Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers has mined out its own nostalgia

This is who we were.

There are a lot of themes that are running hot through the entirety of Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers. Some of them are very obvious and central, like the concept of Light not equaling Good and Dark not equaling Evil. Others are very obvious when you realize they’re present, like the horror themes woven throughout the expansion, or the themes about choosing what you’re doing to do with your time when you realize that it is explicitly limited.

And then there are themes that feel a little more subtle… like the question of the past.

FFXIV as a title has always done a lot of stuff that’s involved mining out the past of the franchise, of course. That’s not a theme or even text, that’s the metatext. That’s an outright purpose of the game. But this particular expansion is interfacing with that a lot more deeply from story beats to mechanical elements, and I think it’s an interesting route to take in what I personally feel is the middle of the game’s overall expansion cycle.

While FFXIV has always been excellent about handling callbacks, it generally has stuck to callbacks to things from prior games or simply old dangling plot threads being picked up once again. The plot of Shadowbringers, meanwhile, is started by a character traveling back in time to change the course of events. Emet-Selch and the Ascians are literally trying to roll back the clock to their fallen city. The role quests all involve understanding the past history of these specific figures and how they handled problems and bigger moral quandries.

Thematically, we all know that it’s there. It’s even alluded to elsewhere; the entirety of the Copied Factory plays up the idea that these are combatants from a war that is already over, and the fact that our next destination is a crashed space station only redoubles that concept. Most of the NPCs you meet are in some way haunted or defined by the past. The Qitari are trying to reclaim the past, the bandits in Lakeland want the past to come back, Thancred is a dick because he wants the past version of Minfilia back. (Also because Thancred sucks.)

But this has extended even further into our content directly calling back to the past.

Half man. Half beard. Another half beard.

What were our first three Expert dungeons in this expansion? A fight through the catastrophe hitting Amaurot, a tour of an academy of created life, and diving into the depths of the Crystal Tower. The first one has not-accidental parallels with the end of 1.0 and the state of Ul’dah, the second is explicitly a nod to older fights, and the third even reuses parts of the Crystal Tower map alongside a rematch against Alexander. Subsequently, we’ve had a dungeon that includes callbacks to Heavensward and the newest dungeon that is explicitly recalling the game’s very first dungeon in both mechanics and themes.

Five of our eight bosses in Eden have been remakes of old Primals. The Ruby Weapon fight ends with it explicitly summoning another reference back to the end of 1.0. Our relic weapons are all about recalling memories and Project Meteor so far. We know that 5.3 contains a new form of content that is just directly re-tuned older fights we can face for a limited time.

None of this is inherently shocking. At this point, FFXIV not only has enough content to draw upon its own past as a foundation, it has players who are likely active and invested but never saw these things in their original contexts. It makes sense to use this as a chance to take a tour back along the memories of the game and re-examine significant moments. But it also makes sense within a different context because if you look at the overall sweep of the series, there aren’t actually any Final Fantasy games not represented in the current title in some way.

Sure, some games have more representation than others (it’s kind of baffling to me that the Four Fiends haven’t made an appearance from FFI, for example, and FFII is a bit underserved). But the past has now been quite thoroughly mined. We have seen the history, and it is here. And now even the history of the current game is getting out to do a dance.

The obvious question, once you move past the fondness for it, is to ask why. And I think the reason is kind of clear when you think about it: because it’s a chance to start moving beyond the past and forging new things, looking to the future, and not worry so much about tying into what’s come before.

Choo choo, mothertrucker.

One of the things that Yoshida has said before in interviews is that he’d love to do some jobs which were completely new to FFXIV. Obviously, that’s not what we got in this expansion; Dancer is common and Gunbreaker, while new in theory, is in practice “Squall but a job now, thank you Dissidia.” But in my list of important data about the franchise, we are… pretty much out of jobs not featured in FFXIV that tend to show up on the regular.

Seriously, of the jobs that commonly show up but are not yet in FFXIV, we’re missing… Rune Fencer/Magic Knight, Geomancer, Chemist, Berserker, and Beastmaster. One of those is kind of obviated by the existence of Warrior (and would be weird to work on anyhow). One of them is a personal preference for a potential next healer but may also be obviated because Alchemist exists as a craft. And one of them has been specifically called out as best used for a limited job in the future.

My point is that in all likelihood, while we could easily get Rune Fencer and Geomancer as our next jobs, the expansion after that will either need to dig deep in the series history and/or just start making things up. You all know by this point I can dig up obscure classes in this franchise, but we’re resolutely moving into the “obscure” point rather than the “yes, very common and well-known” gathering.

We’re running out of big show-stopping summons and the like to base raid tiers off of. We’re running out of well-known primals. All of these are things I’ve discussed in the past… but instead of just plowing ahead with new stuff, we’ve got an entire expansion here in which we are still resolutely looking back, embracing the past.

And my feeling is that this is a prelude. The next expansion is going to take us in new directions. It’s going to be more forward and novel in ways that things haven’t yet been here, expanding definitions and forging new territory with the new. Yes, there are still going to be nods back to the past and references along the way (I could totally see, for example, having our next raid series be centered around Orphan from Final Fantasy XIII.) But I feel like looking back now is a grounding before a push forward.

And it also means that even as I predict some things based on the past of the franchise, I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both of our new expansion jobs are something never seen before. Eventually, you have to go for novelty.

Feedback is welcome in the comments below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, I want to go wildly off the rails with speculation about Naoki Yoshida’s mystery project, which I still think is another MMO… and thinking about what another Final Fantasy MMO would even look like.

The Nymian civilization hosted an immense amount of knowledge and learning, but so much of it has been lost to the people of Eorzea. That doesn’t stop Eliot Lefebvre from scrutinizing Final Fantasy XIV each week in Wisdom of Nym, hosting guides, discussion, and opinions without so much as a trace of rancor.
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