I haven’t played many games where the developers went to the excess length to give the villain even more backstory. Final Fantasy XV is just one of the rare jewels that keeps giving and Episode Ardyn is the latest example of it. This is a brand new story expansion DLC that delves farther in Ardyn’s past, the main antagonist of Final Fantasy XV. It’s a two-hour ride that starts off great with a psychological narrative and then ends with a huge struggle in the Royal City of Insomnia.
The ending credits of this DLC lists a thank you to the fans for playing it and this reveals what was the primary focus for the development group when creating it. Episode Ardyn expands the lore of Final Fantasy XV in many ways, but it still makes a mistake by making some of the backstory tied into an animated feature. This prequel anime released some time ago and it essentially contributes to the DLC and looks essential to comprehend the motive, love attention, and intense hatred of Ardyn for his brother Somnus Lucis Caelum.
Episode Ardyn starts in the present age while the prequel anime begins in the past. The game opens up with Ardyn escaping from his two-millennium long prison sentence and taken away by the Niflheim Empire. He gets locked away in the prison by his brother Somnus to make the world safe from his dark powers. He is the one with the ability to turn anyone into a daemon, the monstrous creatures that roam the world in Final Fantasy XV. He is also the bringer of the starscourage which is what kickstarts the chain of events leading to the end of the world in Final Fantasy XV.
This DLC seems divided into two halves. The first is all narrative-based with minimal gameplay elements and a lot of load screens. You will experience the escape of Ardyn, him joining the Nilfheim empire and seeing familiar faces there, and explore around to learn a lot of the history and lore for the world of Eos in Final Fantasy XV. After the first hour of narrative-focused gameplay, the tone shifts to an open world design in the second half when you reach the end. At this point, you are free but still somewhat limited to explore the royal city of Insomnia and have various goals here.
I have played all the DLC expansions released so far and I think Episode Ardyn is the most polished DLC released for the game. Gladio was the first effort by the team and it was pretty much a linear experience with a focus on the combat prowess of Gladio and little to no story elements. The second DLC felt like a better and more expanded one but it still falls short in the story department. Ignis was the first DLC which really ended on such a high note that it is the most memorable one for me so far, but it lacked gameplay and the world felt bland to explore in it.
Episode Ardyn solves both of these issues. The story this time is solid and explains a lot of the backstory for Ardyn and properly develops and morphs his character into the evil persona that you will meet in the full game. I wish I could explain the story properly here but it will spoil the magic of the DLC, but let’s just say that the ending does carry a twist that I felt was beautiful and bittersweet knowing how it all happened. The rivalry between Somus and Ardyn does culminate in an epic battle but despite that, once it ends you are left asking for more but that should continue in Final Fantasy XV itself.
This DLC feels like a love letter to fans due to the references to some of the missing cutscenes that were a part of the pre-release media. The gameplay is good and it was fun to play as Ardyn, who is super powerful and the developers did a good job of making it a balanced fight by including guardians into the combat system. Ardyn also teams up with Ifrit for this DLC which is pretty cool to see in action and you can use one of the three abilities of Ifrit to cause some serious damage in most battles. It did start to feel like repetition kicked in once you started to explore around, but the length of the DLC itself feels solid.
All said, it is sad to see the end of Final Fantasy XV as we know the rest of the episodic DLC are no longer being developed. If they had kept the same quality level, we could have seen some great character development and memorable moments, but alas, it is not going to happen. I am completely satisfied with how Episode Ardyn has closed the chapter for Final Fantasy XV and looking forward to what the development team is able to pull off in the future.