Published on March 13th, 2017 | by Peter Freeman1
How Final Fantasy XV Handles Its Idea of Male Intimacy
*Full stories spoilers below!*
When Final Fantasy XV was first teased in its current form, many people noticed the lack of variance in party members. Particularly, the lack of female characters. For the most part, main line Final Fantasy games have had a pretty decent spread of male and female characters. This no doubt put a lot of fans on edge, especially in this day and age where it feels like certain groups have to fight tooth and nail just to be represented on screen.
Reflecting on the choice to restrict the cast to all male, Director Hajime Tabata told GameSpot in early 2015, “Speaking honestly, an all-male party feels almost more approachable for players. Even the presence of one female in the group will change their behaviour, so that they’ll act differently. So to give the most natural feeling, to make them feel sincere and honest, having them all the same gender made sense in that way,” Tabata said. The game certainly doesn’t shy away from the theme of male intimacy, with the party sharing a tent, protecting each other in battles, and holding no qualms about showing open concern for one another.”
The key phrase that really got people going was “theme of male intimacy”. It’s a bit of a nebulous idea and a lot of people thought of it as an excuse. In reality, the reason is probably closer to this game’s origin as a Final Fantasy XIII spin-off game, where the casts are usually smaller than mainline entries (FF X-2, for example, was an all-female cast). Despite that, this was Square’s and Tabata’s line on why things were the way they were.
So looking at how things turned out, does Final Fantasy XV explore male intimacy in a meaningful way? Yes and no. I don’t believe that Final Fantasy XV explores male intimacy in the way that people wanted, or expected it to. Instead, a lot of the ways that Final Fantasy XV portrays is main cast is very subtle, and nearly unnoticeable in the moment. To see where the subtlety lies, we’ll have to go main character by main character.
Of the four, Gladio is clearly the most “bro” of the cast. Both of his in game costumes have him bearing his muscles. He has a large scar on his head and wields a giant sword. He’s the strong man of the group, and that is reflected in the gameplay as well. He has the most health, does the most damage, and all of his abilities involve large amounts of damage or defending lots of damage. He’s the only character who can use a shield (aside from Noctis, who can use everything).
Despite his visual appearance, Gladio takes on more of a fatherly role throughout the story. This has some drawbacks, as he tends to be emotionally brutal to Noctis at points in the story. This is no more obvious than when he berates Noctis for still mourning the death of his finance. This continues when he gets on Noctis’ case for not taking proper care of Ignis. Noctis himself is hurting emotionally while Ignis is hurting physically, and Gladio only really knows how to deal with the physical pain. He can help Ignis walk, but he can’t find a way to talk to Noctis about death.
But he also tries to engage with Noctis, in a way.. Stay at one of the havens near the Vesperpool and Gladio will ask to go fishing with you. There is a legendary fish in the Vesperpool and Gladio wants to help you catch it. There’s nothing more stereotypical of a father-son moment than when they bond over fishing. The quest is short, but difficult. If you succeed, Gladio will jump in the lake and haul the fish to shore. Afterwards he congratulates Noctis with a fatherly hug.
Ignis on the other hand, is as close to being the exact opposite from Gladio as can be. He’s the intellectual of the group and his abilities reflect that. He can analyze the enemy or coordinate a group effort against an opponent. His British accent – something unique to his character – is supposed to give an air of intelligence, along with his glasses, and fancy looking gloves.
He’s the group leader, but to Noctis, he takes on more of a motherly role. He’s Noctis’s teacher, he cooks for the group, and does his best to make sure none of them get sick when it rains. “You’ll catch a cold if you don’t put your coat on,” he’ll say. He even has to force Noctis to eat his vegetables. Though it never happens in the game itself, Noctis repeatedly mentioned that Ignis is the one who always has to get him up in the morning.
Like Gladio, he attempts to engage with Noctis at certain points. Stay at the Fallaughins or the Cotisse haven, and Ignis will ask you cook breakfast with him. The interaction is simple, gameplay wise, only a few button presses are required. While you help him cook, he’ll engage you in conversation. He’s mostly looking to get you to open up. He can tell that you’re stressed and he wants to you talk to him. It’s the sort of conversation one could imagine having with a parent.
Then there’s Prompto. Of the party members, he has a much softer appearance that borders on feminine – a staple of Nomura character design. He’s brash and easily excitable. He easily has the most energy of the party and that reflects in his explosive damage dealing abilities. He also isn’t formally trained in combat and therefore that makes him the weakest member of the party. He has the lowest amount of health, and therefore is in need of constant help.
