I think we can all agree that the explanation given for where the name “gunblade” comes from in Final Fantasy XIV is very silly, as is the idea that “gunblade” came first and “gun” is a derivative of same. Then you read up on the real-world etymology of the word “gun” and find that it’s literally the same thing, except the weapon in question was the Domina Gunilda, which appears to have been derived from the name Gunnhildr.
That doesn’t have a whole lot to do with gunblades aside from the fact that half of the “that sounds silly” things in this game are just actual historical points. Our world is ridiculous.
For all that there’s an association between the weapon and the Final Fantasy franchise, gunblades have only shown up in three main-series games, and up until Shadowbringers every single game had different conceptions of what the term meant. Rather than bothering with the chronology, we’re going to just categorize them by type:
- Melee gunblades, first shown in Final Fantasy VIII and the obvious main weapon of the Gunbreaker job. These gunblades are depicted as having a sort of firing mechanism from a gun attached to a thick blade, with the specifications changing but the overall design usually (though not always) lacking any sort of barrel. It’s clear that these weapons are melee weapons that can produce an explosive discharge to augment the power of a slash; how exactly that’s meant to work is a physics question beyond the scope of this article. There’s little to no evidence that these weapons are capable of firing bullets.
- Ranged gunblades, first shown in Final Fantasy XIV as weapons of Garlean officers and notably used by Gaius van Baelsar from his first appearance onward. While the design of the handle is a bit awkward to hold, the design lines are that these weapons are functionally long-barrel revolvers that have a very long and thin blade attached. We know for a fact that they can fire bullets, and they’re much more of a hybrid ranged and melee weapon.
- Transforming gunblades show up in Final Fantasy XIII as Lightning’s weapon and also show up as the Blazefire Saber Gladiator weapon. These gunblades are akin to ranged gunblades with one notable difference – rather than being a pistol and a sword, the weapon actually transformers through folding portions between sword mode and gun mode. While you can equip one in the game now, it doesn’t retain its gun properties and in fact doesn’t even replace your ranged attack with a gunshot.
At a glance, the unifying element of these weapons is that… all three are some combination of guns and blades. That’s it. While we’re told through in-game lore that Garlean gunblades are a derivative of the original gunblades used by Gunbreakers, in look and feel they’re altogether different weapons; indeed, high-ranking Garleans love using all sorts of weapons crossed with guns, so it’s almost boring to just have a regular old gunblade in someone’s hands.
So why gunblades at all? Well, I think the answer also ties into the one other place wherein we see lots of gunblades in the franchise – Final Fantasy VII. There are no gunblades in the original game, of course, but almost every single supplementary release later on involves some form of gunblades. Indeed, the very idea of “gunblades in FFVII” feels so obvious that it’s almost an afterthought they weren’t there.
Every single game in the series has had a lot of schizo tech running around. Yes, every single one. (People who hate putting technology in Final Fantasy may have missed the fact that the first game had robots and a technological sky castle.) The volume of that tech changed over time, however; it was always there as a faint background element, but by FFVII you had an entire city that was nothing but technology. FFVIII went even further and was the first game that presented something that felt more like a hybrid of a fantasy world and a then-modern technological society.
In the real world, guns beat swords. Heck, in the real world, longbows beat swords. But we’re willing to accept a lot in fiction. Still, when you have a game that feels like the modern world, you kind of need something to drive home the idea that your main character isn’t still just swinging around a sword against a modern assault rifle.
Enter the gunblade – a ridiculously impractical but cool-sounding and cool-looking weapon that gives the impression of making a melee weapon intended to keep up with advancing technology. It doesn’t show up in every game because often it doesn’t make much sense – the fantasy world of Final Fantasy XII has ample access to technology and guns, but the setting’s proliferation of common magic means that guns are more of a long-ranged supplement instead of an entire rewriting of how combat works. But it helps make the more “modern” settings of FFVIII and FFXIII still feel emotionally right even while giving the main character a sword.
Garlean gunblades, though, are meant to be offputting. They’re weird. Their inclusion in the game was a sign of the threat that Garlemald posed right from the start, and thus when we finally got a job using a gunblade it was also in the expansion that pulled thematic ties to embracing darkness. No, Gunbreaker has nothing to do with metaphorical shadow, but it is using tools that you traditionally associate with the enemy.
Of course, Gunbreaker at this point is almost entirely based off of Squall, simply because there’s nothing else to base it off of. Indeed, I feel like it kind of has the weakest thematic lineup; it’s easy to point to the other three jobs as having clear mechanical identities, with Paladin as the armored tank, Dark Knight as the draining and shielding tank, and Warrior as the soak tank. Gunbreaker is… avoidance? Kind of? But also shields, and also high damage? It’s balanced but it’s a bit of a mess in terms of mechanics.
It’s going to be interesting to see where the job goes from here in terms of new abilities, since there’s not a lot more of the Squall Vein to mine out. Ironically, for a job added after the job gauges were a thing, it barely uses its gauge at all; you’ve got two all-purpose charges and they don’t have much mechanical interaction past that point. Then again, the sheer amount of stuff going on with the job is part of why it still feels fun to play.
Also, I’d love to see every job get some kind of gun-weapon. If our next set of relic weapons are out in Garlemald, it’s the perfect time. Gun-bow for Bard! Gun-book for Scholar! Gun-gun for Machinist!
Feedback is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, I’m really hoping we have a little more to chew on aside from the list of stuff for the next patch because I’m talking about that no matter what.