The wait for Final Fantasy 15 is over, and while it’s unclear just how significant that is to the landscape of the JRPG genre as a whole, the fact that Final Fantasy 15 has been met with rave reviews is good news for Square Enix. The legendary developer and publisher sunk a lot of money into Final Fantasy 15, and had the game flopped, it might have spelled the end of the series, at least in the shape and form its many fans are accustomed to seeing it in.
Instead, however, diehard Final Fantasy fans are now left with the enviable task of deciding whether or not Final Fantasy 15 is great or one of the all-time greats. That’s an argument that might never be settled, but assessing the games as a whole can often pale in comparison to the heated debates among gamers in regards to the best Final Fantasy protagonists of all time. In a field that includes the iconic Cloud and actual real-world model Lightning, it’s a tall task for any character to attempt to lay claim to the best of the best.
Yet, somehow, despite his brooding beginnings and questionable obsession with black clothing, Final Fantasy 15‘s Noctis earnestly makes a case for himself as the series’ best protagonist yet. Perhaps in the decade-long development of Final Fantasy 15, Noctis had an abnormally long period of time to find himself as a character, and the writers entered the final production period of the game with an unparalleled understanding of the characters they had created. Maybe Noctis was simply always destined to resonate strongly with fans who had waited for Final Fantasy 15 for so long, embarking on a kind of road-trip through emotions of grief and anguish themselves before Final Fantasy 15‘s launch.
Whatever the reason for his immaculate creation, however, it’s hard to deny that Noctis doesn’t warrant serious examination as Final Fantasy‘s greatest protagonist ever, and I’m not alone in asserting that this could be the case. In an interview with Game Rant earlier this year, Ray Chase, the obviously unbiased voice of Noctis in English versions of Final Fantasy 15, had this to say:
“As far as [Final Fantasy] protagonists go, I really think [Noctis is] top-tier. Due to the limitations of memory on the older games, you really don’t get an all-encompassing view of the characters, so many end up being stock or caricatures. But with the subtlety of mo-cap on this title, coupled with the number of intimate, average, everyday moments we get to see, I feel like Noct is the most human of all the heroes in the series.”
While Ray, despite his best efforts, probably can’t remain an objective party in the discussion of Final Fantasy‘s best character, he makes a very strong point – Noctis really is the most human of all the characters gamers have ever seen in the Final Fantasy franchise, and it’s for that reason that he’s so memorable. Whatever happens to Noctis, whether it’s the mundane or the magical, fans are a part of the experience, and it creates a genuine feeling of connection that many games could only hope to capture.
Whereas Cloud was an amnesiac with a good heart, Noctis is a boy becoming a man who has very real and very painful memories he has to reconcile on his way to becoming a good ruler. While Squall was broody and slowly became a good friend, Noctis is sullen because of the life thrust upon him by royalty and doesn’t miraculously become a different person – instead, Noctis stays surly, but it’s an endearing quality that his friends are willing to indulge because they care about him so greatly.
That level of commitment from Noctis’ friends doesn’t feel unjustified, either. Whereas the premise that three other men would be completely willing to die for Noctis might not fly in a game without as much character depth, gamers get a very tangible sense of just how strong the bonds of friendship between Noctis and crew are early on because they see it grow in front of them. While other Final Fantasy characters have represented the journey to adulthood or the struggle against evil, Noctis is that struggle or that journey. He might still fall into the trap of other Final Fantasy protagonists before him – chiefly, Noctis is still destined for greatness and “burdened” with incredible and unique magical powers – but he is much more like us than Cloud, Tidus, or Lightning ever were.
For fans who have completed Final Fantasy 15 already, Noctis also represents one of the best character arcs the series has ever seen. While I won’t delve into spoilers, his journey is one that has real consequences, and the earlier claim that Final Fantasy 15‘s ending is way different was not inaccurate – it’s a good change, though, and it makes Noctis feel even more “real”. The only other character who incurs a similar amount of emotional growth and conflict is Final Fantasy 9‘s Zidane, but his journey was fantastical and colored by steampunk trappings everywhere. Noctis’ journey, by contrast, is a road trip in a car that sometimes breaks down with 3 of his closest friends. Somehow, it’s relatable, even when a giant black bird-dragon is attempting to kill everyone in Final Fantasy 15‘s party.
Final Fantasy has always been a JRPG that, if nothing else, has had a big heart at the center of each of its iterations. Every Final Fantasy is about love and loss, and no matter how ridiculous the circumstances get, it is a struggle between good and evil and the bonds of friendship that tie us together that takes center stage. That isn’t anything new. Yet Noctis’ struggle, in its mixture of mundanity and gravitas, has somehow managed to capture that sentiment better than any other protagonist has thus far – and it’s for that reason that fans should seriously begin to consider whether or not Noctis is Final Fantasy‘s best protagonist yet.
Final Fantasy 15 is available now for PS4 and Xbox One.