Something is Rotten in a State of Lucis: On “Final Fantasy XV”

There is no energy on earth to be compared to him.

— Leviathan, frontispiece


BEFORE IT BECAME other things — an interactive road-trip crony movie, a cooking game, a simulator of days spent staring during a steel rails of highways — Final Fantasy XV was a Hamlet adaptation. The diversion was initial announced during a Electronics Entertainment Expo in 2006, in a trailer that began with a predicting epigraph from a play itself: “There is zero possibly good or bad, though meditative creates it so.” At that point, it was called Final Fantasy Versus XIII, and a range was tangible in simple, Hamlet-like terms. It was a diversion about a young, capricious prince, dressed in black, who tries to punish his father.

As a years passed, a diversion remade into something opposite with each new trailer. It became “open world,” a buzzword for a diversion pattern truth of a moment, predicated on a large, sprawling, openly explorable map. Then it became open road: a concentration shifted to 4 bros — Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum and his bodyguards Ignis, Gladiolus, and Prompto — in a car. In a 2014 trailer, they expostulate by lush, mediocre deep-green leaflet that looks as good and as tedious as Rockland County. The Hamlet plot is still there, though it’s crackling over a radio. The King is dead. The Empire is during a gates.

It done clarity to pattern a diversion to spin a savage in a verbatim clarity of a term: a hybrid quadruped stoical of extrinsic parts. FFXV is a Japanese role-playing game, a genre good famous for throwing anything and all into a heady cultured stir-fry: opera, decadent Catholicism, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, hulk robots, sky pirates, a life story of Frédéric Chopin, World War II. As Clayton Purdom wrote in a paean to a genre, “for pristine bang-for-your-buck eccentricity, there are few analogs in contemporary culture.”

But we don’t consider even connoisseurs of JRPGs were prepared for a disjointed quadruped that FFXV ended adult becoming. Half of it takes place in a open star that was betrothed — a place suffused with paltry fact and governed by a picturesque thoroughfare of time. The other half sends we down vast corridors by concept-art fantasylands, fighting “daemons” and gods and a Evil Empire. Half of it tries to be On a Road, a other half Paradise Lost.

One thing, however, has remained awake about a diversion via a transformations: it’s still usually as many a Hamlet adaptation. And it’s a Hamlet adaptation not usually since it cribs a tract of Hamlet, though since it’s messily, chaotically divided. The diversion yokes together dual worldviews that are aesthetically and philosophically incompatible. In equal measure, it fetishizes American leisure and comprehensive monarchy, and never resolves a tension.


It would be a small dubious to contend that Final Fantasy XV takes place in a United States. For one thing, many Japanese players were uneasy to find urban elements — generally apparatuses of a state: patrol cars, fee booths, puncture vehicles — copied directly, and uncannily, from present-day Japan. But a beef of a diversion takes place in “America”: an Occidentalist anticipation cobbled together from stereotypes. Retro, chrome-clad diners dot a landscape, piping nation by tinny jukeboxes. You finish adult interacting a lot with a lady named Cindy, a trucker’s anticipation who speaks in a Southern drawl, wears Daisy Dukes, and fixes your car. The diversion is deeply committed to offered a Americanness of a landscape — a multiple of Southwestern bleakness and Northeastern lushness, overseen by the bald eagle — and a flawlessness of a highway trip. All a camping rigging is Coleman, proudly done in a USA. At a same time, into this prophesy of America, a diversion incongruously inserts a decorated anticipation tropes of a long-running series. To take usually one example, each Final Fantasy diversion has featured “chocobos,” large yellow ostrich-like birds that we can ride. Here, we lease them during gas stations and clomp them by highway tunnels, perplexing not to get strike by cars.

The game’s trailers guarantee a “fantasy formed on reality,” and this fluctuation between a dual extremes is novel and sparkling for a array that has never been quite meddlesome in revelation a story during a real-life scale — a array that, 20 years ago, decorated petite 2D total with a proportions of bobbleheads traversing whole continents. And it’s critical that a “reality” partial has an American feel, since a diversion offers freedoms that no other diversion in a array has been means to offer: a leisure to go where we want, do what we want, even eat what we want.

