Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV's patch 3.5 in review, part 2
I can also warn you right up front that there will be spoilers here, since otherwise the entire post would probably be enormous spoiler tags. Which it might be anyway. Fairly warned be ye.
There's still one more big patch left to go, of course, as patch 3.55 is meant to finish the transition into Stormblood and wrap up everything completely. But we still have lots of side stories that have finished up, and even if we know more MSQ is coming, we can talk about what we have so far. So let's get cracking.
Witnessing the final steps
I had honestly expected the mystery of the Griffin's identity to last longer. Yes, it lasted for a few months of real time, but in the story it was functionally just a minute or so later when we found out who he was... and it was the most obvious candidate, to boot. It feels less like a reveal and more like the story just dropped the other shoe after a three-month gap.
That, however, is the biggest problem I have with the MSQ. Its attempt to make that reveal seem significant don't pan out, but the rest of the MSQ feels like a worthy coda to Heavensward and its central themes of how difficult it can be to pull things together after the fact.
While the reasoning may be different, the Griffin has clearly decided that he's willing to let all of Ala Mhigo burn more or less because not everyone has been on board with his action. It's unclear how badly the Resistance lost when he led his charge onto the wall, but the implication is that it was a significant expenditure of might, thus blunting operations on this side of the wall. It also sets up a useful time bomb that we know we're going to have to deal with eventually while leaving plenty of justification for not dealing with it right now.
The MSQ does commit the all-too-common storytelling trope of FFXIV where everyone tries to undermine someone's plan only to play into the planner's hand, but at this point that's almost just a trope of the game. "Oh, look, that evil plot we thought we were ruining was advanced by our actions. Who saw that coming?"
Ultimately, there are a lot of ways that the real conclusion of the prologue (so to speak) could go, and the process of getting there feels sufficiently satisfying. It's not the best bit of storytelling that the game has engaged in so far, and the whole spoiler-title bit was a bad idea, but I feel like a good foundation has been established for the future. It's solid storytelling, and it at least ties up several dangling threads that have been hanging for most of the expansion.
Hildibrand never quite delivers
I remember that originally, the developers had not necessarily planned on including Hildibrand in this particular expansion, but player demand was so vociferous that it was a foregone conclusion he would be back. Unfortunately, it kind of shows in the storytelling; this sequence of quests never quite hits the level of absurd humor that made the last series a joy to play through. Nor does it ever hit the same level of, well, actually giving you stuff to do; you mostly just go from place to place, watch some cutscenes, and eventually get rewards.
That's not to say it's without its funny or cool moments, obviously, and the ending feels every bit as abrupt as the 2.x series conclusion, so I can appreciate that. The story also loses something by having Cyr be so enthusiastically a part of the group rather than just a straight man; part of what made the 2.x series work so well was that Briardien was the only person who wasn't part of the collective delusion and actually wanted to solve mysteries using things like "logic" and "reason." Losing that means the whole thing becomes unmoored and acts like Hildibrand is actually good at his job, rather than his usual Clouseau-like luck.
I didn't hate the sequence, but it never really grabbed me, and I mostly look at it as a thing that got finished for future content and storytelling. Still, not the worst bit of storytelling here by a long shot.
The Scholisticate is dumb
The entire Scholisticate series utterly failed to ever capture my interest. I was already up to the Eight Deadly Words by the time the first sequence was finished. The final conclusion is even worse, then, not because it has desirable stuff locked behind it (which it does), but because it winds up making the whole thing a shaggy dog joke that you could figure out within five seconds.
Seriously, when I look back on the first quests and think "the antagonist is obvious," that means you're just frustrating people while they wait for the game to catch up.
About all that comes from the quest of any interest is the fact that there was a secret cadre of the Holy See devoted to spreading the truth about Ishgard's history through the lines of the Archbishops... but that just raises further questions about why literally every single Archbishop still bought into it every single time. Imagine if every new Pope learned that Christianity was literally a collection of lies designed to keep people compliant; I'm fairly sure that someone would have broken ranks a long while ago. But here it's just treated as a revelation of whatever, like no one ever would have cared that much.
Furthermore, the whole thing is dealing with functionally no stakes whatsoever. If you don't find out the secret, a school shuts down. The thing is, FFXIV generally deals in stories wherein you feel for the cast of characters around you, or you're dealing with high enough stakes that even disliking the characters gives you reason to move forward. Here, the stakes are low, the characters are unlikable, and by the end it becomes clear that Briardien would have figured everything out even if you hadn't been there. Ultimately, the whole thing comes down to wasted space.
That emote, though. That is its one saving grace. (And the coat, but you get the idea.)
Exit sky pirates
Here's an example of what I was talking about above. I don't actually like most of the characters involved in the whole Redbill storyline; none of them ever really seem to coalesce into people instead of stereotypes, and largely boring stereotypes at that. But the stakes feel large enough that the plot hums along just fine regardless. It means that the subsequent wrap-up feels like far too much of pirates and not nearly enough of a peek at the Mhach civilization, but the point is that the plot does keep moving.
And hey, Cait Sith isn't nearly as annoying as in Final Fantasy XI. That's something.
Feedback, like always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next time around, while there's still stuff that I could talk about in relation to the patch, it's not quite enough to make for a full column, and it's just a wee bit too early to speculate about the reveals from the final fan festival. So what will I do? Why, talk about alts! It'll make sense when I get there.