When I first stumbled upon Final Fantasy XV, I had no idea what I was getting into. A game that starts out fairly innocently (four friends on a road trip to see one of them off married, things go tragic, time to go save the world), turned into something I never couldn?t expected: some of the best disability representation I?ve ever come across, particularly in a video game.
Square Enix; Final Fantasy XV (2016)
In general, you don?t find a lot of representation when it comes to disabilities in media, but particularly in video games. Most times it is used as a Big Tragic Moment, and one a character will more than likely overcome by the end, or we?re there to teach the main character a lesson and provide ?inspiration porn? for those that are abled.
In Final Fantasy XV (spoilers!) one of the four main characters, Ignis Scientia is rendered blind about 3/4ths of the way into the story while fighting for main protagonist Prince Noctis. At first, you?re stunned, but it?s not the most tragic in the moment, because this isn?t about the tragedy of Ignis. Instead, we focus more on Noctis, who over the course of the story has lost his father, entire city, and now recently, his fiance, Lunafreya. The story manages to immediately swoop away from making what has happened to Ignis a main tragic selling point, unlike most series.
Over the course of the chapter, Noctis and gang (funny guy Prompto and bodyguard Gladiolus) are kind, but awkward, such a beautiful and perfect reflection of what it was like growing up with a physical disability. They want to be helpful, they offer to slow down, they try not to talk about it too much, and they slip up when they forget Ignis doesn?t have his sight anymore, and can?t do what he used to. Noctis ends up being the most awkward, still caught up in his own tragedy while Gladiolus takes an angrier route with him, particularly feeling he isn?t even caring about Ignis because he?s in his own depressive funk. It?s the best portrayal I?ve seen in anything, Gladiolus reminding me of close friends and my mother at others for not thinking of me and my situation, while also being too helpful to myself.
The best part, however, is Ignis of course. The way he goes about the entire thing isn?t to inspire you, it?s just downright real. He spends a lot of time insisting not to slow down for him, that he?s making his way. At the end of the chapter, everything comes to a head and the boys burst into a huge argument. Ignis finally snaps, for the first time in the game period. It?s one of my favorite scenes of the game, because it was the first time since Kevin McHale?s Artie Abrams in Glee that I finally saw myself in something.
Square Enix; Final Fantasy XV (2016)
Ignis is very aware of his situation. He talks about how he knows that his life will be like this forever, now, but that he wants to remain with his friends. Gladiolus continues to play the coddling and protective role, while Prompto, finally speaks up, in that it should be Ignis?s choice in this. It?s his life, now. Shouldn?t he get to choose if he can fight like this? Gladiolus continues to argue, but Ignis finally gets his dues, when he says he knows full well. If he cannot keep up, he?ll step down. They end up trying to pass this on to Noctis, who in turn gets a nice reminder from Ignis that when the time comes, he?ll be able to handle what?s on his plate. Eventually Gladiolus gives in, but the weight of the situation is lifted immensely.
It?s not often the person affected actually gets a say in how they live their life, and Ignis is a shining example that we?re the most aware of what we are capable of, and that we know when to stop. So often caretakers of people with disabilities think we don?t known our own limits or that they know our own struggles better than we know our own. To finally see said one affected stand up for himself and be taken seriously was monumental, and it doesn?t feel like the inspiration porn I?m so used to seeing. It wasn?t meant to inspire anyone, in fact, as the moment is directed more to Noctis, but I can?t help but feel so watching that particular scene again and again. The entire thing is tied together by impeccable voice acting in the entire scene, and proves that Adam Croasdell (Once Upon a Time, Preacher) is unforgettable and brings more heart to the role than most do their entire careers. He makes it raw and real, and I?m not sure many others could capture it as well.
After said scene, most of the game is spent on other things, but we do learn over some cut scenes that (more spoilers!) after ten years has gone by, Ignis has maintained his blindness, and is also kicking ass doing it. It?s reminiscent of how I felt growing up with Toph from Avatar: The Last Airbender, that feeling of knowing you could be badass even with a physical handicap.
While Final Fantasy XV is slippery when it comes to plot and characterization (for the amount of time it was stuck in development, I can?t blame them), this is the one thing done right. It?s impressive, which is almost sad, how blown away I was by this. It?s just yet another reminder of the lack of diversity in media across the board right now, and how much it?s needed for people young and old to be able to recognize and see themselves on TV, or in games, or in movies. However, things have been getting better, and with the implied deaf protagonist of Square?s newest IP The Quiet Man, we may be getting more sooner than we think.