Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV Stormblood’s story and the lack of MacGuffins

I think I was about halfway through the Stormblood story when I noticed that it was avoiding more or less every single bit of storytelling in Final Fantasy XIV that I usually dislike. It surprised me, at least a little. I’ve quite liked the game’s storytelling as time has gone by, and I had a lot of praise for the Heavensward story as a whole, but this was pretty unambiguous. Most of my complaints centered around things like “this side plot seems to be overstaying its welcome” rather than “it’s another chase after some magical nonsense with little grounding.”

Obviously, for this column I’m going to be discussing spoilers for the MSQ. I am going to be doing so in a fashion designed to obscure as much information as possible for people who have not yet finished the plot, and I’ll spoiler out any big plot reveals, but be fairly warned as you dip into the comment section. But be fairly warned, there may be spoilers ahead. The good news is that spoilers don’t matter too much because even with them the plot is really good. And not really reliant on shocking swerves.

Of course, there are some Good Armor Looks in the midst, to the surprise of no one.That’s not to say there are no shocking reveals, of course; there are more than a few. But I felt like they belonged to a different class than the usual “here’s a terrifying new magical thing” that so often crops up. All of it was stuff that got telegraphed well in advance.

In fact, the two plot points not telegraphed by the actual plot were actually the bits telegraphed by the nature of the game itself. You know as soon as two new primals are mentioned in marketing that eventually you’re going to have to fight them, and it’s not hard to suss out around what levels you’ll be facing off against them. One fight feels at least reasonably well-integrated, even if the actual appearance is not… the other is entirely a swerve into left field just to have a primal fight.

But it’s notable that these are the biggest blips on the radar. In fact, every other part of the plot feels much more… grounded. I’ve brought up Final Fantasy Tactics as a point of reference before, because that’s also a game in which magic plays an important role but the majority of the plot is driven by people doing things for their own reasons, with magic just trimming up the edges here and there.

And that’s a big chunk of why I like Stormblood’s plot so damn much. There’s no Ascian interference. There’s no powerful evil like Nidhogg hovering off in the horizon. There’s the Empire, and a particularly cold and durable head of the Garlean forces, and there’s a struggle for hearts and minds. There’s a lot of talk about what you’re willing to sacrifice, and all of the sacrifices made are of the sort that feel immediate in the moment rather than carefully planned Heroic Exits.

It is, in short, a story about people. Magic might form a backdrop, but it’s not the motivator.

Zenos and Yotsuyu both make for excellent villains, and both of them nicely serve in the role of “absolute evil” that usually houses deities or magical entities. Yotsuyu is an archetype the game’s story has played with before, someone damaged and hurt who takes the opportunity of power to deal that back to the world. She’s also a real example of the type, though; she’s a sad figure, but she’s also one with a nearly limitless capacity of cruelty.

On the other hand, Zenos is an interesting mix. We see signs that he is, in part, motivated by a hatred of the politics that tie his hands; he’s also motivated by the simple fact that he’s incredibly powerful and has very few real challenges. Narratively, he’s very much set up as the opposite number to the Warrior of Light, someone with a great deal of power and few opportunities to really feel any sort of challenge to that power.

I’m reluctant to call the whole thing a political drama, because there’s very little political work going on beyond the broadest scope, but it really does come down to the people involved. And I like that immensely; it makes the whole thing feel more real, more relatable.

Spoilers here about the final boss fight; be warned before clicking to reveal this paragraph.
Even the final boss, which seems like it breaks from this slightly, still feels like a good encapsulation of that principle. Shinryu may be controlled by Zenos in the end, but he’s also a primal formed out of nothing but raw hatred and a desire to cause destruction. You are still ultimately fighting Zenos and that self-focused attitude that’s willing to ruin the world for his own entertainment. By that point he has no scheme, he just wants to fight, just wants to face off as a match of wills.

Sometimes a picture is worth what we need.

The one thing that does bother me – and it seems as if it will be addressed in future patches, at that – is the fact that it seems remarkably easy to beat the Empire. Yes, the whole focus is on liberation, and the plot very much focuses on how difficult it is for people who have lost, time and again, to find the hope to keep fighting. That is executed wonderfully, and Yanxia contains one of my absolute favorite story sequences ever just because of that. Full kudos to the writers for that.

But we also seem to get several struggles wherein the main characters seem to just… walk to victory once that’s been accomplished. I get the goal, that the real struggle is in believing, but we don’t get a whole lot of sense sometimes of why believing is so difficult. There are setbacks, but they rarely feel like the sort that would render the empire as an unstoppable menace.

