Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV Stormblood in review – The main scenario

    
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All right. It’s all over but the waiting, and that means it’s time to start picking apart the Final Fantasy XIV expansion we’re now on the back end of. Sure, my tradition of examining these things in depth is pretty limited as we’ve only had one prior expansion for it, but I figure now’s the time to start adding a second round. So let’s start in with the obvious place to start with Stormblood’s main story.

Unfortunately, this is a story that’s been met with a lot of player grousing basically since the expansion launch. People have complained about the split between Ala Mhigo and Doma giving the former short shrift, that the patches felt less focused compared to the overall Heavensward trajectory which had three very tightly focused story patches, that Lyse didn’t have enough of a character arc, and so forth. And yet for my money this was actually when the game found a more natural and even cadence for its overall storytelling, from start to finish.

I don't like fighting.By necessity, any comparison of the game’s stories at this point will come down to Heavensward vs. Stormblood. I’ve already talked about the former’s main story, and the reality is that we tend to gloss over the parts of that tale that didn’t work so well. The resolution to the Ul’dah plotline being a complete non-starter, the rather aimless meandering in 3.4 and 3.5, the fact that the story suddenly chases a different antagonist in the middle when you kill Nidhogg only to bring that back later… we kind of gloss over all of this stuff in hindsight.

None of this makes the story of Heavensward bad, of course. It was a great story! It was just one that had a number of notable failings, some flabby parts, and they recede in memory when you’re not stuck wading through them.

Stormblood, on the other hand, addresses basically all of my complaints about Heavensward. No longer are the stories we’re being told about just getting through an area to reach another one; each zone story is inextricably tied to that actual locale. Our enemy remains the same as we trek through the zones, even if there are minor antagonists that shift and change over time. And the story ends conclusively when the expansion’s base set of quests ends, leading to a series of patch stories that serve as a bridge rather than a proper conclusion.

That last one is going to inspire some debate, and to a certain extent it’s something that’s going to give everyone different feelings. In some ways, it comes down to a debate about what the individual patch stories are supposed to be, and that’s not an answer that I think we yet have solidified.

To me, it feels like the base expansion story should wrap up the conflicts that the beginning outlines. When Patch X.0 hits and brings a new level cap and full-length main scenario, the end of that main scenario should bring that to a satisfying conclusion. Patches X.1 through X.5 should therefore be about serving as a coda for smaller issues and bringing us ahead to the next expansion, not about finishing the story that Patch X.0 left on the table.

This was kind of a failing before. Heavensward reached its conclusion in 3.3 in a very final way. We no longer really had much to do moving onward, there wasn’t a clear narrative throughline. By contrast, Stormblood’s patches provided an arc in and of themselves. We have to wrap things up in Ala Mhigo, then we need to wrap things up in Doma, whoops there’s more to wrap up there with the Empire than we thought, now we need to get more contact with the Empire, now we’re spinning up into a war…

It feels like the logical coda to what had already happened, extrapolating from earlier actions while also not being necessary to understand the main questline. There was a satisfying conclusion to start with. They’re not optional, but they feel like part of a separate line, as they should.

Some people would prefer that the patch stories continue the main story, and I understand that. It’s going to come down to taste, and I could write multiple more columns on the virtues and failings of both. For the moment, I’d like to just leave it at the idea that the MSQ here delivered a better narrative feel for me while also acknowledging that it was more of a thematic throughline than a narrative one. Your mileage may vary.

We're just not going to discuss one vector for whining about this story element. We're not.

Instead, I want to turn my gaze on perhaps the most divisive element of the whole story, Lyse Hext. Lyse was very much the face of this expansion, her character development was meant to be a focal point, and she also gets the burden of animosity directed at her for not being sufficiently dynamic or developed or impressive or whatever.

And… yeah, no. That’s not actually right. The story makes its goals with Lyse very clear from the start and delivers on them.

When we find out that Lyse is, well, Lyse in patch 3.5, it’s clear that everything we’ve known about her up to this point is built upon a false pretense. She’s not actually Yda, she’s Lyse. And that right there is the premise that needs to be addressed. What does that actually mean? Who is Lyse? To us, she’s the same person she’s been the whole time because that’s just Yda with the mask off. Why bother revealing it?

