Tragic stories where the main protagonist dies or fails to save something they care about are incredibly rare. Readers aren’t just conditioned to expect the happy ending were everything ends well and a sense of satisfaction and completion is achieved. It’s why tragic stories are difficult to create, but not impossible. In order for your not-so-happily-ever-after to have the same standing as its counterparts, you must have a storyline that helps people to accept the ending. Final Fantasy XV (FFXV) succeeded in doing just that.
FFXV’s backstory is thus: the kingdom of Lucis has been at war with the Niflheim Empire. As Niflheim forced Lucis to retreat King Regis used the Crystal to erect a magical barrier around the Capital City of Insomnia, making it invulnerable to outside attack. Eventually Niflheim proposes an unexpected, but welcome, peace treaty. But there is a stipulation. King Regis’ son–Noctis Lucis Calem–must marry Princess Lunafreya Nox Fuerte of the Niflheim conquered kingdom of Tenebrae and the world’s Oracle–the people’s messenger to the gods.
Lunafreya–or Luna– isn’t a stranger to either King Regis or Noctis. When Noctis was eight King Regis took him to Tenebrae to seek healing for a grievous injury. While there, Noctis and Luna developed a strong friendship which continued even after Tenebrae’s fall via Luna’s messenger dogs.
King Regis distrusts Niflheim’s motives, but recognizes that he has little choice. Agreeing to the armistice, he sends Noctis–accompanied by his three friends–to the former Kingdom of Altissia where he is to meet and marry Luna. However, Noctis and Co. don’t get far before they learn that Insomnia has fallen; the armistice was a ruse for the Empire to get into the Crown City. It’s now under Imperial control and King Regis is dead. This is what sets up the entire plot as well as the parts that give it such a tragic storyline.
The first of these is Lunafreya herself. A beautiful and self possessed woman, she cares deeply for the people she serves as well as Noctis–the prophesied King of Light, the one who will save the world and banish the darkness. As the storyline progresses it becomes clear that Noctis and Luna’s friendship has grown into something more and yet Luna seems forever beyond Noctis’ reach. You see her in flashbacks, visions, hear her on radio announcements, exchange messages through her dogs, and even stand in the midst of a large crowd that Lunafreya is speaking to. Yet Noctis never gets to speak to her in person. It is that strong, yet tantalizing bond that makes Luna so compelling, and unleashes devastation upon her death.
In order to fulfill his destiny Noctis must pass several tests for the gods to grant him their powers. Lunafreya–as the Oracle–assists him by awakening the gods. One of the last is the Hydraeon who unleashes a great deal of destruction. Noctis manages to defeat it, but is incapacitated. It’s at this moment that the main antagonist stabs Luna while Noctis watches, powerless to intervene. Despite her injury Luna completes the right, granting Noctis the Hydraeon’s favor. In a moving dream sequence Luna speaks to Noctis one last time, before bestowing upon him the Ring of the Luccii–which he will need to complete his destiny–and then dies. When Noctis awakes he finds the ring in his possession and learns that his dream was accurate–Luna is gone.
What makes Luna–and her demise–so effective in a tragic storyline is how its set up. You spend almost half the game trying to get to her with only faint snatches and near misses as a reward. And then, when Noctis finally does see her in person, it is all snatched away. We’re used to the hero saving the day, getting the girl, and setting things right. Yet here, that expectation is denied us. It’s that point which makes Luna such a powerful pillar to a tragic storyline.
The next person who helps to support this vein is the main antagonist, Ardyn Izunia–Chancellor of Niflheim. Unlike most villains who actively oppose the hero, Ardyn goes out of his way to help Noctis and his friends. These acts range from giving them useful hint to–literally–pulling them out of the fire. What makes this so intriguing is that everything about Ardyn screams that he shouldn’t be helping Noctis and that he shouldn’t be trusted. You’d be right on both counts, but it isn’t the aide he gives that makes him a key element to a tragic story, it’s the disaster he brings.
Ardyn’s cruel and vindictive nature begins to show as the plot develops, especially in regards to Noctis. For reasons that aren’t made clear until you near the end of the game Ardyn hates the line of Lucis and Noctis specifically for being the prophesied King of Light. As a result, he enjoys tormenting Noctis. From taunting Noctis to tricking him into knocking Prompto off of a moving train, his actions are as callus as they are unnecessary with the most powerful example being Luna’s murder.
As I’ve already stated, Ardyn seeks to aide Noctis in achieving his destiny–to a point. In order for Ardyn to get what he desires Noctis must retrieve the crystal, the Ring of the Lucii, and earn the gods favor. This will happen whether Luna lives or not. And yet, Ardyn murders her, an act that won’t help or harm his goals, but one that causes Noctis a great deal of grief and anguish. It’s this which is what makes Ardyn such a powerful component to the story. The act was heinous and unnecessary, but he did it anyway.
The final–and perhaps–greatest reason that FFXV is a wonderful example of a tragic storyline is the fate of Noctis himself. Throughout the game you are led to believe that–as the Chosen–Noctis must banish the darkness and the demons and all of this true. However, it isn’t until Noctis comes into the presence of Bahamut the Draconean that you learn that there is one more requirement; Noctis must sacrifice his life.
Ardyn was once the god’s chosen to purge Eos of the demons. However, he was used by a King of Lucis to heal people of the scourge by absorbing demons into himself. Eventually, the king betrayed him. Turned on by those that he’d helped and denied access to the afterlife because of his tainted soul, Adryn vowed revenge on the kings of Lucs and the gods. To do this he waited for the chosen King of Light to come, earn the gods favor, and acquire the power of the past kings in order to destroy him and the gods. Ardyn is the source of the scourge as well as the demons. In order to save the world you must kill him once and for all. However, purging the world of such evil requires the ultimate sacrifice. Noctis has to die to save the world and the plot line leading up to this revelation supports this as the natural outcome.
Throughout the story there’s been a great deal of devastation and loss. Noctis looses his home and his father in one day. He then goes on to try and rescue Luna only to watch her be senselessly murdered. Talcot–a man who gave them shelter in Lestallum–is killed as a result. And in order to get to the crystal, Noctis is forced to leave his friends–who are holding of a never ending stream of demons–behind. There’s been so much death and destruction that Noctis’ sacrifice appears as the only proper counterbalance to all this, enhanced further by how he dies.
In order to banish the darkness Noctis must sit on the Lucin throne and absorb the power of the past kings into the Ring of the Lucii. This occurs by the spirits of the kings impaling their weapons into Noctis’ heart, slowly killing him. Every king does it–including the spirit of King Regis. The fact that Noctis’ own father must make the final blow makes the sacrifice all the more saddening, yet also more fulfilling. For when he defeats Ardyn in the afterlife and you witness light returning to a world that has been engulfed in darkness for ten years, you feel a sense of acceptance. The word is safe, Ardyn is gone, and somewhere all those who gave their lives to see the world restored are at peace.
Tragic stories where the endings are accepted are notoriously hard to pull off because people are conditioned to want happy endings. However FFXV goes to show that if you have the right combination of high stakes, tragic events, and personable characters, you can get away with the not-so-happily-ever-after.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the images used in this blog nor do I have any artistic claim to them.