The Final Fantasy series is long and prolific, and FF15 stands out uniquely across the series due to its development. Originally starting as a companion game to Final Fantasy 13, very little of the original project remains outside of visuals. As such, the game has a bit of an identity crisis.
The game’s story is incredibly heartfelt with a loveable set of characters, though it has a hard time explaining its world. As such, though you may grow to love the characters, the actual motivations behind its plot become harder to understand with so much of the lore spread across different media, and at times is even subject to mismatching translations and soft retcons.
The Birth Of The Starscourge, And Ardyn As A Vessel
Core to the understanding of the story is that of the Starscourge. No exact origin is defined, except in the German translation, which claims it came from the ‘Meteor of the Six’. it is a plague upon the land of Eos that infects the populace, turning them into daemons and slowly consuming the star of its light and life. It is an ancient plague, having affected the world since its earliest days.
In hope of protecting the star they call home, the Astrals, with Bahamut at their head, designed a plan to protect the star and its crystal. One bloodline, which would become the Lucii, was chosen to protect the Crystal. Another, that would become the Nox Fleuret, would heal the people. Together, they could withstand the Starscourge until enough power was gathered to defeat it. Critically, Ardyn was chosen to protect the crystal.
However, Ardyn was already a healer by trade and chose to absorb the Starscourge to heal the people, leading to the crystal denying him — and his own brother betraying him to usurp its power. Ardyn still strove to help the people without the crystal, eventually becoming so afflicted with the Starscourge himself that he quite literally lost his own mind. Nothing but blind rage fuelled him for the millennia he was locked away on Angelgard Island.
Upon his awakening, the name Ardyn and flashes of memory were all that remained to him. Filled with so much of the Starscourge, the Astrals adjusted their plan. With Ardyn as the vessel of the Starscourge, he became the new goal for the Chosen King of the Lucii to destroy and finally bring peace to the star. This goal worked for Ardyn, as the prophecy was the only thing that could truly kill him anymore.
The Line Of Lucis, And Its Knights Of The Round
After the Astrals had enacted their original plan to protect the crystal and vanquish the Starscourge, they gave a gift to the newly anointed Line of Lucis that would save the star. The Starscourge was a mighty threat with ambiguous origins that even the Astrals combined could not defeat.
As such, Somnus, the first of the Lucii, had nowhere near the strength required to destroy the Starscourge. The gift of the Astrals was the Ring of Lucii, an item that would harness the cumulative power of each protector of the crystal. It bestowed this power upon each subsequent protector until the power contained within was greater than even that of the Astrals, and the Starscourge itself.
In various Final Fantasy games, most notably FF7, the Knights of the Round are an incredibly powerful summon, and they take on a thematically similar role in FF15. Built into the walls of the Crown City of Insomnia, the protector of the crystal can invoke the power of the Old Wall to protect the city, summoning astral projections of previous rulers. These are manifestations of their power, in a similar fashion to the Armiger summoning their weapons, and can be wielded in their entirety only by the Chosen King.
The Chosen King, And The Heart Of The Star
Common motifs in Final Fantasy games are crystals. They always serve a purpose, being a source of magic, life, or symbols of power. In FF15, there is a single crystal commonly known as the Heart of the Star that is Eos. It is the power that keeps the world beating, and its life is threatened by the Starscourge that seeks to consume it. It also seems to have a mind of its own, being nigh impenetrable and offering the means to communicate between the people of Eos and the Astrals above. It is core to Eos and the Astrals, and should it disappear, they would go along with it.
As such, the plan of the Astrals centered on protecting it, and producing a protector more powerful than any other known force to defeat its biggest threat. This was no mystery to the Line of Lucis, who strove over millennia to protect their bloodline, no matter the cost, so that they could accumulate the power needed to protect their home. Though the game poorly explains this aspect, Noctis was known from a young age to be the True King spoken of in the prophecy that would vanquish the Starscourge.
