup in this is the unfortunate necessity to over-animate mouth movements so that they look more English-language. I suspect watching the movie in its native Japanese erases this nitpick completely. And the movie very much does relate to its watcher more of what’s actually going on with the Niflheim Empire and what happened to Noctis’ father. It’s perhaps not required, but it adds quite a bit to the experience of being in this world. Which brings me to my next section.
Final Fantasy XV – The Dawn of the Future
The original roadmap of downloadable content for Final Fantasy XV was a series of episodes for almost all of the central characters – smaller portions of game that would help fill in the blanks that the main game left open. They made good on some of these DLCs, with proper episodes for Noctis’ boy band and one for the game’s villain (and Episode Ardyn might be some of the best DLC I’ve ever played). There were supposed to be further episodes for Aranea, Lunafreya, and then a penultimate one that sets the characters up against god himself in true anime style. While those didn’t happen, this book did.
Written by Jun Eishima, who is prolific in the video game novelization world, The Dawn of the Future is divided up into four sections. The first section is word for word the events of Episode Ardyn, and its content is so important to the plot of both the game and the understanding of the world that I’m shocked it came into being so late. Ardyn is one of the best villains in the entire franchise, but without knowing the story laid out in Episode Ardyn, players might never understand why. The second section is about one of the tangential characters in the game, Aranea Highwind whose presence is seldom but impactful because she’s just damn cool.
Where Ardyn’s section takes places before Noctis is even born, Aranea’s rides in tandem with his own journey. It has almost none of the plot importance of Ardyn’s, but it’s fun. The third section is about one of the other characters whose in-game screen time is woefully short – Lunafreya. Luna’s section has her being resurrected by Bahamut and given the same suite of powers that the Bladekeeper gave to Ardyn some 2000 years ago. She also meets, Sol, the grand-daughter of the latest Emperor of Niflheim, which is a fun contrast (even if the contrast in names is a little too on-point). The final episode is nutty. It completely changes the ending of the game, and instead of Noctis killing Ardyn and then himself fading away, it has all the characters attacking Bahamut himself in what is typical “attack and dethrone god” anime stuff. I’m conflicted on which ending I prefer because the in-game ending has a poetic tragedy to it but the book ending would have been a lot of fun.
In all, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Jun Eishima is a solid writer and they have a good translator on board for their work (I’d read a Nier: Automata book by the same author last year that I enjoyed as well). The book is also quite beautiful, with lots of full-color panels of various concept art in the back.
Final Fantasy XIV – Patch 5.4 Savage
I have been subscribed to FFXIV off and on since about 2013, so including this as part of any month feels a little like cheating. But it is Final Fantasy month so I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about what I’d been up to in the long-running MMO.
In December of last year, patch 5.4 for the Shadowbringers expansion dropped, bringing with it a new raid. This is the third tier in the expansion raids, and consequently will be the last (meaning that, traditionally, this will be the final raid tier and thus the hardest content in the game barring some random Ultimate fights).I had found a static group (meaning, a group of eight folks who schedule raids together on a consistent fashion) in November of 2020, and we’d quickly progressed through the previous tier of raids in anticipation of this upcoming one.
We got off to a pretty slow start, but through the month of January we were able to clear the first three of four fights of this raid tier. We now have the daunting and arduous task of learning the final fight – one that is easily the hardest thing I’ve done in FFXIV. Once we’ve completed that, I’m not sure what else we’d do aside from maybe some of those Ultimate fights, which are basically designed for bored raiders to bang their heads against while they wait for more content. As the next expansion is likely to be announced on the 5th of February, this could be as early as late next year.
Throughout this entire post, a reader might be wondering why the hell I called it Final Flanuary. The reason is half-baked, pun intended, and a flimsy excuse to portmaneau the words January and Final Fantasy. But flans are a Final Fantasy thing and always have been.
