I always think I can get these patch-in-review things done in one column. That never turns out to be the case. This time, though, I’m not even pretending; there’s a lot on my mind for the latest Final Fantasy XIV patch, there will no doubt be more when the rest of it arrives, and unless this column was going to just be two words it would naturally not be able to quite cover everything. So I’m just anticipating two columns ahead of time.
On second thought, this can continue
Basically every problem I had with the Ivalice series of raids has been addressed and dealt with for the NieR: Automata raid, at least with this first installment. Where those raids felt overdesigned, overtuned, and generally unapproachable right from the start, this one was a joy going in blind on the very first night and has only risen in my estimation subsequently.
Some of this comes down to visual design. The feeling of slowly descending into the basin where the Copied Factory appears to be built conjures a real sense of geography even as it distorts what seems like should be happening. The melange of imagery and allusions feel compelling and disorienting as you move further in, as well; the white dust everywhere for the last two fights have a specific meaning if you’re familiar with NieR, another meaning for Norvrandt, and a combined sense of dread even when not much is happening. And, of course, it captures that perfect look of rust and decay amidst things that once had a purpose but have long since been forgotten.
But a lot of this was always going to be down to the fights. And here it feels like the influence of Taro’s other games resulted in fights that feel appropriately big and immersive and challenging without ever feeling like they’re constant ticking clocks or hard failure points. Even as my party had our first (totally blind) run, it felt like the vast majority of failures could be recovered from.
The ubiquitous orbs of death had several implementations, but they always worked as things big enough to see and predict even if their hitboxes weren’t always entirely clear. And they kept being deployed in different but interesting ways, creating moving hazards in a way that you don’t tend to see all that often. Really, these were fights about testing situational awareness, but not by anticipating everything; there’s stuff to watch, but you generally get told that right away. If you tend to watch the boss and not the map around you, you’ll run into trouble, but otherwise most things are thoroughly forecast.
And the story, too, was excellent. It feels ominous and like you’re not being told everything, but it also isn’t afraid to be silly and weird along the way, thus hitting just the right tone for its beats. Extra touches like the data collection and the subsequent exploration or the little hidden bonus rooms just make it more fun.
In short, I love it. The music, the design, the mechanics, the everything. This was easily a high-water mark for Alliance Raid design, and I can’t wait to see what the next part looks like even as I look forward to replaying this one for the next few months.
We need allies
By contrast, I’m… not really over the moon about the MSQ, which I think was inevitable, but is still a little disappointing, all things considered.
This does not extend to the dungeon; the brooms on the first boss are a touch hard to dodge and the Mortal Flames mechanic on the last one is a bit less clear than perhaps it should be, but those are very minor criticisms of what is overall a really fun dungeon that genuinely features new mechanics. Each boss really pushes to do things in new ways, and that’s a lot of fun. No, the only problem with the MSQ is that it’s very clearly building something new after a very natural-feeling climax, which means that its primary purpose seems to be bookkeeping rather than direct continuation.
Ironically, the part of it that I found the most satisfying was the conclusion of what happened in Garlemald after our little cutaways during the 5.0 MSQ, which resolves in a satisfying and weird fashion while also leaving us ripe for more story developments there. It still leaves the next major push an open question, but I feel like the thunderbolts are starting to align naturally.
On the First, meanwhile… well, we know the big problem there we have to deal with, but it doesn’t really seem to introduce any new problems and mostly sorts out the sort of problems you might have been previously worried about because of bookends. Oh, right, what happened to the patients in Amh Araeng? Gee, we never did fully resolve the Eulmore plot, huh? There’s no sense that these are problems that will continue to be front and center so much as making sure that any dangling threads are tied off in nice little bows.
Yes, this was a bit inevitable. But that doesn’t make this patch story any less of a matter of going through the motions. Setting things up for the future? Sure, I can dig that, but better storytelling tomorrow doesn’t make boring story beats today more exciting; it just means the payoff is worth it.
Monkey Gone to Heaven
The pixies as a reputation line featured the same problem that pixies have always had, namely taking something that’s inherently (and intentionally) a bit silly but also horrific and straddling that line. This is difficult. You have to hit the right blend between subtle threats, overt dangers, and weird silliness… while also giving the whole thing stakes that feel like they actually matter to people other than the pixies. Oh, and all of this has to happen against the backdrop of the post-Shadowbringers reality.
Fortunately, this one works out all right because the writers really do know how to write the fair folk. This especially comes across in the individual daily quests; the pixies aren’t ever threatening you as far as they see it, but there’s always that added stinger of “maybe you could stay forever” with various hints of what pixies tend to do to people they like. They’re one part lonely children and one part eldritch horror, and their joy is every bit as dangerous as their anger.
It also works well as an aftermath quest for the post-MSQ world. The pixies aren’t precisely invaders, but Voeburt’s ruins did have other residents, and they aren’t safe for most of the world… but at the same time, their more terrifying impulses can be corralled and directed in positive ways. And heck, the dailies let you build a playground you can actually play within. It’s a delight.
Of course, I do wonder where we’ll go for other reputation quests from here, seeing as the fuath, nu mou, and amaro are kind of off the table with this… but why focus on that? Let’s enjoy the nice dream.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, let’s talk about redesigns for crafting and Ninja as we wrap things up and (probably) get ready for 5.11, which has more stuff. At least there’s no shortage of discussion topics.