Final Fantasy XV is a bit of an unusual release in that it's an action RPG that has received a wealth of post-launch content, both free and in the form of paid DLC, that has enriched the narrative and added new gameplay features.  While this isn't necessarily an uncommon practice, especially among modern AAA games, it is a bit strange to see in a genre whose games typically consist of lengthy experiences meant to be completed and put on a shelf instead of returned to constantly over the course of very long stretches of time.

While cynics would argue the game was "incomplete" at launch and these patches added in features that should've been there from the start, I was quite satisfied with the base Final Fantasy XV experience, and actually appreciate that the developers have been working hard and listening to fan feedback to improve upon the game, adding features like brand new cutscenes that clarify story details that confused people, or the ability to drive off-road with a new form of the Regalia.

By far the two most substantial additions to the Final Fantasy XV experience are the contents of its season pass however, which include a (surprisingly fun) multiplayer expansion, and three character DLC episodes, each of which revolves around one of the three protagonists of the game that aren't the main character Noctis.  Final Fantasy XV is similar to a first person novel in the sense that we only see the events of the story from the point of view of the main character, Noctis.  The advantage to this storytelling approach is that it makes the narrative a very personal one.  We the player only know what Noctis does.  We're not privy to "meanwhile, in the evil empire" cutscenes, and thus we feel more attached to the main character, since we only see the world from his point of view.  However, the downside to such an approach is that it means that aspects of the narrative that don't directly involve Noctis were underdeveloped, such as the backstories and motivations of certain side characters.

The character DLC episodes aim to do two things - fill in some of the gaps left in the story from being limited to Noctis' point of view, and letus enjoy playing as one of the other three "Chocobros," Gladiolus, Prompto, and Ignis.  While a recent update now allows you to play as these three characters in combat, the DLC episodes were our first real taste of their play styles.

So the question is, if you're someone who already completed Final Fantasy XV, and you don't own the season pass, are these DLC episodes worth purchasing?  The goal of this blog is to look at each episode individually and discuss their strengths and weaknesses regarding almost every aspect of them, including storytelling, characterization, combat, and music, to help you decide if they are worth diving back into the Final Fantasy XV universe to experience.

So heat up some Cup Noodles and let's get started!

It's probably been a while since you played this game...  Which of its DLC episodes are worth returning to it for?

Episode Gladiolus


Episode Gladiolus was the first of Final Fantasy XV's three character DLC episodes, releasing in March of 2017, about five months after the game's initial launch.  It places Noctis' bulky bodyguard bro Gladiolus as the protagonist of a side story, as he embarks on a journey to strengthen his body and spirit to better protect his friend Noctis.  Chronologically, this episode takes place simultaneously with the events of Chapter 7 of the main game, when Gladiolous inexplicably leaves the group because "there is something he must do."  Many fans, myself included, asked, "where did Gladio go?"  When snarky Gamefaqs user remarked "he hid behind the pay wall," and while he wasn't necessarily wrong, here is where we get the real answer to that quest.

To gain the strength needed to protect his friends from the harsh threats awaiting them, Gladiolus is joined by "Cor the Immortal," a stalwart member of the Crownguard, as the former takes on the Trial of Gilgamesh.  That name should sound familiar to Final Fantasy fans; Gilgamesh is a recurring villain throughout the series, and while he proves to be a formidable foe in Episode Gladiolus, sadly this is a far more serious incarnation of the character, sacrificing goofy mannerisms for a more intimidating persona.

Of the three character DLC episodes, Episode Gladiolus contributes the least to the overall Final Fantasy XV experience.  It tells of a self-contained story of how Gladio conquered Gilgamesh's trial and earned a fancy new sword.  Sadly, it also doesn't do very much to develop Gladiolus as a character.  I was hoping to see him confide in Cor about the death of his father, Clarus, a tragedy that Gladio himself barely addresses in the main game.  This episode essentially revolves around Gladio accepting that he is a simple man, with a simple desire to protect Noctis with all of his strength, and that there is nothing wrong with being that way.  If anything, Cor is actually the character that benefits the most from this DLC episode, as he reveals much of his backstory and solid voicework from Matthew Mercer helps cement the Crownsguard member as a more impressive and memorable character.

While Episode Gladiolus is a bit disappointing from a story and character standpoint, the gameplay is a real treat.  While the meat of the experience only took me about an hour to complete (and I was taking my time!) Gladiolus is quite fun to play as.  Unlike Noctis, he can't just toss his sword around and warp to its position to evade enemies and zip around the battlefield effortlessly.  Gladio is big and bulky, and his fighting style reflects that.  His attacks have a real sense of weight and might to them, and stringing them together without getting hit will increase their attack power.  However, Gladiolus also isn't very mobile, only able to roll out of the way of damage or hold up his shield to absorb it.  The key to fighting as Gladio is knowing when to move in for the kill and when to hold up your shield and hold back your strength.  It's good fun, but sadly the episode is so short that by the time you're used to play style the episode is over.

