How to Make Sense of 'Final Fantasy XV'

'Final Fantasy XV' has spread its story across a feature film and an animated web series. Credit: Square Enix

We consumed every piece of 'Final Fantasy XV' content so you don't have to

We consumed every piece of 'Final Fantasy XV' content so you don't have to

After a decade in development, two different titles, three demos, and a half-dozen films and episodic videos, Final Fantasy XV is finally coming out.

Square Enix has made sure that just playing the game won't be enough – prospective players need to do their homework before pressing start on Prince Noctis's grand adventure. While you might be able to dive into FFXV's adventure and understand what's going on, more or less, it's worth your while to brush up on all the crazy, labyrinthine lore that's out there. If the storylines already released are any indication, Square Enix has little interest in holding your hand.

Originally slated to exist within Final Fantasy XIII's Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy series – itself a seemingly-impenetrable tapestry of main series games, offshoot titles, novels and manga – Final Fantasy XV was spun off into its own thing to clear the air. Since we're days from the game's release, we dove in to straighten out the interweaving storylines. This should be stating the obvious, but expect spoilers aplenty.

FFXV is set in the world of Eos, which has been gradually taken over by the Niflheim empire (and – inexplicably – several real-world brands, like Audi, Japan Airlines, and Beats), ruled by Emperor Iedolas Aldercapt and his army of robotic soldiers. The sole resistance to their world domination is the land of Lucis, ruled by King Regis. Lucis has been protected by a magic crystal (because fantasy), which the king uses to power a protective wall over the capital city of Insomnia. The barrier requires the king to use his strength to maintain this protection, and after decades of work, he's beginning to fade. If you're confused at this point, welcome to Final Fantasy XV. It gets worse. Read on as we try to untangle all the disparate threads that make up this wild, sprawling narrative.

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV

In this summer's critically mauled feature film, we met a few members of Regis's closest guardsmen, the Kingsglaive, who are able to channel the king's powers into magical barriers and pretty sweet knife-throwing/teleportation moves. Starring Aaron Paul, Lena Headey and Sean Bean in the U.S. version, the finished product is a visual treat, even if the pacing feels like three films' worth of plot crammed into two hours.

Shortly after the film's opening, Niflheim offers a treaty to Lucis, with the condition that Regis's son Noctis marries his childhood friend, Lady Lunafreya of Tenebrae (one of the areas controlled by Niflheim). Surprising pretty much everyone but the viewer, the evil empire's unexpected offer of goodwill isn't what it seems and things quickly go south. Most of the Kingsglaive betray their liege, and the city of Insomnia is taken over by the empire. Regis is killed, and Niflheim makes off with the precious crystal. A few loyal "glaives" assist Lunafreya in narrowly escaping the city with Regis's prized Ring of the Lucii, a weapon that allows the user to channel the spirits of the kings of Lucis's past.

That's the plot of the film in a nutshell, and while reviews were mostly awful, Kingsglaive is enjoyable enough to take in its truly stunning CGI artwork and get a taste of FFXV's luxurious design. It's also worth watching for the final setpiece, where Aaron Paul's teleporting bodyguard Nyx battles a demonic robot knight while Insomnia is destroyed around them.

That said, few of the main characters in Kingsglaive are likely to even show up in Final Fantasy XV. The events of the film and Final Fantasy XV take place concurrently, and Noctis, the main character in the game, is only seen momentarily in an after-credits scene. Regis had an ace up his sleeve after all; he sent the prince elsewhere to meet Lunafreya before Insomnia fell.

Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV

This five-part anime series delves into Prince Noctis's journey to meet Lunafreya for their fated nuptials. He's joined on the road with his three friends, Gladiolus, Prompto, and Ignis, each of whose ties to Noctis's journey is told through separate episodes of the series. Weighing in at a little over an hour, it's a more economical way to dive into the lore of Eos while also providing some context on the well-groomed group of guys you'll be spending 40 to 50 hours with come November 29th.

The series sheds light on the near-fatal injuries that Noctis suffered as a child and how this group of close-knit friends formed. Dutiful Ignis has been there through thick and thin to push Noctis to mature into the king he'll one day become. Plucky, photography-obsessed Prompto befriends the aloof Noctis when nobody else can. The gruff, kindly Gladiolus spars with the prince and can see the inner sense of service that Noctis quietly keeps to himself. The entire series is streaming for free with Japanese audio and multiple language subtitles, and it's a thoroughly engaging miniseries.

Episode Duscae, the Platinum Demo, and the Judgment Disc

If you're looking for some interactive prep for the sprawling journey through Eos, you'll need to jump through a few hoops. Of the three demos released, two are out in America, and the only publically available one is by far the weakest. None, however, are essential to grasping Final Fantasy XV's story.

Episode Duscae was the first taste of the game available, and it came packaged with copies of Final Fantasy Type 0-HD. A more traditional slice of FFXV's adventure, Noctis and company are stranded with a broken down car and need to raise enough gil to pay for repairs. Players can wring a solid couple of hours out of the demo, and while the game's battle system seems to have been substantially updated since, it shows the exciting potential of Duscae's wide-open landscapes.

The Platinum Demo, released in March of this year, is a reality-bending jaunt through Noctis's memories and dreams, lead by the fox/unicorn hybrid (and Final Fantasy stalwart) Carbuncle. Removed from the main game's storyline, it's more of a tech demo than anything, giving you a taste of the game's lighting, weather effects, and animation technology.

Finally, the Judgment Disc demo was released to the Japanese market earlier in November, and it takes place over the game's first episode. If you're the type who's inclined to figure out how to get access to this demo outside of Japan – which takes you through a couple of hours early in the game – chances are you've already done so. If not, you're probably better off just waiting. It's only a few more days, right?