Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward in review – the main scenario

    
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Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward in review – the main scenario
I never really had a chance to explore Final Fantasy XI expansion by expansion. By the time the game launched in North America, the first expansion was already out and was bundled with the game. But Final Fantasy XIV has been worldwide since its launch, which means that I can look at the game both before and after Heavensward in something approaching real time.

Of course, it’s also difficult to evaluate expansions as they’re live, simply because you lack a certain degree of perspective. Still, Heavensward is over, and while I can’t put it in the context of the game’s overall history, I can look at it as it stands as a whole. With five major patches and a whole lot of storytelling, how was the expansion? Didi it start strong and then falter? Did it deliver what it promised? Was it fun all the way through?

The answers to those questions are complex. Fortunately, we’ve got a couple of months to examine the expansion before the next one comes out. So let’s get started with the story.

When the 2.x patch series ended, we were left with a whole lot of really involved setup. The Scions were broken, Raubahn was stuck in a dungeon, the Archons and Minfilia were missing-and-presumed, and Ishgard was less “where we’re going next” and more “the only port left in the storm.” It was an interesting setup that promised to simultaneously give us investment in Ishgard’s conflicts and force us to fight back against a lot of chaos back home.

We got half of that.

TO be fair, that half was pretty great.

The story of Heavensward was pretty great, but the entire plotline about Ul’dah, the Scions, and the losses there was resolved more or less in the background. Worse yet, nothing really changed as a result of all that. We had a fair bit of running around to do, but by the time all was said and done everything in Ul’dah wound up more or less in the same place.

Obviously, things were a bit different for the Scions. But even there, we lacked some of the emotional connection that would have made the story really sing. Patches 3.4 and 3.5 had stories that largely focused around putting the Scions in the right places for the storyline, and partly as a result of that they wound up being the weakest patches in terms of the story. Rather than feeling organic, it felt like moving pieces around until things were set up properly.

But the flip side to all of this is the story focused around Ishgard. That was the main focus through the launch up until the end of 3.3, and that was something else.

I have some critiques here and there of the storyline as a whole, but they mostly come down to nitpicking. The story gave us heroes to root for and villains to root against, and rather appropriately for an MMO it made a point of showing how hard it is to change something that’s really rooted in culture and visceral emotion. Waving a staff and saying “we’re all friends now” doesn’t make it so.

More to the point, it asked a lot of questions while tacitly admitting that they didn’t actually have firm answers. Nidhogg isn’t wrong to be so angry and unwilling to forgive Ishgard for what was done, just like the people of Ishgard aren’t really to blame any longer for what their ancestors did without their knowledge or consent. There are no right answers, just a whole lot of bad ones.

And while Ysayle may have been right, she was also far more wrong than she knew at the same time. Which is part of her central tragedy, I suppose.

Putting the end of the main story in 3.3 was an interesting move, not just because both the end of the initial expansion and the end of 3.3 needed to work and feel like satisfactory conclusions on their own. It meant that we could, in fact, just have our conclusion and triumph for the story without requiring it to tie into the next expansion. This was a good thing for Ishgard’s story, but maybe not such a great thing for the two subsequent patches. Neither 3.4 nor 3.5 really felt as strong as the main story, even when they both used many of the same characters and continued much of the same arc.

Hi, then bye.

Of course, some of that comes down to what the patch stories there were designed to do. The Warriors of Darkness wound up being a complete non-starter, showing up as major characters in two patches, never receiving any individual characterization, and then vanishing after serving as a MacGuffin and a source for a little bit of exposition about cosmology. (And rather unclear cosmology, at that.) The Griffin only slightly avoids that fate due to his real identity, and even then, it felt a bit odd to have Papalymo and Yda working with him, however little they knew.

Heck, the whole Papalymo and Yda thing felt pretty cheap all around. “Oh, yeah, we were just here and we were fine all along, we all just forgot to look for one another.” Awkward.

Does this mean the story was bad? No! Very much the opposite. The story was good; it’s just that the overall quality of the story made the weak spots stand out that much more. More so than the original, this was an expansion with a strong narrative identity that pulled through the game, and the result was a lot of investment. But when that got disrupted, even briefly, it became much easier to note that something was just plain wrong, like the story had abruptly shed all of its momentum.

Put more simply, since the 2.x series rarely focused on any one plotline or region for very long, it was easier to overlook when you veered off in random directions. Heavensward had a solid and tangible focus, which meant you noticed whenever it was yanked in another direction.

At the best moments, this expansion really did feel like the sort of plot that wold work well in a standalone Final Fantasy game, which is obvious where it was going. At its weakest moments… it still was all right, but it mostly was staying afloat through characters that are easy to like and having just enough narrative thread to keep you invested. Which makes for a good main scenario, but still one that leaves you a bit disjointed. It’s just that the good moments are so good you tend to forget about any weirdness along the way.

But that’s just the main scenario, and this particular expansion had a lot of additional side stories… which would take too long to really analyze all of them right here in this specific column. So that’s going to have to wait until the next installment as we pick apart the expansion as a whole. Until then, feel free to leave your feelings about the story or just general comments down below, or mail them along to eliot@massivelyop.com.

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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styopa

I know this is more of a plotline review, but is it just me or is FFXIV just…slow?
I mean it’s just the GCD but it feels like its 2-3 SECONDS which is forever.

Maybe that’s what they want, and I’m not saying it should be a button-masher but man, it’s just DULL.

I haven’t gotten a toon past about lvl 20, so maybe it gets better although I’d have to say if it does man, they’re losing people early on out of boredom.

