Review

by James Beckett,

Final Fantasy XV: The Dawn of the Future

Synopsis:
Final Fantasy XV: The Dawn of the Future
When the story of Final Fantasy XV ends, the Dawn of the Future begins. In the first of four tales inspired by planned downloadable content for the original video game, we explore the tragic history of Ardyn Lucis Caelum, who once lived as a renowned healer and prince, though he became twisted into a villainous monster after his brother Somnus killed Ardyn's beloved Aera and sentenced Ardyn to thousands of years magical imprisonment. In the second chapter, we reunite with Aranaea Highwind, a respected soldier for the Empire of Niflheim, whose fateful encounter with a terrifying weapon on the day of Empire's fall sees her protecting a young girl named Sol, who has her own part to play in the fate of the world. The third tale brings the Oracle Lunafreya back from the death she suffered at Ardyn's hands in Final Fantasy XV, and she teams up with a now grown Sol and struggles to master the dark new powers that she has been granted, and to understand her new destiny. Finally, as their adventure reaches its world-shattering conclusion once more, Noctis, Ignis, Gladiolus, and Prompto are given a new chance to defy fate and claim a victory against the gods once and for all.
Review:

SPOILER WARNING: This review contains spoilers for the plot of Final Fantasy XV, including its ending and DLC.

The first thing you need to know about Final Fantasy XV: The Dawn of the Future is that it is absolutely a work written for diehard fans of the original game. The first of the book's four chapters is an almost word-for-word and shot-for-shot retelling of the final piece of DLC release for FFXV, Episode Ardyn, and the rest of the stories each tackle one of the additional planned DLC “Episodes” that were ultimately cancelled when the Chief Director of Final Fantasy XV, Hajime Tabata, left Square Enix in 2018 to pursue other projects in the video game industry. What this means is that The Dawn of the Future absolutely does not work as a standalone novel; it picks up directly at the game's original climax, and then jumps back and forth through time to create an alternate conclusion to the FFXV story that incorporates nearly every major character and plot detail that was covered in the game.

Though there are some helpful summary materials included amongst the book's many pages of concept art and developer commentary, the story that author Jun Eishima has crafted on top of the plans originally made by the Final Fantasy XV development team is not meant to function as an introduction to the game's complicated universe, obscure lore, and compromised character arcs. The Dawn of the Future doesn't just assume you have played everything that Final Fantasy XV has to offer – it expects you to be intimately familiar with the game's overflowing stable of proper nouns and webs of mystical intrigue.

I did play Final Fantasy XV all the way through, along with all of the DLC Episodes save for the last one, Episode Ardyn, which is handily retold in The Dawn of the Future's first chapter, “A Savior Lost”. That was back in 2018, though, and I will admit that the first roadblock I needed to clear in reading The Dawn of the Future was simply remembering what the hell happened in Final Fantasy XV's plot. Fans of the game will be the first to admit that the game's tortuously long development cycle resulted in an incredibly likeable cast and an interesting sci-fi/fantasy setting that was rife with potential, all of which got tossed into a jarringly paced and borderline nonsensical plot that basically fell apart by the time the game concluded. Though the stories in The Dawn of the Future represent an honest attempt to rectify the worst of the gaps and missteps in FFXV's plot, they were difficult for me to even begin to approach without frequent check-ins with cutscene compilations and Final Fantasy wikis.

It also doesn't help that the four different stories here are terribly inconsistent, and the book begins with its worst material before gradually becoming surprisingly enjoyable. Ardyn's chapter “A Savior Lost” is easily the low point of the novel, because Jun Eishima's already sparse prose is relegated either to describing very long action sequences that work infinitely better as cutscenes and gameplay, or to hashing out Ardyn's tragic backstory, which doesn't amount to much by the end of the book. Granted, the chronicle of Ardyn's betrayal at the hands of Noctis' ancestors adds some nice context to his eventual reign of terror in FFXV, but it is made up of a hodgepodge of JRPG clichés that don't actually make Ardyn any more interesting of an antagonist.

The second chapter is even more bogged down by rote descriptions of ridiculously over-the-top battles, since “The Beginning of the End” is adapting the proposed DLC Episode “Aranea”,which was to be almost exclusively focused on kicking daemon ass with the game's much loved (but criminally underdeveloped) Aranea Highwind. So, outside of some critical setup for later plot points, “The Beginning of the End” mostly feels like filler, though it is easy filler to get through on account of the wicked fast pace it moves at. I also appreciated how, free from having to adapt a full script, Eishima is able to indulge in Aranea's more casual and playful narration, which translator Stephen Kohler captures well. Some of the purple prose in Ardyn's section is downright groan-worthy, but there's little of that overwrought pomposity to be found once Eishima and Kohler have more freedom to let The Dawn of the Future read like a real book.

This is exactly is what elevates the final stories, “Choosing Freedom” and “The Final Glaive”. “Choosing Freedom” is easily the best chapter of the book, both because it is by leaps and bounds the most well-written of the stories, and for how it offers a literal second chance at life for Final Fantasy XV's most neglected character: Lunafreya. The mystery of why her murder was undone by the gods is a compelling one, and the new character Sol makes for an excellent companion and foil for the naïve Oracle. “The Final Glaive” is basically a complete rewrite of the game's last chapter, and it follows Noctis as he emerges from the ten-year slumber he gets trapped in during the game's final act to reunite with his beloved Luna and do battle against the god that has been orchestrating Eos' downfall all along: Bahamut. While it has too much plot to resolve to be as wholly satisfying as Luna's story, Noctis' tale offers a thrilling conclusion to the whole experience of Final Fantasy XV, one that had me shedding a tear or two by the time it was finished for good.

This dedication to seeing this more complete conclusion to Final Fantasy XV's plot through to the end is what elevates the book above the failings of its weakest chapters. It is a gorgeously packaged labor of love, replete with wonderful extra features, and it has obviously been written with a deep love for the source material. I would even go so far as to say that Luna and Noctis' chapters, especially, represent a more complete and satisfying climax than what we actually got in the game, canonicity be damned. For that alone, Final Fantasy XV: The Dawn of the Future is perfect for anyone who has loved their time with Noctis and company, warts and all, and is looking for one last grand adventure to draw their journey to a close.

Grade:
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : A

+ Luna and Noctis' chapters offer a well-written and heartfelt alternate ending for Final Fantasy XV that improves upon the original game, the book features lovely artwork and plenty of bonus materials and commentary
The first two chapters are significantly weaker than the others, the prose is weighed down by the inclusion of too many fight scenes and other material that was never meant to function as a novel in the first place

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