Part game guide and travelogue, part exploration of good game design, and part fanfiction, this article series sets out to showcase the best of what Final Fantasy XV, my favorite Final Fantasy game, has to offer. New posts will come out every Friday.
Prologue: a Substitute for Driving at Night
When I was in high school, I swore to myself that I wouldn’t stay rooted to my hometown, that I’d travel the world — and if not the world, at least the country. I’d be a nomad, doing freelance journalism anywhere I happened to be. My 27-year-old self can look back and laugh at this total misunderstanding of how travel economics and freelancing works, but the me from 10 years ago wouldn’t have cared even if I had known. The idea that you have to stay where you grew up — or even somewhere close by — gave me nausea.
Times change, and so do situations, but I never lost that desire to travel. An old school friend and her husband have been traveling the world for the last few years and I follow their quite successful travel blog almost religiously. I occasionally get in my car and go to my state’s neatest landmarks and write about them. But even if I’m not trying to turn my excursions into Content™, there are some days where the hankering for the open road is too pronounced to ignore.
So I’ll get in my car, usually after sundown, and I’ll drive. Usually just through Oklahoma City, though one time I followed Highway 74 up to its logical conclusion and almost crossed over into Kansas on accident.
This probably sounds silly to well-traveled folks. A plains-state rube traveling in a circle around their state’s capital city isn’t exactly the height of excitement. But listen: I gotta work in the morning, and I don’t have a vacation planned for… a while. And on and on.
You steal what little moments of freedom you can. The doldrums of daily life takes the rest.
I bought an Xbox and Final Fantasy XV in late 2016. It was the first major console I’d owned in ten years, and the first modern-era Final Fantasy I had played since I got the demo for FFXI with Dragon Quest 8 back when I was a kid. Since then (and with a substantial break between my first playthrough and today) I have put in over 50 hours with the game. To me, it represents one of the easiest ways I’ve found to steal those little moments of freedom. I don’t even have to leave my living room to do so. This game stands apart as both my favorite Final Fantasy game and one of my favorite games of all time, period.
The idea for this “diary” started gestating about a month ago, while I was playing another amazing game, Nier: Automata.
I knew I wanted to write about the game, but what do you say about a property that came out three years ago? “Game good, but you knew this already” seems like a mistake. After some thought, it only made sense for me to write a travelogue.
And so, here it is. Each post in this series, published every Friday will cover a couple of days of in-game time, notwithstanding the many timeskips that are peppered throughout the campaign. Included in this playthrough: all of the DLCs for the game, including the recently-released “Episode Ardyn.” I hope you enjoy.
Day One: Departure
It’s the dawning of a new day on Eos. Noctis Lucis Caelum, crown prince of Lucis, is set to marry Oracle Lunafreya of Tenebrae, hopefully ushering in an age of peace between the Kingdom of Lucis and the Niflheim Empire. On the morning we meet him, Noctis is getting ready to leave with his royal retinue: Ignis Scientia, Gladiolus Amicitia, and Prompto Argentum.
Noctis, or “Noct” as his friends sometimes call him, seems very much like a snotty, rich teen in these opening moments, and this is a feeling we’ll get often as we travel the Leiden countryside. He banters with his father and acts impatient — but there’s a moment here where the tone and mood shift toward something more serious. King Regis imparts advice on Noct as though he’ll never see him again.
As it turns out later, it’s like the king knew something about his future that no one else did.
Here, again, the tone shifts. We see a vast desert and a solitary two-lane highway extending into the distance. On that road, Gladiolus Amicitia is trying and failing to hitch a ride into the nearest outpost, Hammerhead. He’s standing beside a beautiful, broken down roadster called the Regalia. Behind the wheel we find Ignis, and laying on the ground behind the vehicle are Prompto and Noct. They look like they’ve been pushing for hours, and Gladio’s attempts to make life easier for them by simply getting a ride into town aren’t working.
Noct gets to his feet, while Gladio has to kick Prompto before he’ll scrape himself off the ground. They begin pushing the car again, and bickering, and then Florence and the Machine come in with the prettiest rendition of “Stand By Me” I’ve ever heard. This was the buy-in moment for me, full stop.
Once we’re in town, we meet Cid, Hammerhead’s mechanic, and Cindy, his granddaughter. In-game, Cindy will perform upgrades to the Regalia for a small fee while Cid will upgrade your weapons.
At this exact moment, however, Cid and Cindy need some time to repair the Regalia, and the party just so happens to not have a single red Gil among them. So Cindy gives us a task: kill some monsters in the area that have been causing problems and she’ll pay us for our services. On the down-low, she also gives us 1000 Gil, in case we need to stock up on curatives beforehand.
(We actually bought Jambalaya with that money. It gave us a health boost, what can I say?)
Takka, the local restauranteur, tips us off on a few more monsters that need dealing with. With some good, old-fashioned monster-hunting quests in hand, the party sets off into the desert beyond Hammerhead. We immediately come upon a massive concrete-and-steel power pole that had been snapped in half. This is another evocative moment, as Prompto calls it out: “How big would something have to be to do something like that?”
This is a great example of how Final Fantasy XV utilizes both visual storytelling and the strength of its character relationships to hint at a broader world beyond the scope of our party. Something truly big is out there, but none of us have seen anything like that yet.
Which isn’t to say that the monsters we fight aren’t terrifying in their own right. Person-sized scorpions (aka Reapertail), would be horrifying to stumble across in the real world, but with the power of magic crystals and an arsenal of pointy weapons on my party’s side, we’re able to take out the first and second batch of varmints (Cindy’s word, not mine) relatively easily. Our final set of critters to crit on were like dogs if dogs had three-foot bone swords poking out of their faces. The game’s bestiary calls them “Sabertusks.” We take care of the problem, and immediately get a call from Cindy.
The Regalia still isn’t fixed, but a guy named Dave went missing out near where we’re located. Could we comb the brush and see if we can’t bring him back to Hammerhead alive?
I mean, we’re already out here. Why not?
We stumble on a group of Sabertusks circling a shack. After dispatching them, the man himself, Dave, comes hobbling out. He’s sprained his ankle, but should be fine to get home. It turns out that he’s a hunter, and he was tracking something big when he got hurt. He tips us off to the existence of a big, unusually aggressive specimen of an animal called a dualhorn. Dave has taken the liberty to give this dualhorn the totally fine and not unsettling at all nickname of “bloodhorn!” Isn’t that nice!
For some dumb reason, we agree to go after it.
NEXT TIME ON FINAL FANTASY: BOYS DIARY
The boys meet the Bloodhorn and get their car back, but they’ve been bitten — by the monster hunting bug! This bachelor’s trip has gone from a quick dash across the countryside to a full on adventure. Ignis cooks a lot. Noctis decides to help someone fix their car, I guess as like a “pay it forward” thing since that’s what Cindy did for the party. Prompto sees the sea for the first time. All that and more on the next Final Fantasy: Boys Diary!