Final Fantasy XV's Episode Ignis DLC redefines the game
Warning: This article contains major spoilers for Final Fantasy XV and the Episode Ignis DLC.
Final Fantasy XV starts as an excursion to deliver a prince to his wedding, a simple mission that soon turns into nothing less than a sprawling cross-country journey to save the world. Just like the steady progression to increasingly epic plot points, FFXV makes use of another narrative franchise trait: the war of nations against a towering foe.
While such a conflict took center stage in other games of the series such as Final Fantasy XII, FFXV by contrast makes it rather easy to forget about the threat at hand, not least since the world at large seems unaffected by the occupation its under. Whereas in Final Fantasy VIII you hijack a moving train to support a small group of rebels, now you deliver vegetables and earn extra money as a freelance photographer.
Many open-world games use side quests to offer a break from their tense main story - think Geralt’s efforts in The Witcher 3 to retrieve an old woman’s beloved frying pan, or any sidequest in Yakuza 0. With Final Fantasy XV’s strong focus on the development of its immature main character however, we are missing out on the larger implications of the ongoing conflict. Noctis avoids his responsibility as king almost until the very end of the game, and so with no hero pushing forward and the rest of the world’s nations having resigned themselves to foreign rule long ago, it’s easy to focus on it all being a fun road trip.
The Episode Ignis DLC adds some much-needed perspective by clarifying the consequences of Noctis’s inaction. It takes places at a point in the story where the group leaves the open road behind and stakes are heightened considerably: not only must Noctis challenge a god, he is also trying to keep his fiancée Lunafreya and the population of an entire city safe. In the main game, this responsibility amounts to a cool battle with a gigantic sea serpent. By shifting the focus to Noctis as powerful fantasy hero, we are given little time to mourn the sacrifices others have made to allow him to continue his mission. By contrast, Ignis serves as our eyes in the DLC, providing both context and a new point of view to the events.
Unlike Gladiolus‘s or Prompto’s standalone adventures, Episode Ignis isn’t about its protagonist finding his resolve to overcome a specific trial. Whereas Gladio needed to reaffirm his commitment to his role as shield of the king and Prompto reassessed his identity, Ignis is a victim of circumstance on a battlefield. Separated from his friends, he finds himself in a city besieged with enemies wherever he goes. While combat in Final Fantasy XV hardly ever becomes overly difficult, Episode Ignis makes a good attempt at making the number of foes seem oppressive and the resources limited. Players can make a valiant attempt at liberating Altissia by defeating enemies in all districts and collecting strategy documents, but soon it becomes clear Ignis’s real task is to rescue Noctis.
In his attempt to do so, Ignis is drenched, shot at, and thrown around by explosions like a ragdoll. Yet his dialogue, in which he appears in turns frazzled with worry for his friends and occasionally overwhelmed at the opposition he faces, turns him into less of a “cool guy who doesn’t look at explosions” archetype and more into a relatable person.
Another aspect that makes Episode Ignis important is how it acknowledges sacrifices. As tragic as Lunafreya’s death in the main game was for Noctis, seeing her brother Ravus openly mourn her and express anguish at her senseless death reminds us that characters dying shouldn’t just be a device to further a plot – they are humans who leave loved ones behind.
Ignis mirrors Lunafreya in many ways, as he is also duty-bound to Noctis. At a critical point in the DLC, he remembers a request Noctis’s father made to him when he accepted his oath: “A king pushes onward, always, accepting the consequences and never looking back. Should he stand still I ask you to give him a hand – as his friend and as his brother.“ In the DLC's promotional images, we see Ignis as Noctis’s sworn brother-in-arms who suffers injury for him and drags him away from danger. Losing his eyesight -- something he calls a “small sacrifice in the greater battle“ in the main game -- becomes all the more tragic once you see how willing Ignis was to accept any consequence to keep Noctis safe.
In any war scenario, camaraderie and simply wanting to survive together are probably stronger motivators than the idea of duty. Faced with destruction and the threat of death, duty is much more difficult to hold onto than true friendship and love, which explains why -- rather than push Noctis to fulfill the task he is destined for -- Ignis suggests he should end the journey. Noctis refuses, filling another important gap in the main game’s narrative as we see him acknowledge his responsibilities so that no sacrifice will have been made in vain.
It’s nice to imagine the alternative ending to the DLC came about in an effort to reward Ignis, as he follows in the footsteps of many Final Fantasy heroes who defied destiny to protect a loved one, such as Tidus and Yuna in FFX or Fang and Vanille in FFXIII. By not knowing how Ignis sustained his injury, both Noctis and the player missed vital information in the main game – but the DLC offers us a relatively small plot divergence which allows him to witness Ignis’s sacrifice first-hand, moving him to accept his role in events much sooner.
Episode Ignis does an important job of fleshing out characters and building the game into something more engaging than a camping trip. It shows how different people deal with horrific events – and explores what would happen if they didn’t have to. More so than Episode Prompto, Episode Ignis is an essential part of FFXV’s story.. It reveals how much the necessary context can enhance the game, which likely motivated Square Enix’s decision to announce three additional DLC episodes for 2018. So far we know of Episode Ardyn, which will hopefully flesh out the main antagonist. Episodes on Lunafreya and Cor, popular choices in the June 2017 player survey Square Enix conducted, could be next -- Luna’s story especially seems like it would be a crucial addition to the story. Episode Ignis makes a good part of the game great, but it also shows how supplemental stories can keep a game alive when players otherwise may have already stopped exploring.