Of course, the story also hints that some of that is down to the fact that the Empire seems to have withdrawn inward somewhat and hasn’t put according pressure on its outlying conquests. Even so, it struck me as a little odd.

Ultimately, I’m actually more excited about the upcoming patches than I was in Heavensward, even though there were more obvious plot hooks for the follow-up there. Here, the plot feels as if it’s a bit more up in the air, but I can tell how much the writers have learned, and I’m fascinated by the prospect of what could come next. We’ve done the hard work of liberation, but rebuilding has yet to happen… and the hints have been sowed that it’s easier to topple something than rebuild. (Look at the history of Ala Mhigo, even.)

Also, I’d like to praise the writers for not having any characters I disliked as much as 2.0 Alphinaud or 3.0 Estinien.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next time around… I think we’ll have some Omega, won’t we? It’ll be Omega Time, as ominous as that sounds. Let’s talk about Omega.

The Nymian civilization hosted an immense amount of knowledge and learning, but so much of it has been lost to the people of Eorzea. That doesn’t stop Eliot Lefebvre from scrutinizing Final Fantasy XIV each week in Wisdom of Nym, hosting guides, discussion, and opinions without so much as a trace of rancor.
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18 Comments on "Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV Stormblood’s story and the lack of MacGuffins"

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Sorenthaz

I’m glad Alisae is finally back in the spotlight more VS Alphinaud who’s grown tiring even with his better performance in Heavensward. She definitely brings in a nice contrast to Alphinaud.

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Krenian Kandos

To me, it was the strongest of the three stories, trumping ARR and easily over HW. I never really felt very attached to HW in the sense that we’re effectively ridding ourselves of a problem, while albeit, would be very bad for us if it got out beyond Ishgard, from a nation that refrained from helping the original three. To me, it always felt like a sidetrack to the main story.

While the argument can be held for Stormblood’s story being the same thing, I think the nuances of the fact that Ala Mhigo is CONSTANTLY spoken about makes it that it’s an easier segway. Honestly, I might have preferred if both expansions, story wise, would have been flipped as to when it would be introduced. I always thought Ishgard required more of a setup. Ala Mhigo seemed more easy to slide in.

Also, the bad guys are just…awesome. Zenos is an alltime favorite of mine now after this expansion,

Spoiler alert!
but I will freely admit that he was defeated a tad too early. I didn’t expect us to finish him off so quick at the end, when through the entire expansion, we see his power and how the Warrior of Light doesn’t even stand a chance. The idea that 10 levels which was mostly liberating people and not exactly growing in power and then suddenly we’re able to beat him, is suspect too.
. I just wish we had a different outcome.

Either way, I have no complaints with the story but fully agree with the point that one of the primals was brought out of left field for some weird reason. There’s an ‘attachment’, but it really feels like “Let’s put one here for shiggles.”

To those who say the writing is ‘terrible’, I am genuinely curious as to what exactly is terrible about it. I never had any issues with the story and its writing and I’m one of those people who read huge novels on a daily basis. I tend to be quite critical about writing but you will never get a good story from a book in an MMO; i’ve come to that conclusion a long time ago. I’d genuinely like to know what exactly bothers you from the writing so I can review it closer. Maybe it’s because I was enthralled with the story and never noticed it.

amkosh
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amkosh

I’m not finished with this yet, but I have to say that I’m not impressed. Why? The writing is terrible. The characters, especially the antagonists are just tropes. I’ve rarely seen a one dimensional story in any video game, expect perhaps some FPSs. Ok, Perhaps World Of Warcaft’s Warlords of Draenor expansion is a bit worse, but that’s debatable.

Heavensward was so much better. Did they fire some writers? If so, they should go beg and get em back…

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Sorenthaz

I’ve gone through a little over half of the leveling story and I think it’s better than Heavensward by quite a bit. There are some stereotypes and so on, because that’s how Final Fantasy games work, but there’s a lot of interesting lore divulged and the plots are so much better than the shenanigans that ensues in HW.

But I guess it’s a matter of preference. I found Heavensward to be dreary and repetitive as hell with its story. I guess that was sort of the point but there was a lot of filler content that just seemed pointless, and several of the storylines ended in meh-ish manners. Stormblood meanwhile has an interesting mix of characters and the storylines remain focused on one greater objective VS the misc. stuff you had to do in Heavensward, almost like it was a laundry list of potential plot holes that needed to be filled.

bereman99
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bereman99

Same team, same writers.

