Before we delve deep into this book, I have to explain the nitty gritty of where it came from, but if you’re completely up-to-date on the production issues behind this game, as well as the story (including all its DLC and side material) then feel free to skip the next paragraph.
Final Fantasy XV: The Dawn of the Future is not a retelling or novelisation of the Square Enix video game Final Fantasy XV. It’s a book that expects the audience to have already (at the very least) played and completed the original game, the first three character-based DLCs (Gladiolus, Prompto and Ignis), watched the movie Kingsglaive and Brotherhood anime. The book happily spoils the game’s main ending and important plot points, so it’s absolutely not meant for newcomers. To give a quick background: Final Fantasy XV came out in 2016 to critical acclaim but with the common criticism being that the story was only half-finished and had many instances where events happened off-screen, so multiple DLCs were released months after release to expand upon the characters as well as events that occurred away from Noctis, the hero of the story. However, in November 2018, on the second anniversary of the game no less, it was announced that the second run of DLC would be cancelled, with only one of the four being released (Episode Ardyn) and the rest eventually making their way into novelisation format, which became this very book. This book serves to close the story for Final Fantasy XV as well as giving fans the planned DLC instead of letting the story remain untold. Saying all that, does it really give fans what they want? Or should it have remained in Square Enix’s vault?
After the book very kindly gives several glossy pages reminding readers of the main plot for Final Fantasy XV up until the final chapter, the story is broken up into four parts, each section telling the story of each of the cancelled DLC. The stories are not completely separate however, despite meant to be played rather than read about, the book does a good job of having a narrative flow between each section. For example, a character introduced in Ardyn’s section is given more importance in Aranea’s story, and elements in Luna’s arc come full circle in Noctis’ section, etc.
The first story, ‘A Saviour Lost’ is based on Episode Ardyn, which was the only DLC that was released out of the four, and speaking as someone who played the DLC as well as read it within the book, I highly recommend that you don’t do both. Aside from the opening pages, pages 54 – 57 and the final lines of his chapter, the rest is just like the DLC and therefore is a slog to get through. It’s easily the poorest written part of the book, being both over and underwritten. Overwritten in terms of dialogue and inner thoughts being full of purple prose and taking multiple sentences to say one small thing, and underwritten in that the book fails to truly set the scene or describe the world of Eos or do anything to build tension or intrigue. It really expects you to fill in the gaps yourself with visuals from the game. As a result it is a slog to get through, which is a shame since the character has the potential to be one of the best villains in the Final Fantasy franchise.
Thankfully, the quality of writing dramatically picks up from the next chapter ‘The Beginning of the End’, which would have been Episode Aranea. Her story takes place just after Chapter 9 of the main game, where she and her companions, Biggs and Wedge, clean up the mess in Altissia, just in time for a new threat to loom in and cause more chaos. Aranea was a fan favourite from the game, and luckily, she’s a lot of fun to read as her voice is very distinct from the start. Her story is also more of a personal journey, exploring her character, her relationship with her comrades and how she decides to ultimately leave the army. It’s clear however that her DLC was meant to feature a lot of action and combat, which is a fault across the whole book, but one that sadly can’t be helped.
The next two sections, ‘Choosing Freedom’ and ‘The Final Glaive’ tell the story of Episode Luna and Episode Noctis respectively and contains the most story spoilers, so they’re hard to talk about without revealing, ultimately, what the book is meant for. As mentioned in the intro, the most common complaint about the original game was its story; whilst the bare bones of the plot (prince must gain power to stop an evil force and save the world) is straightforward to follow, the dense lore surrounding all that was the main issue. A lot of the world-building and important events that directly impact our characters either, at best, happen in another medium (the movie Kingsglaive for example) or at worst, happen off-screen and are just told to our party. The first lot of DLC, centred on three of the four main characters, did a lot of work in adding story details and character arcs, as well as allowing players to explore parts of Eos that you didn’t get to see in the original game. The second wave of DLC was meant to continue this, however it’s clear from the latter half of the book that this is not what they wanted to do anymore. Instead it attempts to re-write an alternative universe of sorts, with characters learning new information and reacting differently to events, ultimately giving us a happier ending than the game provided. This intent doesn’t come completely out of nowhere, in Episode Ignis the player is given a multiple choice, with one of them leading to a new, slightly happier ending for the cast. So it seems that the lukewarm reception from that may have given the development team of the game a chance to explore that as well as giving the ‘kind of conclusions fans of FFXV might want to see’ (a quote taken from the ending of the book).
