For thirteen hours, I have watched four cosmopolitan titans of men slide through the air like greasy hamburgers, limbs and torsos contorting awkwardly as enormous phallus-shaped weapons cleave through monsters and men alike. Ignis clicks his gloved fingers and a meal of bacon and eggs materialises. He sits silently as Noctis picks at it with a fork. Prompto proceeds to writhe on the ground. In the morning, Gladiolus screams “You’re on fire, today!” three times in a row to nobody in particular, before stepping awkwardly close to Noctis. Noctis turns his head away, but the tension only grows.
There is a terror that cannot be escaped in Final Fantasy XV. A terror beyond the banalities of the formal narrative concerning a foreign invasion and Noctis’s coming-of-age crisis. In thirteen hours of play, I have come to realise that this narrative is simply a backdrop. Cutscenes are gorgeously rendered, but devoid of substance. The characters have the emotive capacities of lemons. They are not even cookie cutter for they lack all definition, free floating voids formed into being by the narrative Deus that demands individuation but rather than souls has given sexy haircuts and coats. But it does not matter, for this is not what the game is about. It is a hollow exterior encapsulating a hollower core.
FFXV appears a road-trip simulator. You drive along highways, stop at gas stations, explore nature, hunt animals and camp beneath the stars. Of course, these bonding activities do not connect one with nature, but with one’s onii-chan buddies. Nature is nothing more than the perpetuation of ideology; norms and values inscribed into collective myth through repetitive acts. In other words, nature as a concept comes into being through our relations with other human beings. What FFXV offers then, is an escaped into culture. One dominates, kills and consumes nature for the sake of projecting one’s own relations into the world. There is no ecosystem in the world precisely because the animals are simply canvases for the party’s phallic weaponry. The diegetic world, like the formal narrative, is a hollow exterior.
Initially, I believed the deepest and most harrowing hollow of FFXV to be its unfettered masculinity. All seemed to fade in the wake of Broody-Chan, Macho-Chan, Library-Chan and Genki-Chan’s interactions with one another. The journey began when I forced my flatmates to purchase the game with me. Perhaps such an act was a projection of my own expectations; a transmedial imposition of the in-game camaraderie I was sure would be present. “We’ll play it together,” I said, “It’ll be awful.” What I received, however, was truly profound. On the surface the game is as predicted. The characters crack awful jokes, bond over one another’s hobbies and fist bump after successful link-strikes. Broody-Chan makes strange grunts when he interacts with people; Macho-Chan yells at Broody-Chan to punch harder; Library-Chan is Wikipedia in the anal stage; and Genki-Chan talks about getting with women. I initially felt nauseated, awash in a sea of masculine absence where the only way out was to drown, but then I began to see a depth to their shallow interactions; an anxious fourth hollow, alien and carnal.
Let’s be honest, masculine bonding is simply a sublimation of the erotic into the higher arts of driving cars, hunting animals and devouring flesh. These acts are a substitute, an artifice for a pleasure that is denied by existence itself. To exist as a subject is to be circumscribed, divorced from all others and limited in expression by language. One can never fully understand the Other for language is an imperfect medium between minds. Loneliness, then, is a condition none can escape. Masculinity, rather than rebel against this absurdity, castrates thought and emotion entirely; the desire for the Other is sublimated into action so that the performance of masculinity itself becomes the ideal. One reaches not for an idealised Other, but for reaching itself.
The characters in FFXV know this all too well. Though they may act like a middle-aged man’s attempt to write teenage characters, in truth they are the most profound embodiment of the human condition since Neon Genesis Evangelion’s. Sentences are forced, scattered and unfocused. Lines repeat over and again during battles and car rides. Prompto hands you photos of Gladiolus’s ass after dramatic story events. Interactions begin to merge into one long, terrible cry of despair. One begins to see the awkward nature of FFXV as intentional; as an imitation of connection, of masculine revelry, of purposeless horror. One begins to see that the characters do not desire to be masculine, but that they have enacted it for so long that they can no longer connect with one another in any other way; that the very artifice of their relationship is the only genuine thing in existence, anymore. They are a modern-day Sisyphus, trapped eternally to roll their sick rims up highways, only to watch their car towed back to Cid’s when it runs out of fuel.
This lurid celebration of masculinity is uncanny, frightening and erudite. Bodies twist into erotic postures, weaponised phalluses slam down on flesh under the heaving rays of a sultry summer sun. The protagonists sneak peaks at one another, afraid of missing a beat. One of them yells “No mercy!” at the thought of his own painful existence. He yells it again ten minutes later. Nobody comments. Nobody ever comments. There is no need. Hell is known, but cannot be voiced. If the eroticism underlying the masculine bond were ever unleashed, despair would froth over and consume them. The sexy male models are not allowed to enter into one another, to overcome the impotency of language through the sordid pleasure of consummation. It would shatter them; it would be too real to be genuine.
I applaud Square Enix for creating such an agonising experience, for portraying banality so thoroughly and completely. I feel I have come to understand true terror, to see artifice in its highest form, and much like Noctis and his friends, I cannot break my connection with the void that is FFXV, for to do so would deprive me of the only genuine thing in existence, anymore. I must, for the rest of my life, listen to the repeating dialogue:
“We all good?”
“Better than good.”
“Good to go.”