Unfortunately for the overall evaluation, that leaves us today diving into the side stories… which is a much less positive tale. Because some of these were just weak, some of them were mildly engaging, and several were flat-out bad. But there were a lot of them, so I can’t be too harsh to the conceptual level, even if the execution was… lacking. Severely, in some places.
So let’s start in with the part of the stories that almost everyone seems to have forgot existed.
One of the neat things that Heavensward did without much fanfare was have a number of little overarching stories running through each zone. It’s subtle, but it’s there, and it means that a lot of little stories are hidden throughout the game. Most zones have at least two; the Western Highlands have a story about reclaiming Falcon’s Nest and a story about the struggles of the Convictory, the Forelands have a story about becoming a hunter and about dragons learning to trust, and so forth.
For the most part, these stories are pretty straightforward and small, but they still manage to be cute and amusing. They remind me of several Final Fantasy XI stories in execution, just enough storytelling that you know who the players are and get a sense of the larger world through the interactions. It also makes sidequests that much more enjoyable; you aren’t just randomly being asked to do things, you’re doing things in service to a larger goal. I hope this continues in Stormblood, as it’s a positive mark and something I noticed as I quested.
Heck, it even contained the best moogle-based story of the expansion, that’s pretty cool.
The beast tribes
Unlike the plethora of tribes in the base game, the expansion only contained three tribe reputations: Moogles, Vanu Vanu, and Gnath. Of the three stories, two of them hit me in varying shades of cold and one of them was really, really intense and cool.
The Moogle story was interesting on a macro level, but it bothers me because it doesn’t really feel like it’s a beast tribe per se. I’m fine with the idea that we’re raising reputation with an organization, and despite the usual implications the story wound up being fairly serious and in-depth. It just always felt… subtly wrong, somehow. At best, it’s a technically accurate grouping; at worst, it’s just shoehorning something in to serve as a crafting line.
Meanwhile, the Vanu Vanu story just never really hooked me in. The whole story was building toward a payoff that specifically did not happen (which is hard to discuss without spoiling things) and the “humor” of the dancing emphasis quickly lost its novelty. I felt like this was the narrative loser of the bunch, and the sundrop dance did not need to be the central mechanic of so many quests.
But then we come to the Gnath, and holy crap, that story was amazing. It was at turns moving, funny, and sweet, and it really conveyed a distinct atmosphere separate from any other beast tribe line. Usually you’re helping a splinter group of the beastmen; here, you’re watching a culture literally assemble itself from nothing and struggling with the fact that its entire identity seems provisional. It’s really good. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend you do.
The quest wrapping all of them up felt more perfunctory than the previous wrapup, but maybe that’s kind of inevitable. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the other summation quest, but then, there was less unifying the groups this time. Perhaps it’s to be expected.
Shadows of Mhach
The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of issues I have with this particular storyline, but first and foremost is the fact that it kept feeling to me like I was being told a less interesting plot when a more intriguing one was right there. The Void is fascinating to me; it’s far more multi-layered than the usual realm of demons, and it even has some charmingly cosmic horror elements to it where the voidsent are simply ageless entities who destroy lives without malice or even notice. I like that. I want to learn more about that.
Pirate politics, on the other hand, are something that I have my fill of from every single storyline centered around Limsa Lominsa. But that’s what we get shoved down our throats for some reason, centered around the idea that personal airships are just a thing that can happen now.
The story also suffers from the central fact that no one grows or develops in any way, which is always a weakness. Everyone you see at the end of the story is the same as you saw at the start; a bunch of stuff has just happened, no one is actually making better choices. So that’s also lame. I wanted to learn more about this strangely alien culture that we’re exposed to, but instead it was a playground for static pirates.
The actual content itself is another story… but we’ll touch on that later.
Again, my enjoyment of Alexander is slightly tempered by the feeling that there’s a more interesting story not being shown… but that’s not the biggest issue I have with it. By and large, we got a sense of the Illuminati and the contrast between their goals and the mechanical Primal they occupied. I wouldn’t have minded more focus on that, but it’s a minor quibble.
No, the biggest problem with Alexander is just that it’s a time travel story falling victim to the usual problem of time travel stories. Everything evaporates into a wheel of nothing, and the central “twist” essentially comes down to the idea that nothing you did meant anything because you already did it. It all logically works, but it removes many of the stakes from the situation, because to quote a well-known fan project based around a time travel plot, this is not an event occurring multiple times but a single event with multiple vantage points.
It also felt like we had a lot of hangers-on in this story just because they needed something to do. Cid and Y’shtola were mostly there to spout exposition, Biggs and Wedge were light comic relief, but none of them really did much other than remind you that they existed. It was really a much more goblin-and-lizard centered plot, and the other characters were along for the ride and to have something to do aside from fade into the background.
I’m sure that’s intentional, mind you. It just meant that things felt a bit cluttered and a bit lacking in satisfactory resolutions. Which isn’t crippling, and I think by and large I enjoyed this story more than I enjoyed the Mhach story. It just felt kind of cluttered and lacking in firm resolution.
Of course, it turns out there’s still more story to cover… and there’s all of the game that isn’t story to get into, too! I’ll be here a while. You can leave your own thoughts down in the comments, though, or mail them along to email@example.com. See you next week for more!