Final Fantasy XV has been out for a couple of weeks now. While console game sales are on the downward trend, especially in Japan, the game seems to be faring well enough commercially. It shipped over five million units on its first day, which is impressive considering how much the market has changed since the last numbered Final Fantasy game released. I was among those who eagerly snapped up the game on release day. Now that I've had enough time to beat FFXV and let my feelings simmer for about a week, I find that my dissatisfaction with its narrative grows exponentially by the day. One of my key issues? The absolutely piss-poor writing for the game's women.
Everywhere I look on social media, I see people exuberantly sharing screenshots of Final Fantasy XV. Prompto's photographic documentation of the crew's journey across Eos is one of my favorite features, and it's clear from the number of #PS4Share tweets I'm seeing that leagues of people feel the same. In fact, I see so much enthusiasm - particularly surrounding the game's first half, the road trip - that many people seem content to give the rest a free pass. Frankly, I find this sort of apologism baffling. Final Fantasy XV's story is transparently unfinished (just look to the upcoming story DLC for proof of that), and many of those problems stem from the flat characterization of its emaciated female ensemble.
Spoiler warning: mid-to-late game plot details for Final Fantasy XV follow.
I'll say this as plainly as possible: Every important woman in Final Fantasy XV exists as a plot device to push Noctis further along in his journey. Cindy, Luna, Aranea, Iris, Camelia... each is ostensibly framed as a "strong woman" in her own right, yet what do they actually do on-screen to show that strength? I don't mean physical prowess, either; Aranea is obviously a fearsome combatant, yet she works in the background for most of the game. Cindy acts as a piece of eye candy who shows little personality aside from her interest in machinery. Iris, meanwhile, has a personality, but doesn't get much of a chance to show it, and she too is another person who helps Noctis move forward only to disappear from the story once her moment is over. Camelia's role as the shrewd First Secretary of Altissia had the potential to lend the story an interesting political edge. She, of course, also vanishes once she's served her meager purpose. Even Crowe from Final Fantasy XV: Kingsglaive, a powerful magician, is unceremoniously killed before she does anything meaningful in order to give male protagonist Nyx a reason to be angry.
But Luna. Luna is the worst of all. "She's strong," I've heard the developers say time and time again. Is she? What exactly paints her as "strong?" Because she selflessly heals the poor and communes with the gods, as she is bound to do by her duty? Because she sits around making serious faces while she contemplates the best way to assist Noctis? She is possessed of resolve, yes, but her personality is so built around Noctis that it utterly lacks depth. Where is her inner turmoil? Her humanity? She never has a chance to demonstrate anything of the sort because - you guessed it - she dies in service to a narrative that has no regard for her as a human being. Luna could have been a powerful force in the story beyond a shadow for Noctis to chase and a specter to watch over him as the world tumbles into darkness.
My issues with the game's story go beyond concerns with its women, too. A handful of questions off the top of my head: Why is there almost no weight given to Regis's death? What happens to Cor? Verstael? Why did Kingsglaive and the first half of the game paint Ravus as a villain, only to face-heel turn and make him some kind of tragic figure? Where is any of Prompto's backstory beyond the blink-and-you'll-miss-it conversation in Chapter 13? Some of these questions will hopefully be answered when Square Enix patches in additional story DLC down the line - a band-aid of a solution that I still take issue with, by the way.
As a lifelong fan of the series, I take absolutely no joy in my frustration with Final Fantasy XV. To me, it feels like two disparate games crammed together into one. The beautiful open world of Eos, the wonderful detail in every aspect of the guys' road trip, the stellar soundtrack, the joy of its fast-paced combat... all of these things are weighed down by a back half that veers so sharply off course that it's no wonder the development team wanted more time to finish the game. It's clearly still not finished. DLC can patch some of those holes, but it cannot fix the fundamentally flawed writing that plagues Final Fantasy XV's female characters. I expected more from this series.