Of course, many of a game’s prophesy of a United States’s benefaction resembles an all-too-familiar dream of America’s past: a dream of splendid red Coke machines, nickel coffee everywhere, and monoculture radio. A dream of domestic togetherness predicated on amicable homogeneity, or maybe a reverse: amicable togetherness predicated on domestic homogeneity. And here a deeper tragedy between “fantasy” and “reality” emerges into view.

Is it a anticipation of America with chocobos, or of America though democracy?


There’s a certain kind of stage that appears in many anticipation cinema and video games. Our favourite wakes adult in a netherworld, on an epitome craft of tone and light. Silence reigns; a hubbub of combat, a fight holding place elsewhere, has been left behind. He — it’s roughly always he — is though his eminent companions. They sojourn in a tellurian world, gritting teeth and contrary swords in an unconstrained montage. But he is not alone: he comes face to face with a virtuoso who finally explains a sequence of a star and a inlet of a anticipation that concerns him. Their discourse creates tragedy by loitering a outcome of a vital battle. At a same time, it provides gushing in a form of much-needed exposition.

In Final Fantasy XV, a stage of cosmological carnival takes place after a hero, Noctis, gets trapped in a sorcery crystal. After flitting out, he wakes adult floating in a blank of blue, and finds himself faced with one of a teenager deities who seem via a series, a hulk steel dragon named Bahamut who looks and speaks like Optimus Prime. With earthshaking gravitas, Bahamut explains Noctis’s purpose during a core of an ancient prophecy, and his place during a peak of creation: “The King of Kings shall be postulated a energy to banish a darkness.”

There are apparent Christian overtones to Bahamut’s mumbo jumbo. But what’s distinguished about a line is that it’s totally literal. Noctis unequivocally is the King of Kings, and a aristocrat in a aged clarity of kingship, not a mystic conduct of state though a loyal emperor with boundless authority. The diversion is spooky with this idea. Noctis’s father is named “King Regis,” that literally means King of Kings. His car, a neat black automobile in a star of wide pickups, is unsubtly called a Regalia. The actor is reminded mostly that his buddies are his stately bodyguards.

The game’s fetishism of kingship is uncanny even by a standards of medievalist high fantasy. But somehow it doesn’t feel weird, maybe since games so mostly lapse us to feudalism. Chess operationalizes a hierarchies of a feudal order. So do label games in that a aristocrat trumps everybody else though a ace. The landscape of contemporary videogames gives we unconstrained ways to be a monarch: unconditional plan games that paint majestic decision-making from a top-down viewpoint (Crusader Kings II); RPGs, both Japanese and not, that paint it from a third-person viewpoint (Fable III); a mobile diversion Reigns, that cribs a card-swiping pattern of Tinder to benefaction kingship as an unconstrained array of face-to-face interactions with insistent, and infrequently gnomic, advisors. You die mostly in Reigns, since we done a preference that authorised a church, a military, a oligarchs, or a people to benefit too many energy and adopt you. But like any mobile game, it’s designed for replayability, and a replayability subsists on a decidedly feudal thought that a “King” as a rank, a position, outlasts a aristocrat as a mortal. The aristocrat is dead; prolonged live a king.

In FFXV, being a aristocrat isn’t about autocratic armies, enacting policies, or collecting sycophants. It’s about wielding a overwhelming energy of an secret order, and being radically, ontologically, different. For reasons both developmental and, we suspect, philosophical, FFXV is a usually diversion in a mainline array that usually lets we play as one chairman (new downloadable episodes aim to change that, though a categorical diversion will always be that way). You have your bodyguards, and we can give them commands, though we are differently alone in a physique of Noctis. Because a diversion unfolds in genuine time, rather than in a complement of epitome menus, we control him in an unmediated way. Yet we also watch him, as many as we control him: we watch as he does things no one else can do, dancing around his foes and assaulting them with a rotating arsenal of bright weapons that enclose a spirits of his ancestors. He isn’t invincible. He indeed feels frail in a gentle way. But damage usually gives him — and we — a eventuality to abuse his biggest inheritance: a energy to serve a vital deity to his aid, that in this diversion causes adequate drop to consecrate an ecological event. Only Noctis has that power. Only Noctis has that privilege.

