What the hell is happening at the start of FFXV
Final Fantasy XV is a big game — a very big game. That's likely to happen when you spend more than 10 years fitting every idea possible into the kind of game that already regularly takes about 80 hours for the average player to beat.
Apparently, however, it still isn't big enough to fit the entire plot into just one game. There are hours of supplementary material out there in the form of movies, anime, and mobile game tie-ins that fill in the gaps surrounding the story of Final Fantasy XV. So, as a public service, we've collected the most major details in one place for would-be players to peruse at their leisure.
1. What the hell are you doing out there?
Final Fantasy XV begins with what we in the business call a "cold open." That is to say our hero, Prince Noctis, and his entourage have already begun the road trip that makes up the majority of the game by the time Final Fantasy XV starts.
A short opening scene between Noctis and his father, the king of Lucis, elucidates that the prince is on his way to get hitched. He's going to marry one Lunafreya Nox Fleuret. Although who she is, why they're getting married on the other side of the continent, and what prompted a marriage between two people that, as we find out, haven't seen each other in 12 years isn't explained for some time.
That is unless you watched Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. That's the feature length CG in-between-quel to Final Fantasy XV that takes place before and adjacent to the events of the main game.
Instead of starring Noctis, who is only shown in flashback at the very start of the film, Kingsglaive shows the downfall of Lucis from the perspective of Lunafreya, and a soldier named Nyx. These same events are shown in very brief detail a couple hours into Final Fantasy XV proper, in the form of a montage, but it mostly glosses over the details.
At the start of both the game and the movie, Lucis is at war with the imperialist nation of Niflheim. In Kingsglaive, the latter offers a peace treaty, but only if Lucis hands over all lands outside its capital city. To seal the deal, Noctis, the prince of Lucis, must also marry Luna, the former princess of the Niflheim-controlled Tenebrae.
Happily, Lunafreya and Noctis are amenable to the idea since they've been crushing on each other hard as pen pals for more than a decade. Not-so-happily, the entire peace treaty is a trick orchestrated by Niflheim. More on that later...
2. Who are Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus?
Besides not explaining its political situation, Final Fantasy XV is a bit light on the personal ones. Unlike previous games in the series, this one starts with your hero, and party already together. There's no collecting them as you go along: Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus are Noctis's groomsmen, and brothers-in-arms throughout the game.
The upside is that there's a lot less slow, meandering build-up as you wander the world in search of friends. The downside is that, if you're just starting the game, you have no idea who the hell these people are. That's where Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV comes in. The free, five-episode anime is a series of vignettes explaining how Noctis knows his party members from the game.
First there's Prompto — your wise-cracking, gun-slinging best friend. Of the three, he's the only one without a political, or occupational connection to Prince Noctis. He's just... Some guy he knows.
More specifically, Prompto is Noctis's first real friend. In Brotherhood, we learn that, as a child, Prompto rescued an injured puppy. Said puppy turned out to be the delivery method for letters between Noctis, and his bride-to-be... To-be, Lunafreya. Noctic's future fiancé learns that Prompto goes to school with Noctis, and so asks him to befriend the busy, lonely prince. This inspires the then-overweight, and self-conscious Prompto to get healthy so that he can keep up with his royal classmate.
Ignis and Gladiolus have far less meet-cute connections to their prince. Ignis was a high-ranking strategist for the kingdom of Lucis — when there still was a kingdom of Lucis to strategize for. In his spare time, Ignis became Noctis's chef and chauffeur. He continues those roles in Final Fantasy XV proper, although Brotherhood reveals that Ignis is sort of like a surrogate parent to his charge. Noctis confides in Ignis, and Ignis babies the prince in return. The implication seems to be that only Ignis fully understands how Noctis feels about being the heir apparent to an ailing king.
Finally, despite the name, Gladiolus is no flower, but Noctis's "shield" — a sort of bodyguard-slash-personal trainer. Of players' three party members, Gladiolus seems to be the only one who started out actively hating the often-bratty prince. Although the big man changed his tune when Noctis rescued Gladiolus's sister and took a kingly grounding by claiming responsibility for her running off in the Lucian palace. That sister, Iris, also appears in Final Fantasy XV.
3. What are the "rules" of this world?
This is where things get all "Final Fantasy." There's an evil empire, meteors, Magitek, ancient gods: the works. And, not at all surprisingly, it's all connected to some great, big, magical crystal.
