Stand By Me: Love & Vulnerability in ‘Final Fantasy XV’

Final Fantasy XV centers around love between men. If you’ve played the game, this is not a contentious statement.

It’s been almost a year since the release of the latest installment in the Final Fantasy franchise, and after playing it, I would argue it’s one of the most emotionally nuanced stories in the series’ history. The game follows Noctis Lucis Caelum, a prince of the kingdom of Lucis, as he undertakes a road trip with his closest friends. His goal to wed his fiancée, Oracle Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, is dashed when the expansionist empire of Niflheim invades the capital city of Lucis. Noctis’ journey refocuses on harnessing the power of Lucis’ old rulers to free the land of Niflheim’s corrupting influence.

FFXV continues the series’ legacy of exploring themes of vulnerability, loss, and intimate relationships among its title characters. While there are women in the game, they feature less prominently than the “chocobros,” and struggle with their own host of problematic representation.

Oracle Lunafreya, Noctis’ promised, takes the role of white mage and, while self-sacrificing, is effective at rallying the gods to save the world until she ends up conveniently dead halfway through the story. Iris Amicitia, sister of the burly Gladiolus, is a cutesy tagalong, but it’s only mentioned in passing that she grows up to be a famous monster hunter.

Aranea Highwind is the sarcastic, jaded mercenary and powerful warrior (that boob armor tho) while celestial servant Gentiana is an enigmatic, helpful spirit, but also a giant, dead, half-naked goddess who’s not actually dead. Pure Final Fantasy. There’s also the expert mechanic yet highly sexualized Cindy Sophiar (don’t even get me started). Characters often comment about how she’s married to her work, which is a slight improvement.

The main focus of FFXV is — for better or worse — on the relationships between Noctis and his three friends; the beefy bodyguard Gladiolus Amicitia, his tactical advisor and perennial mother Ignis Scientia, and his best friend and gun-toting precious little cinnamon bun Prompto Argentum.

While the game doesn’t necessarily present the relationships between Noctis and company in a romantic or sexual light, shippers have no lack of material to work with. Noctis is the “wayward son” (a suggestive appraisal by his father) who loves Lunafreya but seems uninterested in getting married. Conveniently, they only end up happily together in spirt form after they’re both dead without a kiss shared between them.

Prompto is aggressively heterosexual, but perpetually seeking his friends’ approval regarding his crushes on powerful, unattainable women. Overcompensating, perhaps? We find out late in the game that Gladiolus is engaged to an unnamed woman, but his friends tease him about putting the wedding off indefinitely. Ignis, to my memory, never makes mention of an interest in women beyond a respect for their power, and is instead entirely preoccupied with the welfare of his friends.

From start to finish, the foursome spend almost every waking moment together be it side-by-side in a car, trekking across Eos, or sharing tents and hotel rooms. It’s a titillating detail for any member of the fandom.

Even beyond the potential for coded queer relationships, the homosocial quality is what FFXV achieves best: a depiction of love and intimacy between four men. The most emotionally affecting moments of the game occur when they are separated from one another, or when their relationships start to fray. Noctis rankles at Ignis’ mothering, but his guilt over Ignis becoming blind almost tears the group apart. Prompto, a lower class citizen of Lucis with a dark past who is also smaller and physically weaker, doesn’t feel worthy of his friends. As for Gladiolus — arguably the most emotionally impenetrable of the four — he reveals glimpses of deep caring for those around him that create poignant moments for his character.

As Natalie pointed out in her excellent pre-release analysis of FFXV (and the complimentary Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV anime miniseries), Ignis is perhaps the best example of the subversion of toxic masculine tropes. While stoic and analytical, he cooks, cleans, and mends for group, acting as a surrogate mother — especially to Noctis. The friends tease him for his fussiness, but Ignis’ maternal qualities don’t conflict with his masculine ones, his role as a tactician, or his position as a royal advisor.

Beyond Ignis, the others subvert masculine tropes in their own unique ways. Prompto shares perhaps one of the best conversations with Noctis when he tries to give voice to his insecurities and anxiety about joining the prince on his quest. Slight, floppy-fringed, pretty boy Noctis acts as the brooding adolescent of the bunch, although the game explores his own vulnerability in his initial shirking of responsibility and inability to cope with calamity before ultimately emerging as the King of Kings. (He’s also teased by the others pretty mercilessly.)

At face value, one might assume Gladiolus falls into the big, burly warrior trope, but beyond his concern for the safety of his sister and friends, he has a sharp mind. He even pulls out a book to read as his traveling companions zip around the countryside in the Regalia, which is a fantastic little detail. Furthermore, Gladiolus’ tough love perfectly juxtaposes Ignis’ maternal care, and he features prominently as the heavy-lifting father of the group.

FFXV crafts moments between these characters in conversations and cutscenes that show them to be a close-knit group whose relationships go beyond a surface-level bromance trope.

A further device (genius, in my opinion) to depict these moments is the camera mechanics of the game. At the end of each in-game day, the player gets to view the friends through the eyes of an on-the-ground photographer (usually Prompto) snatching moments of epicness, intimacy, and humor replete with selfies. This mechanic encourages players to feel even closer to the characters, and often depicts these silly yet intimate little moments as a show of love, friendship, and vulnerability that makes the narrative stand out in an industry dominated by violent, emotionless men.

Final Fantasy XV really resonated with me a lot more than I thought it would, especially as queer guy, and I’ve been trying to put it into words. Even though it’s a very male-centric game, I think there’s an argument to be made about the game combatting toxic masculinity in the industry. The story of FFXV is about four guys who love each other and create a chosen family together. It showcases their vulnerability in a really incredible way that I didn’t expect.

Even the narrative bookending of the game — that iconic song of dedication given voice by the charming, ethereal Florence + The Machine cover — frames the main emotional theme of the game. Noctis, Ignis, Gladiolus, and Prompto always stand by each other.

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One Comment on “Stand By Me: Love & Vulnerability in ‘Final Fantasy XV’

  1. thisi mainly a issue with Japan, there are VERY gendered society, so they can’t actually grasp the concept of there being a woman see as “one of the boys” their brain litterly can not see women as equal to boys

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