When we got the Return to Ivalice and Crystal Tower raid series in Final Fantasy XIV, it was very obvious where they were taking place and what we should expect; these are both names of places, and in the latter case it was a place you could literally see in Mor Dhona. Even the Mhach story arc had some forecasting because you could see that mysterious airship floating around in the sky. No, you didn’t know the details, but it was pretty clear that wasn’t just there as background decoration with no further relevance.
Option 1: The Thirteenth
This is not, as near as I can tell, the dominant theory. But it’s a stronger pick than I think it gets credit for, partly because this expansion has spent a lot of time reminding us about what went so very wrong on the Thirteenth. Finishing up the role quest lines even gets you a big hanging reminder that this is not something we’re done having brought up.
What we know of the state on the Thirteenth, also known as the Void, is that the world has been rendered essentially unfit for a Rejoining, and Emet-Selch specifically calls out Igeyorhm as being the reason for that particular problem. However… most of the sources telling us about its complete unsuitability are either Ascians or non-Voidsent survivors seeking out some path forward. It’s not entirely certain what we would find in the Thirteenth, or if perhaps something slightly different has happened following the events at the end of Crystal Tower.
Oh, and let’s not forget that we have a Crystal Tower right on the First, now. This is not entirely out of left field.
Let’s also remember that one of the central conceits of NieR: Automata is that when you start off in the game, there are no humans around in the open world. All the characters you meet are androids. They’re specifically fighting a war against alien invaders for humans they’ve never actually met, meaning that there’s a certain lonely futility baked into the setting. A group of aether-less machine people on the Thirteenth, fighting to salvage the world from Voidsent in a way that will never happen… well, it wouldn’t be outside the realm of plausibility.
The biggest lift this particular option would have is just asking us to care about the fate of another world when the expansion has already asked us to invest in the First; there’s a clear throughline, yes, but the case could be argued that rewriting what we know about the Thirteenth as well is a bit harder. It would make sense, though, and it would also allow for the possibility of a bittersweet ending Taro-style (perhaps the Thirteenth can be made safe for the androids, but its native population of living beings is still gone).
Option 2: The Doomed Future
We had a pretty solid set of rules in place for time travel in FFXIV, rules that Shadowbringers rewrites very intentionally. To wit, the rules are quite simply that whatever happened, happened. Alexander’s entire story arc made it clear that it couldn’t change the past because the events of the past were also in its future; in short, time is not a series of events but a fixed plane to which we simply possess a moving vantage point. Clearly, the people responsible for sending the Crystal Tower to the First knew this, and thus part of what was done helped anchor the Tower where it is now and changed the past of both worlds.
Here’s the open question, though – did that future cease to be or not?
This appears to be the most popular fan theory about the Dark Apocalypse series, that it’ll send players forward to the Bad Future to try to stop the end of the world because that is now an alternate timeline still ongoing. It’d certainly offer some interesting potential, like sending players fighting through different versions of the three main series, a sort of alternate take on Final Fantasy XI’s Dynamis. And it gives a chance to fix that future… assuming it’s still a thing that’s happening.
Yes, therein lies the biggest ask for this particular option, the idea that while we prevented this future from coming to pass there’s still a weird pocket universe wherein it’s happening and the world of the Source is screwed. Which… raises several other questions. Does that pocket universe still have separate Ascians? Can they come through and screw with us? If yes, doesn’t that undo one of our biggest victories at the end of Shadowbringers more or less by fiat?
For that matter, what exactly does fixing this timeline entail? Creating a second set of worlds altogether? It feels like this is a whole theory based around fixing the difference in time travel rules that can be explained more simply with clearer stakes.
That’s not to say that this can’t possibly work or that it’s obviously wrong. I think it’s still a very plausible pick so long as the writing explains why this matters; heck, the whole Ascian thing could be a good reason to close the book on this timeline. And there’s sure as heck an apocalypse happening here, so it’d be interesting to reverse the course.
Option 3: Kholusia
So… there’s literally a sidequest in Kholusia in which it turns out a bunch of the Tholls have found a bunch of machines that are hidden away that looks sort of unfamiliar. That feels like it might be a hint about something, yes? It even has characters who get an awful lot of buildup only to go nowhere.
I’m honestly certain that we’ve got hints here for the future with the Dwarves, and realistically there are lots of options about what that could be. Beast Tribe quests, a new Deep Dungeon, the Alliance Raids, even just a single new dungeon would all make sense. But the seeds are placed right there, especially since the outwardly rusted and bolted aesthetic of the NieR machines is not a far cry from what we see from the various automatons found throughout Kholusia.
It’s certainly also possible that the Dwarves and their feuds are just a little too silly to lead into something more serious, but the seeds were definitely planted her in a way that doesn’t feel like much of a lift. Except insofar as you’d need to understand how there was a whole alliance raid’s worth of stuff to have happen inside of Kholusia, of course, but that’s the problem and/or foundation you work from in a setting wherein there’s only a small slice of the world to inhabit.
Of course, it could also be none of the above. But I feel like one of these three is the most likely pick for where we’re going next. We’ll find out in a month or so. Until then, leave feedback in the comments down below or mail it along to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, let’s talk about jumping puzzles, movement abilities, and some weirdness the game still has in that arena.