The Delayed Fuse – Final Fantasy’s Unfinished Symphony

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How do you like games that promise a lot for fans? Do you enjoy being let down by said promises? Does Symphony No. 8 in B minor by Austrian composer Franz Schubert ring any bells for you? I’ll be expanding on this in a little bit, but keep that name in mind. What about the feeling of an open world that focuses on an incredibly powerful relationship between a prince and his three friends? This… is Final Fantasy XV.

Back when this game released in 2016, I spent a lot of time playing the game. I reveled in it, and enjoyed the adventure even with its significant mistakes. I gave the game a whopping 9/10 and praised it for its organic relationship between Noctis and his friends Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus. That score was contingent on the future DLC that would come out and expand upon the motivations of its characters, and now after almost three years the game has come to an unsatisfying conclusion.

So before you wonder why I’m railing on this, I have a bit of justification. Let me tell you about my starting point. I spent many hours researching and getting involved with learning more about the mysteries that surround Eos. By this, I don’t mean the video game side of it, but the side of the people who helped put this adventure together into an expansive final fantasy XV universe. Leading to launch, I had been involved with interviewing the director of the full length feature film Kingsglaive Final Fantasy XV, Takeshi Nozue, as well as two of the motion talents from the film: Liam Mulvey and Andrea Tivadar, who represented the roles of Libertus Ostium and Crowe Altius, respectively. Furthermore, I had interviewed the composer for the film, John Graham. Both of these interviews are in the description below.

With that, I delved further into the world, digesting an anime series, a prologue for Ardyn Izunia after that anime series aired, and even got to be a bit creative with my piano playing in learning some of the songs from the original soundtrack produced by Yoko Shimomura. There was so much to do in the game and its universe, and I wanted to see it through.

Unfortunately, Square Enix had different plans. On a video stream that was meant to celebrate two years of Final Fantasy XV, after promising to tell its fans the next steps in their launch for Dawn of the Future, a second-season downloadable content expansion, the company instead announced that the Dawn of the Future project would be canned, save for the release of Episode Ardyn, which released in March 2019. Game director Hajime Tabata, after somehow miraculously getting the game out of developmental hell, had left the company in good terms and thus, his overarching vision for FF XV was cancelled following the release of Episode Ardyn.

Let’s go back a second to my introduction, where I mentioned the piece Symphony No. 8 in B Minor by Franz Schubert. This particular song is a PERFECT description to Final Fantasy XV. Symphony No. 8 in B Minor was essentially called the Unfinished Symphony, as it was written and unfinished before Schubert’s death in 1828. That is going to be what Final Fantasy XV will be remembered as, an unfinished game that failed to expand on its characters, leaving their motivations unfulfilled or questionable. I will say that Episode Ardyn was a pretty solid story that managed to make Ardyn a much more sympathetic character, but the long term ramifications after some thought really undo a lot of Noctis’ legacy and that’s a difficult pill to swallow. Essentially, the Lucis Caelum were usurpers to the throne, a throne that had been stolen from Ardyn by his brother Somnus Lucis Caelum over 2000 years before the events of the main game. It makes the gods, an overarching theme of the story, look incredibly unjust as they had doomed Ardyn to over two millenia of suffering, thus his hellbent quest for revenge once he was released from his prison in Angelgard. In turn, because of Episode Ardyn, it paints Noctis as the villain of his story and undercuts the tremendous sacrifice he gave to remove the Starscourge from the world.

Aside from undoing Noctis’s legacy, the fact that this was the ending leaves so many things up in the air, a fact made worse because Square Enix announced that it would release a novel, conveniently titled Dawn of the Future. As if there weren’t enough different mediums to get invested in, now you have to read a book, which is a weak way to tell a video game story. Even putting together the scenes as a mini movie would have been much more effective. The first rule of mass media is to give the people what they want, and I can say that they don’t want this book to be their end-all solution to an already complicated story.

Speaking of the story, let’s talk about the first season that expanded on Gladio, Prompto, and Ignis. They were decent, but by all means I won’t consider them an expansion as it filled out details that should have very well been a part of the game in the first place. That’s the thing with expansions, they should be additives to an experience and should not be necessary plot elements that went unanswered in the base game. How did Gladio get that scar on his head? What’s the deal with Prompto’s whole “Attack of the Clones” backstory? How did Ignis go blind? These are three overarching questions that failed to receive an answer in the base game, and needed to be answered for players to better see the picture.

