Brotherhood is a theme so overt in Final Fantasy XV that it’s the title of the game’s five-episode prequel anime. An outlier in a series that usually leverages expansive and diverse casts, FF15 instead focuses entirely on a road trip with four lads. Tehy spend most of their time cruising around in a convertible, sightseeing, discovering new recipes, and camping. Along the way, there’s a lot of groanworthy quips, awkward selfies, and good-natured cajoling.
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The plot is an overly serious mess with some baffling twists and clunky writing, and the moment-to-moment experience is often silly: a bunch of bros hanging out doing stuff. One of them just so happens to be the True King destined to sacrifice himself to rid the world of a great evil.
By the end, you’ve spent dozens of hours with the Prince Noctis and his private guards/BFFs Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto as they all hurdle towards this inevitable, heartbreaking tragedy. FF15 earns one of the best endings in gaming history because of how dedicated it is to expressing masculine comaraderie. More than eight years after the game’s initial release, there’s one particular scene that has stuck with me.
FF15’s first act focuses on Noctis’s duty as king of a nation at war and his impending marriage to a childhood friend. It sort of makes the road trip feel like an impromptu bachelor party, but the deep bonds of brotherhood that develop make for the real heart of this story. All four of the main characters experience self-doubt and spiritual crisis on more than one occasion, and each has to make great sacrifices. Their faith in each other is the one constant that keeps them all afloat. When one wavers, the others are there to lift them up.
As the prophesied True King, Noctis is destined to rid the world of the Starscourge spreading darkness and daemons around the world. Doing so, however, will cost him his life. “Many sacrificed all for the King; so much the King sacrifice himself for all,” the deity Bahamut tells Noctis towards the end. Noct has to hibernate in a Crystal for 10 years to gather enough power to eradicate the Starscourge, and he spends all that time dreaming memories of the distant past and of his own life. Meanwhile, his retinue never wavers. They spend the decade fighting the growing darkness knowing that their king will return. There’s a deep sadness that emerges once they all learn the truth.
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Before the final battle, the bros share one last campfire that’s mostly silent until Noctis begins fumbling for words. “…Dammit. The hell is this so hard?” he gasps on the verge of tears. “I’ve made my peace. Still…knowing this is it, and seeing you here, now, it’s…more than I can take.”
They weep openly, and only the sound of the crackling fire punctuates the silence. What could anybody really say in a situation like this? Noctis is going willingly to his death, and his friends waited 10 long years to help him on that path. Their choices speak volumes to their commitment to one another. They don’t need to say anything during their last night together, so Noctis makes a simple and realistic expression of love.
“What can I say?” he manages. “You guys…are the best.”
All the driving and camping and cooking and eating gets annoying and tedious across dozens of hours, but this scene forces us to reflect back on it as Noctis does with a feeling of wistfulness. It retroactively makes us cherish every second. The voice acting does a lot of heavy lifting here, but even it weren’t as good, the scene would remain a standout.
The easiest criticism one can level at Final Fantasy XV is about its poor representation of women, and it would be valid. You could use the script to explain the Bechdel test to somebody. Even Noct’s bethrothed, Lunafreya, exists purely to fulfill his destiny. Other female characters are poorly drawn at best.
But the game’s wholesome approach to masculinity and brotherhood goes above and beyond to express how important it is to trust your friends enough to be vulnerable. There’s nobility in that. Even a king is a human being first and a royal second. FF15 provides an excellent blueprint for male friendship in a way that’s not traditionally masculine. It’s about loyalty and the families we chose, how friends become brothers, and the importance of being vulnerable.
“Prompto. Gladio. Ignis. I leave it to you,” Noctis says in his farewell to them. “Walk tall…my friends.”
This echoes what Noct’s father said to him at the beginning of the game: “Walk tall, my son.” King Regis knew on some level that the neighboring nation of Niflheim would break the peace treaty, kill him, and start a war. But he also knew his son’s role to play in the events that would follow. It pains him that his son must die, but it is the duty of their lineage. Noctis was ignorant to the gravity of the situation and sort of shrugged off his father’s heartfelt goodbye in the way that teenagers do. Then he spends his entire journey reflecting on what it means for him to walk tall as not only a king, but as a man.
The love between friends who become brothers is every bit as important as the love between a father and son, which is why Noct leaves the world to Prompto, Gladio, and Ignis. “I love you all,” he says to an empty throne room. “The time we had together, I cherish.”
Tell your friends that you love them more often, and cherish the time you have together—even if you occasionally have to push a broken-down car to a mechanic.