(This article, by sheer coincidence, has no story spoilers for Final Fantasy XV or any of its DLC)
This week saw the release of Final Fantasy XV: Episode Ardyn. Originally planned to be the first of four character-focused DLC chapters released in 2019, the departure of game director Hajime Tabata late last year led to the cancellation of the other three – Episodes Aranea, Lunafreya, and Noctis. As a result, Episode Ardyn is the final single-player addition to Final Fantasy XV (the multiplayer expansion, Comrades, will continue to receive updates for some time).
Despite this, it looks like the developers still want to honor their colleagues’ work. During Ardyn‘s end credits, after the cast and crew of the “Ardyn Task Force”, are the headings “Aranea Task Force” and “Luna & Noct Task Force”. Since a lot of the listed names don’t appear elsewhere in the credits, they appear to be the people who put work into the additional DLC before they were cancelled.
Notably, the Aranea Task Force credits a whopping 15 voice actors (including the Japanese voices of Aranea, Biggs, Wedge, Ardyn, Iedolas and Loqi) and 5 motion actors (including those for Aranea, Ardyn and Noctis), implying they already recorded performances for Episode Aranea, or at the very least had planned on doing so, before development ended. Episode Aranea was set to be released next after Ardyn.
I played Episode Ardyn yesterday. It took me about four hours to finish the story and all the optional side-nonsense (which is roughly on par with the previous DLC Episodes from 2017 – Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto). The gameplay was a satisfying mix of FFXV combat with inFamous Second Son-style traversal mechanics. It was messy, but I had a lot of fun.
And it means that, in 2019, I was finally able to finish a game that came out in 2016. Final Fantasy XV spent a good decade in development limbo, changing its original name (Final Fantasy Versus XIII) and director (Tetsuya Nomura) before its eventual release. The game was huge, emotional and ambitious, but plot holes and unclear character motivations led to the release of several DLC episodes to fill in the blanks.
I enjoyed the DLC chapters, if anything, for the staggering gameplay variety on offer. Each one took the opportunity not just to focus on different characters, but also to experiment with how they control. One played like a slower, clunkier Devil May Cry. Another was a third-person stealth shooter. Another is a pseudo-MMO with an unnecessarily detailed character creator. I don’t think the experiments were all successful, but the fact that the developers committed to consistently updating this single-player game for so long after it came out is impressive, even if they didn’t get a chance to finish the job they started. It was messy, but I had a lot of fun.