Episode Gladiolus' guest composer was Keiichi Okabe, most noteworthy for composing the absolutely sublime soundtrack of NieR:  Automata.  While I would argue Episode Gladiolus' OST is the weakest of the three DLC episodes, it trades more whimsical tracks for metal ones that suit Gladiolus' rough character.  The highlight of the bunch is a remix of Final Fantasy V's Battle on the Big Bridge.

So this begs the question - is Episode Gladiolus worth it?  My answer is maybe.  if you're eager for more Final Fantasy XV gameplay, it's a pretty easy sell.  It may be short, and it doesn't add much to the narrative of Final Fantasy XV, but it's also only $5.  There are good musical tracks to be had, and playing as Gladiolus is certainly a good time.  That being said, if you're not chomping at the bit to play more Final Fantasy XV, it could probably safely be skipped.

 

Episode Prompto


Episode Prompto was the second of Final Fantasy XV's three DLC episodes, releasing in June of 2017, roughly eight months after the release of the base game.  In my opinion, it is an improvement upon Episode Gladiolus in almost every way.  While gameplay and the thrill of combat as Gladiolus was the highlight of the first DLC episode, Episode Prompto is more of a character study.

Episode Prompto takes place simultaneously with Chapter 12, after the game's villain, Ardyn, tricks Noctis into pushing his best friend Prompto off of a moving train.  Prompto miraculously survives, but he is stranded in the harsh cold of Imperial territory, and worse still, he is struggling to grasp with why his best friend seemingly betrayed him.  While Prompto is depicted as a lighthearted jokester throughout much of Final Fantasy XV, those who have played the game and seen the companion anime know that this is not the full story.  Prompto actually struggles with depression and low self-esteem, feeling as though he does not deserve Noctis' companionship as much as Gladiolus and Ignis.  He hides his true feelings behind sarcastic quips and a jolly attitude, believing that lightening the mood is the only thing he cant truly contribute to Noctis' party.  In Episode Prompto, separated from the group, we see the true Prompto, a side of the character we wouldn't get a chance to in the base game.  And his struggles to come to terms with how he was created (those who beat the game know what I am referring to) are genuinely moving.  Unlike Episode Gladiolus, Episode Prompto does a wonderful job of exploring the depths of Prompto's character by depicting his true self.

Episode Prompto also outdoes Episode Gladiolus in a number of other categories too.  The episode is about twice as long (my playthrough lasted a little over two hours), and even contains a mini open world to explore.  It's not particularly large, and there's only a few rewards to find, but for those that are having a good time, it's a fun, snowy playground to mess with (with a snow mobile to boot!).  The music is also outstanding; the guest composer this time around is Naoshi Mizuta.  While Mizuta's track record is a bit all over the place (he contributed tracks in games ranging from Resident Evil 2 to Final Fantasy XIII), the music in Episode Prompto outdoes many of the tracks in the base Final Fantasy XV game, from downtrodden main theme Home Sweet Home to the downright beautiful world exploration theme.  It's a somber soundtrack that reflects the mood of Final Fantasy XV well.  Lastly, just as Gladio was joined by Cor in his character episode, this time around, Prompto finds an unlikely ally in Aranea Highwind, a enigmatic dragoon from the main game.  She's a highlight of the episode too, as without spoiling too much, she shows Prompto the tough love he needs to accept himself for who he is.

While it's clear that I love Episode Prompto, I should add that the gameplay is a bit... lackluster.  In stark contrast to Noctis and Gladiolus, Prompto controls like a character from a third person shooter... and as you can imagine, Final Fantasy XV's engine wasn't built with that genre in mind.  While the gameplay is certainly passable, it's clear Prompto controls a bit more fiddly than his friends.

So, that brings us to the ever important question - is Episode Prompto worth it?  I can personally give it a hearty recommendation.  While Prompto's play style is a bit wonky, the DLC episode as a whole is a huge improvement over Episode Gladio.  We get to see a new side to one of the game's strongest characters, the longer run time gives you a bit more bang for your buck, and the soundtrack is incredible.  Even if you put Final Fantasy XV on your shelf months ago, consider picking it back up for a bit to experience Prompto's side story.