But FFXV also wants we to drive, to wander, to learn a open world. It never stops being a feudalism simulator, displaying a comprehensive disproportion of a aristocrat by systems of weaponized privilege. Yet it also reaches for a highway outing as an experiential template, determined to give a characters (and a player) a kind of leisure that feudalism doesn’t permit, a leisure to confirm who we are by derelict travel, rather than being reserved a “place” during birth.

Over a march of a game, this tragedy between worldviews becomes a genuine problem, polluting each suggestive sell between Noctis and his bodyguards. In one touching scene, he sits atop a roof of a grubby motel with Prompto, a meth-head-looking gunslinger who contributes to a organisation mostly by holding pictures. In intensely JRPG fashion, they start articulate about their friendship, a bond that goes behind to facile school, and Prompto bares his essence — about awkwardness, loneliness, self-loathing. He tells Noctis how many their bond dissolves a feelings of wickedness that conclude his daily life: “But when we hang out, it’s so many fun we forget what I’m not.” Noctis listens, generously, as a crony and a peer. But a apparition of equivalence snaps when he tries to offer reassurance, and usually ends adult underscoring his possess power: “You consider we usually make time for any aged loser?” Rank comes resounding back.

But this breach is also a problem during a core of Hamlet. In a famous essay, the literary censor Arnold Kettle argued that Hamlet turns on a dispute between a Renaissance humanism preached and used by Hamlet himself and a confirmed feudalism of a Danish justice — a dispute that reflects a divided epoch in that a play was written, underneath Elizabeth nonetheless after Montaigne. The star of a justice is so tangible by arrange that even in a content of a play, Claudius appears never as “Claudius” though always as “KING,” and courtiers such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have small temperament over their transmutable position. Hamlet, by contrast, a supportive egghead scholastic in a latest Continental philosophy, perceives people by a humanist lens, as humans initial and foremost. He considers who they are in a personal clarity rather than what they are in a domestic clarity — mostly to a point, paradoxically, that he obsesses over what they are in a corporeal sense. Rank means all to a other characters, and means zero (or “stench”) to him. “The aristocrat is a thing,” he says, after devising Claudius removing eaten by worms.

“There is zero possibly good or bad, though meditative creates it so.” Hamlet speaks this line, and it’s a humanist idea: he locates a source of probity in a mind of a meditative person. The line is tough to suppose as a legitimate epigraph to a anticipation diversion that arranges a turf of American leisure underneath a constructional certitudes of Gothic Europe, and identifies a “good” with a legitimate practice of emperor power. But FFXV seems to wish that feeling of incongruity, that clarity that something “is out of joint.” It seems to wish that peculiarity that Hamlet has always had: a messiness that final revision.


Why have there been so many adaptations of Hamlet? The brief answer is that it’s easy to adapt. But a some-more formidable answer has something to do with a approach a play itself mulls over questions of adaptation. It’s tough not to consider of Hamlet as source material, as an original, though a play was a reworked chronicle of a Thomas Kyd punish tragedy, now lost, that scholars ordinarily impute to as “Ur-Hamlet.” And notwithstanding a “ur” prefix, a Kyd play was also an adaptation, formed on a fable of “Amleth” in a Historia Danica of 12th-century author Saxo Grammaticus, that in spin was formed on sources buried serve in a mists of time.

Everything has sources. But Hamlet himself is quite pained by a thought that his possess life is sensitive by source material: both a indication of his father and a tract arcs of revengers past. He feels disloyal from a hostile Viking with whom he shares a name. He feels both captivated to and repulsed by a picture of Pyrrhus, Achilles’ son, who killed a aristocrat of Troy to punish his father:

The imperishable Pyrrhus, he whose swarthy arms,
Black as his purpose, did a night resemble
When he lay couched in a meaningful horse,
Hath now this dismay and black mettle smear’d
With heraldry some-more dismal.

The fact that he speaks of “heraldry” — a iconography of arrange and origin — as a “smear’d,” greasy piece proves Kettle’s indicate all over again. He can’t mount a feudal order. He imagines it here, as he does elsewhere, in a terms of corruption. But he still feels an stress of influence. He still defines himself by comparison to a before model. He can’t shun his possess predecessors, possibly as a aristocrat or as a revenge-tragedy protagonist. He can usually correct them.

