It's been a long, hard road, but the spinoff novel Final Fantasy XV: The Dawn of the Future is finally here! But with so many games to play, shows to watch, and books to read, the question becomes - is this one worth the time?
First things first, if you aren't familiar with Final Fantasy XV, you should definitely play the game before reading this. The Dawn of the Future tells a story which combines flashbacks and alternate timelines, and assumes that the reader has already experienced the game's plot. Aside from a brief summary, it does not recap the events of the game in any detail. Needless to say, this article will also assume that you are familiar with the story of Final Fantasy XV, and will contain SPOILERS for the main game (although spoilers for Dawn itself will be kept to a minimum).
The Dawn of the Future was initially planned as a series of four DLC, to be released throughout 2019 and 2020. The first two, Episode Ardyn and Episode Aranea, were side stories (focused on the game's primary antagonist and a popular guest party member respectively) connected to the game's canon timeline, while Episode Lunafreya and Episode Noctis would explore an alternate timeline in which love interest Luna and protagonist Noctis would team up, gain new powers, and ultimately change their tragic final fate.
Unfortunately, three out of the four DLC were cancelled by Square Enix due to a "directorial change" within the company. Episode Ardyn, which had already been developed, saw release in 2019, and received generally positive feedback from fans. Square Enix later promised to bring the story to fans "in some form," resulting in The Dawn of the Future. The novel released in 2019 in Japan and in mid-2020 in Europe and the USA.
But now that the book is finally here, should you actually read it?
As The Dawn of the Future is essentially a collection of four loosely connected stories, we will examine them one by one and answer that key question for each of the book's parts.
Should You Read A Savior Lost / Episode Ardyn?
No. This first story in The Dawn of the Future saw its intended release as a playable DLC pack. A Savior Lost essentially re-tells the events of said DLC (and the animated OVA released alongside it) with no new information added. You'll miss out on a stunning new area to explore (the city of Insomnia), a new playable character with the ability to teleport across large distances, and a boss battle against Noctis's father King Regis himself.
Plus, the episode's narration and dialogue come across as rather flat and dull without Darin de Paul's excellent and memorable portrayal of Imperial Chancellor Ardyn. Why read all these sassy one-liners when you could hear them voiced in a tone dripping with sarcasm and wicked glee? Do yourself a favor - treat yourself to the DLC and give this chapter a pass.
Should You Read The Beginning of the End / Episode Aranea?
Yes. The Beginning of the End is the best (and, unfortunately, the shortest) of this novel's four parts. It provides character development for the sharp-tongued mercenary Aranea Highwind, doesn't overstay its welcome, and, best of all, adds new scenes to the game's canon timeline which provides some lore and backstory regarding the Niflheim Empire, the faction which spends most of the game antagonizing Noctis's home kingdom of Lucis.
Aranea is a brilliant narrator, blunt and unafraid to share her opinion on everything from stale popcorn to the Emperor of Niflheim himself. She provides a unique perspective, interacting with and discussing the daily lives of Niflheim citizens and providing a more human look at what the base game tends to treat as a nation of faceless antagonists. The tight, fast-paced narrative also neatly fills a few holes in the game's main story, explaining how Niflheim reacted during the period of intense combat and chaos following the Emperor's death and the outbreak of vicious daemons throughout the country.
Should You Read Choosing Freedom / Episode Lunafreya?
Maybe. Buckle up, Final Fantasy XV fans, this is where things get weird. These last two parts take place in an alternate timeline where the character of Lunafreya takes a starring role and works together with Noctis to defy fate and reach a different ending. If you were satisfied with the story of Final Fantasy XV, you can stop here and give this one a pass. However, if you wished Luna appeared more in the main game, you might like this rare chance to get to see things through her eyes.
However, while trying to remain as spoiler-free as possible, potential readers should be warned that this alternate timeline is....different. New villains take a starring role, while existing villains have their role shifted in order to fulfill a different plot function. Some minor characters increase in prominence, while other fan favorites fade into the background. Ultimately, Luna comes to some revelations which change the very nature of the world of Final Fantasy XV permanently. Some fans will find this drastic shift in plot interesting, while others will be frustrated and annoyed.
If you're willing to explore the premise of "the characters you know but in a very different setting which changes the rules of how the world works," give Episode Lunafreya a try. If you like things they way they are, then this might not be your cup of tea.
Again, maybe. The Final Glaive is a direct sequel to Choosing Freedom, set within the same alternate timeline, so if you read the first one, then you should probably follow through and give this one a look as well. If you skipped Episode Luna, then you should probably give this one a pass as well, as you might have some difficulty keeping up with the story and the quick pace of battles and major decisions and world-changing events.
Fans of Noctis' relationship with his three closest companions Prompto, Gladiolus and Ignis - your main playable party in Final Fantasy XV itself - will probably be disappointed by this story. Early in the story, Noctis deliberately chooses to ignore the three of them in favor of teaming up with the protagonists of the previous Episodes.
Enjoy large battles on a cosmic scale, questions of philosophy and religion, and alternate endings which take things in a vastly different direction than the "main" canon? Then you'll absolutely love The Final Glaive. However, if you liked Final Fantasy XV because of the story about a bunch of best friends going on a cross-country road trip, you will find the elements you loved sorely lacking.
The Dawn of the Future is certainly an interesting story. Each narrator has a distinct tone of voice, ranging from Ardyn's smooth snark to Aranea's constant judgment to Luna's genuine optimism and hope. There are little references to other Final Fantasy games scattered throughout, which fans of the series will enjoy seeking out (for example, Ardyn is at one point directly compared to memorable Final Fantasy VI villain Kefka). There is new lore and backstory introduced about the world of Final Fantasy XV, from the founding of Lucis to the daily life of Niflheim citizens to extended backstory regarding the six Astrals, the gods who rule over the planet's people. There are enjoyable moments, downright irritating moments, and moments that will leave you scratching your head and going "wait, what just happened?"
The stories in this novel would definitely have worked better in their originally intended DLC forms. Fans of Final Fantasy XV will certainly find at least a thing or two to like about the book. However, Savior Lost feels superfluous next to the far superior Episode Ardyn, while the alternate timeline takes things in a bizarre new direction which will be unsatisfying to some and confusing to others. Much like the game itself, it's a mixed bag of a story - but, again like the game, ultimately a fun journey made alongside some pretty decent traveling companions.