In the Final Fantasy series, since the very first game, there has been an enemy archetype called “flan.” It often gets similar names, like creme brulee or slime, or jelly, but it always has a similar appearance (outside of the first game where it looked more alien than its subsequent designs). It looks like a blob of various colors and is usually highly resistance to physical attacks and weak to some some specific element. Though not as glamorous as the chocobos and moogles that are so familiar to the series, the flan is just as constant of a presence in the 30+ years of its existence.
In order to marry the two concepts of January and Final Fantasy, I knew what I need to do. I had to find and consume the flan. I had originally intended to make my own, but because I’m lazy and because I basically waited until the last minute to fulfill this particular goal, I bought some from the grocery store that’s a two minute walk from my house. It is not a traditional flan, but rather a fruit flan, and because it had flan in the name, I counted it for the purposes of this challenge. Also, it was quite delicious and I would eat it again.
Things I’d Haved Liked To Do
A month isn’t so long. I probably put about 40 hours total into FFXV, and probably the same into FFXIV raiding. The book may have taken around that long as well, though I was never keeping track. The thing with Final Fantasy though, is that even if you’ve spent near countless hours mucking around in these various worlds, there’s always something left undone.
In my case, there are some games on my bucket list that I would have liked to cross off. FFXV was one of them, and it was likely the most important one.
Here are some others:
- World of Final Fantasy – This is a quirky game, set in a Kingdom Hearts-like world where all Final Fantasies exist in tandem. I played a demo years ago and thought it was surprisingly fun, then bought it cheap on PC a while back but have never gotten to it.
- Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII – Lighting is one of my favorite FF protagonists, and XIII is one of my favorite games. This game had such potential, with Lightning as the only character and a suite of cool outfits to change into. However, I played through a lot of this game and simply didn’t like it at the time. I want to give it another shake though.
- Final Fantasy Type 0 – I actually played through the prologue of this misfit FF title that takes place in a military academy like setting. It plays similar to FFXV, but not quite as refined, with what seem to be more strategic elements at work. It didn’t catch me this time but I’d like to try it yet.
- Final Fantasy X Remastered – I played this a few years ago right up the very ending and then quit and I don’t know why. I just need to tip over that edge.
- Final Fantasy X-2 Remastered – This is another big one on the bucket list. I think I’d enjoy this nonsensical adventure of fashion and idol-stardom.
- Final Fantasy VII Remake Platinum – I finished this game in 2020 and absolutely loved it, despite a lukewarm start. I plan on getting the platinum regardless of whether or not I’m in Final Flanuary, and am excited to play this on PS5.
- Final Fantasy XI Expansions – I played through the main story of Final Fantasy XI sometime early last year and was surprised at how much I enjoyed playing this now-ancient MMO. I want to do the expansions someday and maybe even take a character to level cap (if it survives much longer).
- Final Fantasy XIV – Job Leveling – I did manage to level Gunbreaker to 80 in January, but I’d like to finish leveling off all the jobs, and I only have White Mage, Dragoon, Astrologist, and Machinist to go.
- Final Fantasy VIII Remastered – I played through a handful of hours of this on Switch and want to get back to in, even though it feels very dated.
- Final Fantasy XII Remastered – I played this up until Giruvegan and then just got pissed off at that stupid dungeon and its ridiculous respawn mecanics.
This feels like a good start to a year of themes. The truth is, I won’t stop playing Final Fantasy games simply because I devoted a month to them. The series is one of my top two of all time, only competing with Fire Emblem and Dragon Age/Baldur’s Gate or Zelda. I doubt I’ll be dropping my FFXIV subscription any time soon, and I’d like to cross another one of those bucket list games off before too long.
My next month is devoted to all things Marvel, spurred on by the release of WandaVision. I plan to go a little deeper with this, and in that will likely do a bunch more blogging throughout the month instead of a big long post at the end. As much Final Fantasy as there is in the world, there is a LOT more Marvel content out there to consume. I started early, cutting into Final Flanuary by picking up Marvel’s Avengers on the Xbox and reading through a slew of comics. I also started watching Legion, which is fairly disconnected from most other Marvel properties but is still quite excellent for what it does.
Check back here for updates if this whole concept seems at all interesting. I hope I have the focus and stamina to see the whole year through!