Final Fantasy XV clearly wants to recapture the lustre of the greatest games in the franchise’s history. Having struggled in recent years, Square Enix threw everything into this game – including, it seems, many of the themes from what is considered by many the greatest Final Fantasy (and for some, the greatest video game) ever made.
The Final Fantasy franchise is known for certain running traditions and overarching influences that tie each standalone story together; and so similarities to the past can obviously be drawn from every new game. However the FFVII force is especially strong with this one, utilising similar fantasy-industrial setting ideas and characters that are incredibly homogenous to each other. Unfortunately, XV often falls short of its goals, meaning that said similarities often risk coming across as rip-offs rather than homages.
Noctis vs Cloud
- Noctis Lucis Caelum is the protagonist of Final Fantasy XV. He is a man of few words who is often uncomfortable in conversation. He is often forced to question his strength and lacks confidence in his own abilities. Cloud Strife is a similarly troubled character, whose past has hardened him. Both have been criticised for being ‘emo’.
- In both cases, the hero seems detached and aloof to begin with, but goes through an emotional and intriguing character arc – having lost loved ones – and becomes the hero you knew he should be with the help of those closest to him. This could also describe Final Fantasy VIII’s main character, but we’ll stick with the one comparison.
- Cloud and Noctis are extremely gifted swordsmen and leaders; and are two of the most powerful characters in the franchise.
Ardyn vs Sephiroth
With the most obvious comparison out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the more detailed likenesses between the two games.
- The antagonist is just as important as the protagonist in a Final Fantasy game, and Sephiroth consistently tops lists as one of the greatest video game villains ever. Ardyn Izunia takes on the role of the intelligent villain in FFXV – complete with flowing, unnaturally coloured locks.
- Each manipulates the protagonist significantly for large portions of the game. Sephiroth does this quite literally when he forces Cloud to hand over the Black Materia with what basically amounts to mind control, whilst Ardyn’s puppetry is more subtle; yet for most of the game Ardyn is guiding Noctis’ path and shaping it to his own will. He helps or hinders him at will and provides solutions to impassable obstacles when he sees fit. He’s always got his finger on the pulse and his manipulation of Noctis throughout the game into doing exactly what he wants is a key driving force. I’ll grant that Ardyn also displays elements of other great Final Fantasy villains such as Kefka.
- The final battle of Final Fantasy VII sees Cloud take on Sephiroth in a 1-on-1 duel. Inspired further by the heavily action-oriented showdown between the two in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, a similar battle occurs between Noctis and Ardyn to round out the game, complete with insane gravity-defying swordplay.
- Oh, and did I mention that Ardyn’s clothing includes a wing-like feature on one arm, reflecting Sephiroth’s iconic status as the One Winged Angel?!
Luna vs Aeris
- Lunafreya Nox Fleuret is an Oracle. She is adored by the people and is Noctis’ childhood friend and betrothed. Her power lies in healing and caring for others, as seen during her travels in FFXV where she performs miracles and heals the sick.
- In other words, she’s the new Aeris Gainsborough. Aeris is likewise a healer and love interest to Cloud. The compassionate healer isn’t uncommon in Final Fantasy. In this sense, Luna bares many resemblances to FFX’s Yuna as well. But the FFVII similarities don’t end here.
- Whilst Cloud and Aeris meet during the main narrative of Final Fantasy VII, Noctis and Lunafreya grew up together, and have had an unbreakable bond despite being separated in adulthood. Their childhood connection could be seen as a nod to Cloud’s other love interest in FFVII, Tifa Lockhart; with whom a similar process of childhood affection and separation took place.
- More important, however, are the impactful deaths of both Aeris and Luna at the hands of the main villain. Both are killed whilst summoning powerful creatures to aid the hero and save the world: Aeris is trying to summon Meteor, whilst Luna has just summoned Leviathan. Both are stabbed with a bladed weapon while the protagonist watches on, powerless to save them.
- Water also features heavily in both deaths. Aeris is surrounded by water at the altar in the Forgotten Capital where she is killed, and is subsequently lowered into it by a heartbroken Cloud. Luna is surrounded by Leviathan’s tsunami, before sinking into the abyss as she bids Noctis farewell in his vision.
- And then there are the flowers. Flowers are hugely symbolic to Aeris. She is introduced as the ‘flower girl’, tends to the flowers in the Church where Cloud meets her again, and Cloud’s visions of Aeris in Advent Children all take place in a field of yellow flowers.
- The flower is similarly symbolic to Lunafreya. The blue Sylleblossoms of Luna’s homeland, Tenebrae, act as a key reminder of Noct and Luna’s relationship. They are found pressed into the pages of their shared notebook, and we even learn during the course of the game that Luna was fond of tending to these flowers; just like Aeris. In Noctis’ vision of Luna after her death, he finds himself in a field of blue Sylleblossoms surrounded by ethereal white light, strikingly reminiscent of Cloud and Aeris in Advent Children.
- Again, flowers are also used for symbolism in almost every Final Fantasy game, and they occupy an important space in Japanese culture. Even so, the specific resemblance to Final Fantasy VII is hard to miss.
Cid vs Cid
- As I stated in my review of A King’s Tale: Final Fantasy XV, Cid Sophiar reminded me throughout the game of an elderly Cid Highwind. As any fan knows, it has become tradition for a character named Cid to feature in every Final Fantasy game. And for this author, FFVII’s Cid Highwind is unopposed as the best Cid so far.
- The Cids share some characteristics throughout the series; they’re usually older than most characters and are engineers and mechanics. As such, the two Cids share much in common from the get-go. I’ll refer to them as VII-Cid and XV-Cid as needed.
- VII-Cid is an engineer. He builds rockets, planes and airships. XV-Cid is a mechanic, who fixes vehicles and owns a repair shop. They share the same stubbornness and attitude, can be short-tempered, but are ultimately deeply caring to those close to them. They also share a closer sense of style than most other Cids (who often wear more regal suits or lord’s clothing), opting for practical mechanics’ wear; and we learn in A King’s Tale that XV-Cid even used a spear similar to VII-Cid as his weapon of choice.
- There is a memorable action mini-game in Final Fantasy VII where Cloud escapes ShinRa HQ on a motorbike and has to fend off attacks and defend his friends. There’s a similar sequence late in Final Fantasy XV, where the crew and their trusty Regalia car are involved in a chase to the Imperial City, flanked by explosions and missiles. XV’s version is, however, a less interactive and somewhat less memorable attempt at vehicular action.
- FFXV’s much-maligned Chapter 13 sees Noctis traverse level after level of an abandoned industrial setting in the Imperial City of Gralea. I had flashbacks to the ShinRa Headquarters building in FFVII, with both areas feeling like they overstayed their welcome and involving annoying gameplay.
- Hell, even names like Nibelheim (Cloud’s birth place) and Niflheim (the invading FFXV empire) are close relations.
These are just a few ways in which Final Fantasy XV looks to the past in its attempt to rebuild the franchise. Yet, despite being fantastic in many, many respects, FFXV often fails to match the iconic stature of the equivalent characters and ideas that it draws upon. Luna’s death, whilst emotional, lacks the weight of Aeris’ as she is largely absent throughout the game. Ardyn’s motivation is not explained well enough for him to rival Sephiroth. By borrowing so heavily from FFVII, the game opens itself up to comparison; and as such, it is left found wanting.