Seriously, why wasn’t Doomtrain in Final Fantasy XV?
Last year, Final Fantasy XV turned five years old, and the age-old Final Fantasy tradition is beginning to come to pass: the more distance we get from that game, the more I appreciate it.
Yes, it’s a flawed experience, and more than any other Final Fantasy it feels like a game born out of adversity, defined by cuts, changes, and shifts in direction during development - but in a weird way, that sort of makes me appreciate it for what it is a little bit more. Changes and updates, especially the ‘Royal Edition’ overhaul of the endgame, really go a long way toward addressing major problems with the game as it was released - and I definitely think it’s worth a replay.
There is one thing I will never respect about Final Fantasy XV, though. And that’s this: where the hell is Doomtrain?
While only the second most famous train in Final Fantasy history (that honor goes, of course, to the one Sabin suplexes), I remain in awe to this very day that somehow the developers made a game where half of the journey across its world takes place on a locomotive, and yet somehow they didn’t bring back one of the best, memorable, and most esoteric summons in Final Fantasy history.
Maybe it’s because I loved trains as a kid, but Doomtrain has always undoubtedly been one of my favourite Final Fantasy summons. In FF8, it’s one of the most complicated GFs to obtain, requiring 6 of three items (666, get it?) and some specific actions to obtain. It’s so worth obtaining, though, as you get a summon that’s a giant demonic train that, in the Japanese debug room, is referred to as “Devil Thomas”, after the famed Tank Engine. What isn’t to love?
Doomtrain fit into FF8, of course, because its world was defined by a criss-crossing network of train tracks. Trains play a major role in the story, funneling you around for quite a while before you get better transport. FF8’s world has this in common with only one other FF: FF15, where a huge chunk of the second half of the game is set on trains. It’s a wasted opportunity that eats at my soul to this day.
I write this article not just as a love letter to Doomtrain, though: it’s also part of a general commentary on summons in FF15. That is to say: they sort of suck. Don't get me wrong - their attack animations are cool, and they have a couple of decent story moments... but beyond that? FF15’s Summons, or Astals as they’re called, is probably the least-inspired set in the modern series.
Really, it's most rote selection imaginable - Bahamut, Shiva, Ifrit, Leviathan, Ramuh, and Titan. All staples that have been done to death. This is without even mentioning how the summon system is so obtuse that around release there were so many confused people that we had to write a page explaining how to summon in FF15, which is still full of comments like “90 hours in. Haven't summoned once.”
Most FFs offer some unique twist, or introduce summons we rarely see or have never seen before. FF10 kept the classics, but also introduced the likes of Valefor and Ixion. FF9 gave then B-tier summons like Alexander and Atomos tentpole cinematic moments that cemented them as series classics. FF8 had a slew of new, original, and totally rad ones like Diablos, Quezacotl (who, in fairness, does show up in FF15 as an enemy), and Doomtrain. FF13 had its weird transforming mechanic, plus some original summons in Brynhildr and Hecatoncheir.
FF15 did deliver a couple of cool moments; the hint of a relationship between Shiva and Ifrit is a neat story detail, and the Royal Edition added a cool cutscene where all the summons come to Noctis’ aid at once, but… yeah. I wish the game had at least offered a unique new god to the pantheon, or brought back a less common one. Like god damn DOOMTRAIN.
Thinking about FF15’s use of summons, it’s hard not to think of it as a bit of a missed opportunity. I’m okay with Final Fantasy games making summons story integral, or making them a largely irrelevant aside - either is fine. But if you’re going to make summons a story-integral staple, as FF15 did, you’d better get them right, and make them interesting. FF9 and FF10 are probably best-in-class examples of how to do this, offering a selection of original and returning summons, as well as twists on old classics.
It looks like we’re headed for another such game with Final Fantasy XVI, which has two summons - or Eikons as they’re called in that world - doing battle right in the logo. I’m not expecting Doomtrain in that medieval world, obviously - but I hope we get some left-field Eikons. If there's a Thunder Eikon, it really doesn't need to be Ramuh again, for instance. I get that Shiva, Ifrit, and Bahamut are really requirements at this stage - but beyond that, let's mix it up. Forget Leviathan; maybe it’s time to bring back Bismarck or something.