See, magic isn't as plentiful in Eos (the world of Final Fantasy XV) as in other games from the series. Mystical crystals used to be all over the place, but they’ve been pared down to just one. That crystal belongs to Lucis, and it's basically the only reason the kingdom hasn't been wiped off the map by Niflheim's greater military might at the start of the game.
Magic— at least, the kind that most people in Eos can actually use for themselves-- comes from that crystal. We learn in Kingsglaive that only the Lucian royal family is allowed to wield that power, though, since the crystal is inhabited by the souls of previous ruling monarchs that decide who gets to tap into their well of power.
That makes Noctis a bit of an outlier in Final Fantasy XV. He can teleport, dodge bullets at hypersonic speed, and summon weapons from thin air. The rest of the world can't. Not unless Noctis allows them to, anyway.
Kingsglaive also shows that individuals like its own hero, Nyx, can draw from the royal family's magic if they so choose. But that power is still borrowed. If whoever's lending them magic should take it away — or, you know, die — that's the end of their teleporting and pulling swords out of the ether.
There's also a second level to this mystical gimmickry. Besides being able to tap the crystal for more martial abilities, Noctis can commune with the kings and queens of old for some really nasty firepower.
To do that, though, he needs the Ring of the Lucii. That ring is shown to be in Luna's possession early in Final Fantasy XV. In Kingsglaive, we find out that she got it from Nyx, who stole it from Niflheim, which... stole it from Noctis's father.
The important thing to know is that Nyx used the ring to save Insomnia, the capital city of Lucis, before the power killed him. Early in Final Fantasy XV, Niflheim is shown looking to retrieve that ring.
4. Who was that knight that killed the king?
At the start of Final Fantasy XV, there's that aforementioned scene with Noctis talking to his dad about the road ahead. Take a peek over the king's shoulder, and you'll spot a very regal looking military type standing behind him.
That is Titus Drautos. He's the head of the titular Kingsglaive in the movie: the magically-powered military elite of Lucis. Eventually, he's also revealed to be "General Glauca," the secret head of Niflheim's armed forces.
Yes. Somehow this guy managed to become the head of both major military factions in Final Fantasy XV without shirking his duties on either side, or alerting anyone in Lucis to his double life.
He also murders a lot of parents along the way. Glauca is not only responsible for the death of Lunafreya's mother 12 years before Final Fantasy XV begins, but he also kills Noct's father during the events of the Kingsglaive movie. Even if you don't watch the film, you'll still see that moment play out in that early-game montage as it pulls clips directly from Kingsglaive.
The last we see him in the movie, a dying Nyx has skewers the armored knight six ways to Sunday. Despite seeming well and truly dead after all that, plot synopses of Kingsglaive claim Nyx only gave Glauca a "severe wounding." So maybe expect to see him show up in the game for some well-deserved revenge via Noctis.
5. Why are these people trying to kill Noctis?
Niflheim is the technologically-driven foil to Lucis's divinely-granted prosperity. Which, since this is a Final Fantasy game, basically means they're the uniformly evil. They use machines — specifically armies of synthetic, Magitek soldiers — to conquer Eos's less-magically-protected nations.
Lucis is the only country that can give them guff thanks to the king's power granted by the crystal and the Ring of the Lucii. Of course, Niflheim wants that power. So the empire drums up false peace talks to get behind a magical barrier protecting Lucis, uses Lunafreya to bait, corner, and murder most of the Kingsglaive (i.e. Lucis's last line of defense), and steal the crystal.
Things go pretty well for the baddies at the end of Kingsglaive, and the beginning of Final Fantasy XV. The king of Lucis is dead, his country's capital has fallen, and Niflheim makes off with the super powerful crystal which was what they really wanted all along.
That relegates Noctis and company to "loose end" status. The empire has basically won the battle, but could find themselves in a renewed war if Noctis reunites with his fiancé.
Since Luna made off with the Ring of the Lucii at the end of Kingsglaive, our hero still poses a potential threat to Niflheim. Noctis's father was able to use the combined power of the ring and crystal to hold off Niflheim for decades, after all. If the newly-anointed, younger, and less-worn-down king were to get his hands on the ring and it's power, he could graduate from "loose end" to "genuine headache" very quickly.
Which is basically where we start in Final Fantasy XV. After some setup, the road trippers set out to take the fight back to the empire. Of course there are some complications on the way, but the basic political setup is that of a deposed prince starting a vengeful rebellion with his best friends and groomsmen.
It's nothing too terribly out-there for a Final Fantasy game, but there are just enough wrinkles to certainly make it stand out from the last fourteen hero's journeys most of us have seen before.