I think that the worst part of this whole situation centers around the development cycle for the game. The game originally was slated to be released as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a story built under the creative mind of Tetsuya Nomura. The project was announced way back, over a decade ago in 2006, and it featured a darker, more violent world. Early trailers had featured the Goddess of Death Etro, a figure who featured prominently in Final Fantasy XIII’s sequels. The trailers featured a strong, dominant female deuteragonist/enemy in Stella Nox Fleuret, whose concept was retconned into the much weaker written Luna Nox Fleuret. Honestly, the trailers made the game seem so much cooler that in context, anything that came after it would not reach what was shown. I admire Tabata-san for his efforts in putting the game back together from the developer nightmare that it was, I really do, and I sympathize with him. I think that after everything that happened and what we got though, I’d much rather have seen the Nomura vision of Versus XIII, which we may get to actually see if Kingdom Hearts III’s Verum Rex was anything to go by.

Kingdom Hearts III featured an interesting, in-universe teaser trailer for a game called Verum Rex, which stands for True King in Latin – funny, Noctis is the True King of FFXV. Its main character, Yozora, means night sky in Japanese. Noctis Lucis Caelum means night sky in Latin. There are an incredible number of references to this Versus XIII universe, such as the Verum Rex version of Insomnia that Riku now finds himself in. The opening chime of that sequence is chillingly similar to Somnus, the opening theme for Final Fantasy XV. That just barely touches the tip of the iceberg as we also see characters that are reminiscent of Prompto, Gladio, and Ardyn Izunia. One thing was made very clear with Kingdom Hearts III’s Verum Rex concept: it is abundantly clear that Tetsuya Nomura is not done letting go of that universe.

I’m going to start wrapping the discussion talking about the music from Final Fantasy XV. I will be entirely upfront and say that I love the soundtrack of Final Fantasy XV as a standalone concept, not necessarily tied to its use in the game itself. The tracks by themselves are really, really damn good. It’s one of my top five video game soundtracks for sure. My problem was how some of those songs were used. Some of the best tunes are played at the wrong time or just inappropriate for the situation. The biggest and easiest example is the main theme, Somnus. The main theme for a video game should be its center piece and referred to in crucial moments or as part of a leitmotif in other scenarios that could be powerful moments in the game’s story. The song is played on the main menu, which works because it plays over a moody, dark background. In the Kingsglaive film, it plays during the “celebratory” party reception the evening before the peace treaty was to be signed – its somberness is meant because everybody knows, whether it’s the viewer or the in-film characters, that this is a façade. The other occasion of note that Somnus plays is at the end of the game, when Noctis and his party reunite in the crown city after ten years apart. The song also does not loop properly, as when the song ends it just restarts again. It sounds awkward in its placement. There are other instances of songs being poorly utilized or underplayed, like the Sunset Waltz or Valse de Fantastica songs. Cosmogony was also underplayed and an underrated piece from the soundtrack. Let me stress one more time, though. Standalone, the tunes are very good and should not be written off. I just think that some of the pieces could have been better utilized to suit the situations they were put in, which could have been the result of the ten year developmental cycle and how some of the soundtrack had been made with Versus XIII in mind.

Final Fantasy XV is a complicated game that should not have been this complicated. It’s a beautiful game at times, and has significant flaws, flaws made even more prominent with the cancellation of Dawn of the Future. Final Fantasy XV leaves an unfortunate taste in the mouth, an unfortunate taste of an unfinished adventure, an unfinished symphony composed by Tetsuya Nomura and developed further by Hajime Tabata. It’s a tragedy that the full visions of both Nomura-san and Tabata-san were left unfulfilled, leaving this end result in its wake. Square Enix is not only going to have to make up a ton of money lost in the development process, but that’s the easy part. They’re going to have to do something even harder – earning back the goodwill of their fans who waited years to see this saga through to its unsatisfying conclusion.

So turning to you, what do you think is going to be Square Enix’s next step? What do you want to see in a future final Fantasy title, and what do you not want to see? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and as usual, if you liked what you saw, give Gamer Professionals your like and subscribe. See you guys next time.