Honestly, your post makes me wonder how far you haven’t made it into the story, as this reads like the kind of opinion formed after the first 30 minutes.

Also, trope is hardly a dirty word, especially when it’s well used to suit the story.

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touchofkiel

Haven’t finished yet – in fact, I’m taking my sweet time and I’m only in Yanxia – but while the story is good and well told, it suffers from something the game has always suffered from, except it feels even worse in 4.0: you, the player character, the Warrior of Light. It REALLY just makes you feel like hired muscle fighting someone else’s battles. You just nod along… nod….. nod… nod… punch your palm… nod… nod… squint…. smile… nod… nod…

If the game is going to make you feel this way, at least give us some more dialogue options. When they do have dialogue options, you can tell the NPCs’ response is carefully crafted to accommodate both options. If the story is going to treat me like a merc, at least let me act like one! There was one option where I told Yugiri she better pay me for helping her liberate Doma. It really stood out because the story just never gives you options like that.

I know, I know, that’s typical JRPG ‘chosen one’ crap, but still… your (passive) involvement in the story really stands out precisely because it’s otherwise a good story mostly about humans and not evil dragons.

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Danny Smith

The only outstanding weak point for me was Lakshmi. Lame story, lamer fight. It was nice to see FF characters actually try and solve stuff by talking for once instead of ‘hey a boss okay lets jump in and que fight music!’. It didn’t work but i still liked the characters changing over time and being more proactive.

Also in particular as a FFXI RDM main now a FFXIV RDM main i was pretty happy to see the story go to places like gubal library and weeping city for solo instance fights. I was worried it would be something like another WHM none story which i hear SAM kind of is.

Would have liked a bit more empire with the othard filler questlines but all in all a lot of neat world building.

My only complaint is a certain azim steppe dungeon becoming the new neverreap AKA the only dungeon in roullette i get below expert. Getting real sick of that run, even if the Cardians in the final area were a nice nod to Windurst.

bereman99
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bereman99

Even though Lakshmi was definitely a case of having a primal to have a primal…

I did appreciate that the “why” still connects to how the rest of the story is largely about people and how they treat each other, how they react to each other, what motivates them, etc.

More detailed spoilers, so they’re going in the box:

Spoiler
I liked how, despite it being a total swerve to the left, it was a situation born out of personal motivations and personal misunderstandings and cultural tensions – Fordola taking the daughter of the leader hostage against a group she didn’t need to because she saw all Anata as the same despite the Qalyana having a truce with Garlemald at the time and staying out of their way but didn’t see a difference between them and the Vira who were helping the resistance. Fordola again taking what she saw as necessary measures to make sure her and her Skulls, her “people,” made it through safely, which is part of personal motivation overall.

The Qalyana, and specifically the leader, reacting in grief when, out of stupidity, hate, cowardice, or some combination of the above, one of Fordola’s men killed her daughter when there was no need…and in that grief she did a very personal thing, which was call out to her deity…not to smite or destroy but to save her daughter.

It’s a total swerve, but because the surrounding situation is ultimately snake-people and human-people acting, for better or worse, like people with emotions and stupid decisions and grief…I find it noticeably less annoying as a swerve. That Zenos calls out Fordola for it later also helps.

It’s also a very brief swerve, unlike say…the Company of Heroes… *shudder*

You’re on your way to something else, learn of this situation, deal with it pretty quickly, and move on…while getting some interesting character moments that build on character developments related to primals and facing them that has been on-going since 2.0, and a couple badass moments to boot.

Spoiler
Did you know beforehand that we can shield others from tempering? That was seriously a pretty damn cool moment.

Reader
Knight Porter

Poor Estinian, so unfairly hated.

… oh who am I kidding. I love him, but the dumbass still irritates the utter shit out of me.

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N Camico

One of the things I thought stood out most to me was how the new beast races were implemented. On one hand, the Kojin and Lupin seem very well integrated into Doman society. The flow of main side quests did justice to building an exposition of their tensions and relationships. The Kojin play a rather integral role in the story to boot. On top of that (while avoiding spoilers) the lupin provide for what I felt was one of the most fun and interesting Solo duties in the MSQ. On the other hand, the Ananta really felt like an aside and were largely forgettable. Lakshmi fight withstanding, it honestly didn’t need to be there at all.