It’s the exact same question she’s asking herself. She’s spent so much time being Yda that she’s never actually had that crucial period of time to grow into being her own person with a distinct identity; instead, she’s spent her time trying to be the likable image of her sister. Lyse’s entire identity revolved around that, and what we’ve seen of her up to this point is always marked by a profound need to avoid loss.

Over the course of the story we get a character who has defined herself around that need to avoid loss have to confront the idea of what she actually has to lose. She’s also still living in the shadow of her sister, right down to the fact that her outfit for most of the game is a variant on the one she’s always worn. She’s trying to be who she thinks Yda would want her to be. It’s why she and Hien get a moment in the prison cell because they’re both trying to develop identities in the wake of people who aren’t there any longer.

It’s also why her big change in costume is significant. I’ve seen it mocked as a stupid decision. “Oh, you’re establishing yourself by dressing up as your sister?” Except that’s not what’s happening here; symbolically, it’s the moment when Lyse stops trying to be her sister and starts inhabiting that space. It’s a sign that she’s still carrying her sister with her because of course she is, but she doesn’t need to pretend at it. She has an idea of who Lyse can be.

I can understand why some people found elements of the story more underwhelming. For all that, I think that when we look back on it, we’re going to see this as the better overall expansion story compared to its immediate predecessor. Of course, the future remains to be seen.

As always, feedback is welcome in the comments below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, let’s start talking about the side stories in the expansion.

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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seyinphyin
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seyinphyin

Heavensward was about ending a stupid, wrong war.

Stormblood was about starting one.

From 3.5 on it was clear, that the whole war was set up by an Ascian and still we followed it, what was terrible enough.

On top of that, every single war sequence was written like a propaganda movie. We are the good guys, no matter what we do: Lyse pullse everyone around her to certain death and never cares about it. Our “allies” in Doma, which are just monarchists, kill an unknown number of civilians by flodding the entire civil sector in front of the actual castle, but we don’t care. Before that, we play with fate and lives of tribes, who know nothing about all the war and who had been left alone, which would lead to a massacre against them, if the big bad empire would only be half as brutal as any real nation in RL.

This Empire meanwhile is not even fighting back. In the whole Stormblood story, there is never any scenario, where even the fraction of an actual army is fought, always some few troops and machinery, never more than any other dungeon and the first dungeon in the game, invading a pirate hideout, feels more threatening than the actual big climax in 4.5 (which by the way makes much more sense, when you simply look at it as a mere testing field, a simple exercise for Garlean strategists with some prototypse and maybe clones (those guys do not even speak, not a single one of them) – there are by the way no Garleans inside that “dungeon” beside those certain two). Still: It is sold, as if we are indeed fighting and winning a war – easily, because we are so good and strong and wow. As said: like a propaganda movie.

On top of that, our allies also play CIA now and spread chaos in other regions, which again leads only to death and – well – chaos.

Funny enough, looking at Doma and Ala Migho, I don’t get, from what we “free” these people. Not even the beast tribes got any problem there, well, before we came, out of nations, where they constantly have to fight agains the greed of our allies…

The main problem of both countries were those guys we helped, underground fighters, terrorists, as you also call such people, who really kept both small countries burning for so many years. And for what? Especially the Domans just wanted their monarch (another word for despot) at the top again, to which they got that typical stubborn, blind loyality that never brought any good in history – and Hien seems to be a nice guy, but he’s a terrible leader.

And Ala Migho? Good question, somehow f**** Lyse and Raubbahn made it at the top. Wtf? Especially Lyse is ridiculous, she got near to no link, since she was gone the whole time and Raubahn also got a way bigger connection to Uldah, where he slaughtered his way to the political top in a bloody arena (always fascinating, that method in Eorza, where punching other people harder than they punch you makes you indeed right – we got this a few times now already and again: wtf?). Ala Migho is now in debt of Uldah, a plutocratic city state, which will squeeze the life out of it, because plutocrats really don’t care about the people, never did, never will and they don’t care for Uldahns, why should they for Ala Mighans?