Noctis’s story derives pathos from a same condition — a weight of a crown, a pain of a legacy. In one of a game’s final scenes, his majestic ancestors seem as ghosts, for a final time, and take turns perspicacious him with their swords, axes, and spears — a weird protocol of incestuous masochism that captures a stress of change in even some-more aroused terms than Hamlet does.

But a game, like any good Hamlet adaptation, is a small like Hamlet himself, tangible as many by a confluence to a source content as by a enterprise to correct a source text. Like The Lion King, it revises Hamlet by changeable genres. Hamlet is a tragedy; Final Fantasy is a fantasy. And like any fantasy, according to J. R. R. Tolkien’s rubric, it provides “escape” as good as “consolation,” editing for problems that are deeper, some-more entrenched, than “the noise, stench, ruthlessness, and extravagance of a internal-combustion engine.”

In a play, feudalism is what’s “rotten” in a state of Denmark. In a game, government cures what’s “rotten” in a state of Lucis, not usually since a game’s tract resolves with a aristocrat descending to his legitimate throne, though since a diversion asks a actor to “banish a darkness” by a mechanics of kingship. Even a many action-packed games boil down to puzzles and solutions, thatch and keys. In this game, a nonplus is a decentralization of power, represented not usually by a rivalry Usurper though by a furious and giveaway American landscape. The usually resolution — as it was for George III — is to move a open star to heel.

This anticipation sounds some-more horrible than consoling, nonetheless it derives nonetheless from all a qualities that make kingdom so concordant with games in a initial place: a clarity of a rules; a fixity of a ranks; a lively rightness of an sequence over a human, forged in light by another hand. Part of a cultured interest of Final Fantasy games involves saying a abounding bestiary of hypothetical beings take on new form and definition in a opposite kind of world. It seems roughly aggressively on a nose that in this star one of a 6 vital gods is Leviathan, a savage best famous for a starring purpose as a embellishment for state energy in a work of Thomas Hobbes. In Leviathan, Hobbes creates a box for comprehensive kingdom on a basement that life in a alternative, a “state of nature,” is “nasty, brutish, and short.” We need laws, he says, and they need to come from a being on a aloft plane. The people contingency select to theme themselves to a emperor for a same reason that “gamesters” determine to play by rules: since it gives a star sequence and clarity. “It is in a Lawes of a Common-wealth, as in a Lawes of Gaming,” Hobbes writes: “whatsoever a Gamesters all determine on, is Injustice to nothing of them.”

The antithesis of Leviathan is that a complement it prescribes requires humans to deposit a tellurian ruler with a standing coming inhumanity. As Tobias Menely points out in The Animal Claim, “sovereignty’s structure is ambivalent” in Hobbes’s comment since “any sovereign, either particular or corporate, becomes a defender of a law, a preserver of a usually polity, usually insofar as he is not entirely of it.” The aristocrat is as many master of his domain as he is an outsider, exception, aberration. That might be because in FFXV Noctis’s ascent ends adult foreclosing each kind of amiability that his loyalty and a open highway entails. The diversion unequivocally is a anticipation — a Hobbesian anticipation in that comprehensive kingdom vanquishes a commotion of a “state of War.” But it’s also a kind of tragedy, changeable about a possess certitudes. To strech for a emperor is to strech for structure, though usually ever during a hazardous cost.

And we strech for a sovereign. We strech for it with jokes (“Queen Offers to Restore British Rule over a United States”); we strech for it in jeremiads about the stipulations of democracy and a grace of a presidency, foul or restored. We strech for it when a star seems to be shifting into a “state of War,” destroyed and inchoate, of a possess devising. Even Horatio reaches for it during a finish of a play, with that famous line spoken after a stage of meaningless carnage: “Good night, honeyed prince.”

Most of all, we strech for a emperor in games. FFXV understands. That might be because it reaches for freedom, and reaches — so incoherently — for Hamlet.


Matt Margini is a author and a doctoral tyro in a dialect of English and Comparative Literature during Columbia University. His essays have seemed in The Atlantic, Kill Screen, and Public Books.

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