"Anyone with a modicum of investment in Final Fantasy XV owes it to themselves see what this path less travelled has to offer. "
More than a year after its initial release, Final Fantasy XV's tale of brotherhood and fabulous hair has concluded its initial run of downloadable content. In addition to a litany of free updates, new features, and bonus gear, Episodes Gladiolus and Prompto delved into unique gameplay styles for their respective member of Noctis' posse, while also serving to fill in a gap in the game's overall narrative. Whether or not previous episodes were successful on that latter front is debatable at best, but with Episode Ignis, Square Enix has finally released a DLC episode that not only provides an interesting gameplay experience, but is an emotional and, I daresay, essential addition to Final Fantasy XV's story.
Set during the tumultuous Chapter 9 from the main game (in case you've been waiting for the DLC to run its course and haven't made it that far yet, beware of some minor spoilers), Episode Ignis sees XV's bona fide best boy making his way through the ruined city of Altissa in an attempt to reach Noctis after the prince's battle with Leviathan at the Altar of the Tidemother. Along the way, Ignis is beset by the Empire's forces, finding himself accompanied by the most unlikely of allies: Ravus Nox Fleuret, Lunafreya's brother and High Commander of the Niflheim forces. Ultimately, we know where this story ends, but the explosive finale lends much-needed content to both Ignis' and Ravus' characters, and it's easily the most emotionally and thematically resonant DLC episode thus far.
However, while the story of Episode Ignis is impactful, it's also a little on the brief side when compared to, say, the existential shenanigans of Episode Prompto. The actual, canonical story content will take little under an hour to clear, and XV's weird fixation on using barely interactive in-game conversations to deliver exposition takes up the brunt of that. The real narrative meat of Episode Ignis comes from the “Extra Verse” content. After clearing the story once, players will be able to jump back to a critical decision Ignis is forced to make. Picking the other option allows players to take on a challenging additional boss and see an alternate ending to the XV saga. This may be heresy to say, but I may actually prefer the Extra Verse ending to that of the actual game: sure, it's less of a gut-punch, but it includes some great character development for Ignis, Noctis, the villainous Ardyn, and even puts a nice little bow on Ravus' personal journey. Anyone with a modicum of investment in Final Fantasy XV owes it to themselves see what this path less travelled has to offer.
Like Gladiolus and Prompto before him, Ignis brings his own unique combat style to the fore, and it's quite a lot of fun. Ignis wields two daggers in battle, effortlessly raining blows on the less agile Magitek troopers patrolling Altissa. The real trick comes from imbuing Ignis' daggers with Fire, Ice, and Lightning elemental properties: by spellbinding Ignis' daggers, his combat style shifts accordingly to adapt to the current situation. Flamebound daggers deal more damage to individual enemies, while Frostbound daggers can be used for crowd control, and Stormbound daggers are effective against distant enemies. Combine this with Ignis' Total Clarity ability, which delivers a supercharged attack based on which element is currently active, and you have a lot of versatility when it comes to combat. Ignis can also dramatically boost his damage output with Overclock, and deliver a punishing airborne High Jump. While the basic encounters aren't going to be too taxing on anybody experienced with action-RPGs, the bonus bosses (yes, that's bosses, plural!) are real tests that require players to fully utilize Ignis' skills. I admit, while I generally have not been a fan of Final Fantasy XV's DLC bosses, I really enjoyed the stiff challenge provided by the Extra Verse's dramatic and intense duel.
What's less fun, however, is actually navigating the waterlogged ruins of Altissa. Early on, Ignis gets what is essentially a hookshot from The Legend of Zelda, which allows him to quickly climb on rooftops and get a better vantage point for his next objective. Using the hookshot is simple enough, with a prompt appearing whenever a climbable surface is within range, but... Look, I'm sorry Iggy, but you're no Link, and you're certainly no Batman like in the Arkham games the developers were seemingly inspired by. All too often, I found myself wallowing in the alleys and canals of Altissa, which is a meticulously rendered environment that I'm sure the development team is very proud of, but is also an absolute nightmare to navigate. Photorealistic cityscapes do not always translate to compelling level design, and while the grappling hook does put in some work to remedy this issue, it's still putting a bandage on a broken arm. I pity whoever decides to go back and find all of the collectible documents scattered throughout Altissa's ruins: not only is it difficult to track them down even if you're going out of your way to find item pickups, they don't really add anything of substance.
Visually, Episode Ignis carries on its predecessor's pedigree for visual fidelity. The flooded and crumbling Altissan streets are still gorgeous to behold, and the spectacle of an ongoing battle between Niflheim airships and Titan is pretty exciting to see. The real standout is the music, once again handed off to a guest composer: this time, none other than Chrono alumnus Yasunori Mitsuda, who, simply put, does an incredible job. From the second you boot up the title screen, Episode Ignis' soundscape stands out as part of a game that already had an amazing score. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Square will deign to release a complete soundtrack album with the DLC tracks included, because Mitsuda's work here is phenomenal.
Episode Ignis is easily the best of the bunch when it comes to DLC for Final Fantasy XV. While we know more is on the way (Square is hell-bent on rectifying fan misgivings, it seems), I honestly would have been satisfied with Ignis' story closing the book on XV. While I have some caveats in regard to the actual level design present, Episode Ignis finally fulfills the promise that Episodes Gladiolus and Prompto, in small part, seemed to lack. It's a powerful tale filled with legitimate pathos for its characters, and feels like an essential part of the greater whole: something no Final Fantasy fan should miss.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.