 

Episode Ignis


Episode Ignis is the final of the three character DLC episodes for Final Fantasy XV (well, for now anyway), and is the most recently released, having just dropped yesterday at the time of writing.  Curiously, it was supposed to be the second of the three episodes, but it was delayed until December of 2017, over a year after the launch of the original game.  After playing the DLC however, the delay makes sense, as Episode Ignis is easily the strongest of the three character DLC episodes.

Episode Ignis takes place simultaneously with Chapter 9, the point in Final Fantasy XV where things start going south for the heroes very, very quickly.  As the city of Altissia is ravaged by gods and an evil empire alike, Noctis' retainer Ignis struggles to search for and save his closest friend.  Like Episode Prompto, one of the best things about Episode Ignis is that we get to see a new side to the main character that we wouldn't in the main game.  Fans of Final Fantasy XV no doubt recognize Ignis as the voice of reason in the group; no matter how high the stakes got in the main game, Ignis always kept a level head and devised a plan to lead the group to safety.  Here however, separated from the group and with Noctis' life in grave nature, the typically calm and collected Ignis is a bit of a wreck, and seeing the stakes he'll go to in order to save his best friend's life is nothing short of heartwarming.

Unlike Prompto, Ignis is also riotously fun to play as, even more so than Gladiolus.  Ignis dual wields daggers which he can instill with elemental magic.  He can set his daggers on fire to do more damage to one enemy, freeze them to harm foes all around him, or shock them to allow him to teleport to enemies and close the gap between him and them.  There are nuances to each attack, and he can swap elements quickly.  Having the right spell for the right occasion is the key to success, and Ignis' combat style is fast, flashy, and fun.  While fighting, you'll be treated to some tracks from Episode Ignis' guest composer Yasunori Mitsuda, perhaps most noteworthy for creating the music of Chrono Trigger(!).  While the episode's main theme is quite good, the real highlight are the spectacular battle themes.  Everything track the basic battle music to the final boss theme is exciting stuff, reflecting the dire stakes of the episode well.

Like Gladiolus and Prompto, Iggy is joined by another character from the main game in his journey.  This time around, it's Ravus - though in the base game, Ravus is something of a complicated antagonist to the group, in Episode Ignis, his goal's align with Ignis' and the two work together for a bit.  This is only in Ravus' favor, as he receives some much needed screen time, and Episode Ignis works wonders to helping the character feel less underdeveloped.

Seeing the destruction of Altissia from Ignis' perspective helps clear up some gaps in the story, but the real reason to experience Episode Ignis is the titular character himself.  While Ignis was always one of my favorite characters in the base game, he really shines as the protagonist of his side story.

SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH

In Episode Ignis, we finally learn how Ignis lost his eyesight during the chaos of Chapter 9, and the answer is equal parts unexpected, heartbreaking, and noble.  Without spoiling any more, there's also an unexpected story beat regarding Ignis' character that isn't revealed in the main game, and the shocking revelation will re-contextualize the entire way you'll look at his character.

As an addendum, it's also worth noting that Episode Ignis has an "extra verse," essentially a non-canon alternate ending that shows a "what if?" scenario where Final Fantasy XV as a whole ends differently due to a choice Ignis makes.  It's a neat addition, but the quality of the writing in this extra feels very "fan-fictiony," and is riddled with plot holes that also undermine the quality of the base game's incredible canon ending.  Thankfully it's an easily ignored non-canon extra, but it's inclusion is a bit bizarre.

As it stands, Episode Ignis' optional "Extra Verse" is the only thing that really undermines its quality.  It does everything a character DLC episode for Final Fantasy should - it shows a crucial event in the game's narrative from a new perspective, helping to clear up some story confusion.  It gives us an exciting new moveset to fight enemies with, an excellent soundtrack to listen to, and it also reveals new information about the game's best Chocobro.  Like Episode Prompto, I think Episode Ignis is absolutely worth taking Final Fantasy XV out of retirement for, and is a baseline future potential DLC episodes for Final Fantasy XV should be compared to.

 

Overall, Final Fantasy XV's character DLC episodes are oddities.  I'm happy the main narrative only showed us the events of the game from Noctis' perspective, as it really helped me connect to his character especially.  But at the same time, it left some gaps in the storytelling and characterization due to his limited perspective.  The first three character DLC episodes do a lot to fill those holes and provide fun gameplay experiences in their own right.  While I can understand the frustration on having to shell out $5 a piece for them to "fully complete" the game's narrative, I can at least say that Episode Prompto and Episode Ignis especially are well worth your time if you're willing to hop back into Final Fantasy XV's universe, and will help you look at its compelling characters in a new light.

Have you purchased Final Fantasy XV's character DLC episodes?  Do you think they were worth the entry price?  Sound off in the comments below, and happy gaming!