Final Fantasy XIV Fan Festival: The lore book in review

    
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It really does smell like lore.
The Final Fantasy XIV lore book should not exist. I don’t mean that it’s something I wish had never been made; I mean that if you had told me three years ago that we would get a 300-page book filled with FFXIV lore in English first, I would have called you a liar. It just doesn’t happen. And yet it does happen, apparently, because it’s here, in my hands, thanks entirely to the generosity and kindness of my friends.

It sold out post-haste at the actual fan festival, and then it sold out post-haste on the online store, and now another print run is going through and I imagine that will sell out.

However, a lot of those sales could very easily be driven by what I said right at the beginning: This thing should not exist. There’s no logical precedent for it. So that leads to the question of what the lore book actually is, and more importantly whether or not it’s good at what it does.

From the earliest days.As was noted at the (entertaining) lore panel, the biggest fight for the English version of the book is visible as soon as you look at it. There’s no Square-Enix logo on the faux-leather cover, no bar code, nothing beyond an ornate design on both covers and the title. The effect is striking. The whole thing feels weighty even before you crack the book open and get hit with a smell that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has read the phrase “roll 3d6 and consult the following chart.”

The attractiveness doesn’t stop at the cover, either; the book within has a light parchment texture on its pages that thankfully avoids impeding readability. The font is on the smaller size, mostly to pack a lot of information into the space, and I’ve hard of some people having trouble reading it. (I don’t find it’s an issue through most of the book, though some pages like the timeline compress it down to a very dense point that’s a bit less clear.) It’s also cleanly laid out, with plenty of art to pretty up the pages and the in-game screenshots carefully adjusted to not be jarring against the pre-production art.

Really, there are only two major criticisms I have of the physical side of the book. The first is that the volume does not have the oft-desired feature to lie flat when opened; it might be a minor thing, but for a reference guide it’s nice to be able to open the book, lay it down, and have it remain in place. You can see my struggling attempts to get a clean scan up above, and that’s no small part of the reason. The other is the complete lack of an index. While the layout of the book is clean, that’s no substitute for a proper index, especially when considering the sheer information density contained in a book like this.

Still, all of that is secondary to the reality of what the book actually does; it could be perfectly laid out but fail if it wasn’t any good as a lore book. And I’m happy to say that it does that quite well, even if I’d prefer a bit more lore and a bit less reference.

One of the things I’ve praised FFXIV on regularly is its lore, and not everyone seems to get the distinction between that and the story. The story is just events, but lore is everything around those events. Story is a farm boy wandering into a bar filled with strange creatures, while lore is knowing what all of those creatures are called and why one of them looks like a devil and another looks like a walrus-man and what genre of music is being played in the bar. It’s the setting, the stuff that informs the events and enriches the tapestry.

That’s what I wanted the lore book for. I didn’t need a recap of the events of patch 2.4, for example; I wanted to know more about how Eorzeans play games and what they drink and what vintages of wine are considered the best. And it contains a bit more of the former than I’d like, but it also contains a metric ton of the latter.

For example, I now know that Eorzean playing cards consist of six suits of nine cards each beyond the six major arcana that Astrologians use with their abilities. I know about how Warrior armor is made. I know about the culture surrounding great swords in Ishgard and why Dark Knights use the two-handed weapons as a matter of course. I know why Garuda and Ramuh look like humans while Ifrit and Leviathan most certainly do not. I know what makes something magitek while other similar devices don’t qualify.

I know Gridanians hate moths.

The stated goal of the book was to serve as both a reference book and as a lore book, so it also contains a fair amount of information recapping things that is either readily available elsewhere or isn’t particularly novel. I understand this decision and even support it; it makes a fair amount of sense, given the fact that this is being marketed as a fan guide in addition to its role showing things from behind the scenes. That having been said, the more the book turns into reference, the less useful I find it; it covers events up to the end of the Dragonsong War, but much of what it covers is stuff that I can easily look up online if I need a refresher.

However, while there’s still a fair bit of reading between the lines that has to be done because there’s not enough space to cover everything, the fact of the matter is that there are now more lines to read between. There are fascinating bits and pieces that hint at future expansions (like how Meracydia is still mostly unknown to Eorzeans because they respond to any outside contact with extreme violence) or stuff that just elaborates on the world we know of (more examination on the Ishgardian houses and how the city’s social structure works). It’s marvelous.

Heck, I was happy just knowing why the Eighty Sins of Sasamo got that name, so I can finally answer my own long-standing question of “jeez, Sasamo, what did you do?”

The book isn’t something that everyone will want, of course. If you can’t remember the names of half of the jobs on the regular, you probably aren’t going to care all that much, and if all you want is a story recap there are easier sources. Similarly, if you’re expecting seven solid pages on sewage management, you’re going to be disappointed; there’s a lot of detail, but not that level.

But if you’re interested in the world, as a roleplayer or just a fan? It’s magnificent. It’s packed with gorgeous stuff and it lays out clear explanations for things that often gets just mentioned offhand or hinted at through much of the actual game. The lore panel at the fan festival was mostly just an earnest endorsement for the book, and while that was a bit of a disappointment in the “I want more” sense, the book really is that great. If you’re excited for the lore book and wonder if it’s as good as your excitement would have it be? The answer is yes, absolutely.

Square-Enix paid for travel and a hotel room to Las Vegas so that I could attend the Final Fantasy XIV fan festival. They did not pay for anything else, and they did not provide this book as a review copy. If they had offered, I would have accepted and said as much, but I wasn’t going to ask apropos of nothing, especially when the item was in heavy demand at the fan festival. That’s just scuzzy, and I don’t like the idea or even the implication of using my job to get a leg up on fellow fans.