The problem with this, however, is that the new narrative, doesn’t compliment the main themes of the base game. Final Fantasy XV was centred on Noctis, Prompto, Ignis and Gladiolus; the emotional core of the game was about Noctis’ coming of age from youth to adulthood (or reckless Prince to responsible King) with themes of brotherhood and bonds of friendships helping him overcome the greatest of evil, having the courage and power to save the world. The lore was a mess, but that friendship and dynamic between the four boys was the main drive of the game, the reason a lot of fans followed the journey and stuck with the flawed presentation because we grew to really know and love these characters, and it made Noctis’ sacrifice at the end all the more meaningful and tragic. So, this new story, where the main cast are barely in it until the final chapter, and we have lesser known characters challenging the status quo and go against the Gods themselves to earn a happier ending, is a nice sentiment but is not supported by the story built in the first place. The characters in the main game don’t challenge or ask questions about the Gods, so it feels like an idea the creators came up with later and decided to run with. Yes, this idea was toyed with in Episode Ignis, and whilst it felt cheesy at the time, it works better there because we got to know Ignis in game – we cooked with him, fought side-by-side, he even sacrificed his sight to save the hero – so his efforts for a better world feel meaningful. In this book however, the push for change is driven by Luna, one of the least developed characters in the game, and Sol, a newly introduced character in this book, so it has nowhere near the same impact or emotional catharsis it’s going for.
There are some good moments within these last two chapters; we do get some insight into Luna’s character, there’s a cute exchange between the main boys in the final battle, and the expansion into the Darken world of Eos that was barely touched upon in the game is nice to read about. But ultimately, it’s an alternative ending to the story, not something that helps fix what is, to this day, left unfinished.
After the final chapter, there is still many pages of the book to enjoy with over 40 pages of lovely glossy images. The first half covers concept art meant to compliment the DLC, displaying character designs and backgrounds that really show how much detail went into these stories before being cancelled, which is such a shame as it would have been amazing to play as the new look for Luna. Although I can understand why they stuck them all at the end, I think a few of the images could have benefited from being pasted during the chapters themselves as there’s a few scenes that are actually given visual representations so a couple of colour pages whilst reading would have really set the scene. After the concept art, we’re also gifted with high-gloss images of the unique coasters and placemats for the Square Enix café; it doesn’t sound like much but considering that most Western Final Fantasy fans will have never likely seen them before, it’s nice to find some of your favourite characters smiling and acting goofy in them.
It should be noted that this lovely hardbook book, complete with slip cover, is by Jun Eishima who is best known for writing all the Final Fantasy XIII novels, which also (thankfully) got recent English releases as well, so she’s not only knowledgeable in the Final Fantasy universes but capable of juggling heavy-lore worlds very well. Stephen Kohler is the English translator of this book and it’s his first crack at a Final Fantasy book (he’s mostly famous for manga such as Magus of the Library and Witch Hat Atelier) and he does a good job, especially with so many names for worlds and characters thrown in there; he made it easy to keep track of what was happening and the emotions as the story progresses.
Speaking as a Final Fantasy XV fan; it’s really wonderful that Square Enix gifted us with this book, instead of letting the legacy of the game die out without being completed, and also releasing it in English not too long after the Japanese release, so that all fans can finally see how it all ends. However, also speaking as a fan, it’s a shame that the creators felt the need to tell a whole new story and conclusion that ultimately goes against the main games’ themes and meaningful ending. The retelling will be debated among fans for years to come but this novel is clearly made with love of the fans and universe in mind, so it’s hard to be mad at something that the creators, ultimately, wanted to tell and give to us fans. It’s a nice collector’s item but read with caution.