Oh dang. I had expected to learn some new things about Shadowbringers this week, maybe the lyrics to the theme song (what I hear doesn’t appear to be the accepted consensus on some of the lyrics, for example). What I didn’t expect was a launch trailer that, with one line, made everyone sit up and start scouring the lore behind Final Fantasy XIV because the implications are so wide-reaching for the cosmology. And we still don’t even know the actual context of the line.
There’s an important contextual difference to note there, and there’s a reason I phrased it thus. Ascians are indisputably deceptive. We can see countless examples of it throughout the game’s story. And yet the developers have also played pretty close on the idea that the Ascians do not actually lie. They tell us lots of things that have meanings either not fully explained or simply hinted at, they gleefully relish misdirection, they let us believe things that are helpful to them, but they never say something which is objectively and blatantly false.
So Hydaelyn and Zodiark are primals. And that sparks all sorts of questions, and unfortunately, some bad takes misunderstanding what that means, starting with “oh, so the WoL is tempered?!” No. No, we’re not, as proven by… the Ascians, again.
See, the thing about tempering for primals is that it is both irreversible and supercedes any other belief. You cannot talk someone out of being tempered. The story hammers this in again and again. Once someone is in a primal’s thrall, they’re past any sort of reasoning. Your options are basically imprisonment or execution.
The Ascians spend a lot of time talking to the player character in hopes of convincing you, though.
Seriously, if Lahabrea knew you were tempered, he wouldn’t have bothered threatening you, explaining that Hydaelyn herself is a corruption of the world, or any of that. It’d be a pointless gesture, whether or not he planned to ultimately kill you. You’re a thrall, you can’t be talked out of things. How many times has Elidibus chatted with us instead of just fighting? Heck, Elidibus himself seems to have a different agenda than the other Ascians, and yet if they were tempered by Zodiark that wouldn’t make sense either.
No, the way the story treats the player character makes it clear that whatever is going on has nothing to do with tempering. The Blessing of Light doesn’t appear to be direct from Hydaelyn’s hand and exerts no influence over you.
Similarly, I think it’s equally important to note that our explanation of what primals are is probably not entirely accurate, because that also expands a lot. What we’ve known about primals since Heavensward is that primals aren’t “real” in any sense, that they’re a confluence of belief and aether in physical form. Hraesvelgr explains this to a heartbroken Ysayle who discovers that Shiva isn’t what she thinks it is, and it’s very sad. So that would make Hydaelyn and Zodiark nothing more than particularly potent Tamagotchi that have kept running much longer than expected, right?
Well… also no. Because Hraesvelgr’s explanation doesn’t just have holes based on any expectations about these deities, but also with what we see even within the context of the story itself.
Primals certainly come into being because of the stated confluence of belief and aether, that seems clear. But they also appear to have minds and wills of their own just the same, ones that stretch beyond the will of their summoners. The presence of an egi, for example, makes it clear that there’s more to Ifrit than just the Amalj’aa conception of Ifrit. Garuda is still the goddess of the Ixal even though the race has long since forgotten the Allagan general that inspired her appearance. For that matter, her appearance hasn’t changed in the intervening time period.
Primals can want thing that their believers do not want, have will and persistence beyond the immediate, and so forth. Certainly Midgardsormr doesn’t regard the presence of Hydaelyn as anything less than dealing with a distinct entity; he even actively seals you away from your blessing and talks about his deal with Hydaelyn.
It’s not that Hraesvelgr is lying when he explains what he does to Ysayle; it’s more likely that he’s explaining some combination of what he knows (which isn’t the whole picture) and quite possibly what informs her specific manifestation of a primal. In other words, he’s not just saying that primals are all not real and just delusions of their worshippers, but that Ysayle is not actually summoning Saint Shiva herself. Hraesvelgr, as we see throughout the story, is not really great at answering questions beyond the most immediate context.
So what does it all mean? There are lots of implications here just the same. If Hydaelyn is actually a primal, for example, it explains how bleeding the land of aether could harm her; that aether is actually a part of what makes her, and repeatedly summoning things threatens to end her continued existence as a primal itself. Especially if her essence is also what’s holding Zodiark in check, which is similarly implied by constant refrains of the Ascians wanting him to be reborn.
For that matter, it’s equally likely that this is a hint about what the Echo really is. For a very long time there’s been a fan theory that the Warrior of Light is actually a primal, and what if that’s wrong… but also right, on some level? What if the Echo is basically a fragment of these ancient primals creating something to defend them?
We know that the Echo is all about breaking down barriers, and we know that the Ascians possess it as surely as the player character; the line before fighting the merged Ascian form is literally that you’ll witness the true power of the Echo. Perhaps the essence of having the Echo ties directly into being a part of these deific beings on a level beyond simple reverence.
In other words, beings with the Echo aren’t primals. They’re the equivalent of primals summoned by primals. They’re tied up with the essence of these beings on a more fundamental level and thus, in some ways, more “real” than anything else on the face of the planet.
All of this is still just speculation, of course. It could be that the real answer is much more simple. But I think it’s fascinating that all of this speculation is suddenly not just plausible but realistic. (It’s also possible that the world is Zodiark’s body, for example; the “rejoining” means bringing the primal back into one piece. Speculation…)
Feedback, like always, is welcome in the comments below or by mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, why, we’ll still have a live letter to mull over!