As above, so below, and as before, so again. Just to make it absolutely clear, even though we did it for last week’s column as well, there will be spoilers in this column. If you have not cleared the MSQ in 5.3, you will get some spoilers. Unlike last week, though, this week I’m not really going to be covering the main substance of the patch; instead, we’re going to be focused on the final line of the stinger after the end and the implications that have sent speculative fans into a tizzy.Final Fantasy XIV story installment. The whole purpose of a teaser is to get you excited about what comes next even when a major story arc has just wrapped up. It keeps people talking, it gets everyone engaged, and it means that even though this one is over you want to keep playing and see what’s around the corner.
You know, it’s like this except not a joke.
Of course, in this particular case it’s not just speculation about what’s happening next. No, it’s about the substance of that line, and what “the last chapter” line means. And just to make sure that you’re remembering exactly what those last two lines of narration are, I’m going to transcribe exactly what they are right here:
The beast shall kindle the flames of the apocalypse. Into its domain shall the hero set forth, for the final chapter in the tale of this star.
Does that mean the next expansion is the last one? Are we wrapping up for good? I mean, that says final chapter, that’s pretty conclusive, right? And the actual answer is… well, we don’t know yet. But I suspect we’ve got two more expansions in the tank at least, and I think at this point it’s helpful to examine what is even meant by a final chapter.
Let’s go back all the way to version 1.0. At the time, the game’s conflicts weren’t terribly well-established, but it was at least reasonably clear that the main threat facing Eorzea was the Garlean Empire. What was also clear was that there were a lot of other vague and shadowy threats like the Ascians, and while it wasn’t all totally clear it felt like they were tied in with primals and the general beast tribe unrest. Except… the Empire was also the source of unrest with the beast tribes.
Or, to put it more simply, what we had were always two prongs of threats to deal with. Imperials and Ascians. They both took different forms, both had different facets, and through every stretch of story they occupied different tiers of threat. But slowly, over time, they’ve gone from being unassailable dangers to being… well, beaten.
Obviously, Stormblood didn’t end with the complete demise of the Empire. But it did end with two nations freed from Garlemald’s yoke, and Garlemald’s attempts to take the lands back met stiff resistance and ultimately failed. Yes, the emperor was planning to deploy Black Rose to change the tide, but even that was a tacit admission that the offensive was otherwise going poorly. Now that the Eorzean Alliance is flush with allies, the Empire simply can’t stomp on everything like it used to.
By contrast, this expansion has been all about stomping out the Ascian threat. We understand that their schemes were, what they wanted to do, and what they ultimately had planned… and now they have, effectively, ceased to be power players. That leaves just one obvious villain… Zenos yae Galvus, the artificial Ascian, the man who may or may not now be the emperor.
Why do I say that? Because Zeros is obviously the final threat… but he is of the two major prior threats without actually being either. He’s Garlean, but it’s clear that he does not and has never cared about imperialist propaganda or goals. Similarly, it’s obvious that neither he nor the others he has gathered around him have any interest in the ostensible goals of the unsundered Ascians. He’s tied to both, but he is not subject to either.
That, by definition, makes him the obvious spark of the final chapter.
There’s nothing that really lines up the first set of expansions – even through Shadowbringers – into a distinct set of chapters. Each one is very much its own thing, part of an ongoing storyline. Heavensward is not a chapter separate from everything else, but rather part of the ongoing story that was both set up and concluded apart from the main story about the Dragonsong War. But, in the broader sense, it does serve as bookends. The base game is mostly about the Empire, the patches and first expansion are mostly about the Ascians, and then the next expansion is mostly dealing with the Empire and then the third is mostly about dealing with the Ascians.
Now all of that is dealt with, and we are… well, moving into the final chapter. The part wherein we have to see what awaits us when our enemies no longer care about fundamentally preserving anything. Zenos is perfectly willing to make the world collapse into ruin to achieve his goals, after all.
Am I sure that’s what is meant here? No, but it makes sense. The reality is that there’s only so much further we can go with the story. At some point the stakes have to stop rising, and considering we’re now into the point of having crossed worlds at least once and having killed several agelessly immortal beings, we’re getting to the point where there has to be a conclusion. Plus, as I’ve mentioned many times before, Square-Enix has a very good idea of what an MMO’s active life span is, and while FFXIV is currently still going upward I don’t doubt that plans are in place for when that isn’t the case any longer.
The next expansion might be the last one. But I think it’s more likely that the next expansion is the one that leads us into our true final arena. I don’t think it’ll necessarily involve Zenos as a primary mover or shaker, but I think he is going to be the person who gets us there. That teaser in and of itself could very well mean that the next expansion leads us down the path of what could potentially be the final calamity; even with the rejoining brought to a final and conclusive stop, his acknowledged prey could bring us to that point just the same.
By acknowledging that we’re approaching the last chapter, the game is less telling us that you shouldn’t expect another expansion after 6.0 and more telling us that yes, our actions have really brought things forward. Long-term change has occurred. And while the final confrontation might come in two patches or after two more expansions, we should be aware that we are now in the back nine of this particular story. Where we go from here… remains to be seen.
Or, as it is stated in The Hobbit, it is a long road… but it is also the last road.
Feedback is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, let’s talk a little bit about Ishgard Restoration ahead of the next installment.