It’s been a long journey for Final Fantasy XV. Despite the game’s issues, many fans fell in love with it, thanks in part to the stellar main party and an intriguing main villain, Ardyn Izunia.
Even in just the base game Ardyn is a fascinating villain, whose motivations and story run deep into the heart of Final Fantasy XV. Three years later, however, Episode Ardyn firmly solidifies the man as one of Final Fantasy’s best villains.
[Some light spoilers for Episode Ardyn are ahead, but nothing major, we’ll mostly be talking about the character in general]
The first of what was supposed to be four new DLC episodes, Episode Ardyn was the only one not canceled by Square Enix, and while Episode Ardyn certainly isn’t the “Grand Finale” fans may have been hoping for, it is an intense look at the character.
The DLC picks up years before the start of Final Fantasy XV, long before Noctis and the bros were even alive. Without spoiling much, the start of the episode shows how the Niflheim Empire came to encounter Ardyn, and manipulate him.
Manipulation is a theme for Ardyn as a character now, as we now know that he’d basically been manipulated his entire life. Thousands of years in the past, Ardyn started out as the “Chosen One,” given the ability to heal those sick with the Starscourge, by taking the darkness into himself.
Ardyn became a benevolent savior to his people, and was chosen by the gods to be the first king of Lucis, before being betrayed by his brother Somnus. This is all story we know from the main game, but it’s highly expanded upon in Episode Ardyn.
It’s truly a tragic tale, partly because Ardyn’s original personality is such a far cry from the sadistic villain we see in Final Fantasy XV.
That’s what makes Ardyn such a great villain, he’s not someone bent on destroying the world or becoming its ruler; he just wants to see those that made him suffer go through the same thing.
Although much of the episode recounts Ardyn’s past, you also get to play as the Imperial Chancellor as he invades modern Insomnia, with the help of the Infernian, Ifrit.
This is where Episode Ardyn really shines, by giving you control of Ardyn’s devilish powers to decimate hordes of Lucis soldiers.
These are “the good guys” that you’re killing, and Ardyn feels like an unstoppable monster, as he should. As you hack through Lucis soldiers and devour demonic energy from them Ardyn continuously makes fun little quips, like remarking on “how close” the enemy was to hitting him or sarcastically praising “divine intervention.”
Seldomly do villains in video games get a chance to shine like this, and simply being able to control Ardyn is a novel feature, and Square Enix has done a great job of making you feel powerful.
You can use Ardyn’s demonic power to effortlessly glide through the city streets and across rooftops, while devouring Insomnia soldiers will help you summon phantom blades to attack with.
Single-handedly crippling the defenses of Insomnia as Ardyn supplants his absurd power even more, making him even more terrifying of a villain. This is juxtaposition against the story of the episode that details Ardyn’s fall from grace, and the two create a stark contrast that really get to the heart of the character.
Even the music of the episode appeals to this duality idea, jumping back and forth between rock/rap to orchestral themes. The final boss theme is also a brilliant blend of Ardyn’s theme and Somnus, switching up tempo throughout the song.
Even after being betrayed by Somnus, Ardyn wasn’t a bad person, but thousands of years of torture and more lies and betrayal only keep driving him further into madness.
Realistically, in another game, Ardyn could have been the tragic hero of his own story. He isn’t just some madman or supreme being, he’s simply a person, twisted into a vile creature by the cruelty of the gods and those closest to him.
It’s a fascinating origin story for a Final Fantasy villain, and it’s only made all the better by a stellar voice performance from Daryn De Paul. With Episode Ardyn it’s clear that De Paul truly loves playing this character, and his voice provides serious depth to Ardyn, both before and after his fall.
It helps highlight even further the duality of Ardyn’s life, and his descent into madness, and De Paul’s performance even becomes Joker-esque at certain points.
You can’t help but feel bad for Ardyn, but at the same time, the things he does to Noctis and company are truly despicable. Episode Ardyn provides some much-needed backstory and context for the character, and getting to play as the villain is a devilishly fun experience, despite a few niggling issues like a lackluster final boss battle.
Final Fantasy has a history of great villains, namely Kefka and Sephiroth, but Ardyn is more than deserving to be counted among those lofty ranks. He’s brimming with smarmy personality and confidence, and his complex backstory makes Ardyn just as likable as he is hatable.
Video games, and JRPGs especially, have had a serious lack of truly memorable villains as of late, and Ardyn stands out as one of the most fleshed-out and complex of this generation. Hopefully, Episode Ardyn isn’t the last time we get to see the Imperial Chancellor work his magic.