All right, I’m just going to spoil this column up front. Out of this patch’s stories… well, one is kind of a wisp of a thing, one is admirable in attempt but doesn’t quite land right, and one is just straight-up bad. And if you’ve played through all of them, you can probably guess which one is which, so that isn’t in and of itself much of a surprise. While the Final Fantasy XIV 5.5 patch definitely delivered on a content front, on a story front… we had two wrap-ups that either mostly did not work or totally didn’t work. That ain’t great.
Running in the first half by the numbers
I’ve never been a huge fan of how the story for the x.5 patches tends to get split in half. I understand the reason why that’s the case, of course; it’s set up so that both halves of the patch feel impactful, which is relevant when there’s always a longer gap between the last patch of the expansion and the expansion launch. But the fact that there’s a reason doesn’t mean that it usually does the story any favors.
That having been said, the bright side of this particular MSQ was that at least a lot happened during it. Between Tiamat, Lunar Bahamut, and the reveal of the towers, there was definitely a lot of stuff taking place. It all does feel a bit like the story spinning its wheels since none of this comes to any sort of absolute resolution or even ends on a suitable cliffhanger, but at least it wasn’t overstuffed with nonsense or watered down.
And let’s face it, Alisaie meeting Estinien was a pretty well-needed burst of comedy in what was otherwise a kind of dour set of stories.
Ultimately, though, my feelings on this half of the MSQ was that it feels very much like setup for the second half of the patch that hasn’t arrived yet. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, of course, but it does sort of make a final evaluation of this particular installment feel like it’s not getting all of the meat. Serviceable, not bad, let’s see what the second half brings.
What the heck was that?
The ending of the YoRHa chain is just crap.
I’ve seen some people try to defend this particular ending with “well, Yoko Taro is just kind of Like That,” and it really doesn’t work. Yes, Yoko Taro tends to have endings that leave you wondering if you were ever actually a good person and make you really question the ethics behind your decisions in the game up to this point. What they don’t do, however, is just end without any explanation. The ending of the actual story basically comes down to “stuff happened because Reasons, now it’s all going away, no explanations offered for how any of it pretends to make sense.”
About the only real hope to change this is that the subsequent weekly quests actually do something to tie together all of these plot elements and provide some resolution, but considering that half of the plot got yanked away with no explanation as soon as the raid was over, I think it’s unlikely to happen. It doesn’t carry the usual sting of a Yoko Taro plot with it. There’s no conclusion, there’s just waffling and a total lack of diegetic or thematic explanation for why anything happened.
That’s a shame because there definitely were places here for the story to go or to be explained. Instead, what we got is devoid of explanations or connective tissue. Worse yet, it proves the people who complained about this crossover in the first place right. It really didn’t fit into the narrative of the game and didn’t even pretend to. It is, ultimately, a series of setpieces that are mechanically fun but don’t really amount to much of anything.
I’m hoping that the weekly stuff at least tries to put things together in a coherent fashion, but it’s a pretty thin hope. It would be particularly on-brand for Taro, but it’s also distinctly at odds with the way that the game actually works, which makes the idea somewhat harder to swallow. And when you’re doing a weekly quest for more story just so the existing story makes some sense, something has gone wrong on a whole.
Again, it seemed as if there were somewhere to go with this, questions to be asked about, say, the way that the player character just goes along with objectives and never stops to ask if doing so makes the lives of people materially worse. But the actual narrative fails at explaining its own mysteries or the rationale for its existence. A solid failure that might rescue itself later on is still a failure.
The sorrow didn’t land
The good thing about Sorrows of Werlyt is that it doesn’t end in a way that fails to tie up its loose ends or explain its themes. The bad thing, however, is that it seems to be almost pathologically unwilling to actually put the blame where all of the story indicates it should go: directly on the head of Gaius.
On paper it all works. Gaius was, ultimately, an honorable opponent who didn’t succumb to the worst excesses of the Empire, and thus when he showed up again there was a real sense of seeing where this character could go from here. Working alongside him, you get to see the pain that he inflicted upon these people and the realization that even if he thought he was righteous, he ultimately did awful things. And you got a villain even more grotesque than he ever was to serve as an opponent.
And then… what happened? Well, Gaius recants his philosophy and we’re assured that he really is a good person now, so we don’t need to keep punishing him for anything! And at least someone made it out of all this alive despite everything!
It’s close to working, but there’s never quite that necessary reckoning in which Gaius recognizes that Valens isn’t his opposite but the logical extension of his philosophy. The story keeps pulling just shy of forcing Gaius to really engage with his behaviors and some of his worst excesses. The consequences of the pain he inflicted are treated as paid, as if swapping sides itself was a redemptive act.
That having been said… well, there’s also questions of cultural burdens, translations, and general thematic intent. While this one may not entirely work (and by “may” I of course mean “does”), you can at least see the bones of it. So it’s a bit of a disappointment in places, but it at least tried to tackle some really big ideas along the way.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, let’s talk a little bit about assumptions and known information with the window closing before the next fan festival.