If Gladio and Ignis have parental relationships with Noctis, thus Prompto is easily the brother, or friend. The two are the same age, unlike Gladio and Ignis who are significantly older than Noctis. Noctis doesn’t have to worry about Prompto telling him what to do or how to act. They’re buddies and are on more equal footing that way.
Prompto’s hobby is photography. The dude is always taking pictures in the game, which we usually see at camp or the end of a story chapter. But throughout the game Prompto will ask you to let him take pictures of various places in the game. These are almost all group shots, and feature them smiling and being friendly with one another. These pictures seem superfluous at first, like Prompto is just wasting your time. Certainly, Noctis reflects this sometimes, as he’ll respond to Prompto’s requests with an air of annoyance.
Yet when the end of the game comes, it is Prompto’s photos that provoke the most emotional response. Before Noctis goes into the throne room, he asks to see Prompto’s photos. You’re then allowed to see the all the photos Prompto has taken throughout the game. By that point I had taken sixty-one photos. From the very beginning of the game until the end, there were photos that showed the characters together, enjoying one another’s company, being friends and family. It’s poignant, but also appropriate that Prompto is the one who brings these sort of emotions forward.
Of the three characters, Prompto is really the only one who expresses his feelings. For example, should you stay at the motel, Prompto comes to Noctis to talk with him for a moment. Should you choose to not be a total jerk and dismiss him immediately, he comes forward about his insecurities. His jokes and quips are a front. He feels worthless because he isn’t royalty and feels lesser because he isn’t huge like Gladio or super smart like Ignis. He’s the only character who bothers to show his more vulnerable side.
Prompto is also the only character to show any interest in the female characters in the game. Even Noctis, who is supposed to be getting married to Lady Luna, shows about as much emotion as a paper bag when it comes to his finace (more on this in a moment). Of the game’s female characters, Prompto winds up fancying Cindy the mechanic, and Aranea the mercenary. During your journey, he’ll remark about returning to Hammerhead and whisking Cindy away when all is over, or he’ll wonder absently about Aranea’s relationship status. If you stay at the haven near Hammerhead, you can even help poor Prompto ask Cindy on a date. It showcases that more vulnerable, romantic side of Prompto that often gets overshadowed by his bad jokes and overly excited nature.
(It’s also worth noting that despite having an interest in both women, he never remarks on their rather revealing outfits, which is even more evidence that they were made purely for the benefit of the player)
Lastly, we come to Noctis. It isn’t hard to believe that Noctis is a bit of jerk. He borders close on emotionless throughout the entire story. The only exceptions are when he expresses anger or frustration. Even when his soon to be wife is killed, he doesn’t mourn as one would expect. Instead, he lashes out. He screams, he tries to fight Gladio. He doesn’t know how to process these things.
It isn’t difficult to realize that all of this is due to how Noctis was raised. Throughout the story it becomes clear that Noctis and father didn’t have the closest of relationships. They weren’t estranged, but as King, duty to your people must come first. On the other hand, Noctis’ mother has been erased from existence so completely that her death due to childbirth is explained in a tweet. He had no real parents, no one to teach him how to be emotional or how to even understand his own feelings.
The only time that Noctis shows any truly positive emotion towards his friends is at the very end of the game. In fact, it’s past the end of the game. Midway through the end credits of the game, it cuts to a scene that takes place during your final night camping. There’s an air of inevitability. The guys are about to go attempt to retake the throne and defeat Ardyn. There’s a very real possibility that some, or all, of them could die.
It’s during this scene that Noctis manages to find a way to express his feelings about his friends. It’s difficult for him, that’s for certain. Half the scene is him remarking on that fact. He’s never really said anything like this before. But it makes everyone emotional. The four guys, gathered around the fire, are crying. It’s a cathartic moment for all of them, especially so for Noctis, who has never found the words to express how he feels.
Most people view the idea of “male intimacy” as a physical one, instead of an emotional one. Despite the fact that this is a journey where the four main characters are in constant contact with one another, whether it be in the car that takes you around the open world, or the small tent that all four of them have to sleep in together. Even during battle, the party members bring each other back into the fray with small shoulder touches and pats on the back. Prompto will even smack Noctis in the ass after a good battle.
While there may not be a ton of physical intimacy between the characters in Final Fantasy XV, there is a lot to be said about how the characters interact with each other emotionally. There’s so much more to intimacy than being physical with one another. The fact that the characters are allowed to be concerned for one another, air their insecurities, or even cry openly in front of one another, is something that is hard pressed to be found in a story with all male characters.
The overarching story of Final Fantasy XV is certainly lacking in many ways. It’s messy, there are plot holes everywhere, but these things are to be expected of a game that took ten years to get released. The writers though, deserve credit for crafting the relationships between these four characters as well as they did. And it is something that I hope other developers will take note of in the future when writing their male characters.