From a narrative perspective, my absolute favorite thing about Final Fantasy XV is how it allows its main cast (which consists solely of four grown men) to express complex emotions. In my review, I said that "what could have resulted in a testosterone-fueled road trip ends up becoming an emotional and engaging journey." Each member of the crew fits a masculine stereotype: the cool-headed leader, the know-it-all, the strong-but-silent type, and the quip-spewing action hero. But rather than let each character fit neatly into a given mold, XV uses these stereotypes as a foundation to create better-realized characters.
Take the jokester of the cast, Prompto. While he may initially be seen as just a "quip-spewing action hero," the script makes sure that he becomes so much more. Prompto is a deeply complex character, one of the most in any Final Fantasy game. He suffers from intense feelings of imposter syndrome and has an undying love for his friends, whom he considers his family. However, his constant internal questioning of whether or not he's worthy of the love that his friends show him is something Prompto struggles with throughout the game.
There's a small plot twist involving the game's resident shutterbug that's revealed near the conclusion of XV, and it is explored in greater detail during the DLC focusing on him, Episode Prompto. This revelation seems to cement Prompto's anxiety of not fitting in and not being good enough: he sees an ugly side to himself, one that he feels warrants his fear of being shunned. But that doesn't happen. Instead, he's told that it's not something that defines him, and the sense of relief he feels seems to radiate throughout the rest of the scene.
A lot of us deal with the fear that we'll lose the love of someone in our lives once we bare our truths and show them the things we try to hide: the ugly things that we feel diminish our value as people. Yet when it comes to love—true, undying love—judgment is never something we should be afraid of. The people who genuinely love you will never judge you for being honest about yourself, and the reason the trio of friends embrace Prompto the way they do is because they do, in fact, genuinely love him.
This love is especially showcased through the relationship between Prompto and Noctis. What Prompto truly fears even more than losing the love of his friends as a group is losing the love of Noctis specifically. Prompto adores and admires his best friend, and the game doesn't try to hide this. In fact, there's a moment early on in which the two of them sit on the roof of a motel at night, reminiscing about how Prompto was too nervous to talk to Noctis until high school.
"I was super shy," he confesses. "No surprises, but I had no friends—at least not real ones. I was always alone. And there were times when I felt, well, worthless." He goes on to say that he feels inadequate compared to the rest of the team, and he is desperate to earn his place to prove that he's good enough. Throughout the cutscene, it's clear that he's having a hard time letting his guard down, but he does so because he trusts Noctis.
When choosing a response to comfort his best friend, Noctis' words visibly hit Prompto hard: "Think what you will, but I think you're good enough for me."
The scene shows how much the two love one another, and it's beautiful to see two men express their platonic love. We'd expect Prompto to maintain his happy-go-lucky exterior and not talk about his problems; likewise, we'd expect Noctis to act aloof when listening to his friend vent. We'd expect this because the hypermasculine culture we live in doesn't want to show emotional vulnerability in men for fear that they'd come across as weak. Even when the nature of friendship between men is focused on, it's trivialized as being a "bromance," which reinforces the stigma of men expressing love towards their friends. XV forgoes the concept of a simple "bromance" and instead pursues the idea of true love between male friends. The way the game handles the relationship between Prompto and Noctis had a personal impact on me.
I grew up in a hypermasculine, homophobic environment; when I came out as gay during my teenage years, the pressure to conform to traditional "masculine" standards—the pressure to conform to the concept of toxic masculinity—increased tenfold because of the homophobia I experienced from my father. I was young at the time, and I internalized a lot of homophobia and hypermasculine concepts, like not believing in showing affection and never admitting to needing help, because I had it drilled into me that these things were associated with "femininity." Anything "feminine" warranted great distance because it made me less of a man, which in turn meant that no other man would want me.
It took years, but eventually I was able to see the stupidity of hypermasculinity as a whole and the oddness of feeling the need to conform to society's standards with regard to this mindset. I saw how genuinely, frighteningly unhealthy it was, and I saw the damage it does to our culture. I also saw how often hypermasculinity is reinforced in the media we consume, which furthers our internalization of it.
Being able to see traditionally masculine men do things we don't typically associate with masculinity is a major reason that XV means so much to me. I see a lot of people—especially straight women—who interpret the relationship between Noctis and Prompto as romantic not because they think the two would make a cute pair, but rather because the two express their emotions and make it clear that they love each other. I encourage these people to think critically about why they believe that men loving each other has to inherently be romantic. There's nothing wrong with interpreting the relationship however you want, but ask yourself if the reason you're interpreting it the way you do is rooted in something more complex than you'd initially think.
I truly believe that, intentionally or not, Final Fantasy XV makes a statement on hypermasculinity by subverting it as much as it does. The game reminded me that it's okay for me to feel and express emotions, and that it's healthy for me to use the word "love" to describe how I feel about my friendships with other men when I live in a society that tells me I shouldn't. Regardless of whether or not it meant to, XV has furthered the process of destroying society's trivial idea of a "bromance" by replacing it simply with the idea of love, and I certainly hope more games follow its lead.