Much of Noctis’ despondent and aloof behavior can come off as disrespectful or misunderstanding of the gravity of his obligation as king, though in truth it’s more of a crippling fear of someone who wanted nothing but to be with his friends. Unlike all others who simply had to survive, he was chosen to die in service of the greater good, a much more selfless goal than any of his predecessors had to bear. Lightly explored with Noctis’ father, Regis, the Ring of Lucii slowly drains the bearer of their life due to the sheer power contained within. For Noctis to utilize all this power to defeat the Starscourge, he would ultimately have to sacrifice his own life.
The Final Confrontation, Purging The Star Of Its Scourge
With the weight of existence bearing down on him, Noctis could rarely bear to look at the Ring of Lucii, the shape of his destiny and all his forebears, let alone wear it for his own selfless task. It wasn’t until Ardyn had assumed control over Niflheim that he wore it and took refuge within the stolen crystal, resting his body and soul for the next decade while the crystal prepared him for the task to come. At this point, it was too late for him to turn back.
Finally awoken after his long rest, he returned to Insomnia with his royal retinue and closest friends to defeat Ardyn and the Starscourge he housed within, and put the world at ease after eons of plague. Before their final battle, Noctis finally summons the might of all his ancestors, consuming their power to turn himself into a being far beyond any other known force, and takes to the Astral realm to finally defeat Ardyn and destroy the Starscourge.
With him, the Line of Lucis ends in its entirety, but so too does the plague that afflicted the star. Though Ardyn once held personal contempt, he was no longer truly a person, simply a vessel of destruction. It was not a personal death given to him, but a necessary one, and in reality a mercy to end the body that once housed a noble soul.
With this final act, Noctis fulfills an eons-old prophecy to protect the star. The Ring of the Lucii is destroyed, as is the Line of Lucis. However, the crystal is protected, the light is returned to the world, and the daemons are vanquished. Noctis is given his peace in death, and his friends awaken to a new dawn.
Though that is the true end to the tale, a bittersweet victory with the death of a beloved character, the story also has two other endings that are non-canonical. They offer an alternate view that sheds more light on feasible outcomes for the world. These are depicted in the Episode Ignis DLC through an alternate choice, and the events of the Dawn of the Future book.
Episode Ignis chronicles the events that detail Ignis’ loss of vision and how the Ring of the Lucii is returned to Noctis. By the end, Ignis wears the ring and sacrifices his vision to do so since he is not of royal blood, all to protect Noctis. He is defeated by Ardyn, and is then presented with a choice. If choosing to follow Ardyn, you are brought to Zegnatus Keep. You once again face off against Ardyn, with Ignis choosing to forfeit his life to the Ring to save Noctis.
This time, he manages to fend off Ardyn, with the gang coming to his rescue. In this reality, Noctis willingly accepts his task having seen the sacrifices his friends have made for him. Ten years go by and he manages to survive his encounter with the Starscourge, his very own soul strengthened and preserved by Ignis’ action. Together, they get to see a new dawn.
It is shown in various other pieces of media, as well as the game itself, that those not of the Line of Lucis can use the Ring in a limited capacity. However, they must offer up a sacrifice for the Line of Lucis contained within to deem them worthy of a fragment of its power.
Dawn of the Future is a book that compiles the events of Episode Ardyn and the three canceled Episodes — Aranea, Lunafreya, and Noctis. Episode Ardyn offers two options: to submit to fate and fulfill the prophecy as defined by Bahamut, or defy fate. The canonical choice is to submit to fate, though the book depicts what would have occurred in an alternate reality of the remaining three DLC had he resisted.
Here, Lunafreya is revived by Bahamut as a being cursed by the Starscourge like Ardyn, hoping that he can become its new vessel and be destroyed. Instead, she defies this faith as well, and ultimately she, Lunafreya, and Noctis all reunite in Insomnia, and convince Ardyn that despite all the darkness in his empty heart that Bahamut is the true villain.
Within the events of the book, it is revealed that Bahamut wishes to destroy humanity for its selfish acts of destruction. Ardyn, in a final bid for vengeance, uses the Ring of Lucii to harness the power to defeat both himself and Bahamut in the Astral Realm. With this, the entirety of the Astrals and their self-constructed prophecies are defeated, and Ardyn dies redeemed, even when all he wanted was revenge.