Daniel Lipson dives into a personal journey he had with FFXV, exploring the ways that games intertwine with our lives, helping us through difficult times. Beware, spoilers ahead!
As anyone familiar with it knows, Final Fantasy XV is a road trip story. Its fragmented plot strands grow outside of the main game; the tie-in film, Kingsglaive, and the expansion chapters weave a winding story, and the game rewards you for taking things slowly. Due to some dramatic changes in my life, that’s exactly what I did.
Like the game’s hero Noctis and his crew, at the time I got the game, I had gone through a devastating loss and was embarking on a new adventure. I had just ended a long-term relationship, and lost my job soon afterwards. At that time I didn’t know where I was going, like many who dive into the open world of FFXV for the first time. So, I got in the car and let it take me where I needed to go.
At the start of the game, Noctis and company are sent away from the capital on a wild goose chase, unaware of its impending destruction. They have more immediate concerns: their car has broken down on the side of the road. Forced to focus on their present situation, the group is blind to what’s happening elsewhere. Even after they learn of the king’s death, they have little time to mourn before being pushed into another long series of quests.
In the first few months after my breakup, I was in a pretty sorry state. Having also lost my job, I would relish the small things – sending out a job application, going out to dinner with friends, spending time with family. As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, these small victories helped me focus and live in the present.
It’s fitting, then, that the first half of FFXV sees you rewarded for a string of small victories: minor subquests dotted about the map, hunts taking you off the beaten path, new abilities taking you to new places.
When dealing with a devastating loss, it’s always your friends and family who keep you moving forward. What’s refreshing about FFXV’s central characters is that, despite being four men, it isn’t a macho bro-fest like Gears of War. Its party is nuanced, with Ignis taking a motherly role, Prompto struggling with his image and emotional vulnerability, and even gruff Gladio struggling to live up to his duty as protector of the king.
But, as part of the privileged demographic myself, I identified most with Noctis. Here was a prince asked to reclaim the throne, but full of snark and cynicism, in no hurry to fight for his future. I knew that a linear, story driven sequence awaited me in Altissa. It took me many months before I was ready to set foot on that boat. I knew nothing would ever be the same.
Leaving Lucis was like admitting that there needed to be a change. I was discontent in my breakup, discontent with my unemployment, and running from the past. For months I floated around, living off small victories. There were many months where I wouldn’t pick up the game, further fragmenting Noctis’s journey. But eventually I was able to come to terms with the fact that stories can’t always have happy endings, so I pressed on.
When you’re dealing with a life-shattering loss, it hits in waves. If discovering the Fall of Insomnia was the initial loss of a relationship, or a job, then Lunafreya’s death was the lowest point in the recovery. After holding it together for months things hit rock bottom, and the nightmares and self-doubt become worse than ever.
After Noctis’s fight with Leviathan, the world of FFXV is never the same. Even his closest friends distrust him, his trademark cynicism washed with self-doubt and loathing. The reality of the Fall of Insomnia comes crashing down on him at that moment; the hope that his friends and his people placed in him and Luna has been snuffed out with her loss. Noctis was running from his destiny and his duty, and only upon seeing Luna’s speech did he understand the need to bring his people hope – only for it to be extinguished moments later.
When you’re going through a big breakup, you feel like half of you is ripped away. For Noctis, losing Luna meant losing hope and his sense of royal duty. In a relationship you safeguard each other’s weaknesses, so the pairing becomes stronger than the sum of its parts. For me, a person often shrouded in self-doubt, being with someone who embodied confidence allowed me to shield my self-doubt. When the relationship ended, those doubts came gushing out.
Every voice in your head screams at once: pointing out your mistakes and casting blame. Eventually, you have to accept yourself and what happened, and find a way to move past it. Later on the train, when Gladio lambastes Noctis for neglecting his responsibilities, the cynical and complacent prince is overwhelmed with guilt. He must find strength to move forward.
Noctis and his friends are forced to stumble along a slow path towards rebuilding their trust in each other. It’s only by regaining trust in himself that Noctis is able to heal and take on his role as King of Lucis. At the end of Chapter 13, we see him with renewed faith in his friends, willing to make a noble sacrifice to serve the people, and fulfill his promises to his father and Luna.
Before I depart for the final fight, I decide I’m finally ready to take stock of the past through the game’s time travel mechanic. The game has changed in the year since I started: updates have made hunts much more manageable and introduced the ability to swap party members during fights. But more than this, revisiting the past reminds me of the fond memories I made on the way to Altissia – things that once seemed trivial are given great value.
When I lost my job my ex said it was a great opportunity. Freshly wounded, I couldn’t see the truth in those words. Looking back, I was able to accomplish a great deal because everything around me was falling away; I could experiment, take risks, and make mistakes with impunity.
Once I had overcome the initial shock of the breakup, I spent more time exploring my passions. I began attending local game developer meetups, and started working on a game with a group of fledgling developers. I took a job for low pay that allowed me to gain important skills and experiences, which lifted me further towards a career that I could only dream of a year prior.
Most importantly, I reconnected with old friends, and made new ones that helped me to heal throughout the year. One of my greatest friendships came from a new housemate who constantly challenged my way of thinking. Through constantly being questioned about my passions and interests, I became more confident in what I believed in. At the end, I was able to re-forge my identity, stronger than ever, just as Noctis did.
When Noctis wakes up in the World of Ruin, he finds a place clutching the last seeds of hope, overcome with darkness and monsters. He and his friends must bring light back to the world. The heroes cast their doubts aside and are united. Battle-wearied but stronger than ever, they step forth into the darkness.
When a relationship ends, there comes a moment when you step into the light and look towards the future. For Noctis, and for me, that meant letting go of the past and being hopeful for the future. What follows is an open road.