Those of you who don’t remember the last time I did this particular column series (which is understandable, it was two years ago) should know that we spent a lot of time going through all of the various parts of the most recent Final Fantasy XIV expansion in their totality. And there is, in fact, lots to cover overall in Stormblood. I had said that it felt like there were too many stories running at once in the first expansion, and the second expansion addressed that by… adding a bunch more.
When we got our first couple of zone stories dealing with the depressed state of a small Ala Mhigan town and examining the aftermath of the Empire’s most deadly weapons, I was really excited to see what further zone stories had to tell us. Sadly, those two were among the standouts, not the rules; most of the zone stories feel like distracting fluff that don’t really enhance the world in any significant way.
The Steppe, sadly, was particularly bad about this. Of the three major zone stories running in the area, all three basically told us nothing about their tribes in any significant fashion. Heck, one of them could have been resolved in the first quest just by asking one question. I found myself caring less about these characters and being more annoyed; none of them felt nearly as interesting to me as the various characters from the MSQ proper.
I get what was being attempted here, and I don’t think it was a bad effort. But the stories ultimately don’t work as well as the ones in Heavensward, by my experience.
Unfortunately, there’s still one story that feels like a clunker in the beast tribe lineup… but if I’m being fair, it’s less that the Ananta story is bad and more that it feels like there are more interesting questions we’re not getting answered. The Ananta are so alien in many ways that I want to learn more about them, so to be given what amounts to a coming-of-age narrative with minor wrinkles doesn’t captivate me.
However, it’s competently told, it works, and it is bookended by two excellent stories from the Kojin and the Namazu. While both of them did have elements of already getting exploration in the MSQ, they’re also fun to see separated out and given their own story. And the comedy of the Namazu lands really well, as it has tended to for most of the expansion. They’re at once likable and also endearingly stupid as hell.
Honestly, I liked our time with the beast tribes more in this particular expansion. They felt more relatable and authentic in many places, and the game really seemed to be interested in showing the tribes from multiple perspectives while also building a personal stake in this offshoot of the tribe. There was nothing as moving as the Gnath story, but the overall feel was engaging and fun.
Return to Ivalice
Hey, welcome to the framing device of Final Fantasy Tactics. And yes, it first perfectly well.
Yes, I know, we’ve been officially told that this is not the case, but frankly it makes as much sense as anything else, if not more. Imagine that! Why don’t we learn anything about the non-human races of Ivalice in that game? Not because they weren’t yet created, but because it’s a story being told by and for Imperials who don’t consider the beast tribes worth mentioning. It lines up nicely, and frankly it makes me smile every time I think of it.
While there are bits of porting the lore of Ivalice wholesale into Hydaelyn that I don’t wholly agree with, the net result is that it feels like a set of natural companion pieces. And the later patches have also helped to solidify this bond, confirming that there are lots of lines between this world that we know and the one from another game, which also connects nicely to other thematic ties.
Of course, all of that doesn’t make the actual story good, it just makes it full of fanservice. Fortunately, the actual story winds up working pretty well, when all is said and done. Aside from expanding and offering explanations for a story that you may know very well, it also paints a solid picture of Garlean culture outside of the Empire’s military while giving us space to explore new concepts in the overall shape of the world.
Return to Ivalice also subtly underscores a point being made throughout the expansion. Here we see what happens when a nation rebels against the Empire and loses; indeed, the loss suffered against Imperial forces is so complete that it become a major element of planning for the future. So it’s a useful and relevant side trip, especially with the hints that we may have to deal with the aftermath of this eventually…
It’s an odd choice to have Omega off as a side story when it’s been a major element of the world for ages. But then, it’s also odd that Omega’s entire run is basically pure franchise fanservice up to the last battle. There’s no justifying Kefka or Exdeath or so forth in the world of the main game, so instead the developers just threw everything in for a series of boss fights that are meant to be fictional in-world.
I find the use of Kefka here to be particularly pointed, as Omega is in one way the latest in a long line of villains who doesn’t understand how the heroes win through the Power of Friendship and so on. But Omega is a special case, because it literally can’t understand the concept of camaraderie. It’s a weapon and an entity made to be the lone weapon, unsurpassed by anything; its final form is literally trying to copy the surface elements that it sees from the player characters while not understanding what lies beneath it.
It’s an odd story that swings between being comic, sad, and dramatic at turns, and by putting it off as a side story it sometimes feel as if it’s never as pressing a threat as it ought to be. At the same time, I think it’s a really fun story that largely hangs together. It’s a different sort of cross-continuity blending, one that puts more effort into blending the feel than necessarily the direct lore.
One thing I do hope for, though, is that our next big raid doesn’t involve Cid at all. As a character, Cid has basically reached an endpoint here, and it’s more or less the same endpoint that we’ve been dancing around through the Crystal Tower and Alexander after it was a major part of the main scenario in 2.0. Let the guy rest and do his own thing, can we? We don’t need him and Nero bickering all the time.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, it’s time to keep rolling along on the side stories. There are a lot more!