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Danny Smith

My immediate thought as an online jrpg was the bosses. Ozma, the gryphon and a bunch of Alex fights were second only to the coil turn finales for me.
The primals however were a bit of a step down. Go do synched Ifrit extreme now and that is a solid challenge that’s fun to beat. ravana and Bismarck? Eh not so much and the warring triad were mediocre to disappointing. Zurvan in particular might be the weakest of all the primaks in game.

Also not much beats fight music like oblivion and under the weight primals wise. But god damn some of freezepop meets hip hop stuff of Alexander comes real close.
Makes me wonder what SB brings, classical Edo style for Susanoo and Bollywood for Lakshmi? :p

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Danny Smith

Also scholisticate was the bloody worst. Finale? Genuinely interesting info, the rest? Pre titan LA noscea MSQ tier dull as dicks. That’s time we should have spent touching more on t situation in Uldah in my opinion, how are Nanamos reforms going? Something like that.

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Leviathonlx

I liked the Dragonsong War story but am not as invested into this new one starting but honestly the story has rarely been my issue with this game. I’m more just hoping Stormblood ends up being more than just ‘more of the same’ content wise and actually takes some risks (something Japanese businesses are adverse to) and maybe adds more fleshed out systems that are fully thought out. So not Palace of Endless Trash Pulls or Diadem even in its new form.

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draynar

Good review, pretty much agree.

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Khalith .

The entire Dragonsong War arc was, in my opinion, the best of the HW storyline overall. The twists and build up that culminated in that final battle and what happened afterwards were all fantastic and I really enjoyed every moment of it. Once we got to the next arcs however it felt a whole lot weaker, I agree that none of it was bad, at best it was ok. A good part of that however was just the very fact of what preceded it.

After the massive build up and triumphant battle against Nidhogg, there really wasn’t any way they COULD top it off unless

Spoilers ahead
we actually fought shinryu ourselves alongside Omega.

One thing you should also have touched on is the rather weak ending of the final MSQ stuff in HW. There was no final trial, no final epic battle, just a brief cutscene with a decent battle between

Spoiler
Omega and Shinryu
that lasted what? 2 minutes? Then it was over. For all that it did for the game and for all that happened, the HW expansion deserved some huge major send off event at the end which simply didn’t happen.

Tizmah
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Tizmah

The HW story arc ends earlier. The patches we have been getting are transitioning to the new story. The HW send off was with Nidhogg.

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Khalith .

I can sort of see the logic in that. But having the send off in the middle is a pretty bad decision if that was indeed the intent. I think the send off was supposed to be

Spoiler
shinryu against omega
but that wasn’t nearly as over the top as it should have been in my opinion.

Bereman
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Bereman

I find looking at it like a TV series in terms of arcs helps.

Season 1 was the beginning of the game up through the finale of 2.0.

Season 2 got its start in 2.1 and finished in 3.3.

Season 3 is underway – it tied up some loose ends from the previous season and has initiated the main action that will kick off the rest of this season.

It’s a different story beat approach compared to how MMOs have traditionally handled it, which is to have an expansion’s story be self-contained (for the most part), with the end of that specific expansion capping off what it started). For FFXIV, story arcs are jumping between expansions, which means we’ve already begun the Stormblood story…which also means a send-off at the end of the expansion isn’t strictly necessary.

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Danny Smith

I think part of the ending problem is its a calm before the storm whereas ARRs ending is a ‘everything gone to shit’ cliffhanger. This time around we are pushing the story forward rather than an antagonist so it’s a bit more subdued.

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bobfish

I haven’t done the last two patches worth of MSQ yet, but I must admit that Heavensward MSQ was quite excellent and something that I’ve really come to appreciate about FFXIV.

I love my stories in RPGs and rarely do companies manage to get it right, the biggest factor always being attachment to the characters within the story. FFXIV did a wonderful job of creating attachments to characters both before and during the MSQ. Then playing those attachments really well to draw the player further into the story.

What surprises me about all of this though is that I don’t have that same attachment to the Scions. The stories involving the Scions (with the exception of Alphinaud), always felt more corporate, more functional than personal. Heavensward did a brilliant job of making the MSQ feel a lot more personal than it could have been, it wasn’t just a job I was performing, it was what I wanted to be doing.

I can only pray that this level of character driven, personal stories continues, but I am afraid that anything that centers around the Scions is going to fall back into the old tropes we saw before.

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Loopy

Possible spoilers ahead:

Spoilers
Papalymo and Yda reunion with the rest of the Scions felt like the weakest part of the HW storyline. I completely agree – the fact that they were ok and doing their own thing, without even thinking to find the other Scions (and the reverse) felt like they were non-consequential to the group to begin with. It also IMO cheapened the final Papalymo’s sacrifice because we just didn’t know or understand enough about Papalymo and Yda’s partnership to really care.

I did however enjoy the warrior of shadow storyline, including the final twist and the epilogue. It was an interesting take on the light vs dark binary.

Bereman
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Bereman

Spoilers for some of the 3.x series, including the latest patch:

3.x stuff
It kind of gets glossed over, but Yda and Papalymo give the impression that they had actually become aware of where we were and what we were up to, but they were doing “important work” for the Masks and were often on assignment while trying to find out more about what was going on with the Griffon while trying to maintain their cover and not reveal they were Scions (plus, as we know now, Lyse’s attitude toward Ala Mhigo and fighting for things her sister believe in) – which is why they felt they couldn’t reach out to us.

On our side, they were still searching for them, but with them being undercover with the Masks we simply didn’t find them until we happened to encounter them entirely by chance.

Overall, it’s not meant to give the impression that they all just ignored each other and then happened to find each other.