Doma got their monarch back and his love drunk loyalist – and is unable to even just create a VILLAGE(!) on their own and already made a pact with the sea mafia (again: these guys are just sold to us as the good guys, just as the Limsi pirates – they are PIRATES(!) and those suffering right in their camp shall probably be some joke?).

But the worst part is 4.5, when stuff like the SPOILER: utter destruction of several airfleets SPOILEND is never shown nor mentioned nor explained, we are just shown the wreckages. I mean: WTF? That’s like going to the fight with Niddhogg in 3.5 and there are suddenly thousands of dead dragons around with no explanation and whatever. You can probably discuss the other points one way or another, but this is just terrible bad story telling.

SB made sense. Everything in it. Yes, the azure dragoon was incredible dumb to just take both eyes and by that fall. Yes, it was dumb to just throw those two eyes later from a bridge. But that’s still acceptable. It made sense how we were able to fight Niddhogg two times -one time he was weakened and we got one of his eyes against him, the second time with the help of his brother. It made sense how we beat Alexander, since that god of time was pretty much on our side. And so on.

But Stormblood? Well 4.0 was halfway okay. While our allies were super stupid in any way, it was okay to have the Empire just don’t fight back, to avoid escalation, to avoid, that the Ascian’s plan, we were oh so willing to follow, succeed. And that we could beat Shinryu was also fine, since Zenos made it a fair fight, the fight he wanted to have, not just using the power of such a primal to do, what we were shown in 3.5 = nuking entire areas without breaking sweat.

But then Omega: Wtf was that? There was no fucking reason, that we could beat it in O11 and O12. And no, some tool Cid pulled out of his ass is no explanation (especially since it does not make any sense, that a little bit electricity would be any kind of problem for such a machine – that was even dumber than the tool we just got before the Fordola fight – which by the way was also a terrible ending: she was one of the most sane person in that fucked up land and saved everone’s and our asses even after we imprisoned her – and for that she was made a combat slave with the steady threat of death around her neck: WTF?!? And we are supposed to be the GOOD GUYS!??)

Then the whole barrier thing: why? Again we mess around with those tribes and even mock them. We play around with the life stream. We play around with allagan tech and all that to protect a FUCKING VILLAGE in a way that makes no sense at all, since a high tech empire as Garlemald with hypersonic airships (that’s 6000km/h+) could easily fly around that stuff or the Ascians just port there and shut it down or they just come from the other side and so on…).

And of course the grande finale: a dungeon like all others, where we again are just super uber, while even the smallest modern nation on 10% of the level of Garlemald would simply bomb the shit out of us. Magitek missiles for example: 7k damage, even when far away. Fire a barrage of those and game over. And those are small ones.

I mean: It’s fine that we succeed somehow (it’s a game, we have to, else the game would be over…). But FFS give it a reason! That was so fucking lazy and 4.56 even worse. Hildi was fine, though, maybe swap the writers… or ask the Hilde writers, if they got some equally talented friends to hire…

And at least give us the possibility to call our allies insane warmongers with no care about the life ot their people, because that’s what they are – even if we are forced to still be their weapon after it. Again.

The worst thing is, that our characters always nods to all that shit, like a braindead puppet.

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Coldrun ??

One highlight: Yotsuyu’s arc is one of my favorite things in all of Final Fantasy.

This was probably the first time an MMO raid encounter made me weep with how hard it hit me, Tsukuyomi being the culmination of that whole story.

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styopa

I felt Heavensward was a better storytelling arc because it was so finite. It felt like closure where SB just sort of drizzled off inconclusively into sub-storylines.

I found Lyse sappy. The very-double-entendre fade-to-black “workout session” she and my female toon* had in Rhalgr’s was amusing and surprising in a “did she just say what I think she said?” way, but otherwise it was like the whole war, rebellion, liberation were all just some sort of subheading to her ‘voyage of personal discovery’ bleh.

I just felt very un-invested in what was going on, contrary to the whole Ishgard thing where it felt like actual complex personalities, meaningful events with a host of repercussions, lots of shades of gray, and NPC character building.

“Now, let us see how good a student I truly was.”

No moment like that in SB, that I’ve found.

*toon used specifically because it really triggers some of the Old Guard of FFXIV players and I hate sacred cows.