On the topic of bad boy Zenos, I liked how he wasn’t obsessed with the primals like Nael van Darnus or obsessed with the cause like Gaius van Baelsar… he’s obsessed with YOU. From his cutscenes to his little blurbs in the middle of his fights, this seemingly cold, emotionless guy exudes this passion about facing off with you that, to be honest, caused some weird reciprocation in me. I felt the end of it denied me some satisfaction, despite that last line really hitting me in the gut. That’s just me though. Zenos ended up being a great villain.

Anyways, as you mentioned, I’m looking forward to where the patches go in a narrative sense. On top of the impending Ivalice and Omega content, I’m wondering what angle they take to continue to story. I don’t deign to think The Alliance or Doman forces are up to pushing into Islabard, but someone’s gotta make the next move.

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Leviathonlx

The MSQ felt a bit rushed especially near the end just so we could have both places liberated right away. I also felt the walking away and singing routine at the end to be really awkward especially when you then get the scene after the credits with a dragoon.

In general some zones just didn’t feel like they reached their full potential such as the Lochs and Yanxia (seeing ‘Doma’ on the map just to go to the area and find out it was 80% water was disappointing) while others like Azim Steppe were really well done.

Reader
Danny Smith

Since the Lochs is the end level zone with lots of areas untouched i imagine the 4.1 onwards content is going to involve the zone in some fashion. That sunken city, the dead rising across the zone as spirits and getting real bad in the Loch suggest some stuff beyond garlean occupation might be brewing.
Plus we dont know what happened to the rest of the canisters of you know what. If one can make a tree go all outland just by being buried near it who knows what else is waiting around to infest the wildlife.

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bobfish

I hope, that Yanxia isn’t all of Doma, and that there must be more of it they haven’t added. If it’s just a single zone, it will be a real let down.

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Matt Redding

I understand how it felt “easy” to achieve these victories but keep in mind the MSQ is only from the main character’s viewpoint. We were mostly only seeing the efforts of an “elite” unit doing strike force work. There were a lot of mentions of other things going on at the same time and I think they just kept it simple.

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bobfish

I’m not really sure why you dislike Alphinaud, the guy is a relatively average character for a long time, but he went through a lot of personal growth in HW, and I admire the person he is becoming. Also, Estinien is an interesting character, I think his stand off nature could make him difficult to like, but ultimately he does what is needed of him, which is a good trait to have in a friend.

I do feel that the new characters they introduced, whilst interesting, didn’t really form any natural bonds with me. Maybe HW was different because it was a much more personal story for the Warrior of Light, even though it played out in the political and military backdrops of the Dragonsong War.

Of course, I doubt any NPC will become as important to me, as a player, as Haurchefant was. Aymeric was getting close, but I imagine that we will see less of him in the future given his role in Ishgard.

The new characters are all largely forgettable though, I don’t think my character made any new friends in Stormblood, beyond getting closer to Lyse and Alisaie.

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Jeremy Barnes

I enjoyed the MSQ. I felt that it all happened too fast though. I think this is in line with your “Walked to victory”. I feel like it should have felt more like clawing territory back inch by inch in a brutal, bloody mess. I have no complaints, but if I had a magic wand, I would include more about the actual fight even if it was using “fake” fights like ‘we’re fighting over there, but you are over here’. I think the big area this missed is when you’re in Doman that it doesn’t feel like anything happened in Ala Mhigo when you liberating Doman would be months/years.

tl;dr The timing feels off because it feels like things happen too quickly.

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Kickstarter Donor
bigangry

I just finished the MSQ last night with a full-FC run of the Royal Menagerie, with me on PLD and my best friend from City of Heroes as the other PLD. It was pretty epic, and I died several times because I just kinda threw abandon to the wind and forgot to wait for explanations. EITHER WAY, the story is amazing in Stormblood. Truly amazing. I like it better than the twists and turns of ARR and the evil primal pope from Heavensward. Zenos was a truly terrifying villain (though, as a PLD, even in the single-player encounters, I was able to get him down to 90% and stretch out the fights for 10 minutes or so). I’m wholly satisfied by the challenge and story of the MSQ, save for Zenos’ end, and like you, I can’t wait for where the story goes from here.

On that note, time to run some roulettes as RDM so that I can have a DPS at 70 eventually!

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Kickstarter Donor
bigangry

BTW, the English voice cast did a tremendous job, as well. Kudos to them, and especially to the casting director who found the voice of Gosetsu, which is PROBABLY the best fitting voice I’ve heard in any kind of production in a long time.

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