When the DLC for Final Fantasy XV was first rolling out, I remember a lot of people saying they were disappointed by Episode Gladiolus. They said the story wasn’t the greatest and that the combat was boring and lacked any sort of tactics. I’ve had the DLC since it first released, but I wasn’t able to play it due to a bug that caused it to never load properly. So I ended up playing Episode Prompto(Which admittedly is better in every aspect.) first. However, just last week I finally got around to reinstalling Episode Gladiolus in the hopes that it would fix the issue, and it did.
I booted it up expecting some lackluster experience, but what I got was actually a very sincere tale of a man burdened by failure and seeking to gain the power to never fail again. Out of the three friends that accompany the games main protagonist throughout the story, Gladiolus always seemed to be the least interesting of the three. If you delved into the Final Fantasy XV: Brotherhood episode that told Gladiolus’ past, you’d know that he’s been sworn to protect Noctis since they were children and he only gained respect for the prince after the prince came to his sisters rescue. Years later, the two are like brothers, but at one point in the main story, Gladiolus, the King’s Shield, is beaten in combat with little effort. This prompts the events of Episode Gladiolus to take place.
The story is about Gladiolus’ accompanying his old mentor, Cor the Immortal, into a series of caverns guarded by Gilgamesh, an ancient Lucian swordsman. Only those he deems worthy of the title King’s Shield are allowed to leave alive, and so Gladiolus tackles the brutal gauntlet set before him in order to prove his worth as Noctis’ protector, or die trying. The conversations between Gladiolus and Cor, or even with some of the spirits, show just how much Gladio’s defeat is weighing on him and his pride has been wounded. His goal is to become stronger, but at the same time to see if he’s even worthy of standing by his friends side. In the end, this narrative arc reaches a somewhat satisfying conclusion, even going as far as to tell Cor’s backstory and draw parallels between the two characters.
In terms of gameplay, Gladio’s arsenal consists entirely of two-handed swords and his attacks are suitably heavy, but powerful. At first, you’ll mop the floor with enemies, but eventually you’ll start running into stronger enemies that require more thought. It’s not Dark Souls, not by a long shot, but you can’t just hack your way to victory and never once have to block or deflect an attack. And when you inevitably face Gilgamesh, who is a two part boss battle, you WILL die unless you defend or run. You need to alternate between attacking and defending, choosing the perfect moment to block in order to deflect an attack and then go in for the counter. You need to decide when to wail on your opponent, and when to back off in order to survive. Potions are your best friend, and even one flurry from Gilgamesh can knock out your entire health meter, and you only get so many Phoenix Downs to revive you.
At the end, Episode Gladiolus is the tale of a warrior who has been beaten down and is looking for a way back to the top. While it may not be the most compelling narrative ever told, it’s not terrible either and sheds some light on a character who didn’t have much to do in the main story. As for the gameplay, it does end up requiring some finesse and it actually feels like training that can be applied to the main game, teaching you to both attack and defend rather than just attack until the enemy dies and hope you don’t need to revive yourself.
Oh, and did I mention the soundtrack(composed by the same man behind Nier: Automata’s soundtrack) is absolutely phenomenal?